Yesterday, I worked with students at Berg VGS here in Oslo; Karianne had asked me to introduce students in two of her classes to immigrant literature. I started out with a chapter from Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street, “Geraldo No Last Name.” Stories by Cisneros are included in a couple of the textbooks used in English classes here in Norway–and I’ve been at two or three schools where her novel is taught, as well.
For the schools who haven’t yet tried using The House on Mango Street, I urge you to do so. Since the text is written from a young girl’s perspective, the vocabulary and style are quite accessible for English language learners, yet the text is still sophisticated and complex enough to yield rich discussions and opportunities for learning. Through the experiences and feelings of Esperanza, the main character of the novel, students can explore their own sense of identity, the effects of culture on identity, how culture influences gender, and how the individual can overcome poverty/hardship while still retaining a connection to one’s community.
Each chapter stands on its own as a vignette, allowing the teacher a lot of freedom in the curriculum. In California, teachers use chapters to encourage students to create poetry about their names or explore their own family connections and cultures. Cisneros’s poetic language lends itself to creating found poetry from the text or using the text as a jumping off point for student creative writing.
Each time I’ve used “Geraldo No Last Name” here in Norway, class participation and interest has been very high. Students respond really well to the story, they talk about style, meaning, theme, etc. One student at Berg had read all of The House on Mango Street. She talked quite eloquently about how much she enjoyed the novel. I think most of your students would enjoy it, as well–and I think you would find it to be an invaluable addition to your English curriculum.