Many, many years ago (in the early 90’s), I attended a reading in Mesa, Arizona that featured a number of artists, including Sandra Cisneros. In a group of really wonderful writers and performers, Sandra stood out. She was feisty and strong, so passionate about the world and her beliefs. It was a memorable night. Since then, I’ve taught her work in Arizona, Texas, California, and Norway. I’ve seen students all over the map, from all kinds of backgrounds, respond to her work. They’ve seen themselves in her stories, connecting with so many of her characters and themes. They’ve understood that we all experience pain, conflict, joy, friendship, love–and that we all have dreams that we hope to accomplish.
For the past few days, Sandra has been in Fresno doing a number of events. Yesterday, she talked with teachers and shared her own story about when she taught at an alternative high school. She was so supportive of teachers and the difficult jobs they have to do today. She also talked about how while she was teaching she was also writing The House on Mango Street–it was a way for her to transcend her anger about students who had been so ill prepared by society, so ill served by a system that should have nurtured them.
The woman I’ve seen over the last few days is centered, spiritual, and generous. She’s someone I want to emulate in her ability to advocate for causes she believes in from a place of hope.
This afternoon, Sandra talked briefly about the ban of books like hers in Tucson schools. One thing she said really stuck with me. She said she wished she could just sit down and eat lunch with those who are making these policies. She said that she just wants to tell them stories–because stories have the power to provoke change. She said she wanted to make them laugh, to remind them of their humanity.
I believe in her ability to tell the right story, the story that would change their hearts. And I have to say that after listening to Sandra speak over the last two days, I suddenly believe in our ability to tell the right story, as well. Those of us who care about Ethnic Studies/Chican@ literature, those of us who have been changed by what we’ve read–we need to keep telling our stories in ways that will appeal to the humanity of those who oppose our views.
Stories have the power to transform. We have to keep believing in that.