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Cultural Identity in Cisneros and Danticat Stories

Cultural and racial prejudices that complicate already difficult life pervade the history of humanity. Cultural identity is essential for every person to know and honor their origins, traditions, and nationality. However, when this self- perception is amplified to the extremes, it usually provides adverse outcomes for the people who make decisions based on judgment and prejudice. Both Cisneros and Danticat addressed this theme in their short stories. Never Marry a Mexican is a short story about the life of a young woman who lives in the US and has Mexican origins written by the Mexican American novelist Sandra Cisneros. It belongs to the story collection Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories. Similarly, Edwidge Danticat, who is a Haitian-American writer, published a collection of stories depicting the life, culture, and struggles of her fellow people. The collection Kirk? Krak! includes the second story Children of the Sea that will be further analyzed and compared with Cisneros’ one. Although those stories are based on different main themes, they both address the struggle for cultural acceptance and show how cultural prejudices and judgments spoil the lives of people.

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To begin with, Cisneros presents the problematic life of immigrants to develop the reader’s sensitivity toward them. In general, the Chicago-born author focuses on the social role of the Chicano women and their struggle to find identity, which usually fails. Clemencia is a Mexican-American who used to “borrow” other woman’s husbands in order to feel independent and strong. She convinced herself not to marry anyone, especially those who share with her the same origin.

Her life attitude was formed under cultural pressure exerted by her mother, who advised her not to marry a Mexican man. Clemencia believes that her mother instilled that value in her to shield her from suffering the same pain she did following the marriage with a Mexican man when she was seventeen. The protagonist took it to heart, remembering that her mother had to deal with “all the grief a Mexican family can put on a girl because she was from el otro lado, the other side, and my father had married down by marrying her” (Cisneros, p. 88). Her paternal grandparents judged her mother for having mixed heritage, as she has not been already fully Mexican.

She was disrespected and insulted by them just because her familial lineage lost a firm connection with Mexican culture. Clemencia’s mother was a Chicano girl who did not know Spanish and all of the Mexican traditions. Hence, the Mexican family was suspicious of her and condemned Clemencia’s father for marrying “down.” This notion is a purely classist concept that is prejudice leading to disrespect and misjudgment of immigrants by those who remained at home. When Clemencia’s father passed away, her mother married a white man. The daughter criticized her mother for not respecting the father’s legacy, but in her own life, she decided to be independent.

Clemencia falls in love with a married man, Drew, with whom she has a long but fruitless relationship. Once Drew even opts to have intercourse with Clemencia instead of being in the hospital where his wife, Megan, gives birth to their son. After their son become old enough, Clemencia even starts to have an affair with him in order to be closer to Drew’s life. Another example of the notion of cultural identity is when the protagonist notes that Drew’s son could be hers if only he “were not so light-skinned” (Cisneros, p. 97). Despite being sure that she is strong and influential, at the end of the story, Clemencia realizes that she is lonely, and that helps her to overcome the divisive mindset encouraged by her mother.

In her turn, Danticat created a story of loss and endless love in the setting of the political violence which hit the people of Haiti following the coup against democratically elected President Aristide. After the coup, many lives were taken by the totalitarian regime, which desired to punish Aristide’s supporters. Both the main characters, female and male narrator, and their families are among those who support the ousted president. A young man escapes Haiti on the ship with other refugees to reach the US; otherwise, he would be killed by the secret police for his involvement in the youth federation. A young woman, who has more wealthy family, remains at home, so the couple is separated due to the adverse political situation. They agree to compose letters to each other in the form of a diary. They record and share the atrocities they have witnessed, the injustices of totalitarian terror, and their everlasting love to each other.

The themes of justice, politics, human rights, and violence come to the forefront of Danticat’s story. However, the notion of cultural acceptance is also addressed in the storyline. The female narrator’s father did not approve of their relationships before the revolution because he just thought that a young student is not good enough for her daughter. The male narrator even writes that “your father will probably marry you off now since I am gone” (Danticat, p. 2). The male diary writer also starts to regret that he is a member of the antigovernmental radio show and thinks that if he had a similar upbringing, maybe he would be out the politics.

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Moreover, the mother of the young woman explains why her father ordered her to destroy radio tapes and reveals why he is against her loved one. The female letter writer tells that her father wants for her “someone who will make sure that I have more than I have now” (Danticat, p. 8). The young man’s political activity becomes the main reason why the young woman’s father tried to separate the couple. He is just too concerned with his family’s safety because he loves his daughter and wife. The father just does not want to see them killed by macoutes for contacting the youth federation members.

Both stories highlight the struggles of people who face issues of cultural acceptance and identity. Cisneros’ short story presents how cultural expectations and familial restrictions can influence the Mexican-American women’s life. Clemencia decides not to marry Mexican men because of the bitter experience of her mother, but still, she is unhappy in her struggle toward self-definition and control over her fate. She does not want to marry Mexicans, while her lover Drew is not ready to leave his family and marry her because she is Chicano. Similarly, Danticat’s story tells about the father who is against his daughter’s relationships with a pro-democracy student, because he wants to see someone of a higher class next to her. Her mother approves the male narrator because he is ambitious, but the father does not see it. In both situations, social stratification influenced the life of the characters.

However, these stories are slightly different in terms of cultural identity issues. Cisneros reveals how cultural prejudices, such as disrespecting somebody for not being entirely Mexican, spoil the life of immigrants, whereas Danticat focuses on the classist problem between people who belong to the same culture. Such problems as justice, politics, and violence play more important roles in Danticat’s story, while cultural acceptance issue prevails in Cisneros’ one.

Works Cited

  1. Cisneros, Sandra. Woman Hollering Creek: And Other Stories. Vintage, 2013.
  2. Danticat, Edwidge. Krik? Krak!. Soho Press, 2015.

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