DC at Night

DC at Night

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Sandra Cisneros Talks Dia de Los Muertos

Cisneros signs books for admirers 
Sandra Cisneros, the author of the classic The House on Mango Street who now lives in Mexico, believes she has an ideal slogan for her new land."Mexico - it's a good place to die," Cisneros says with a laugh.

"There, the dead co-exist with the living every day. The past and the present come together and mix," she explained.

Raised in Chicago as a Mexican-American celebrating the language and the ways of her native land to the south, Cisneros says that she has come to believe that death is "letting go".  However, much is left for those who survive, she quickly adds.

"When a parent dies, suddenly you have a spirit ally that is with you always," she said. "I know that sounds new age-y, but it is our miseducation that has caused us to rename it superstition."

Cisneros was present in the room when her mother died. "There was a moving, a shimmering around the room. I had a feeling that was tender and sweet, not like my mother at all," she said, eliciting laughter from the audience.

"I became a writer because my mother was an unhappy mother," Cisneros said. Her mother was "an artistic soul" who was constantly going to cultural centers and events, she explained. "I used to think it was for our sake, but I realize now it was for her," the author, who was one of 7 children, said.

One of those cultural centers was the library. "To me the library was a wonderful house ... a house of ideas ... a house of silence," Cisneros said.

As a writer, Cisneros said she writes "whatever comes. I write this, I write that. The only reason I finish anything is because somebody in New York gives me a deadline. I began writing when I was most lonely in middle school. I wasn't the pretty girl ... I wasn't the smart girl ... I was the new girl with the bad haircut because my mother was always cutting my bangs crooked."

Cisneros indicated that she has no intention to stop writing. "Each book gets me closer to the path I am supposed to be walking," she said.

Sandra Cisneros' Ofrenda for Her Mother
 @The Museum of American History

This Day of the Dead altar departs from the traditional public Mexican altar by featuring my mother’s personal space – her garden and bedroom – and personal objects as part of an homage remembering her as a dynamic creative being in her own right. Gathering the items here, some from my grandmother and great-grandmother, helped me look deeply and see my mother as a woman with her own life apart from her family and children. In the end, it served, as art often does, to transform grief to celebration. Thanks to my mother’s deep hunger to become an artist, she opened the path for me. This altar is my gracias to her.
- Sandra Cisneros

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