Problems of illegal immigration in the United States have always been widely discussed in the American literature. Sandra Cisneros is one of the famous American writers who described these issues in her book The House on Mango Street published in 1984. The book is a miscellany of short stories about the life of Hispanic Americans in the United States. The main character of the book is the narrator, Esperanza Cordero. She is a young Latino girl living in Chicago with her family. Her life there is nothing but problems from the very beginning of her teen age. As Portia Weiskel states (99), Sandra Cisneros intentionally gave the name of Esperanza to her main character, which means hope in English. It is a symbol of hope for humanity and a happy life in the future for not only Hispanic Americans but all immigrants who want to live in the United States. Despite all disasters, accidents and misfortune, Esperanza remains a girl of character. Life does not spoil her. On the contrary, Esperanza manages her problems and remains a reliable person cherishing her friends.
Sandra Cisneros was born in Chicago, in 1954. She writes poems, novels and essays. She is an American writer Hispanic by birth. Cisneros is one of the first to be recognized and to have a commercial success. In her works, she raises such issues as gender, citizenship and personhood, alienation and degradation of ethnic communities on the background of poverty, and racial and ethnic segregation in the American society in the late of the 20th century. Sandra Cisneros’s books highlight conflicts in the American society, which she has seen during her entire life in the United States. Her story “Geraldo No Last Name” from the book The House on Mango Street depicts problems of illegal immigrants on the example of a young Mexican boy, who had to cross the American border with hoping to help his family with money earned in the United States. Despite the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States proclaiming equal rights for all people living in the United States irrespective of their race, ethnicity, religion, or beliefs, Geraldo did not have any rights there for the sole reason: he was not a citizen of the United States, a powerful country claiming to protect human rights and liberties of all people in the world as the major virtue of humanity. Sandra Cisneros depicts this contradiction on the background of Marin, a young Puerto Rican girl with an American citizenship and Esperanza, her friend. Sandra Cisneros illustrates what it means to live without any rights in the United States on the example of a tragic short life of Geraldo in an attempt to draw the attention of the readers to the abovementioned problems of illegal immigrants. The author raises these issues in the hope of solving them and improving social and economic conditions of the immigrants to the United States. In order to understand the real reason the problems of racial and ethnic segregation that exist in the United States nowadays, it is necessary to consider the history of the formation of the American nation as the nation of immigrants from different corners of the world, which created its own culture, philosophy. In addition, it is the first democratic republic in the world with the abovementioned problems, which emerged as a result of slavery. Therefore, slavery played one of the major roles to form American attitude to other nations in the world. Unfortunately, this prejudice remains in the modern American society. The paper will discuss the abovementioned points revealing the connection between the current position of modern immigrants to the United States and the historical background of the country.
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The problems depicted by Sandra Cisneros in the story “Geraldo No Last Name” are rooted in the historical events of the United States, which took place at the beginning of its existence, when the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were passed in the late of the 18th century. Both documents guarantee equal rights to all persons living in the former English colonies. However, European colonists could not settle in the new territories without the help of slaves. As a matter of fact, Europeans did not have immunity from various dangerous new diseases such as calenture, breakbone fever, malaria, and others. Therefore, they had to enslave Indians or bring Africans to the colonies.
In addition, according to Kolchin (6), many white criminals were enslaved to work in America. Of course, they could not live long there because of the abovementioned dangerous diseases. It was the primary reason to bring Africans to the United States “for their ability to work; slavery there constituted, first and foremost, a system of labor” (Kolchin 6). Of course, it was part of the colonial policy of the British Empire, which became the American one after gaining its independence. With the course of time, African slaves turned into the most despised people in the United States. As Peter Kolchin states in his book American Slavery 1619-1877, English settlers did not pay attention to the skin color of people at the beginning of the colonization of America. As a matter of fact, racism emerged to justify slavery with the help of prejudices regarding the African American inferiority based on the skin color. With the course of time, as it is shown in “Geraldo No Last Name”, this inferiority was arrogated to illegal immigrants, in this case to Latinos, as Americans called them “wetbacks.”
Without a doubt, it is a pure racism to base human rights on the possessing of the American citizenship. In other words, if an individual lives and works in the United States but does not have an American citizenship, then he/she is considered by the American authorities to live without personhood. As Sandra Cisneros describes this situation, such person can not receive quality medical care, protection of his/her human rights from the side of the American policemen, nor gain any good attitude from the American citizens. The inferiority of the immigrants is expressed through the attitude of the society. It is a shame to be an illegal immigrant in the United States because since one is placed on the same footing as dregs of society. Such attitude is one of the main reasons for emerging of a great number of criminals among illegal immigrants in the United States, which brings back the previous relationships between whites and the people of color in the United States of the 19th century. In this case, the approach to illegal immigrants depicted in the story of Sandra Cisneros can be compared to the attitude to the African Americans in the 19th century.
In the 19th century, the issue of slavery divided America into Northerners and Southerners being one of the main reasons for the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln was the first American president who had considered slavery as the most shameful phenomenon in the United States, which contradicted to the major principles of the Founding Fathers concerning human rights. Dividing America into Northerners and Southerners was considered by him as a major threat to the independence of America. As Klose and Ladder state, “Lincoln hoped to restore the Southern states to their former place in the Union” (6). Therefore, he intended to unite Northerners and Southerners with the further elimination of slavery. First of all, Abraham Lincoln had to win the Civil War to be a president of all American colonies. At the same time, Lincoln fought against slavery by prohibiting its extension to new American territories. Lincoln had to meet Southerners half-way. Thus, he allowed loyal to him to have slaves, but during the Civil War, Lincoln created the Emancipation Proclamation, which turned into the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution. Hereafter, it was called as the start of the Reconstruction Era, which lasted from 1865 till 1877. The Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson united Southern and Northern states into one country, rebuilding Southern states after the Civil War and eliminating slavery by passing the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States.
The Emancipation Proclamation and the whole political activity of Abraham Lincoln had a great impact on the development of Reconstruction era when the consolidation of the country dominated over civil rights of African Americans. First of all, Lincoln wanted to have the loyal government on the South. Therefore, he pardoned all former Confederate soldiers in return for their oath to be loyal to his government and to support the Thirteenth Amendment. Therefore, some historians consider Reconstruction to start from the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1, 1863. At the same time, contradictions between Congress, President, Republicans, and Democrats were the main reason for not eliminating slavery entirely. Therefore, Republican reforms in the South had to weaken the Southern aristocracy, and the emancipation of slaves did not give African Americans the real liberty but aggravated relations between the reformers and the Southerners.
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President Andrew Johnson continued Reconstruction by eliminating slavery, canceling secession, disregarding all war debts of Southerners, appointing Southerners as provisional governors. Congress refused to pass this plan. Therefore, African Americans did not have rights to vote. The most serious obstacle was the Black Codes for the future status of the former slaves to protect them from helplessness, return to work. It led “to severely restrict their legal, social, and economic rights” (Klose and Ladder 8). As a result, race riots took place in the South. The Freedman Bureau and the Civil Rights Bills gave African Americans the right to be citizens of the United States. Nevertheless, as Klose and Ladder state, “social and political reconstruction substantially failed to achieve its long-range goals in the South” (13). In 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment and in 1870, the Fifteen Amendment were ratified. African Americans obtained the rights to vote, but Radicals controlled them. Thus, illiterate and inexperienced in political life former slaves came into government rejecting white politicians. It caused corruption and bribery. Reconstruction ended in 1876, when Democrats defeated Republicans because of corruption, high taxes, and increased debts. At the same time, racist organizations emerged all over the United States. Thus, the Compromise was passed in 1877, which put an end to armed intervention in the South, and the notorious Jim Crow laws were passed for disenfranchising African Americans in 1890. Racial segregation was enacted in the United States.
At the mid-20th century, the so-called Second Reconstruction took place in the United States. The Civil Rights Movement caused the ratification of the certain laws in 1964 and 1965 to cancel racial segregation and grant the right to vote to African Americans. As a matter of fact, the Civil Rights Movement took place from 1865 till 1980. People struggled for the equality before the American law of all the citizens irrespective of their gender, color, ethnicity, or religion. As a rule, it was a nonviolent form of civil resistance, but sometimes, it took the form of civil riots or even armed rebellions. The Civil Rights Movement mainly targeted for the abolishment of all kinds of discrimination including immigrants, women, religious communities, and other social minorities. In the period from 1954 till 1968, the movement gained the nationwide appreciation for forming a civil society according to the major principles of the Constitution. Nonviolent protests and disobedience forced the government to pass particular laws to guarantee civil rights to all American citizens as an example of the most democratic society in the world, which became the basis for the development of the world’s policy on Globalization.
Boycotts, peaceful marches, and various sit-ins including occupations of various public establishments were the main ways of the struggle for civil rights, which united different social and ethnic groups of American citizens in the mid-20th century. Martin Luther King’s work was continued by the Black Power Movement that was taken up by the Chicano Movement, the American Indian Movement, the Women’s Liberation Movement, and the Gay Liberation Front.
The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were the first legal documents to declare the formation of a new nation in the American continent. However, each nation is unique. It has a language, culture, religion, traditions, etc. The United States, being a former British colony, became the so-called melting pot to create the American nation from immigrants with the American Exceptionalism being the central ideology forming the first democratic republic in the world. It influenced the American domestic and international policies that were a tool of racial segregation or the democratic reforms depending on the historical period of the development of the American society. As Deborah Madsen states, the American Exceptionalism is “the single most powerful agent in a series of arguments that have been fought down the centuries concerning the identity of America and Americans” (1). It emerged in the New World among Puritans’ communities of the first English colonies in Massachusetts Bay as an integral part of their religious beliefs that God gave them a miraculous opportunity to save the fallen humanity by establishing their Christian communities there according to the strict observation of all Christian dispensations because the New World was the last chance to save the human civilization. Thus, America and Americans are “special, exceptional, because they are charged with saving the world from itself… America must be as “a city upon a hill’ exposed to the eyes of the world” (Madsen 2). At the same time, the Catholic Church and Catholic immigrants were oppressed by the first English colonists and the American government due to a belief that the Catholics posed a danger both to the English Crown and the young American republic. In addition, the American Exceptionalism of the whites was the major reason for protecting racial segregation and apartheid in the United States. At the same time, it can be concluded that slavery played one of the major roles in forming the American attitude to other nations. Unfortunately, this prejudice remains in the modern American society.
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Sandra Cisneros depicts the life of one of the millions of illegal immigrants living in the United States in her story “Geraldo No Last Name” as “just another brazer who didn’t speak English. Just another wetback” (Cisneros 66). Thus, Cisneros describes the attitude of the Americans to illegal immigrants from Latin American countries. Nobody wants to deal with such people, and nobody considers them as citizens. Therefore, nobody takes care of Geraldo when the accident happens. Only Marin, who just dances with Geraldo, is distressed for him. She is very upset because neither surgeon nor intern has saved Geraldo for one reason: he is a boy without a name, a wetback. Thus, he dies from loss of blood in the hospital. Esperanza falls into despair thinking that his family will never know the fate of Geraldo and nobody will tell them. Thus, Geraldo loses his life in the United States. He left his home to never return. Sandra Cisneros expresses her indignation and protest stating, “When you leave you must always remember to come back for the others. A circle, you understand? You can’t forget who you are” (Cisneros 105). In this case, the American society is responsible for every individual living in the United States because otherwise the racism will return to the United States.
Gradesaver.com. House on Mango Street Summary. 05 June 2014. Web.
The article analyzes all characters and events depicted by the author focusing on the problems of illegal immigrants. It helps to form an attitude to the book written by Sandra Cisneros.
Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. New York NY: Random House, 1984. Print.
Sandra Cisneros depicts life of Latino community in the United States. The main character is Esperanza Cordera, a girl living in a Hispanic quarter of the City of Chicago. The book consists of short stories describing different problems from the life of Esperanza’s community and friends. “Geraldo No Last Name” is one of the stories from the book. It describes a tragic fate of an illegal immigrant from Mexico, who died in the road accident, and nobody could save him because he was not an American citizen. Therefore, this book is a source for studying the real states of affairs in the issue of illegal immigration in the United States.
- Kevane, Bridget A. Literature as Windows to World Cultures: Latino Literature in America. Westport CT: Greenwood Publishing Group Inc., 2003. Print.
Kevane analyzes the most famous works of eight Latino writers and their cultural contribution to the American literature with Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street among them. Kevane discusses the biography of Cisneros, analyzes each story of the book rising the problems highlighted by the author. The work is helpful in understanding the feelings expressed through her characters. The book helps to understand the life of Latino community in the United States through analyzing literary works of the famous Latino writers.
- Klose, Nelson and Curt Ladder. United States History: Since 1865. New York NY: Barron’s Education Series Inc., 2001. Print.
Klose and Ladder describe the history of the United States after the Civil War. It helps the reader to understand how the new American nation was formed by European immigrants and what problems they faced from the very beginning of the United States. It helps to gain knowledge on American history as well as some contemporary issues of the American society from the historical perspective. Thus, the book is an additional source in analyzing the book The House on Mango Street of Sandra Cisneros.
- Kolchin, Peter. American Slavery 1619-1877. New York NY: Hill and Wang, 2003. Print.
Peter Kolchin discusses American slavery as a phenomenon that emerged in the New World, its significance for the future development of the American society and its influence on the emergence of racial segregation and apartheid in the United States. It is useful in understanding the development of the attitude to slaves in the American society.
- Madsen, Deborah L. American Exceptionalism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998. Print.
Deborah Madsen describes the central American ideology, which became the basis for creating the American nation from European immigrants, the so-called American Exceptionalism.
Portia W. Weiskel analyzes Cisneros’s book The House on Mango Street and describes the characters of the book and the literary tools used by the author to demonstrate her attitude to events narrated in her stories. As a matter of fact, this book is a complementary source of Kevane’s Literature as Windows to World Cultures: Latino Literature in America, while analyzing The House on Mango Street. Therefore, it is a reliable source that can be used in order to better understand Sandra Cisneros and her literary works.
- Weiskel, Portia W. Bloom’s Guides. Comprehensive Research and Study Guides of Sandra Cisneros’s “The House on Mango Street’. Troy NY: IBT Global, 2010. Print.