Only Daughter By Sandra Cisneros: What Holds Us Back

April 27, 2022 by Essay Writer

When distinguished civil rights activist and poet Audre Lorde spoke at Harvard University in 1982, she declared, “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive” (Learning From the 60s). The fantasies that people create for others frequently are brought up upon because of prejudice, and it is easy for prejudice to occur when segregation is present. In the article “Only Daughter” by Sandra Cisneros and the excerpt from Hunger of Memory by Richard Rodriguez, ideas surrounding segregation are prevalent as it affected both writers. Sandra Cisneros spent her life surrounded by people that looked just like her, but in “Only Daughter,” she looks back on how her culture’s traditional views shaped her father’s expectations of her. In Hunger of Memory, Rodriguez describes a different life than Cisneros but is still faced with expectations from society to fit into his ethnicity. As Cisneros still maintains her Mexican culture after childhood, Rodriguez completely assimilates into American culture. Yet, they share a similarity in both works of not feeding into segregation and going out into the world of integration. Thus, Richard Rodriguez and Sandra Cisneros both use anecdotes, double meaning, and negative connotations to argue that segregation hinders people’s ability to evolve as individuals.

Sandra Cisneros and Richard Rodriguez use anecdotes from their past as a way to illustrate the way segregation holds children back from being more than just what meets the eye. When Sandra Cisneros reflects on her time growing up, she recalls her father purposefully moving to communities dominated by Mexican heritage and culture: “Another Chicago neighborhood, another Catholic school. Each time, my father would seek out the parish priest… ‘I have seven sons’” (10). By sharing a memory from her past, Cisneros captures her father’s attempt of trying to fit his singular “ideal” of being Mexican. Yet, Cisneros makes it clear that his attempt to surround their family with only Mexican culture, erases all the other things that make her up. Cisneros conveys that the separation and segregation of humans lead to the dangerous idea that racial and ethnic groups are or should be the same. As Sandra Cisneros shares her story of growing up with people visibly similar to her, Richard Rodriguez shares his story of growing up with people of a different races along with economic statuses as he writes, “I have always, accidentally, been a classmate to children of rich parents, I long ago came to assume my association with their world; came to assume that I could have money, if it was money I wanted” (9). Rodriguez develops a world of possibilities when integration is in effect based on his own experiences as a child. He shows that segregation limits people to only see the possibilities that are shown to their own communities. Integration not only allows people to see what they don’t have, but it also provides a glimpse into what they could have or achieve. Both authors may have shared different life experiences, but they also signify a contrast in a child’s mind when they grow up with integration versus segregation.

Cisneros and Rodriguez add double meaning to their works to convey that people should not be simplified to only one thing. Cisneros begins her article with context to who she is and how she has been seen as “the only daughter and only a daughter,” and later elaborates on that by writing, “Being only a daughter for my father meant my destiny would lead me to become someone’s wife” (3-4). The double meaning of being a daughter that Cisneros emphasizes conveys the human nature of reducing a person down to things they cannot control. Cisneros cannot control that she is the only daughter, but she illustrates that people like her father make that one thing a good enough reason to determine what she does with her life. Yet, Cisneros goes against her father’s views as she shows that what somebody is born with should not determine what they do with their lives. On the other hand, Richard Rodriguez uses double meaning to emphasize how he is bigger than just himself: “This is my story. An American story” (21). Rodriguez refers to his story as also an American story to show that his life is not just about him coming from immigrant parents or being a part of a minority, but his story encompasses what he has done in his life. The “American story” refers to the American dream of working hard, and that is exactly what Richard Rodriguez did. Just like Sandra Cisneros, he points out that he too is more than what meets the eye and how it should not affect the way he goes on about his day.

The use of negative connotations in both Cisneros and Rodriguez’s story shapes the perception of the way their own race looked at them for seeking beyond the status quo of their group. When Cisneros hears what her own father said about her career, she recalls him saying, “Esmaestra–– teacher. Not even proffesera” (6). By including her father referring to her as “esmaestra,” it shows how her father did not favor her career and would rather have her be at home as a wife. Yet, if Cisneros tried to stay within the guidelines of her ethnicity and not reach out beyond that, then she would not grow as a professional writer. Richard Rodriguez recalls all the negative things people of his race said because of his opinions like “a dupe, an ass, the fool-Tom Brown, the brown Uncle Tom” (17). It is important as humans to have beliefs and opinions, and it is an important part of American ideology. Thus, by not shying away from the negative things people have called him, Rodriguez emphasizes that segregation can hold people back in developing their own ideas and thoughts. These words that have negative connotations that people threw at both Cisneros and Rodriguez illustrate that hurdles that segregation causes not only outside of their race but within. They both convey that integration of people leads to integration of culture, beliefs, and opportunities: all-important in success in America.

Audre Lorde spoke volumes on integration when she said that she only defines herself for herself. People should not build their entire persona or identity based on just one aspect of who they are. To become more in life and evolve, one must see him or herself as more. Cisneros and Rodriguez may have had different ways to overcome segregation and pursue integration, but they both sent a message to Americans that they cannot keep dividing themselves. When groups of people separate from each other, they destroy an opportunity to learn something new, and education is the key to success.

Works Cited

BlackPast. “(1982) Audre Lorde, ‘Learning from the 60s’ • BlackPast.” BlackPast, 24 Sept. 2019,https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/1982-audre-lorde-learning-60s/.

Kirszner, Laurie G., Mandall, Stephen R., “Only Daughter.” Patterns for College Writing: a Rhetorical Reader and Guide, 11th ed., Bedford/St. Martins, 2009, pp. 97-100

Rodriguez, Richard. Hunger of Memory. 1982. New York: Bantam, 1983   

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