Postcolonial Criticism of Sandra Cisneros’ Woman Hollering Creek

Sandra Cisneros’ Woman Hollering Creek is rife with elements of postcolonial ideologies that insert themselves into the story and create tension for the protagonist by “othering” her and her family through a form of orientalism that stereotypes Mexicans and portrays them as helpless, savage, substandard versions of Americans. Furthermore, the story simultaneously shows the mimicry of Mexican immigrants in their work habits and developing sense of American supremacy and materialism (420, Tyson). However, the story also romanticizes Mexicana by discussing the mystery and beauty of myths related to Woman Hollering Creek, and the narrative utilizes a Mexican dialect of the Spanish language in a way that contradicts the Eurocentric notions of the supremacy of the English language. This paradoxical parallelism in the story reveals Cisneros’ conscious effort to bring awareness to the double consciousness that exists among Mexican immigrants who feel unhomed in border states that once belonged to Mexico but now belong to the U.S. By using Mexican stereotypes in her story, Cisneros is confronting the otherness of Mexicans and even reversing so-called “positive stereotypes”—such as the stereotype of the romantic “Latin lover”—to show that Mexicans are like anyone else and capable of being hardworking, or lazy, romantic, or abusive.

Cleofilas’ move to “the other side” in the United States carries with it the assumption that it is a good move because all that waits for her in the “south” is “chores that never [end], six good-for-nothing brothers, and one old man’s complaints.” However, there is also the inference that Cleofilas is abandoning her home in Mexico in pursuit of a better life in the United States, which is implied when she remembers her father’s parting words: “I am your father, I will never abandon you.” The implication is that, unlike her father, she is the abandoner and will never “dream of returning” as her father “divine[s]” (43, Cisneros).

Juan Pedro Martinez Sanchez epitomizes the Mexican immigrant searching for the American Dream through endless work hours. He is “up before the rooster earning his living to pay for the food in [Cleofila’s] belly and the roof over her head and [will] have to wake up again early the next day.” The reason given for this is so Juan Pedro and Cleofilia can mimic the American materialist culture and buy the “new pickup truck,” the “new house,” and the “new furniture” that married couples in America get. However, Juan Pedro is also portrayed as an abusive husband who physically and verbally abuses his wife, cheats on her, and then “weep[s] like a child” (48, Cisneros). In addition to this negative portrayal of the husband, Cleofila’s brothers are described as the stereotypical “good-for-nothing”, “clumsy” Mexicans, and the father is described as having “a head like a burro” (45, Cisneros). The father’s comparison to a donkey, as well as the husband’s portrayal, reaffirms the stereotypes of Mexicans as animalistic and savage. Cisneros decision to include these portrayals of the Mexican characters I think has more to do with addressing stereotypes rather than promoting them because Cisneros never actually describes the father and brothers herself, but rather, leaves their description up to the hearsay of other characters. I also think Cisneros depiction of the husband has more to do with universalizing domestic hardships and breaking the stereotype of the exotic savageness of the “Latin lover.” The “telanovelas” that Cleofilas likes to watch are full of ideologies about Mexican romance. With titles like “Tu o Nadie” (“You or No One”), we get an idea of how these stereotypes and preconceived notions about Mexicans persist, even among Mexicans themselves.

The story captures the effects of Eurocentrism on the Mexican culture that had left its mark in annexed territory like Texas, which used to belong to Mexico until the Mexican-American War in the mid-1800s. The commonality of English has replaced original Spanish place names with English ones. This is evident when Cisneros writes: “The neighbor ladies, Soledad, Dolores, they might’ve known once the name of the arroyo before it turned English but they did not know now” (47, Cisneros).

The ones who rescue Cleofilas from her abusive marriage are named Felice and Graciela. These Spanish-sounding names imply that they are of Mexican descent; however, they’re disassociation with Mexican culture and tradition is identified in their dialogue. Graciela says, “Oh, and her name’s Cleofilas. I don’t know. One of those Mexican saints, I guess. A martyr or something. Cleofilas. C-L-E-O-F-I-L-A-S. Cle. O. Fi. Las. Write it down.” These two characters also reveal the indifference to the plight of Mexican immigrants to U.S. who are often not treated as equals, even by those who are meant to protect and serve, like the police. Graciela tells her friend, “Shit. You think they’re going to help her? She doesn’t even speak English” (51, Cisneros). And while Graciela ends the conversation with Spanish farewells, the language is short, trite, and seemingly inadvertent as Graciela seems to correct herself by saying, “bye” at the end of her Spanish. She even refers to San Antonio as “San Anto,” an Americanized version of the name that eliminates the ethnic aspects of it.

A postcolonial criticism of Cisneros’ Woman Hollering Creek reveals how stereotypes are prevalent and reinforced by Eurocentric ideologies that have permeated into the minds of the colonized lands. And while Mexico has not been fully colonized by America, the encroachment onto original Mexican territory—such as the annexation of Texas—exposes the imperialism that suppresses Mexican identity and affirms Eurocentric notions of supremacy among Americans and even Mexican-American immigrants themselves. Cisneros seems to portray the characters in her story in this light so as to raise awareness to the self-destructive nature of becoming colonial subjects, as well as the self-victimization that arises from the internalizing and projection of stereotypes.

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