Academic journal article MELUS

The "Dual"-Ing Images of la Malinche and la Virgen De Guadalupe in Cisneros's the House on Mango Street

Academic journal article MELUS

The "Dual"-Ing Images of la Malinche and la Virgen De Guadalupe in Cisneros's the House on Mango Street

Article excerpt

In "And Some More," a story from Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street, two young girls discuss the nature of snow:

      There ain't thirty different kinds of snow, Lucy said. There are two
   kinds. The clean kind and the dirty kind, clean and dirty. Only two.

      There are a million zillion kinds, says Nenny. No two exactly alike.
   Only how do you remember which one is which? (35)

At first glance, the girls' conversation appears to be a bit of childish nonsense, and, on a surface level, it is. Read in a broader context, however, Nenny and Lucy's debate highlights a conflict that is at the heart of Cisneros's work: the insistence on culturally defining the world by a rigid set of black/white, good/bad, clean/dirty dualities, versus the reality of individuality, uniqueness, and infinite differentiation. Cisneros comments on the difficulties inherent in this clear-cut dichotomy, and she relates this binary specifically to the Mexican influences in her life and writing:

   Certainly that black-white issue, good-bad, it's very prevalent in my work
   and in other Latinas. We're raised with a Mexican culture that has two role
   models: La Malinche y la Virgen de Guadalupe. And you know that's a hard
   route to go, one or the other, there's no in-betweens. (Rodriguez-Aranda
   65)

According to Cisneros, then, females, like the snow, are not seen in Latino culture as unique individuals but are labeled as either "good" women or "bad" women, as "clean" or "dirty," as "virgins" or "malinches."

Cisneros is not the first writer to acknowledge the difficulties in dealing with this duality nor the cultural archetypes upon which it is based. As Luis Leal observes, "the characterization of women throughout Mexican literature has been profoundly influenced by two archetypes present in the Mexican psyche: that of the woman who has kept her virginity and that of the one who has lost it" (227).(1) These archetypes, embodied in the stories of la Malinche, the violated woman, and la Virgen de Guadalupe, the holy Mother, sharply define female roles in Mexican culture based on physical sexuality; however, as historical and mythical figures, these two archetypes take on both political and social significance that also influence perceptions of femininity in the Latin American world.

As the Mexican manifestation of the Virgin Mary, la Virgen de Guadalupe is the religious icon around which Mexican Catholicism centers. Consequently, versions of her historic origin are prevalent throughout the national literature. Although several variations of the story of the Virgin's initial apparitions exist, Stafford Poole identifies the version published in 1649 by the Vicar of Guadalupe, a priest named Luis Laso de la Vega, as the definitive source (26). According to Poole's translation of de la Vega,(2) la Virgen de Guadalupe originally appeared to a converted Indian, Juan Diego, in 1531, on the hill of Tepeyac, identifying herself as "mother of the great true deity God" (27). The Virgin tells Juan Diego that she "ardently wish[es] and greatly desire[s] that they build my temple for me here, where I will reveal ... all my love, my compassion, my aid, and my protection" (27). Diego immediately proceeds to the bishop in Mexico City, but he is greeted with disbelief. On his second visit, the bishop asks Diego for proof of the apparition. The Virgin sends Diego to the top of the hill, where he gathers "every kind of precious Spanish flower," despite the fact that these flowers are out of season and do not grow on that hill, and the Virgin places them in his cloak (27). When Diego visits the bishop, the bishop's servants try to take some of the blossoms, but they turn into painted flowers. Finally, when Diego sees the bishop and opens his cloak, the flowers fall out, and an imprint of the Virgin is left on the lining of the cloak. The bishop becomes a believer, begs for forgiveness, and erects the shrine to la Virgen de Guadalupe on the hill of Tepeyac. …

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