“I became a writer thanks to a mother who was unhappy being a mother,” author Sandra Cisneros told a crowd of nearly 300 at the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) in Long Beach over the weekend.
The author, reciting an excerpt from the essay An Ofrenda For My Mother, off of her latest book, A House of My Own: Stories From My Life, described her mother as an aspiring artist trapped within the confines of household duties as a wife and mother to seven children.
"Because my mother needed to fortify her spirit, every weekend she herded us to museums, concerts in Grant Park and the library," Cisneros said. "I used to think this was for our sake, but now I realize it was for hers."
Elvira Cordero Cisneros—who died in 2007 at the age of 78—loved the opera, Pearl Buck novels and could sing and draw, the author said.
Guests of the afternoon reading and book signing on Halloween were also treated to a Dia de los Muertos-inspired art installation titled, A Room of Her Own, created by Cisneros, with help from Texan artist Carolina Rubio, in honor of her mother.
The process of creating the ofrenda allowed Cisneros to understand and forgive her mother, she said.
The offering featured photos, candles and blouses hanging from the ceiling, as well as neatly placed flowers representing Elvira’s love for gardening.
The altar took the shape of a bed. According to Cisneros, her mother never had a room of her own until the last 10 years of her life.
Cisneros' latest book is the ninth since her award-winning 1984 coming-of-age novel The House on Mango Street, weaving together an autobiography through a compilation of stories about her life and the places she’s lived.
The Chicago-born author, now living in Mexico, said that though not every place is perfect, she feels the post-9/11 mentality has made her fearful for people of color, immigrants and the working class.
“It’s a scary time to be any of the above in the United States of America,” Cisneros said. “I just came from Phoenix. I felt very unsafe there and I think it’s a palpable fear that’s not really directed from anyone as much as this collective fear that you feel immediately coming from the United States.”
Cisneros also noted the importance of institutions such as museums to share everyone’s stories and for people themselves to write their own history if no one is writing from their own point of view.
She especially noted the need for Latino writers from the U.S., as opposed to upper-class, educated Latin American writers whose themes are irrelevant to the U.S.
“A child crossing the border, that's the good American story of our times,” Cisneros said. “I want to read the stories that are going to nourish me and I think as the United States changes its demographics that we are going to read books that nourish and are medicine for us and they can't be the same books.”
All photos by Stephanie Rivera.