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In Always Running, Luis Rodriguez reveals what it is like to be a male trapped in gang life, while Sandra Cisneros illustrates, in The House on Mango Street, the lives of females within the barrio and what they go through. Each author discusses the difficulties of being alienated either by race, social norms or a combination of the two. We see Luis, in Always Running, and Esmeralda, from The House on Mango Street, trying to fit into the barrio, but realizing that the barrio is not for them and leaving. However, we are shown that Luis is able to find a true place where he belongs, whereas for Esmeralda we are left in the dark as to what happens after she leaves. But though they leave the barrio, the barrio will always be a part of them as it shaped them to be who they are.
Children seek approval and belonging that is their instinct, thus Luis and Esmeralda desired to be a part of a society. Luis faced racism from the time he moved to America and throughout his educational career. He was consistently reminded that he was unwelcome in school, like when he was placed in a corner to play with blocks throughout the year. Realizing from a young age that he wasn’t wanted, Luis turned to the gang life, what he saw was the only place that would accept him. On the other hand, Esmeralda faced pressure to conform to what was expected of girls in the barrio. She liked writing poetry, but the other girls liked boys. They wore short skirts and make-up, but she wore dirt and grass stains. Society viewed them as beautiful and told her to be just like them. Esmeralda wanted to be like those girls who caught the eyes of boys and made them silly; she wanted to fit in.
Striving to belong in a place where he is alienated, Luis realizes that sometimes no matter how hard you want to belong there are some places you cannot fit into. Luis leaves his books and education for the gang life on the streets. Once he joins he becomes ensnared within the web of the barrio. He starts taking different kinds of drugs and stealing. However, there are times when he wants to say “no”, like when he is asked to be the one who holds the gun or when he goes to shoot at the Sangras, but he didn’t because in a gang you don’t say “no” to those higher than you that is if you want to live. Although Luis tries to be a part of the gang, he doesn’t fool everyone. People like Roberta and Frankie realize that he’s not like most gang members that he is actually a “sweet guy” (Always Running). No matter how many years he is with the gang and no matter how hard he tries, he would never truly belong.
In contrast, Esmeralda realizes that submitting to the societal norms placed on her was not as sweet as the fairy tales told. In the chapter “The Family of Little Feet,” Esmeralda is given a pair of beautiful shoes that makes her feel like Cinderella. She thinks that when she puts on those shoes, it is like magic has been placed on her and she is a beautiful princess. However, reality quickly proves her wrong as she and her friends walk through the streets with their shoes, they meet a bum who tries to force a kiss on them. They hastily run away and she never puts on those shoes again. Along with this, Esmeralda’s ideals of a sweet romance, like the ones Sally told her about, turn to the dark truths of life. In “Red Clowns,” Esmeralda experiences her “romance” that Sally had talked about and repeatedly says “Sally, you lied” because it was not like the beautiful dream she had envisioned.
Once they had realized that they could not fit into the society that they were caught in, Luis and Esmeralda realized that they had to leave. Luis originally had never intended to leave, he wanted to use the knowledge and experience he learned to help as many people as he could. He wants to let them know that they could change the ways of the barrio to something else, something significant. However, the way of la vida loca is absolute to many, especially for those that are higher up. When Luis started to become a threat to this way, they threatened him to leave. Thus Luis was forced to flee for his safety. However, though he was physically no longer in the barrio, he still strived to help them. He wrote “Always Running” as a way to reach out to those that he could not stay for. In hopes of exposing what gang life was about and to instill hope into those who feel that they have no right to hope.
Similarly, Esmeralda realized that she was different from the other girls and learned to accept that it was fine to be different, but she also realized that she could not stay in the barrio that would disapprove of her ways. She wished to leave the barrio and originally she did not think to come back. However, in her meeting with the three sisters, they told her that she would indeed be able to leave, but that she should come back for those who could not or for those who found it harder to leave than to submit. She then realizes that she should come back as she says in the end she will come back “for the ones who cannot get out” (110 The House on Mango Street).
Though both, Esmeralda and Luis, leave the barrio and ensure to come back and help those in need, Cisneros leaves ambiguity as to the future of Esmeralda and what truly happens to her as well as whether she was able to find a place where she could belong. However, Cisneros ensures that though Esmeralda has left, she will certainly return to guide those that cannot leave. On the other hand, we know that Rodriguez was able to find a place that he belonged from what he says in the preface of his novel. The preface details that he has had a fulfilling life as an author and that though there were difficulties after leaving the barrio he was able to metaphorically go back and help those who could not leave. Rodriguez utilizes his abilities as a writer to help those who feel trapped as well as educate those who are unaware or have misunderstandings of the barrio life, while Cisneros writes to remind those like Rodriguez who were able to leave to one day return and help those who cannot leave.
Luis Rodriguez and Sandra Cisneros write about belonging. However, Rodriguez writes from a male’s perspective while Cisneros writes from females’ perspectives, by combining these two they create a fuller understanding of the life of the barrio. They show how life in the barrio is hard and the difficulties for those who wish to belong, but are not suitable to live there. In the end, both Luis and Esmeralda leave the barrio behind, but the barrio has made them who they are; they could never truly leave it behind. They are not running away from the barrio, but instead they are ensuring that their experiences and insight can be passed on to others. Luis and Esmeralda had to leave so that they could thrive and prosper, in doing so, they are able to come back, metaphorically or literally, to aid those who are stuck in the entanglement of the barrio life.
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