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Throughout the quarter, we have witnessed the power of expressing culture through symbolism. Specifically, referring to the “Latino Language Communities” in Chicago where we learned by way of readings, lively class discussions, and a multitude of excursions. With the examples of symbolism we have encountered, a common theme seemed to persist. The theme of culture is very evident throughout all that we have experienced this quarter. All of the excursions supported this common theme of culture through symbolism, but one that stands out to me were the ofrendas from the Day of the Dead exhibit at the National Museum of Mexican Art. The rich culture and powerful significance that was expressed through these symbolic and artistic masterpieces are a testimony to themes of culture and symbolism. Many of these overlying themes discussed in class and that were observed through the exclusion were present in the novel, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. Sandra Cisneros uses symbolism throughout the whole story to portray many symbolic conflicts faced by the residents of these Latino Language Communities. The book captures the growing up of the main character, Esperanza, and really emphasizes the expression of culture and how it pertains to one’s identity. These two examples resulted in me to analyze a component in my life that symbolically relates to my culture and overall who I am. The use of music for me serves as a very symbolic and cultural factor. Music is used to express emotion and recall memories associated with each song.
During this course, you see the recurring themes of culture and symbolism throughout the various excursions. Each excursion was very enriched in culture and many times expressed this culture symbolically through art, music, and ethnic cuisines. Out of all the communities we visited, we had the privilege to go to Pilsen. As soon as you exit from the Chicago “L” into Pilsen, you feel completely immersed into this neighborhood. As you travel through the streets, you notice that everything around you is teeming with cultural significance through the various symbolic means. It allows you to gain insight on how inflectional and significant these masterpieces are in retaining culture and preserving tradition. For example, a piece of symbolic culturalism that stood out to me were the ofrendas that were displayed in the National Museum of Mexican Art. These ofrendas all had different but equally significant cultural meanings which was very enlightening to recognize the indispensable connection that the Mexican population had incorporated into their daily lives. One ofrenda that stood out to me was the ofrenda created for in remembrance for a local women who had recently passed away, but who lived in the neighborhood for a couple decades. For me this ofrenda was special because it consisted of multiple aspects portraying the symbolic culture as well as seeing the reflection of this woman’s life in this grand symbolic gesture. The ofrenda consisted of many of her personal items that could manifest the important items in her life. The whole tradition of creating these ofrendas are an exemplary form of demonstrating the theme of expressing culture through symbolism. The items in the ofrenda not only represented some frequent aspects of her life, but symbolized items with specific emotional and sentimental meanings for her family and the people around her and other objects represented have a more extensive symbolic meaning for a specific heritage or ethnicity. For example, the box of chocolates that were hidden on her ofrenda had a deep emotional and related symbolic meaning for the people close to her as she would often hide her chocolates from people during her lifetime which was a resistanting trait that was portrayed within the ofrenda. The previous example represents the significance for only the people who knew her, but many of the ofrendas are meant to express the cultural significant ideas. For me the butterflies in the ofrenda stuck with me as butterflies in general have a very historic and cultural meaning for the Mexican population. They have been seen to symbolically guide you in life or bring you to a stage of transformation or change. The symbolic meaning was even as simple as how the monarch butterflies acted as a link from the families in the United States to their families back in Mexico. Throughout not only the excursion to Pilsen, but to all the locations we visited this quarter, each place seemed to use the centralized theme of using symbolic means to express culture. These excursions provided a very culturally enriched experience and was very informative for me, the significance of these cultural expressions would be a lot greater for people relating to that specific ethnicity. That being said, being able to read the life experience of Sandra Cisneros who grew up in Humboldt Park, another community teeming with symbolic culturalism, was very enlightening to establish a different point of view of these places.
In the book, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, the author uses symbolism throughout the whole book to illustrate underlying themes and relevant conflicts faced by a minority population. The book conceptualizes experience as a minority and speaks on how the main character, Esperanza, overcomes many wide spreading issues spanning encountered by members of all ethnicities. Throughout the whole book, Esperanza never seems to feel that she fits in whether it be with her peers in the community and in school or in her home life where she is forced to take on many responsibilities. Sandra Cisneros uses Esperanza in this memoir to express her own personal experiences. While Esperanza is a form of Sandra Cisneros, she also has another culturally symbolic meaning in representing the hardships faced by many other Mexican Americans. For Cisneros, a connection to culture represents many symbolic factors and even plays a large role in one’s identity. The “House on Mango Street” was small and cramped in an overall physical appearance, but to Esperanza it was her home and part of she was. She grew up to be proud of her home and the neighborhood she lived in. There were many chapters that relate to the theme of culture and symbolism and a chapter that stood out was “The Three Sisters”. She was very proud of her home and home is very symbolic to how we grew up and who we are today. Our home has ties to our identity and culture, as a result , when Esperanza was ready to leave Mango Street, she was told [she] will always be Mango Street. As this book takes place in Chicago, we were able to visit the real house of which the story was based originated from. The house and community was in Humboldt Park, which much like Pilsen expressed their culture through symbolism. Humboldt Park was filled with culturally significant murals and political relevant artworks. This neighborhood is currently has a strong Puerto Rican population which has been one of the most treated minority populations in Chicago throughout history. They have been gentrified and pushed out of their resident neighborhoods, forced to relocate. The Puerto Rican community symbolically took a stand and “planted their flag” in Humboldt Park. A section of Division Street is divided by two large, steel Puerto Rican Flags which secures the population from being victims of regentrification. After continuing to read the book throughout the quarter, I encountered a chapter that had many residing similarities. The chapter “Four Skinny Trees” , Cisneros uses a very interesting choice of words to illustrate this underlying symbolic significance regarding these “four skinny trees”. For example, Esperanza talks about the physical similarities between her and the trees, such as how “[their] skinny necks and pointy elbows resembled [hers]” (Cisneros 74). Cisneros personifies the trees to represent the minority population such as Esperanza and her family. Cisneros continues to describe the trees in a such a way that uncanny resembles the fight these enthic microcosms go through to protect their cultural and identity. Esperanza talks about how the four trees’ “strength is secret and how they send roots beneath the ground… and never quit their anger” or fight (74). This quote struck me to resemble the large 59 feet tall and 45 ton Puerto Rican flags that represent the stand and fight for the Puerto Rican Americans in Chicago. This very brief chapter describing these “four skinny trees” has many symbolic meanings and expresses the importance of using symbolism to convey and protect culturalism. Esperanza questions the presence of the trees. In the second part of the chapter, Esperanza compares the ever so common sight of “bricks” versus the refreshing sight of the tree. She is in marvel at these trees and is amazed due to the fact that “when there [was] nothing left to look at on [the] street. Four [skinny trees] grew despite being surrounded by concrete” (74). She references how the trees do not belong in the concrete dominant area , but against all odds they arose and reach high.
In Sandra Cisneros’s chapter “Four Skinny Trees”, the four skinny trees represent Esperanza. Esperanza is misunderstood for who she is. She is a skinny girl with pointy elbows. She feels as she does not belong here, but is here. She feels as just a raggedy excuse who was put in the city. Esperanza’s secret in life is her strength. She sends ferocious roots within her life. Her roots grow up and they grow down, each getting stronger with time. Putting down these roots is how she supports herself. She brings herself up in times of discourage. She overcomes obstacles within her neighborhood by observing the beauty around her as well as the beauty in her. The House on Mango Street will always be her home even though she will leave it some day. She motivates herself by stating she may feel like she does not belong, but she is here so she will make the most out of it.
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