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Sandra Cisneros Finds Family, Community Everywhere

The author and activist is nomadic but treasures her heritage

Sandra Cisneros, with flowers in her hair and a tattoo on her arm, looking to the side.

Lenin Nolly/EFE

En español | I have a visceral reaction when I hear the word “Hispanic,” because it was a term imposed on us during the Nixon administration. It's a term I always had difficulty accepting, because it seemed to me a catchall, a false term to group us together — a group with diverse histories and relationships with one another. Lumping us all together as “Hispanics,” whether it’s someone who just arrived from Spain or someone whose family was in Texas before Texas was even a state, seems to me a lack of awareness of who I am and the history of my people. I try to respect everybody's definition of what they call themselves and why. Mine is a generational difference. I'm a woman who is 63 years old. I grew up having seen a lot of changes of how the government sees us as immigrants and Latinos.

Before, I defined myself as Chicana and Latina. Not anymore. At estas alturas he cambiado

I say I'm estadounidense with raíces mexicanas, or mexicana with U.S. roots. I'm a U.S. citizen. I'm a Mexican citizen. So, it depends on what side of the border I’m on. Or simply assembled in the U.S. from Mexican parts.

We can belong to both, that rich place in between, where a lot of creativity and innovation comes from. There's complexity in our situation and globalization of our education, travel, movement and migration at this time in history. We shouldn't define ourselves simply by borders.

I'm very intuitive. I'm an empath and I always feel like Divina Providencia illuminates my next step, but not the path. About five years ago, during a visit to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, I had a metaphysical experience. One night, the spirits woke me to give me a clear message. It was literally a wake-up call, and I turned the light on and sat up in bed. I trusted that the spirits knew better than Sandra Cisneros. So, after living in Chicago and San Antonio, in 2013 I moved to Mexico.

I don't see myself moving back to the United States, but I also don't see myself living in one place for very long, so who knows? If a voice came to me in the middle of the night and said, “You’ve got to move,” I would do it because I would follow anything that the spirits told me. I know people say, "Hey, qué loca!" But I think it's loco to be living someplace that makes you unhappy. So, who's the loca? Right now, I'm happy to be here. I'm here to be of service, para ver como puedo ayudar.

Latinos contribute a lot to America. They give us a great sense of respect for family and elders. They have the great American work ethic, they get the job done and they’re not lazy. And I think something great they give, that you can see exemplified in the film Coco, is their sense of the collective — the indigenous idea of community that's so beautiful: taking care of others. That generosity and compassion that we see comes from our indigenous roots. It's not every man for himself. It's about taking care of family and community, looking after others. And that's a wonderful thing we need right now.

—As told to Verónica Villafañe

Sandra Cisneros, a Mexican American writer, was born in Chicago, the only daughter in a family of seven children. Her first novel, The House on Mango Street (1984), sold over 6 million copies and has been translated into more than 20 languages. Today it’s considered a coming-of-age classic and taught in classrooms across the United States. Over the past 50 years, she’s also written several collections of poetry, essays, short stories and children’s books. Her most recent book, A House of My Own: Stories from My Life (2015), is a collection of true stories and nonfiction pieces that span three decades of her life. Cisneros has worked as a teacher, a counselor, a college recruiter, a poet-in-the-schools and an arts administrator. Her numerous awards include the Texas Medal of the Arts, a MacArthur fellowship and, in 2016, the National Medal of Arts, presented to her by President Barack Obama. The founder of two foundations, she is widely recognized as a mentor to many writers. A dual citizen of the United States and Mexico, she makes her home in the state of Guanajuato.

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