A Question of Identity
From the very opening lines of “Only Daughter” writer Sandra Cisneros makes it plain that growing up female in a Hispanic culture is not the easiest circumstances in which to carve an identity. It is quite telling that in reviewing her initial statement about what defines her, Cisneros decided to edit the content to reveal the significance that Hispanic culture plays in the struggle to determine who you are. Ask a dozen daughters of any ethnic background whether being the lone female sibling growing up in a household with six brothers and you can almost guarantee a dozen answers that point to that fact as being vital in the creation of their identity. That Cisneros takes the opportunity afforded by writing “Only Daughter” to engage a little historical revisionism says perhaps more than anyone who does not share her ethnic background can ever fully appreciate.
The more scholarly approach to the issue of finding one’s identity within the Hispanic culture provides the kind of illumination that such a scientific approach to the subject might be expected to provide, but it is of intense interest that both the personal approach and the academic overview essentially come to the same conclusion. Both readings highlight for the uninitiated what may not be a part of their conventional wisdom: Latinas are expected, above all else purposes, to propagate the species. Both Cisneros and Pinto comment with blunt directness upon this aspect of the Hispanic culture and those who come to these works with absolutely no context from either their own life or watching such cultures play out in media representations can certainly be forgiven if their jaw drops.
Cisneros does not make any attempt to lessen the inherent sexism adopted by her father when she comments that to his mind she possessed one destiny. Perhaps not just one destiny, but above any other lay that destiny to become a wife and, by extension, a mother. Pinto’s academic survey of women with Hispanic backgrounds lends some much needed context to what could, if taken completely of context, leave some jaws of some readers on the floor for some period of time.
It would be very easy to read these works and take from them the concept that the Hispanic culture that expects the identity of young women to be inextricably linked to marriage and motherhood and remain fully shocked at what seems on the surface to be a truly outdated, outmoded and perhaps even relatively medieval perspective. That would be the easy way out.
The truth is that the establishment of identity is a notoriously difficult process that many people never fully achieve at all and a significant portion of the population probably don’t achieve until much later in their life than they think. When Cisneros is equally honest about her father’s illiteracy, the astute reader will make the link between points of view that cling to tradition rather than progressive perspectives that have been expanded thanks to contact with different cultures and modes of thinking.
As for the students in Pinto’s article, reading between the lines firmly establishes the argument that marriage and motherhood are not necessarily deemed mutually exclusive from other identities. If you can be a partner in your marriage and raise your children and become a writer or teacher or artist or banker or whatever, it’s not as if Hispanic women should expected to be penalized. It’s really no different from the non-Hispanic dream of women to “have it all.” Identity should ideally not restricted to family roles or workplace roles or any other one single role. Identity is multifaceted, just like the women in these articles…and their fathers and brothers.