As part of the National Museum of Mexican Art’s Sor Juana Festival: A Tribute to Mexican Woman, the Chicago premiere of Have You Seen Marie? by Sandra Cisneros was the last event in the festival to explore the many dynamics del espíritu de la mujer mexicana.
Sandra Cisneros, Chicago native and author of the popular novel The House on Mango Street, was present for the premiere of her latest novel, Have You Seen Marie? The “picture book for adults” is a heartfelt journey of a woman in search of her friend’s cat in the streets of San Antonio as she grieves the loss of her mother. The book is a reflection of Cisneros’s own experience losing her mother and how she was able to reconnect with her community in the search of her friend’s cat.
The premiere of Have You Seen Marie? consisted of a discussion between Sandra Cisneros and the illustrator of the novel, Ester Hernandez, followed by Cisneros’s tender reading of Have You Seen Marie?
The discussion, led by Sandra Cisneros herself, explored the loss of her mother and the distinct experiences between her and Ester Hernandez as they grew up on opposite sides of the country. Hernandez, a native of California, discussed the isolation of her pueblo growing up, “I remember when they put the first stoplight in our town, people from the neighboring towns came just to see it.” Hernandez also discussed her need to move to San Francisco as a young girl, “I was one of the first Chicana hippies up there…they would say don’t go to San Francisco, it’s full of sex, drugs and rock and roll. That’s not exactly what you tell a curious girl.”
In contrast, Cisneros discussed the diversity she saw in the many communities she lived in when moving around Chicago as a child, “ I grew up in Uptown…63rd and Ashland…Roosevelt Road. I recently found out about a month ago that I was baptized at Saint Francis.” Cisneros also shared the same feelings as Hernandez about leaving home as the only girl in the family, and how it allowed her to grow.
However, the most heartwarming part of the discussion was when Cisneros discussed the aftermath of her mother’s death. “I hid in my room and I did not want to get out of bed. There were days where I didn’t comb my hair, and I felt bad because I felt people expected me to comb my hair. It was until a very good friend of mine visited, and she told me that if I didn’t want to comb my hair, that I shouldn’t comb it.” She later emphasized how writing Have You Seen Marie? served as a type of therapy by allowing her to reach out to members of her community that she had closed off during her healing process. Hernandez also discussed her decision to illustrate the novel, “My mother had also recently died, and I felt a connection to Sandra.”
Cisneros’s abridge reading of Have You Seen Marie? was very reminiscent of the elementary school storytimes many of us experienced as children. Her soul and passion were evident in every page read to her audience, that one felt a more intimate connection with her as if she was a friend opening up to you.
At the end of her reading, the audience was allowed to ask three questions to either Cisneros or Hernandez. Among them, “How did Sandra Cisneros feel about her book, The House on Mango Street being banned in Arizona school districts?” Her response: “I’M PROUD. IT MAKES ME FEEL VERY PROUD,” Cisneros exclaimed. Cisneros’s work, as well as Drown by Junot Diaz and other novels written by Latino authors have been banned from the Tucson Unified School district, as part of its suspension of its Mexican American Studies programs.
After the Q&A, audience members were given the opportunity to have their copies of Have You Seen Marie? and other of Cisneros’s works signed by the author herself and Hernandez. With my books clutched, I made a dash for the line that curved around the small gallery. Thankfully, I had pre-ordered my book, and did not have to get in line to purchase it at the museum gift shop. The wait was very quick, and before I knew it, Sandra Cisneros was signing my copy of Caramelo; in her soft-spoken voice that genuinely showed her humility, she thanked me, as she thanked everyone else in line for coming out to see her. Afterwards, the persistent fans, I being one of them, waited in the lecture hall for the second line to form that would allow us to take a photograph with Cisneros. I was able to take a photograph with her and again she thanked us all for waiting and for our support.
With Dia de Los Muertos fast approaching I began to think about my loss in my own family. Both my maternal and paternal grandfather have passed away in the last few years. However, it has been my father who has been strongly affected by the death of his father. My father being relatively close in age to Cisneros’s does empathize with the idea of being “an orphan at 50.” I remember being younger and seeing my father cry and explain the nostalgia and regret he was feeling when he thought about the time he spent away from his father. With this in mind, I find myself in the same place Sandra Cisneros was as she prepared to leave home for college and start her own life, far from her family. While I am excited about starting this new chapter in my life, I find myself at times feeling selfish for leaving and I am thinking about how one day I will have to endure the loss of a parent and feel the same remorse for the time lost.
However, while some conversations involving the death of my grandfather are sad, many of them are joyful memories of going to las posadas en la plaza, horseback riding in el rancho, or my father’s childhood memories of traveling the Guanajuato countryside on family vacations.
In the afterword to Have You seen Marie?, Cisneros explains the process of healing, “In Mexico they say when someone you love dies, a part of you dies with them. But they forget to mention that a part of them is born in you—not immediately. I’ve learned, but eventually, and gradually. It’s an opportunity to be reborn.”