From History to Fiction by Danielle Antony

To see the corresponding 2A assignment, click here.

Writer’s Reflection

Personally, inquiry two was a bit more challenging than inquiry one. I have done a paper similar to this research analysis before, however I thought it was a little more challenging to find good research in support of my thesis and enough to fill effectively support what I was trying to say. Overall, I think I managed to come up with a strong paper that has interesting ways of connecting Sandra Cisneros’ story “Never Marry A Mexican” with historical information.

A few things I believe I did well were tying the history I learned about the Mexican icon, La Malinche, directly to this story’s main character Clemencia. It interested me how similar the two’s traits had in common and I thought it would be more interesting to include how their actions were also closely related.

Before reading knowing anything about La Malinche when first reading this story, the whole thing seemed like it was based off of a foreign concept. Knowing the background and history about who helped influence Clemencia’s character really clarified why she did the things she did and how Cisneros intended for the reader to perceive her.

I changed my paper a lot from the original rough draft I had. From comparing the background of La Malinche and Mexican culture to Clemencia and her life, then to La Malinche and two other significant women, La Llorona and La Virgen. I think by doing this I tied my paper together better and made it flow well. I tried to justify in my paper that I am not comparing Clemencia directly to La Virgen, seeing as she is the opposite of her, but as a figure that Clemencia indirectly idols and doesn’t believe she can identify with.

Overall, I believe I executed this paper well given the challenges I faced while writing it. At some points I found it hard to make clear what I was trying to say, but I believe I now have a solid representation of all of my thoughts and analysis.  In this paper it was harder to find connections with the story and deliver them well, but I believe I did it to the best of my ability.

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Historical knowledge is fiction in the making. By this I mean, stories are often heavily influenced by events that occurred, remembrances that were created and by the actions significant people made centuries ago. “Never Marry a Mexican” by Sandra Cisneros portrays a Mexican-American woman conflicted by her mother’s repetitive phrase to never marry a Mexican scaring her belief in marriage and in men. Once the main character, Clemencia, finds love in an affair with a married white man and she is not chosen, Clemencia seeks revenge on the man, Drew, by pursuing his son so she can intentionally betray him. The history behind La Malinche at the time of the Mexican conquest, along with other significant figures of the Mexican-American culture, is reflected in Cisneros’ story through Clemencia’s actions, personality, and identity. Once the reader is aware of the historical context, this story can be interpreted in an entirely new way.

Clemencia’s character holds strong relations with the personality of the historical woman Malinal. Her Mayan tribe chose Malinal to asist Hernan Cortés as an interpreter during the conquest of Mexico from 1519-1521. Cortés later referred to Malinal as La Malinche and her race views her as a conflicted woman who betrayed her own people (Candeleria, 2). Similar characteristics become visible between Clemencia and La Malinche after the death of their fathers.

Malinal was given away by her mother who intended to gain control of her daughter’s inheritance so she could give it away to the son of the man she remarried (Candeleria, 2). This correlates to Clemencia and her mother’s relationship. “When she married that white man, and he and his boys moved into my father’s house, it was as if she stopped being my mother. Like I never had one (Cisneros, 333).”  By this passage we not only learn that her mother remarries, but it is also easy to tell Clemencia feels as though she has been replaced with her half-brothers and is now non-existent to her mother as she is non-existent to Clemencia. In Cisneros’ story the historical situation was slightly manipulated. Instead of the mother intentionally “giving” her daughter away in a literal sense, Clemencia only felt that she had been abandoned once her mother remarried and catered to her new husband. She is feeling like Malinal did; however the same exact thing did not happen to her. We can see that the actions and emotions of Clemencia hold a strong emotional correlation to La Malinche’s further in the story once knowing more background about La Malinche.

Malinal, (La Malinche), was the daughter of an Aztec chief and a member of a privileged class. Like Clemencia her locations changed frequently. She was first given away by her biological mother, then abandoned by traitors, and finally adopted by the Mayans whom she is infamous for betraying once she began to aid Hernan Cortés as his personal interpreter (Candeleria, 2). These three actions influence the interpretation of Clemencia’s life in Cisneros’ story. Similar to La Malinche, Clemencia was “given away” by her mother when she remarried. It was not an intentional action, but was still a feeling that corresponds with La Malinche. Drew, Clemencia’s first love, a white man, with whom she has an affair with, resembles the role of Cortés and is an example of another similar feeling. Once this white man chooses his white wife over her, Clemencia feels “abandoned” by him just as La Malinche did by her new tribe of traitors when they left her to find the Mayans. Finally, once determined to gain revenge for her broken heart, Clemencia “adopts” Drew’s son as her weapon. She has a predetermined plan to betray his trust and intentionally break his heart, as his father Drew did to her. Betrayal is the bond between Celemencia’s character and the significant figures she is representing. She connects herself directly with the infamous woman of her heritage through her feelings and similar actions.

The direct association with this historical character La Malinche becomes apparent once Clemencia begins mentioning her lost lover, Drew. Cisneros references La Malinche in a short passage as Clemencia is directing her thoughts toward Drew:

It was a joke, a private game between us, because you look like a Cortez with that beard of yours. My skin dark against yours. Beautiful, you said. You said I was beautiful, and when you said it, Drew, I was. My Malinalli, Malinche, my  courtesan, you said. (334)

This statement shows that Clemencia knew she was being segregated as “a Mexican”. The fact that she valued his view of her as his “beautiful courtesan” shows that she was not ashamed to hold the identity of a woman whose historical figure is frowned upon by the rest of her race, since identifying with her made Clemencia feel important. Being with Drew as his Malinalli, Malinche, and courtesan made her happy and feel like the beautiful person she never saw herself as. This direct connection is not entirely positive. When associating herself with La Malinche, Clemencia is also associating herself with a woman infamous for her beauty but shameful character as well.

According to biographers quoted by Karttunen, in paintings and folktales La Malinche is depicted as a beautiful woman. In one aspect she is viewed as a statement of feminism, intelligent and equal to the great Cortés, whom would have been led into traps and defeated without her (Karttunen, 3). As shown in the passage this is how Clemencia views herself when with Drew. In her eyes, when with him she is the beautiful mistress that helps him avoid being “defeated,” or disowned by his wife. She leads him in the right path by influencing him to go along with having his son. In the historical context there were people who viewed La Malinche in different light as well. She has been linked with Eve in people’s minds or any other women who have intimate associations with a snake. She is also identified with La Llorona, “a ghost in the form of a beautiful woman who leads men to death in dark (Candelaria, 2).” La Llorona along with La Virgen (de Guadalupe) and La Malinche have all been significant figures of religion and culture for Mexican-American women. Clemencia’s character is mostly affiliated directly with La Malinche, but she indirectly identifies with La Llorona and La Virgen as well.

La Llorona’s figure represents a woman of betrayal and resistance to maternity who is viewed as a destructive figure through drowning her children and others in history, but has been depicted as a woman breaking gender boundaries of equality in literature (Cardona, 179).  Clemencia’s character is related to La Llorona since she is only with men for sexual relations and has given up on marriage all together.

I’ll never marry. Not any man. I’ve known men too intimately. I’ve witnessed their infidelities, and I’ve helped them do it. Unzipped and unhooked and agreed to clandestine maneuvers. I’ve been accomplice, committed premeditated crimes. I’m guilty of having caused deliberate pain to other women. I’m vindictive and cruel, and I’m capable of anything….So, no. I’ve never married and never will (Cisneros, 329).

La Malinche, La Llorona and Clemencia are all connected by betrayal. They may not have identified with the word, but it is how others view them. La Malinche chose to help Cortés conquer; therefore her tribe and race thought she betrayed them. La Llorona is recognized to betray all with her destructive behaviors. And in the passage above, Clemencia admits her own betrayal to her gender. She is willingly helping a man commit the crime hated by society, adultery, and by doing so she is affirming the reason why she will never marry, because of women like herself. I don’t believe Clemencia wants to be “that woman” who destroyed a marriage, but since she has been told by her mother over and over to “never marry a Mexican,” she has already subconsciously predetermined her fate that marriage is not in the cards for her. “Never Marry a Mexican, my ma said once and always. She said this because of my father. She said this though she was Mexican too (Cisneros, 329).” Following this introduction sentence of the story is Clemencia reasoning with herself why her mother said that. It was “to spare” her pain or because it had already become clear to her that marriage in general does not work well.  This passage shows Clemencia is unsure of her identity and whether she is satisfied to fully associate with La Malinche. She understands that what she is doing is wrong, accepts the name given to her, and seeks revenge for her displeasure like La Llorona. However, I believe there is a side of Clemencia that wishes she were viewed as a “saint”, or at least someone worth marrying. Since she has been given a negative depiction of herself as a Mexican through her mother’s persistent words for so long, she has assumed La Malinche is the only woman she can be like. A figure valued by the Mexican culture, La Virgen represents who Clemencia would rather be viewed as.

La Virgen (de Guadalupe) is the patron saint of Mexico, viewed as the “Virgin Mary” by Mexican Catholics and a symbol of ethnic identity and transcends the issues of class, gender, and age (Álvarez, 119). Throughout the story Clemencia ensures she does not identify with one class or even one ethnic background and tries not to associate with one partake in segregating roles.

I’m amphibious. I’m a person who doesn’t belong to any class. The rich like to have me around because they envy my creativity; they know they can’t buy that. The poor don’t mind if I live in their neighborhoood because they know I’m poor like they are, even if my education and the way I dress keeps us worlds apart. I don’t belong to any class (Cisneros, 332).

Regardless of her not so pure actions, this portrays another example of Clemencia’s way of identifying herself. Like La Virgen she is exceeding the standard of class categories and claiming she belongs to none. La Virgen also represents the symbol for Mexican independence and is commonly referred to as the first mestiza or “the first Mexican” and presented in literature as the “border-crossing goddess” (Álvarez, 120). Clemencia also has a very independent character. She fights for what she wants and is strong because of all she has been through. La Virgen is a role model for women in the Mexican culture that has the up most respect (Álvarez, 120). Clemencia has not been shown with much respect, from her mother and Drew. This is why La Virgen corresponds to her, she wants to have that respect and not have it be diminished by her race. The reference to crossing a border can also correlate to her Mexican and American background and which one she associates with. With both being a part  of her, she is crossing the “border” of being just one or the other which helps her understand the people on each side.

La Malinche’s background of comprehending the culture and language of separated provinces was the main reason why her adopted people, the Mayans, chose her as one of the twenty maidens to serve Cortés as domestic labor during the Mexican conquest. She was christened by the Spaniards as Marina and earned the title of respect, Doña (Candelaria, 2). Clemencia has this same talent of understanding more than one dialect, Spanish and English. She is also related to this fact since she has had experience across widely “separated provinces”. As a Mexican-American she can understand the differences between natives, foreigners and those who have immigrated through what she has experienced in her childhood with her father and mother’s situation. By the end of the story, once she successful obtains her revenge on Drew, she also learns to have respect for herself.

From the beginning Clemencia’s character is struggling with her identity. Growing up she has only been told to “never marry a Mexican” that they are no good, a contradicting statement considering she comes from a Mexican background.  There is a strong correlation between Clemencia’s character and the infamous woman of the Mexican culture, La Malinche as well as small correlations with La Llorona and La Virgen. With knowledge of this stories background as well as other important figures of the Mexican-American culture, “Never Marry a Mexican” by Sandra Cisneros is interpreted with an entire new meaning. Cisneros keeps you drawn to her story with questions of where the influence for such a distraught character came from only to discover it is a piece derived from her own heritage.

 

Works Cited

Álvarez, María Antonia. “Chapter 7: Spiritual Themes and Identities in Chicana Texts: The Virgin of Guadalupe as a Role Model for Womanhood”. Reading  Spiritualities:  Constructing and Representing the Sacred. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2008. Web. 02 March, 2011.

Cisneros, Sandra. “Never Marry a Mexican”.

Candelaria, Cordella. “La Malinche, Feminist Prototype.” Frontiers:  A Journal of  Women Studies. Vol. 5, No. 3, Chicanas en el Ambiente Nacional/Chicanas in the National Landscape (Summer, 1980), pp. 1-6. University of Nebraska Press, 1980.          Web. 20 Feb. 2011. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3346027

Cardona, Sara and Miguel Marrero. “Chicana Identit(ies): Reconstructing La Malinche, LaLlorona and La Virgen”. Harnessing the Future by Studying the Past. Houston, TX:  NAAAS & Affiliates, 2004. Web. 03 March, 2011.

Karttunen, Frances E. Between Worlds: Interpreters, Guides, and Survivors. [pp.1-84]. New  Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994. Print.