Latinx Heritage Month Kickoff with Sandra Cisneros

Author and activist Sandra Cisneros kicked off the Latinx Heritage Month at Yale on September 15th. The kick-off was in the Yale Law School Auditorium and co-sponsored by the Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration. Cisneros, who authored The House on Mango Street and is the recipient of both the National Medal of Arts and a MacArthur “genius” Grant. Cisneros read selections of her literary works, touching upon themes of culture, immigration, sexuality, and class.

Dean Eileen Galvez, Director of La Casa opened the night, commenting on the “ebb and flow of Spanglish spoken to our siblings and cousins” and laughing about how “the mini-birthday parties… which [were] really about the parents.”

Galvez highlighted the importance of the Latinx Heritage Month remarking that the Latinx population in America is “so diverse, so complicated, so beautiful.” Galvez ended her message to Latinx students in the audience with “…you are indeed Yale.”

Two of Yale’s spoken word groups—WORD, featuring Ashia Ajani (TD’19), and ¡Oye!, featuring Juan Valencia (BF’19)—performed pieces as a prelude to Cisneros’ talk.

Ivetty Estepan (PC ‘18) took the stage to provide background on Cisneros, emphasizing the author’s Macondo Foundation for socially-engaged writers and stressing that “books are medicine,” especially in “such tumultuous times.”

Cisneros began with a “Felicidades” to members of the audience before introducing her first poem for the evening, “You Bring Out the Mexican in Me. Speaking as a graduate of a prominent university and a recipient of the National Medal of the Arts, she discussed families who don’t understand how hard it was to get to selective universities. She told the audience, “I am so proud of you.”

Met with applause, Cisneros read “You Bring Out the Mexican in Me” in a husky, theatrical voice, exhibiting her poem’s contrasts of strength and gentleness.

She then discussed the importance of returning to the oral tradition, stressing how this “deliver[s] medicine,” but individuals must “find [their] own medicine” as a “remedy for social exposure.

She introduced the last poem of the evening as one with “adult subject matter.” As background information, she explained how she “ met a “really cute poet” who said, “You better not put me in a poem.” In the poem, “To All The Boys, Give or Take a Few,” she described past lovers. Some of the audience chuckled to the poem while others remained silent. 

In the final Q&A session, when asked how she deals with experiencing and moving on from her lovers,  Cisneros answered she “ loves very intensely,” but also advised “don’t take the boat with you on the other side.” She elaborated that those loves “took [her] to who [she is] now,” and at her current age of 62, she is as happy as she has ever been.

She advised women to “earn money” and “control your fertility… don’t let your fertility control you.”

Cisnero advised aspiring writers to “Stand up for yourself.” She advocated for uniqueness and breaking boundaries in the literary form, encouraging writers to “write as if what you have to say can’t be published in your lifetime,” and “shine[s] a light on you[rself] that isn’t always flattering.”

Afterwards, in a more private setting, eating pan dulces with a small group of students at La Casa, she spoke of Mexico.  She explained that although she “can’t romanticize it,” there is a sense of community there that “you don’t feel in the U.S.”

Later, when I asked her what she would say to other young artists of color, she explained that you must listen to others because “you will learn as well.”

-Allison Chen TD’21 / She can be reached at allison.chen@yale.edu