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Sandra Cisneros is an American writer of Mexican heritage and a key figure in the Chicana literary movement. She is best known for her 1983 novel The House on Mango Street. Cisneros’s work, reflecting her own childhood experiences, explores cultural hybridity and identity while navigating poverty, classism, and racism.
Her 1987 poem “Abuelito Who” typifies her style—characterized by simple language and syntax—and depicts the changing relationship between a grandfather (Abuelito) and his grandchild. Told from the grandchild’s point of view, “Abuelito Who” is a 23-line run-on sentence comprising a series of descriptions and associations about her grandparent, who is sick and possibly approaching death. However, one of the poem’s central tensions is the speaker’s childlike confusion around the circumstances surrounding her ailing Abuelito. The Spanish abuelito, and references to the Spanish language, highlight the cultural heritage of the speaker and her family, placing the poem within the canon of Chicana literature.
Sandra Cisneros was born in Chicago in 1954. She grew up as the only girl in a lower-income family of six brothers. Her parents migrated routinely between the United States and Mexico, leaving Cisneros feeling as if she never truly belonged anywhere. This lack of belonging, or the idea of belonging partially to two cultures but never entirely to either, is a common Chicana experience and defines much of Cisneros’s writing.
Cisneros graduated from Loyola University Chicago in 1976 and received her Master of Fine Arts from the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa in 1978. During her graduate studies, she began developing her characteristic writing style drawing on Mexican and Southwestern culture. Cisneros started writing about the people in her life with whom she most identified and discovered her passion and commitment to writing about marginalized communities. Cisneros has taught at high schools and universities and has been called the most famous Chicana writer. Not only did her novel House on Mango Street (1983) receive an overwhelmingly popular response, but her subsequent collection of short stories Woman Hollering Creek (1991) also received critical acclaim. As a pioneer of the Chicana literary movement, Cisneros’s work has been instrumental in bringing Mexican American writers out from the margins of American literature and creating a distinct space for Mexican American women writers who have been traditionally underrepresented.
Cisneros, Sandra. “Abuelito Who.” 1990. Huntsville Independent School District.
The speaker refers to her grandfather, “Abuelito” (a Spanish term of endearment, “granddaddy”) and says he throws coins and has a habit of asking people if they love him. The speaker describes him as soft and squishy like dough and light and fluffy like feathers. He reminds her of a watch, a glass of water. She thinks his hair is fur like a dog or a stuffed animal. He is ”too sad” (Line 6) to get out of bed and come downstairs to meet the speaker. He speaks Spanish and English and compliments her kindly in both languages. His eyes are tiny and like string, again resembling a stuffed animal. He “can’t come out to play” (Line 10) whenever she wants him to because he often sleeps in his room all day and night. His laugh has a distinctive “k” sound, and the speaker asserts that he is sick. The speaker says Abuelito “is a doorknob tied to a sour stick” (Line 14) and, when he’s tired, he wants the door shut. Then, the speaker says he “doesn’t live here” anymore (Line 16) and that he hides under the bed. The speaker can hear him talking to her in her head. He reminds her of “blankets and spoons and big brown shoes” (Line 19), and he snores a lot with a very distinct movement. Abuelito is “the rain on the roof” (Line 21) that reminds her of the coins he used to toss when he asked people if they loved him.