75 pages 2 hours read

Sandra Cisneros


Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2002

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Part 2 Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Part 2: “When I Was Dirt”

Part 2, Chapter 21 Summary: “So Here My History Begins for Your Good Understanding and My Poor Telling”

Lala prefaces Part 2 of Caramelo with the statement that she intends to explore her family’s story from the days “when [she] was dirt” (89): a saying that means, “before I was born” (89).

Lala’s narration takes the reader back in time, not only before her own birth, but to the turn of the 20th century. It begins with the coming-of-age story of the Awful Grandmother, Soledad Reyes. The voice of the Awful Grandmother makes frequent interruptions of Lala’s telling, dissatisfied by certain elements. For example, when Lala opens her story with the phrase, “It was such a long, long time ago” (92), Soledad says, “It wasn’t that long ago!” (92). When Lala begins to delve deeply into sensory detail, Soledad repeatedly cautions, “Careful! Just enough, but not too much” (92).

Soledad is born into a family of rebozo (shawl) makers whose artful creation process includes hand-dying and intricate hand-braiding of the shawls’ fringe. As Lala explains, the rebozo was a garment that defined the culture of Mexico in her grandmother’s time:

Women across the republic, rich or poor, plain or beautiful, ancient or young, in the times of my grandmother all owned rebozos—the ones of real Chinese silk sold for prices so precious one asked for them as dowry and took them to the grave as one’s burial shroud, as well as the cheap everyday variety made of cotton and bought at the market.