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Arts & Culture

Sandra Cisneros's defenders and detractors debate what the celebrated author has meant to San Antonio and Latino literature

Photo: Courtesy photos, License: N/A

Courtesy photos

Sandra Cisneros with her dog, Barney, aka Barnitos.

Photo: , License: N/A

Cisneros, circa 2006. Photo by Ray Santisteban.

As nearly everyone now knows, Sandra Cisneros — the oft-times indigenously attired author who founded the Macondo Writers' Workshop here in 1998 and the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Foundation two years later — is done with San Antonio. Judging from the comments strung to the news articles announcing her impending exit, people here feel mournfully mosaic about her departure. She is done with Texas as well, and heading for... who knows where really? While the San Antonio Express-News suggested in November that she might be off to New Mexico, when I spoke to her days after that story appeared she said she didn't know where she was going before listing several possible European destinations.

And while her frequent readings and literary commitments taking her around the world don't afford her "the luxury" to even decide where she should go now, as longtime friend and absolute fan Bill Sanchez told me, Cisneros's reasons for leaving are as simple as the fact that, at 57, she feels compelled to reevaluate her life and the work she still wants to accomplish. It is time to focus on herself, she tells me. So, Cisneros is done with this state and done with the state she found herself in. To be blunt, it sounds like she is done with a lot of you, too.

What is perhaps more clear is why she came to San Antonio to begin with.

"At the time in San Antonio you could live cheaply and be an artist," says the Chicago native who settled here in 1986, arriving with an energy and intent to help support the artists and artisans of the city she made her home. "Whatever money I made in places like California, in Washington, I brought here."

The ubiquitous presence in junior high to college-level readers and font of inspiration in the Latino literary word arrived in Alamo City as a "tough, hard-working, community-minded writer and cultural activist," recalls Bryce Milligan of Wings Press, a San Antonio-based publishing house that is renowned for producing books for collectors as well as keeping Chicano classics by Lorna Dee Cervantes and Manuel Ramos in print. Even as a "successful, world-famous author," Milligan says Cisneros is leaving the same way she came in: tough, hard-working, community-minded, etc. "She just wants more time to write."

Regardless of how tough and hardworking Cisneros has remained in her quarter-century here, the author and activist suggests she is not leaving so much as being forced out, going so far as to liken herself to one of the raccoons being pushed out of the developing Southtown neighborhood behind the house she is leaving (which is no longer purple, by the way, having over the years faded to a non-controversial lavender before being repainted a simpler pink).

Barbara Renaud Gonzalez says she respects all that Cisneros has offered her adopted community but feels that the person she once thought of as a sister has made a Faustian deal with a publishing industry that has a vested interest in promoting her as a kind of Latina product. She says she first met Sandra in the '80s when they were both in their early thirties. "It was better than love at first sight, it was chimeric, a woman like no other found, a Chicana who read The New York Times and loved books as much as I did!"

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