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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.

"I know Sandra as a woman, a struggling artist, not as a celebrity," says Gonzalez, the writer of Golondrina, Why Did you Leave Me?, insisting that she is neither a hater nor a groupie of "La Sandra" and makes a special point to say that what matters ultimately is the work that Cisneros leaves behind ("Not how much ink you get, the prizes, money, or what you're wearing").

Gonzalez — who had a falling out with Cisneros over the celebrity's associations with people like Henry Cisneros (no relation, who Gonzalez deems a cultural sell-out) — says the author of Loose Woman has been nothing less than revolutionary. The undeniable popularity of her work has even helped many Chicanas get better (or actual) book deals. But, she notes, if Cisneros is not producing the type of work she wants to these days, it is because she has spent much more time playing rock star than practicing her craft. "Sandra's not obligated to spend her money according to us, nor is she required to write another book. It's only relevant in terms of her saying she needs to write," says Gonzalez of the woman she believes has alienated herself from the community by readily accepting the role of token Latina. "The Faustian deal with the publishing world," she allows, "is one that very few of us could reject."

Everyone I spoke to for this story (including those who did no want to go on record) were excited about the possibilities of Macando's structure, and were adamant that Cisneros, through her art and her efforts, has opened doors that had been closed for too long. "Without any doubt, it was Sandra Cisneros who broke into the consciousness of mainstream publishers and reviewers, thus bringing Latina and Latino literature a much wider readership," says Milligan. "As to how this affected individual Chicana writers, it varies from one to another. Some think she walks on water and that their careers would not exist without her. Others have mixed feelings about that, but in general, I think 'gratitude' is the operative word."

Amid the community of writers aided by her efforts, there is also a sense of dilemma. In school classrooms Cisneros still seems to be the sole example of Latino literature. Eduardo Jimenez Mayo, a vibrant translator and academic (who admits he doesn't read much contemporary work), sees her work as glorified telenovella material, but stresses the reality that people in Spain read her while they ignore noted Latina author Anna Castillo of So Far From God. "Before Sandra, no one was paying attention to Chicana or Chicano writers," he said. While insisting he respects her work, he sees her presence as a danger to originality. "Every MFA program, whenever a Mexican writer comes in, wants to pump out a Sandra Cisneros."

Diana Lopez, recipient of the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Foundation prize and author of the upcoming novel Choke, assesses things this way: "On the positive side, Sandra's work gives voice to a group that was ignored for the longest time. I did not see any Mexican-American authors when I was in school. The idea that my neighborhood, my family, my friends had stories worthy of being in a textbook never occurred to me.

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