With his new book, Martita, I remember you, Sandra Cisneros feels like she has finally answered a long overdue letter.
The author of the bestselling novel Mango Street House is back with her first work of fiction in nearly a decade, a story of memory and friendship, but also about the experiences of young women as immigrants around the world.
Inspired by Cisneros’ stay in Paris as a young aspiring writer, Martita follows Corina, a woman in her twenties who left her Mexican family in Chicago to pursue her literary dreams in the city where Ernest Hemingway, James Baldwin and many more lived. During her brief stay there, she finds herself struggling with money, befriends beggar artists, and sleeps on crowded floors with other immigrants.
Martita and Paola, an Argentinian and an Italian as broke as herself, support her throughout it all.
Over the years, the three disperse to different continents, eventually losing touch, until Corina finds a series of old letters in a drawer that bring back fond memories of those days spent together.
“It started from a place in my own memory, with the real Martita who inspired this story – real Martitas, I should say, because we meet so many in our lives, women who come to bond. friendship with us and have nothing. It’s always the people who have nothing who give the most, ”Cisneros said in a recent interview with The Associated Press via Zoom in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
“So what started out as a real story about things happening to me ‘infló’ (infló) – it has spread to other places,” she continued.
Martita, I remember you (Vintage Original) was released last week as a bilingual paperback book featuring Cisneros’ English story on the front and, when turned over, Liliana Valenzuela’s Spanish translation, “Martita, te recuerdo”.
Born in Chicago to Mexican parents, Cisneros is one of the most prominent Latino authors in the United States, with accolades including the 1985 National Book Award for Mango Street House, the PEN / Nabokov Prize for International Literature and the 2015 National Medal of the Arts.
She started writing Martita’s story in the late ’80s, early’ 90s, with the idea of including it in her award-winning collection. Hollering Creek Woman. But she had only written the first part of the story, and her editor felt there was more to it.
In the last couple of years, she took it out again and added a middle and an end.
“I guess they needed me to be older to be able to write this part,” Cisneros said with a laugh. “I don’t know how old I was, my 30s? Yes. I couldn’t write the end because I was too young! Even though Corina is about 36 years old… I am not as good as Corina. The author had to be older to have a long-term view, to see it.
The book takes us back to a time before email and cellphones, when people exchanged physical addresses to keep in touch. There was the exhilaration of receiving letters from afar; Corina reads and rereads the ones she has received.
“In fact, the first letter is based on a real letter that reached me after I left. Years passed… and a real letter arrived that sparked a feeling I didn’t have a name for, ”Cisneros said.
“This whole thing is my letter that I never returned to her, nor to all the Martita who befriended me when I was floating in the world. I felt like I had to write this unsent letter to understand what I went through in these very random and short (relationship with) that I encountered while traveling.
Although she established her book in France in the 1980s, Cisneros, whose works have always focused on immigration, hopes people identify with history today.
“It’s still very relevant now for all countries, and especially the United States,” she said, adding that she was “ashamed to live in that time and to know that I am a citizen of a country that separates children from their parents and treats refugees worse than animals, so I hope this book will help awaken people, make a difference.
“I absolutely believe that art can be changed, because it has made such a big change in my life.”
Cisneros remembers “the generosity of foreigners” when she lived abroad, and said that it helped her “to understand what it is like for immigrants now to come to the United States, to be vilified , to be despised the way Parisians, you know, looked towards us… I understood my father and now I understood the situation of immigrants in a way that maybe I couldn’t, so I am happy to have lived this experience.
If she could hear from Martita, what would she say to him?
“Oh! I would be so happy! I would say, ‘Martita, where are you? I’m coming! What happened to you?’ I would love to see Martita again. I forgot her last name, I don’t know where she is, but she is the one who started these stories of many women who are connected, “said Cisneros.
She is currently finishing a book of poetry which will be released next fall in English and Spanish: Woman without shame / Mujer sin vergüenza. She is also working on the libretto for an opera adaptation by Mango Street House starring New York composer Derek Bermel, as well as a pilot for a television series based on this book.