Once upon a time I was a Catholic school teacher.

Why might a Catholic high school student read The House On Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros? An English teacher asked me, for a friend.

In a word, to serve the world better.

A house as metaphor for one’s inner being is an old archetype, one elicited by great writers from Teresa of Avila to Poe.
Beside what would seem obvious value in experiencing life through the lens of the most marginalized — a poor woman of color — this work is a literary feast. Sandra Cisneros writes like unto Joyce; the work is poetic and modern in its form.

So, what about the content, the fact that it’s all about coming of age, sexually? Awkwardly? Maybe sinfully? The house as one’s mind or inner being metaphor would tell us that our early relationship with ourselves as sexual beings becomes our adult “house.”

Many adults are still living in their own Mango Street houses, trapped by the warped environments in which they matured. This is a profoundly important insight for young people to grasp. It is worthy of reflection upon while one is a teen.

The statistic that 1 in 5 women is sexually assaulted in her lifetime should by itself make this a worthy read. The fact that minority girls are even more vulnerable, the shame involved and how it lingers into adulthood, make this a painfully relevant work. Coming of age for teen girls is not what it is for boys. To walk through it with a poor Latina could be a disturbing encounter with reality.

Esperanza wants to escape Mango Street, but Mango Street has become herself. Reflect on this, young ones.

Catholic Social Thought often evokes the SEE, JUDGE, ACT method of Cardinal Joseph Cardijn. Our work as Catholics in the world is not about rushing out there into actions we select as worthy. We are called first to LOOK at what is happening. Jesus told us–in imagery revisited by Langston Hughes in Harlem–to “Lift up our eyes and look on the fields” that are ripe for harvest.

The House On Mango Street is the kind of work that can keep us from dangerous rushing to judgement and action while bypassing the Looking. If we never look closely at the suffering around us, we will judge those same sufferers, and our actions will serve the cause of ego enhancement and little more. Jesus did not condemn the adulterous woman. I wonder why? Reflect on this.

What is your Mango Street?

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