The first time I heard of the author, Sandra Cisneros, I took an extra breath and a double take. I had a childhood friend named Sandra Cisneros. Wow, she wrote her first novel just out of high school, I thought. As I learned more about the author of The House on Mango Street, I started to realize that La mera Sandra Cisneros could not have been my childhood friend. La mera Sandra was born in Chicago and stayed there long enough to attend college at the University of Loyola. My childhood friend always dressed in matching clothes; unlike myself who rolled out of bed and went to school in my pajamas or long underwear beneath my clothes. Those days, I didn’t care who saw me in what. Come to think of it, I still don’t care and find it perfectly acceptable to run to the store in sweats or presentable pajamas. The kind that you can open the door and receive a package from UPS. By presentable pajamas I mean fairly new ones, not the old ones you keep for sentimental purposes, such as la bata with the holes on the sleeves or la camiseta with the mole stains. The pajama or el pijama remains the writer’s business suit for most writers. (Foto: Sandra Cisneros poses with a student at UCSB.)
Last Wednesday, La Sandra spoke at UC Santa Barbara and guess what her outfit was? Yes, pajamas. Blue flannel polka dotted pajamas bought that day at Kmart, she said. She was the guest of the Multi-Cultural Center and the Chicano Studies Departments. La Sandra mentioned that professor Mario Garcia was instrumental in bringing her to UCSB and also in getting her started on the lecture circuit. In the fall of 1990 professor Garcia asked Sandra if she would give a talk for a series on minority women writers in his capacity as Director of Ethnic Studies at Yale. “Sandra was just getting to be recognized and coming to Yale was a big encouragement for her,” he said. “She was a big hit.”
She continues to be a big hit as last year marked the 25th anniversary edition of her first novel, The House on Mango Street.
The title of her UCSB talk was “Writing in the Time of Mexiphobia, or Packing Your Papers.” Given the hostile laws that discriminate against Mexicans in Arizona, Sandra stressed the importance of Buddha and Thich Nhat Hanh. Her solution, appropriate for this week of Thanksgiving, is to write love letters to our failing politicians. She read a chapter from her new book in progress, Writing in Your Pajamas. This pajama business is serious, but cozy. Sandra stressed the importance of setting a comfortable space for writing. During her last visit to Santa Barbara, she recalled how cold our seaside town was in the evenings and mornings. I bet she was toasty in her flannel jammies. She took a poll to ask who in the audience had also worn their pajamas. A few hands flew up. I would’ve arrived in my pajamas too had I been given the jammie memo. The pink fleece I’ve taken to wearing this time of year can be mistaken for pajamas, especially when I don the matching fuzzy pants.
This was my first time hearing Sandra speak. I was extremely curious because I have often been compared to her. People tell me, you sound a lot like Sandra Cisneros. I am, of course, extremely flattered by the comparison, but, as I listened, I wondered if I sounded like her. Maybe, the two or three people who have made the comparison were being polite. La Sandra spoke with childlike innocence, even while reading her mature short story about Mrs. Frida Kahlo Rivera. From Sandra’s photographs, I expected a woman with a huskier voice. Something about her photographic gaze says cigarette smoker, prefers beer to sweet wine, but her voice says bubblegum and pajama parties. Comfort, sincerity, and brotherly love were the main themes of her talk. She promised not to disappoint, and she did not. She regaled the audience with family stories and a message of peace.
Perhaps if we all went to work in pajamas the world would be less hostile and our neighbor, Arizona, would stop spreading fear and hatred.