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A Conversation with The House on Mango Street Adaptor Tanya Saracho

2009-2010, Volume 1
by Whitney Dibo and Tanya Saracho



Whitney Dibo: Why did you want to adapt The House on Mango Street? What is the origin of your interest in the book?

Tanya Saracho: This book is such a masterpiece, and so iconic in our community, that I was originally scared to adapt it. But I just love Esperanza so much, and I loved the book so much growing up, that I discovered fear was the wrong approach. Now I’m just really excited to adapt the book for our community at the 25th anniversary of its publication. When it first came out, The House on Mango Street was groundbreaking for the Latino literary community.

WD: Do you remember reading it when it first came out?

TS: This was the second book I was given when I was learning English. I came here when I was 12 years old, and in my ESL class the first book they gave me was Ramona Quimby, and the second one they gave me was The House on Mango Street. And this one made sense to me.

WD: Did you come back to the book when you were older?

TS: Later on in high school, when I was rebelling against reading any books at all for awhile, this was the one I came back to. It was one of those years when I needed to return to something that resonated with me, to which I connected. And The House on Mango Street did that for me. It’s special that way.

WD: Do you have a favorite chapter in the book?

TS: When I first talked to Sandra Cisneros about my adaptation, she asked me to propose a scene to her. And I knew right away which scene was clearest in my mind: the hip scene. The one where the girls are first discover that they have hips – while jumping rope.

WD: Why does that one stick out for you?

TS: Because I really remember the first time I read it. I could barely speak English. But even then I understood that these girls were using something very familiar—the double-dutch game—to sort out their womanhoods. A lot of girls communicate like this; we use games and social interactions to try and understand the complexities of growing up. “Hips” was actually the first scene I ever wrote for this adaptation.

WD: Given the book is structured as series of short vignettes, was it ever challenging to find a dramatic plot to follow?

TS: The plot was there all along, I just needed to draw it out. The name of the game is to listen to the rhythm of the book. I call Sandra’s short vignettes little “puffs of images.” Esperanza is in there—these are images from one year of her life. I just had to draw a shape around it, around her story, but it’s really all in the book.

WD: What do you think her story is really about?

TS: It’s a story about coming of age, about growing up. But it’s also about wanting and desire, and not having, and being ashamed of that. It’s a story about loving the people you’re ashamed of, and embracing your history. It’s also about beautiful characters. That is the gold of the book: these beautiful, vivid characters.

WD: You decided toward the beginning of your process to include music in the production. What do you think music adds to the story?

TS: It’s texture. The city of Chicago is very musical to me. And in Sandra’s book, I could hear the rhythms of the late seventies. This was the start of the Salsa scene in New York, and by 1979 that music had come to Chicago. With the dawning of Salsa, the import of Cumbia from Mexico and Columbia, and the burgeoning of the hip-hop movement—the city was alive with music. When I first read The House on Mango Street with the hope of adapting it, the book sang back to me rather than spoke to me.

WD: That’s right; we can’t forget that Esperanza is coming of age 30 years ago. What effect do you think the time period has on her story?

TS: I think if we adapted The House on Mango Street in today’s world, with Facebook and Blackberries, it would be an extremely different book. I don’t know many people that let their 10 and 12 year-olds bike around in the city anymore without supervision, for example. It was a different time. It doesn’t feel like a book for the internet era, for the videogame era.

WD: And what about Chicago? Why must Esperanza’s story live here?

TS: I know the story is universal, but these snippets of life are so Chicago to me. It’s a book that honors the amazing city that we live in, but doesn’t shy away from the fact that the city isn’t all beautiful. But there is beauty in its roughness.

WD: What do you hope students will take away from the production?

TS: It’s funny; I never know how to answer that question. All I know is that I love Esperanza, and if you encounter her at the right moment in your life, her story can really make a big impact. And even though this story is not just for a Latino audience, I do hope that Latinos will feel represented in this production and see themselves reflected in the story, the way they did 25 years ago with Sandra’s book.

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