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Beans and Rice- Making the Connection

Jennifer Jin, Staff Writer

The time was six o’clock, and the table of food being set. A steady trickle of students flowed into the room and contributed to the general level of friendly banter between the discussion-goers. By a quarter past, the parlor of Umoja House was filled to capacity, and someone shouted above the noise, “Go to the other house!” explaining that the food needed more time to cook. After resituating everyone into La Casa Rosario Castellanos, the discussion began.

The speaker read aloud passages from “The House on Mango Street,” a book about a young girl’s experiences while growing up in Chicago. One passage that was read, “Hips,” is about Esperanza, her friends, and her little sister discussing the changes from puberty, specifically hips. As the oldest girl present, Esperanza decides she knows the most but envies her little sister’s innocence. This passage sparked a discussion about the pressure from different cultures to have a certain body shape and be a certain person. A few brave souls talked about the insecurities they used to have, but most added hastily at the end, “but I still love my body!” The talk shifted onto how several girls felt confused and scared of unwanted attention from males because of how their bodies were changing. Students felt that the passage, “A House of My Own,” which is about belonging somewhere and having a place where everything is the result of one’s hard work, resonated with the current school theme, “place.”

The last vignette from “The House on Mango Street,” which is about Esperanza, who has bad memories from her childhood growing up on Mango Street but cannot leave it entirely behind because of her loved ones who still remain, reminded students of the feeling of being ashamed of one’s social status and where one came from and the importance of acceptance.

At this time, the food had finished cooking, and the students made the transition back to the Umoja House. After everyone had helped themselves to a generous spread of beans and rice, the speaker read passages from “When I Was Puerto Rican.” The narrator in the story finds it strange that the people in the city looked down on the rural Puerto Ricans even though the two populaces are ethnically and culturally similar. In the next passage, continuing on the same vein of finding one’s own identity, she walks into her school cafeteria and realizes that although she is Puerto Rican, she is surrounded by American culture. These two passages encouraged discussion about the darker side of assimilation and its adverse effects on identity.

Another speaker read aloud a poem from “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” about a girl wanting to have blue eyes and praying for a sudden change in eye color. In response to the poem, students related how when they were younger, they disliked their appearance and had a hard time accepting themselves.

The discussion helped students think more deeply about their places in society and gender roles, as well as how their opinions of themselves changed over time. Emphasis was also placed on cultural differences and similarities, as part of Mary Baldwin’s celebration of Latino/Hispanic Heritage month.

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