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“Never Marry a Mexican” from Woman Hollering Creek by Sandra Cisneros

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In Sandra Cisneros’s “Never Marry a Mexican,” the narrator, Clemencia, says “I’m amphibious. I’m a person who doesn’t belong to any class” (71). Although she speaks of economic classes, her amphibious nature applies to her love life as well. Constantly in extremes, Clemencia flip-flops between virgin and whore, the all or nothing of love and sex. Somewhere in Clemencia’s life, she decides she rather be the vamp than the wife. Her logic leads her one direction while her heart leads her another, creating a tug-o-war within herself. With Clemencia as a somewhat-unreliable narrator, a reader must stand back and look hard at what she says to see what influenced this war started within her, and how it spiraled out of control.

When her mother tells her to “never marry a Mexican,” she means to tell her daughter not to marry a man who grew up in Mexico. Given the culture clash that the Mother experienced as a Mexican-American, she wishes for her daughter to marry someone more Americanized, someone who would offer her more freedom and be less traditional with regards to the “woman’s place” in a marriage and home. However, this loaded statement takes on a different context and meaning for Clemencia, and comes back to haunt her throughout her life. She rejects Latino men and sleeps with married white men. By rejecting any idea of being with a man of color, she appears to be taking her mother’s advice. But by sleeping with only married men, she takes her mother’s statement and not only directs it towards herself, but she puts herself in positions where she will not have an opportunity to marry, therefore by her own doing she validates her mother’s advice by becoming the person her mother speaks of–someone unworthy of marriage.

Clemencia believes that all men cheat, which leaves only two positions available for a straight woman in a man’s life: either becoming the one who gets cheated on, or the one who he cheats with. “Borrowed. That’s how I’ve had my men,” Clemencia boasts. Clearly, Clemencia has pride and will not put herself in the “cheated on” position that will make her out to be a fool in her own mind, therefore she chooses the mistress-role. Her mother’s advice becomes a prophecy to Clemencia that being Mexican means not being worthy of marriage, therefore she must not be worthy of marriage, and Clemencia sets herself up for rejection by sleeping with men least-likely to marry her. This behavior creates a cycle of distrust. She says she’ll “never marry. Not any man. [She’s] known men too intimately. [She’s] witnessed their infidelities, and [she’s] helped them to it … [She’s] guilty of having caused deliberate pain to other women” (68). She continues by saying “marriage has failed me … Not a man exists who hasn’t disappointed me, whom I could trust to love the way I’ve loved” (69). By sleeping with other women’s men, Clemencia proves to herself that all men cheat on their women. Her destructive behavior validates her twisted thinking, just as her twisted thinking provokes destructive behavior, creating a cycle of mistrust and anger and creating a warped sense of satisfaction in the result of proving her thoughts and opinions against the idea of trustworthiness as “correct”.

In relation to infidelity, Clemencia comments on her mother’s relationship with a white man that started while her father was dying in a hospital. She accepts her mother’s rejection of her and her sister matter-of-factly; she says, with hardly any commentary, that her mother “would’ve sold us to the Devil if she could” (73). However, the betrayal to her father, she says “[t]hat’s what [she] can’t forgive” (73). This anger confirms why Clemencia chooses the mistress-role, instead of the victim or the cheater. Angry at her mother and empathetic to her father, she never mentions her step-father’s role. Often, when affairs become known to both parties, the lover goes away unscathed while the set of spouses ache with pain; one feels awful for being cheated on and the other feels awful for hurting their spouse and ruining their marriage. By hardly mentioning her step-father, Clemencia must understand that while she hurts over her mother’s new relationship, her mother’s lover benefits from having an affair with a married woman: his lover eventually becomes his wife, and a house comes with the marriage. Clemencia tries to convince herself of the safety in the mistress-role, but fails and will not admit defeat.

Clemencia’s emotional ice-queen act melts before the reader with Clemencia’s jealously towards her lover’s wife. Clemencia, justifiably, calls her lover’s wife “stupid” and a “dumb bitch” because she did not question a late-night phone call for her husband from an unknown woman (77). However, Clemencia forgets to think about another possible scenario. The lover’s wife might be stupid–what woman wouldn’t question a phone call like that?–but her response implies that, more than likely, she simply doesn’t care. Clemencia mentions that during her last fling with Drew, the wife and the son “had gone somewhere. Was it Christmas?” (80). A wife leaving town with her child on a holiday while her husband stays behind sounds very selfish and distant. (Just as a man staying behind in order to sleep with his mistress sounds even more selfish). Clemencia notes that as far as she knows, the wife “whin[ed] for a child, at least that” and that Drew replies “Later, we’ll see, later” (75-6). If true, Drew’s self-centered wife Megan may not care what “activities” Drew occupies himself with. As for Clemencia’s disposition, when a chance meeting between the two women occurs, Clemencia’s big-talking power-voice fades with her shame and embarrassment. “I grinned like an idiot and held out my paw…” she says, obviously uncomfortable (79). She also says “I looked at my shoes and felt ashamed at how old they looked” when she saw them together (79). Yet, at stronger moments, she claims that “It’s always given [her] a bit of crazy joy to be able to kill those women like that, without their knowing it” (77). Clemencia realizes that her diabolical plan can include her suicide, or her own demise, as well: “And if I killed someone on a night like this? And if it was me I killed instead, I’d be guilty of getting in the line of crossfire, innocent bystander, isn’t it a shame. I’d be walking with my head full of images and my back to the guilty. Suicide? I couldn’t say. I didn’t see it coming” (83).

Most likely, Megan does not know and might not care about Drew and Clemencia, while Clemencia becomes the one who suffers, knowing her lover’s loyalty belongs to another woman. Clemencia seems to believe that she will come out the “victim” in all of this, although she instigates the affair. At times Clemencia sounds victorious, and other times she sounds defeated. Her misdirected strength transforms her into the fool, and she does not know it. Clemencia’s situation runs rather ragged compared to her step-father’s smooth transition in his similar situation.

Clemencia contradicts her tough-as-nails act when she speaks of children and birthing, as well. Although she says, “I can’t stand kids. Not any age” (71) she also dreamily admires Drew’s son, thinking to him, “You could be my son if you weren’t so light-skinned” (76). Although she condescendingly laughs when she thinks of Megan and other women having “their guts yanked inside out” as she sleeps in their beds with their men “while their ass stitches were still hurting” (77) from childbirth, she also speaks of Drew and her art with motherly overtones: “You’re just a smudge of paint I chose to birth on canvas. And when I made you over, you were no longer a part of her, you were all mine” (75). Her motherly instincts clash with her inner feminist, and this conflict adds to the bitterness within her.

Clemencia explains the affection she feels from Drew when she says “[he] said I was beautiful, and when [he] said it … I was” (74). Twinges of low self-esteem preside in these statements, such as: “I liked when you spoke to me in my language. I could love myself and think myself worth loving” (74). Although Clemencia claims in the beginning of the text to be this ruthless woman, under the surface she looks for self-worth and value in the same men she does not trust. “But she never said why she married him,” she says of her mother, in regards to her father (71). Nor does Clemencia say, or know, why she continues a relationship that goes nowhere–besides for the temporary self-esteem boosts.

Clemencia claims to love Drew, however she uses sex with him as a way to display power and as a way to invoke revenge against individuals, as well as the world in general. In addition to the previously-quoted statement about the “crazy joy” Clemencia experiences while “kill[ing those] women like that,” the affair she carries on with Drew and Megan’s son takes that vindictiveness and maliciousness to a harsher degree. At first, it appears to the reader that Clemencia has this affair with the teenaged son to somehow spiritually connect to Drew again. This might be the case, however with further reading, Clemencia’s vengeance comes forward and overshadows those feelings. “I can’t see a trace of my lover in this boy, as if she conceived him by immaculate conception,” (82) she says, implying that she searches for some form of Drew in the boy, but comes up with Megan instead. When Clemencia says, “I can tell from the way he looks at me, I have him in my power,” (82) her intentions become clear; she has no intention of caring for the boy, but she wants to control him, have power over him, to avenge her lost love. During this affair with the young boy, she says “I haven’t stopped dreaming [Drew]… I keep it to myself like I do all the thoughts I think of [Drew]” (78). By holding on to this love that cannot be requited, Clemencia’s destructive behavior appears to reach an all-time high. However, she uses this behavior as a survival skill; she can not “kill” Megan by sleeping with her man anymore, so she moves onto her son. Clemencia uses her body as the weapon to control men, manipulate boys, and to pay back women, even women she does not know.

When Clemencia’s mother told stories of the past and of how she met Clemencia’s father, she speaks of a boastful man who wore nice clothes that said “Calidad. Quality” (71). Although her mother means to warn Clemencia not to marry a man like this, she expresses this with “Never marry a Mexican,” which, as mentioned before, did not translate well. Clemencia takes this statement into a completely different direction, falls for a man who must have quite an ego to be involved with two women at the same time, and she speaks of his house and wardrobe just like her mother spoke of her father, as “Calidad. Quality” (81). Clemencia falls into a stereotype: girls, for better or for worse, always wind up with men like their father. The disappointment in her mothers marriage lies with the mother being regarded as from el otro lado, the other side (69). The disappointment of Clemencia’s relationship with Drew stems from the fact that he does not intend to leave his wife to marry Clemencia, and he leaves her on el otro lado of marriage, alone.

Ultimately, the rejections of Clemencia’s life lead to the cold, bitter, untrusting woman. The mother, whose love should be unconditional, closes Clemencia out: “there was no home to go home to. Now with our mother. Not with that man she married. After Daddy died, it was like we didn’t matter” (73). Her lover’s gift to her mimics a gift to his wife: “He’d bought one just like it for me” (81). Although she has a right to be bitter about these events, all the anger and bitterness breaks down throughout the text: in the beginning, she says “I’m vindictive and cruel, and I’m capable of anything” (68). At the end, the bitterness seems to lift and Clemencia embraces her maternal instincts: “I just want to reach out and stroke someone, and say There, there, it’s all right, honey” (83). Within the in-between of love and hate, anger and happiness, Clemencia hits rock-bottom and slowly floats back up, becoming closer to ending the battle she endures, and hopefully wiser from it.

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About Neva Cavataio

  • Eric Olsen

    excellent, thorough, thoughful review Neva, thanks and welcome!

  • jemaya

    very good review girl! I love this book now after reading this. The author is very straight forward and very brave in unveiling the problems of a lot of Mexican women in this world.

    I am confused if she was sleeping with both her lover and her lover’s son?

    Very promiscuous which justifies the stereotyping of Mexican women.

  • Ema

    Thank you so much this helped me understand this short story so much better. I wish you would of mentioned the gummy bear scene, it sure is wierd! However, that is why I loved this short story by Cisneros.

  • JU

    Thank you!!

  • To Jemaya

    To Jemaya…. it is not fair to create those false statements about mexican women, do not apply your experience to everyone, its just not fair, I am a mexican man by the way, I have a mother and sisters, they just can not be named that way… think