Inspired by The House on Mango Street
The following vignettes were written by eleventh-grade students as part of a language arts assignment centered around Sandra Cisneros’s seminal novel, The House on Mango Street. Students wrote fifteen vignettes about their lives and, like Cisneros’s, some of them are nostalgic, wistful, contemplative, and hopeful. All of them are personal.
Home Atop the Hill
I always felt slightly uncomfortable when I visited my grandpa’s care home. It was plagued with the scent of sickness and blended food, and it seemed as if time passed by infinitely slower behind the walls of the building. It’s funny, how a place that seems so lonely can be in such a beautiful place, atop a hill lined with houses on both sides, a hill so steep that while you're driving to the top, you feel as if you're heading up a ninety-degree angle.
My eight-year-old self didn’t understand the importance of having conversations with him, even if he couldn’t say anything back. My eight-year-old self wasn’t aware of how frustrated he was because he couldn’t move, or speak his mind. My eight-year-old self didn’t know that he was well aware of everything that was going on around him, except it was like someone pressed mute and he was frozen. I wish I could have heard his stories and known more about him, because he was more of a stranger to me than some of my acquaintances. I wish I could have listened to anecdotes about his time in the 442nd regiment during WWII, or about his life in Long Island during the 50’s and 60’s with three kids and an abundant amount of animals that were adopted after being found abandoned, or in random places like the freeway. It was only when he passed that I learned the most about his story. Listening to the eulogy and watching old home videos that were salvaged from disintegrating film reels. I got to hear his voice, to see him as a young man, riding a bike up and down the driveway, with a little boy, my dad, in the basket.
나비. That’s what they called me in Korean school. It means butterfly and I’m not sure if it was a coincidence or if they knew that butterflies were my obsession. Being half Korean, the teachers looked at me with a strange look when I said that I didn’t have a Korean name. In Asian cultures, you usually have a name in that language along with your English name. My middle name is also my Japanese name, so it would only be fitting to have one for my Korean side.
It seemed as if I was the only one who didn’t have a Korean name. I started to feel “different”. Not knowing why at the time, I told everyone that I wasn’t really Korean. I figured that would be easier than explaining why I have a Japanese name and not a Korean one. Although I looked like everyone else in that classroom, I couldn’t understand what they were saying to each other and no one bothered to fill me in on anything since I could only speak English.
I wasn’t only convincing everyone else that I wasn’t Korean, I started to believe it myself. Feeling different in a group of people who are supposed to make you comfortable made me hurt on the inside with an unfamiliar feeling. I had two options: work hard to learn and try to fit in or just keep pretending that this culture didn’t have an effect on me.
Hale of a Hillside Dammeh
Ualehei st., where the shenanigans take place. The youngin, humble and supports and looks after his own. Moving from house to house, young kanaka, born and raised hauula, countryside, country was what he woke up to, what he once knew. He knew country like the palm of his hand. Moving to a different hill messed up his thoughts about being simple and self sustaining. 18yrs n pushin, making sure he can provide for himself, and him to be able to look after his ohana, much like his ancestors had in the Hawai’i of old. Understanding that he can’t have what he always wanted is tough for him even to this day, to wake up, and not see what he longs to see. His family, as one, heartbreaking to the human mind of this youngin. Family is first for him, seeing that happiness in his eyes, making sure he can make it through the next day with his head high, like a dog happy to see his owner after a offisland trip. A whole different setting than what he was onced raised. He always keeps it positive cuz in the end, ohana means family, family is everything. Even if it means to part to get his education during the week, returning home from work to the ones he loves and cares for.
The Adult’s Table
The adults table. No more loud annoying children begging for my last slice of pizza, no more infantile discussions and greatest of all I get to sit with Suzie who is a grade above me. Once every year my parents get together with their friends from high school and their kids. Usually it’s a drag and especially when Suzie no longer sat on the kids table it was nearly unbearable but finally at long last tonight is the night that Suzie and I can reunite. She looked very different since I’d saw her last year. The kids table was set up as it usually was with one spot open being where I once sat. I sat down and Suzie sat down directly across from me. I acknowledged her but she was too busy on her phone or something like that. As the night went on I felt more and more out of place. Conversations that ranged from the normal how’re the kids to complex topics such as politics. But then the topic arose -- Suzie. Suzie was questioned about her daily endeavours and the topic of a relationship came up. “She has a boyfriend,” I heard those words and sank into my seat. Not only was this table not fun, not only did Suzie have a boyfriend who by the way is way more masculine and good looking than I am, but the kids table looked like a blast. They got chocolate cake and even had their annual food fight. I don't want to be on the adults table.
I want to escape from suffering by golfing. My suffering comes from my feeling "can not, hard to do, or don't want to do it." I have no choice to quit golfing, I have to continue playing. That's the reason why I came to Hawaii. I'm mentally bound by this reason. I want to escape from this feeling and be more comfortable to live life. I think the only way to escape from this feeling is when I get old enough and stop playing. There is no salvation if I continue playing. But I'm still happy with my life because I'm able to continue playing golf -- not everybody can go to a foreign country to do this, even if it's painful. If people take away golfing from me, I will have nothing with me. I think I will be like a cicada's shell. My world will be empty.
Dad Wrecks The House
My mom and dad argue a lot. Sometimes, I think they’re not meant for each other. When they argue, it’s loud, like two lions fighting for food. They argue about who is to blame for the house being messy, if I should be punished more, if I deserve going to the mall, whatever, you name it, they argue. Thankfully, most of those arguments are just loud, and usually don’t get violent. Until that one argument.
One day, my parents had another argument about our house being messy. The argument quickly escalated into shouting and swearing, as usual, but what happened next, I didn’t expect.
My dad broke down and had a massive temper tantrum. He knocked over the pantry shelf. The canned food, greasy chips, and the sticky contents of Juicy Juice cartons covered the floor. He threw many things everywhere, and there were bits of plastic and broken glass all over the floor. He pretty much wrecked the house. Mom sent me over to my grandparents’ house while she cleaned up after him.
I always anticipated the weekends especially when my grandparents were on the island. Ever since I could remember, my parents would take me to Chinatown to get everything we needed. We would start off in the plaza, going to the bookstore to get grandpa’s newspaper, placing all sorts of vegetables into our basket to bring to the cashier sometimes managing to sneak in some soy milk, buying half a pound of pork ribs and some char siu, eating dinner at our favorite restaurant while saving egg tarts for last, and ordering a few tea eggs to bring home. Chinatown was my happy place since not many of my friends understood my favorite foods, why I celebrated new years in February, and what the small bright red envelopes were for.
Some days, we wouldn’t eat at a restaurant and instead picked up from a small shop that looked old and run down, but was known for their meat. They served mostly duck and char siu, but they also had lunch plates available. My mom would park our car while I went to order. The place was usually busy and even from two stores away, I could hear the employees yelling the orders back to the customers or yells of see you tomorrow as customers walked out. Whenever I ordered, I had to make sure that no one cut me in line and I got used to their rude attitudes. There was one older lady who didn’t yell as loud as the rest and every time I went, she was the cashier. She always managed to put a smile on my face before I left.
One afternoon about thirty minutes before closing, I walked into the shop to order the usual. Listening to my footsteps as the ground changed from paved road to tile floors. The shop was empty and all I heard was the voices of employees talking about their rough week. It felt different since it’s usually louder than a zoo, but I guess I didn’t have to deal with any angry faces that day. When I looked at the employees’ table next to the cash register, I saw an older man whose face I’ve never seen before staring back at me with a playful grin. I decided to ignore him while the butcher sliced the meat for my order and the old lady threw a smile at me. Forcing myself to watch how the knife sliced through the duck with ease and in a blink of an eye everything had been finely chopped, ignoring how the man in the chair was still watching me. His rough voice broke the silence like nails on a chalkboard asking for my name. I looked at him and told him it hoping it was the end of the conversation since I couldn’t stay long. He asked where I lived and when it left my mouth, I watched as he stood up from his chair. My palms began to sweat because something about this man didn’t seem right and I started a countdown as I watched the butcher grab the car siu off the rack to weigh and cut.
That’s when he pulled me into a hug and I tried to search for the best way to leave this shop. It didn’t feel like a hug from my grandparents, parents, or even my friends. His hands felt like claws, trapping me until he finally let go. Still daring to smile as if it was what I wanted with his arm still around my shoulder. The old lady at the cash register told me that my mom was probably worried and all I could do was nod. As I left without a smile on face, letting out a sigh of relief as my feet carried me away, I knew that I could never go back. Never in a million years am I ever going back to that miserable place and when I told my parents, they never once asked me to place a single order ever again.
My grandma lived in Seattle so we would go to visit every year. I loved going to my grandparents house because they own a big amount of land and have a garden that you can go play in. My grandma grew so much plants that I never seen in my life. That garden is where I saw my first apple tree. It was a really a place where you could be one with nature and be happy. You could hear birds chirping and see them go to the bird feeder. I’ve never seen such pretty birds in person before.
I have many great memories with my grandma. We went hiking with her to see snow for our first time. The snow we found was a small amount that was dirty and hard. She was always smiling and having fun. Later on we found that she had ALS and she was going to pass away soon. It was really crazy how she went from so happy and healthy to find out that she's going to die.
We visited her one last time and made sure to have a good time. We did the usual playing in the garden and feeding the birds. I was really crazy back then and I was imitating a bird jumping around the house. I totally forgot that she was going to die and I enjoyed myself. At the end of the trip everyone was crying and I was happy that I heard she laughed and had a fun time watching me imitate a bird. I didn’t cry but I almost did.
I know where to find the best sunrises and where to find the best sunsets. I know when the waves will be small and I know when they’ll be big. I know how to make an imu and I know how to pound poi. I know how to say prayers in Hawaiian and I know all about this state’s Hawaiian past. I know how to surf and I know how to make leis. I know where to go in case of storms and floods and I know which hiking trails to take to see certain places. I know where to go to buy everything I need and I know where to go to get stuck in traffic for hours. I know where to buy the best spam musubis and I know where to buy the best loco mocos. I know Hawaii so well because it’s all I’ve ever known. I need to experience new things and travel. I need to know more.
The sky is always so nice to look at in Hawaii, light blue skies and clouds for days. Even when it's super cloudy or it’s raining the sky is always nice to look at. To me the time when the sun sets and the moon rises is my favorite time of day to look at the sky. The beautiful gradient of yellow, orange, blue, and then black. The island is nice at that time too, everyone beginning to settle down and go home, daytime animals begin to go back to their habitats and the crickets and other nocturnal animals come out, the air begins to become a nice cool breeze. Everything is better at that time.
The best place I feel that I can experience the sky at this time the best is the highest place I can reach in my house. Stairs and ladders aren’t needed, rather just a hop out my bedroom window is all I need to do. One story up is high enough for me, for it's all I need to get away from everything. It’s not like I’ll do it all the time but I’ve done it enough that I have a beach chair out there. I mostly go out there when I’m home alone.
All the times I’ve been up there, sitting down, looking up at the sky, getting lost, there was nobody. I could hear nothing for miles. There were no sounds of cars passing, no one in their houses or walking the valley, no soaring birds chirping in the sky and wandering dogs scouring the streets, nothing.