By Rachael, Outside Student
On April 4th, we held a book discussion on Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street at the Columbia River Correctional Institution. We began by discussing our ties to our names, home lives, and cultural upbringing in our communities. During partner and small group discussions we discussed themes in the book and how they related to our own lives. Themes we discussed were community, gender, poverty, and shame. We talked about nicknames, if we had any, and if so how they have shaped our identity differently from our given names. We discussed how this book may have been different if it had been written about a boy coming of age and how that would affect the main character’s struggles to adjust how to deal with emotions. We talked about the different experiences we have had as preteens, walking the line of adulthood and childhood and how our gender shapes what is expected of us during that transitional time. We discussed what it means to escape poverty, but then to go back and build up one’s community. When considering the idea of escaping poverty and building a new life, we talked about how that translates to getting out of prison and building a new life and community.
At the end of our discussion, we talked about who we would give this book to in our own lives and the answers were largely daughters, sisters, brothers, and others coming of age in our lives. This discussion was thought-provoking and connected the book to all of us in personal ways. Some of us had read the book before, and the discussions we had caused us to look at the book in a new light. The energy and openness in the room was amazing. The event was attended by 12 inside students from CRCI, as well as three alumni currently enrolled in UO, and two graduated PEP alumni who live in the Portland area.