American Literature is, in one way or another, an immigrant experience. Protagonists often break dramatically past lives to settle in a big country full of promise. In the process, identity is challenged and trapped in an unknown environment. Such is the case of Cleofilas in the short story “Women Hollering Creek (1991)” written by Sandra Cisneros, her Mexican identity was shadowed by a dreamed love from a telenovela and clashed with the American standards.
Cleofilas identifies with the traditional Mexican gender role of machismo, the patriarchal society in which women take on very subservient, submissive roles while men dominate all. This is the reality Cleófilas knows about. In addition, Cleofilas married an abusive American husband who lives his life based on machismo, with its expectations of a faithful wife while the same expectations are dare not be applied to him. Cleófilas is to adhere to the moral conduct as prescribed by the version of a Mexican women which absorbs a set of values that puts a priority on purity, submissiveness, and service to the family. However, this was not the life she was portrayed in the tele. Cisneros intentionally creates the analogy on Cleofilas’ new neighbors’ names, Dolores and Soledad, which mean pain and solitude respectively, referring to the feelings that invaded Cleofilas reality.
On the other hand, Cleófilas is very much concerned with her image and the image put forth by her family. “She would get to wear outfits like the women in the tele, like Lucia Mendez. And have a lovely house and wouldn’t Chela be jealous” (Cisneros 122). She is afraid that by leaving his husband she will be dishonoring her family and disappointing her friends, for she was not considered pure anymore.
These events shaped and triggered Cleófilas mousy identity, and it was after she met Felice that she realized that she was capable of much more. Cleofilas is shocked by Felice, the strong woman in a pick-up truck, who is not married and symbolized everything Cleofilas isn’t; free, independent, empowered and tough. Felice is also American born with nontraditional, modern values, and very sure of herself. Cleofilas was forced to develop a gender identity through contrasting cultural views of gender in the framework of her cultural background and that of the United States.
This short story depicts what women identity often struggle with. For American and immigrant women the challenge of navigating through pivotal stages of their lives as a product of two cultures has been difficult, also, fueled by the contradicting norms of beauty, identity and womanhood defined by American standards which often clashes with the way in which these standards are defined in their homes.