Sandra Cisneros “Never Marry a Mexican” introduces readers to Clemencia. Cisneros eludes Clemencia as a woman who appears proud of her Mexican heritage, yet knows not how the slanderous phrase “Never marry a Mexican” uttered from her well-meaning mother’s trusty lips about Clemencia’s own Mexican father negatively foreshadows her seedy life and gloomy world perspective later down her destructive journey of adulthood.
Simply put, Clemencia’s relationship with her mother is “like she never had one” (Cisneros 131) especially during the final moments of her sickly father’s life. When Clemencia’s mom meets a white man during her father’s hospitalization, Clemencia’s mom instantaneously begins dating him. Why not? Owen Lambert is definitely not Mexican. Clemencia’s mother seems to be in her own world as she completely disregards her life with her former husband and their children. This does not bode well for Clemencia as she holds a lot of resentment towards her mother, that will likely never resolve due to the fact that Clemencia’s mom is not around in the world anymore. Even though her mother may not be in this world anymore, Clemencia will always wonder why her mom did marry her father.
On the other hand, Cisneros depicts Clemencia to be a bit of a “daddy’s girl”, so the degrading way her mother talks about him as if Clemencia’s father is “nothing but a showoff”(Cisneros 128) irks Clemencia immensely. Clemencia sees her father not as a showoff, but just like his things: “calidad. Quality” (Cisneros 129). Clemencia’s father was not born in the US, so her own father views US Mexicans to be not on par with the Mexicans who originate from Mexico. In her father’s opinion Mexican girls” who didn’t know enough to set a separate plate for each course at dinner, nor how to fold cloth napkins, nor how to set the silverware” (Cisneros 127) are ridiculous. Clemencia knows not how to do these things.
When Cisneros begins to describe Clemencia’s intimate life, Clemencia appears to be a femme fatale through the eyes of others. She has numerous affairs with married men but will never marry herself as Clemencia claims she’s” too romantic” (Cisneros 127). Why is that? Does she not consider herself being able to love or have someone love her?
Clemencia thinks of herself as “amphibious,” a person who “doesn’t belong to any class.” When she was young, she moved away from home and lived with Ximena, whose husband recently left her. At this point, Clemencia coveted the idea of becoming an artist, hoping to be like Frida Kahlo. But she and Ximena lived in a dangerous neighborhood, where gunshots rang out all night long. This reminded Clemencia of her childhood since the two girls grew up in an even worse neighborhood. Once their father died, their mother married a white man despite their protests, justifying her decision by pointing out that she married so young that she never got the chance to be young, “your father,” she said, “he was so much older than me.” Clemencia holds this against her mother so much that she has disowned the old woman entirely.
The anger Clemencia feels toward her mother has to do with the idea that her mother is disloyal to her father. In her eyes, not only has her mother betrayed her father’s love, but she’s also betrayed her cultural identity by marrying a white man, of course, this is in keeping with her mother’s belief that no woman should never marry a Mexican man. And while Clemencia seems sometimes to agree with this sentiment, she still appears to want her mother to respect her father’s legacy. As such, she condemns marriage in general, turning away from it in her own life in favor of independence.
Clemencia addresses a man named Drew in her narrative, asking him if he remembers speaking Spanish to her as they make love. When Clemencia and Drew lie together, she writes, her skin is dark against his, and he calls this beautiful. He whispers Spanish into her ear while “yanking her head back by the braid.” Despite these intense moments, though, every morning he leaves before the sun rises. Still, Clemencia admits that she likes when he speaks to her in her own language; “I can love myself and think myself worth loving,” she says.
When Clemencia says she can conceptualize herself as “worth loving” when Drew talks to her in Spanish during intercourse, it becomes clear that her notions of self-worth and love are entangled in a broader consideration of cultural identity. This makes sense, considering how much attention she pays to her mother’s ideas about how romance and cultural identity interact with one another. For her, then, love is a complicated mix of identity and passion.
Clemencia asks Drew if his son knows the role she played in his birth. Pushing on, she insists that she was the one who convinced Drew to have the baby when his wife was pregnant, he was unsure whether or not it was a good idea to have a child, but Clemencia convinced him to not suggest that his wife get an abortion. When it finally came time for his son to enter the world, Drew wasn’t next to his wife in the hospital room; while she was in the throes of labor, he was having sex with Clemencia in the very same bed in which his son was conceived. “You’re nothing without me,” Clemencia tells him now. “I created you from spit and red dust. And I can snuff you between my finger and thumb if I want to.”
Critics praise Cisneros’s ability to explore conflicts directly related to her upbringing, including divided loyalties, feelings of alienation, and degradation resulting from poverty. Although she addresses important contemporary issues associated with minority status throughout her two collections, critics have described her characters as idiosyncratic, accessible individuals capable of generating compassion on a universal level. Commentators laud her lyrical narratives, vivid dialogue, and powerful descriptions, applauding her poetic depictions of life as a Chicana woman, as well as her deft treatment of such controversial themes as sexism, racism, and poverty.