In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting.
Esperanza describes how her family came to live at the house on Mango Street. She, her parents, her brothers, Carlos and Kiki, and her sister, Nenny, moved to Mango Street when the pipes broke in their previous apartment and the landlord refused to fix them. Before they moved into the house on Mango Street, the family moved around a lot. The family had dreamed of a white house with lots of space and bathrooms, but the house on Mango Street has only one bedroom and one bathroom. Esperanza notes that this is not the house that she envisioned, and although her parents tell her it’s only temporary, she doubts they’ll move anytime soon. The house, however, does have some significant advantages over the family’s previous apartments. The family owns this house, so they are no longer subject to the whims of landlords, and at the old apartment, a nun made Esperanza feel ashamed about where she lived. The house on Mango Street is an improvement, but it is still not the house that Esperanza wants to point out as hers.
Esperanza describes the different types of hair of all the members of her family. Her own hair doesn’t do what she wants it to do, while her sister’s is smooth and oily. Her mother’s hair is beautiful and smells like bread. Esperanza likes to sleep near her mother so she can smell it.
Esperanza notes that boys and girls do not socialize with each other in the neighborhood. Even though she can talk to her brothers at home, they refuse to talk to her outside. Esperanza must socialize with her younger sister Nenny, who, Esperanza notes, is too young and would not be her choice for a friend if she were not her sister. Worse, Nenny is Esperanza’s responsibility. Esperanza has to make sure that Nenny does not play with the Vargas kids. Esperanza longs for a best friend. Without one she compares herself to a “red balloon tied to an anchor.”
We learn the narrator’s name, Esperanza, for the first time. Esperanza muses on the meanings of her name, but she does so in a random, nonsensical way that we are not meant to take seriously. In English, she reflects, her name means “hope,” while in Spanish it means “too many letters” as well as “sadness” and “waiting.” She likes the way her name is pronounced in Spanish, but not in English.
Esperanza is named after her great-grandmother, and both she and her great-grandmother were born in the Chinese year of the horse. The horse is an animal that represents strength, and being born under this sign is supposed to be bad luck for women. Esperanza rejects this superstition, explaining that she believes both the Chinese and the Mexicans discourage women from being strong. Esperanza never met her great-grandmother, but she compares her to a wild horse. She did not want to get married but was forced into marriage and never forgave her husband. She spent her life gazing sadly out the window. Esperanza says that while she has inherited her great-grandmother’s name, she does not want to “inherit her place by the window.”
Esperanza would like to change her name to one that expresses her true self. She lists several possible choices, settling eventually on Zeze the X.