In the late 1980s, Cisneros completed a Paisano Dobie Fellowship in Austin, Texas, and won awards for her short stories in the Segundo Concurso Nacional del Cuento Chicano, sponsored by the University of Arizona. Cisneros also began teaching in 1987 when she joined the faculty of California State University, and has held other visiting professorships at a variety of universities ever since. Her career has flourished in the last two decades, with the critically acclaimed prose collection Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories (1991), books of poetry that include Loose Woman (1994), and her most recent novel, Caramelo (2002). With Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories, Cisneros became the first Chicana (Mexican American woman) to receive a major publishing contract for a work about Chicanas. Caramelo was honored as book of the year by The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune. The novel was also nominated for the Orange Prize in England and other prestigious awards.
Images of physical crossings of borders abound in Caramelo and depict the Reyes family as a clan of "borne-across humans." In the first short chapter of the book, Lala paints the picture of her extended family "racing" from Chicago "to the Little Grandfather's and Awful Grandmother's house in Mexico City" in separate cars that together evoke the colors of the Mexican flag: "Uncle Fat-Face's brand-new used white Cadillac, Uncle Baby's green Impala, Father's red Chevrolet station wagon bought that summer on credit" (5). The fact that these cars—Cadillac, Impala, and Chevrolet—are "typical" American models reinforces the connection between the US and Mexico that Cisneros consistently underscores. The Reyes brothers' and their families' annual returns to Mexico represent only a small portion of the multiple migrations the members of the family make. Eleuterio Reyes, Lala's great-grandfather, first emigrated from Spain to Mexico upon fleeing both Seville and his first wife after witnessing a murder in a bar where he worked as a piano player. Narciso Reyes, Lala's grandfather, was shipped off to the US by his mother, Regina, during the Mexican Revolution, and upon his return to Mexico, he migrated across Oaxaca as a bookkeeper for the Mexican National Roads Commission. Inocencio Reyes, Lala's father, "chose to take the road and join his brother Fat-Face [in the US] hitching trains and picking up women. At least this is how Inocencio imagined it" (207). Soledad—Lala's Awful Grandmother, Narciso's long-suffering wife, and Inocencio's adoring mother—moved to Mexico City from San Luis Potosí after her mother's death and her father's subsequent abandonment of her; after Narciso's death, she joins her sons in the US. Lala's immediate family moves from Chicago to San Antonio and back to Chicago.
LaBalle, Candace, "Sandra Cisneros." Encyclopedia of World Biography.
To create Lala's migratory narrative voice, Cisneros expands the definition of what it means to be a migrant. Caramelo clearly embodies Salman Rushdie's impulse to think of migration metaphorically as a means of "bearing across" (278). In a 1984 essay on Günter Grass, Rushdie defines a "full migrant" as one who "suffers, traditionally, a triple disruption" from place, language, and social environment (277-78). According to Rushdie, Grass is a representative figure because like most of us, he is only "a half-migrant . . . a maybe-only-one-third-migrant"; his estrangement is not from place or language but "from his past" (277, 279). Through his ruminations on Grass, Rushdie expands his definition of migration beyond "literalistic discussions" of it and writes: