Lessons from “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros

As Hispanic Heritage Month comes to an end, I’d like to take a moment and reflect on one of my favorite stories by a Hispanic author. “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros is one of those stories that every person should read at some point in his or her life. It’s a simple story that so accurately captures a complex series of emotions – turning older, discovering that life in not always unfair, holding in your emotions.

As you read through this story, you learn a few key lessons:

  1. As you grow older, you gain wisdom, yet you’ll never be quite old enough to have all the wisdom you need.
  2. Sometimes others will not listen to you, no matter how much you try to explain.
  3. Often, all it takes to ruin your day is having to put on an ugly red sweater that doesn’t even belong to you.
  4. However, it’s often not the sweater that is really the problem.

All it takes to ruin Rachel’s birthday is an ugly red sweater, an ugly red sweater, but is the sweater really the problem?

Rachel is eleven, but she doesn’t feel eleven. She still wants to cry like she’s three and sit on her mother’s lap when she’s scared like she’s five. Having a birthday isn’t a magical transformation into an older, wiser being.

Rachel is eleven, but she’s still not confident enough to stand up for herself when her teacher puts that sweater on her desk and, later, makes her put the sweater on. And she’s not able to stand up for herself when Phyllis Lopez finally claims the sweater and her smug teacher refuses to apologize.

This is a good character lesson for kids. We’re quick to praise the outspoken, confident children for standing up for themselves, but we fail to recognize that it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Some kids will have it down when they’re five, some when they’re eleven, and some won’t get pick it up until they’re one-hundred and two.

We need to take time to teach kids that every event doesn’t have a happy ending, every situation doesn’t go exactly as we hope it will, and that sometimes life is hard. We’re going to have some red sweater days, but the good news comes in knowing that not all days will be red sweater days.

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