Sandra Cisneros's stories, variously described as prose poems and a novel, were originally published by a small Texas press specializing in Mexican-American writing; the work was enthusiastically repackaged later by a New York publisher in a climate newly favourable to ethnic American fictions.
Narrated in the lyrical voice of a child (one piece was illustrated and published separately as a children's book), the vignettes describe life on a delapidated Chicago street in a Latin community. Though there are painful episodes – a girl beaten by her father, a Mexican immigrant killed in a hit-and-run accident – the musical, poetic language and affectionate details give the work a basic optimism.
The stories chronicle Esperanza Cordero's coming of age and her hope that writing will provide her an escape from Mango Street: her ambition is to live in a house 'quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem', though she promises never to forget her origins. This, Cisneros's first work, was soon considered a modern classic of Hispanic-American fiction and was widely taught in American schools and colleges.