Pura Belpre Award, 2002.
Esperanza Rising is the story of a 13-year-old young woman who must leave the fairytale life she’s lived in Mexico and go to work in the farm lands of the San Joaquin Valley of California. The book gives a gentle but clear introduction to issues surrounding immigration in this country.
Esperanza’s father owns a large ranch in Mexico. She lives in a big house with her parents and her grandmother. The ranch foreman, Alfonso and his wife, Hortensia, the maid, live close by with their son Miguel. Esperanza and Miguel had been childhood playmates. Esperanza has beautiful clothes and beautiful dolls and beautiful gardens to enjoy. She felt like a princess. But when her father is killed and her uncles try to take over the ranch, she and her mother, along with Miguel and his parents, must escape to the United States.
Alfonso’s brother Juan arranges for the five immigrants to live and work on the same ranch where he and his family work. Two women and two girls live in a shack the size of a horse stall. Esperanza still thinks of herself as a princess. The harshness of this new life is hard to comprehend. Soon Esperanza must work sorting whatever crop is being picked at the time.
The story is set in 1930. A group of farm workers in the local area talk about striking for better living and working conditions. Esperanza can’t risk losing her job by striking. Nor can the other members of her new extended family. But there’s pressure to strike, and finally the strike comes to pass. It isn’t successful, and those who were striking are deported to Mexico, regardless of whether or not they are Mexican or US citizens.
Esperanza is aware of painful discrimination against Mexicans. One camp, built for the people from Oklahoma, will have a swimming pool. Mexicans will be able to swim in it on Saturday afternoons, immediately before it is cleaned on Sunday.
At the end of the book there is a fascinating Authors Note in which Pam Munoz Ryan discusses the parallels between her grandmother’s life and Esperanza’s life.
Esperanza means hope in Spanish, and despite the difficulties associated with being a farm worker, plus the heartbreak of losing one’s home and way of life, Esperanza Rising is a hopeful book.
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