Esperanza Rising

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Esperanza Rising
Esperanza Rising cover.jpg
Original Scholastic book cover
AuthorPam Muñoz Ryan
IllustratorJoe Cepeda
Cover artistPam Muñoz Ryan
CountryUnited States
Published2000 Scholastic
Media typePrint (paperback + hardcover)
Pages259 plus author's notes
LC ClassPZ7.R9553 Es 2000

Esperanza Rising is a young adult historical fiction novel written by Mexican-American author Pam Muñoz Ryan and released by Scholastic Publishing on March 27, 2000.[1] The novel focuses on Esperanza, the only daughter to wealthy Mexican parents, and the events after her father’s murder and her subsequent move to California with her mother and servants during the Great Depression. The book received generally positive reviews from critics, who praised Muñoz Ryan’s writing and concluded that it was suitable for classroom discussion.


In 1930, lives in Aguascalientes, Mexico, daughter of wealthy landowners Sixto and Ramona Ortega. She lives on her family's ranch, El Rancho de la Rosas, with her mother, father, and grandmother Abuelita. The day before Esperanza's 13th birthday, her father is murdered on his way to town. Her uncle Tío Luis reveals he now owns their land, as it was not customary to leave property to women. Tío Luis offers to continue to care for them and their ranch on one condition: Esperanza's mother must marry him. When she refuses, he threatens that she will regret her decision. Their ranch later burns down during a fire caused by Tío Luis. Esperanza and her mother have to stay in the servant's quarters with their longtime servants and family friends, Alfonso, Hortensia, and their son Miguel. Abuelita, injured during the fire, is sent to a convent where she can recover. One day Esperanza says to Miguel that they both are on different sides of the river. Tío Luis returns and gives his offer of marriage again, and Esperanza's mother agrees. However, this is a lie as she, Alfonso, and Hortensia plan to flee to the United States. Abuelita cannot accompany them due to her injuries, but promises that she will join them as soon as she is better. Esperanza and what remains of her family travel to the United States. Esperanza has difficulty accepting she's now a "peasant" and scorns the other poor people traveling alongside them, to her mother's disappointment.

They finally arrive safely in the United States, currently in the grip of the Great Depression and settle in a farm camp in Arvin, California with Alfonso's brother Juan, his wife Josefina, and their children, Isabel and twin babies Lupe and Pepe. All the adults work either at the farm camp, picking and packaging produce, or with the nearby railroad companies. Esperanza is too young for a job and instead helps Isabel take care of the babies during the day. Esperanza quickly realizes that she doesn't know how to do practical work, such as washing clothes or even sweeping the floor. She asks for Isabel's help to learn how to care for herself and the young children. She begins to adjust to her new life, but still fantasizes about Abuelita coming with her money and rescuing her from poverty.

One day, the camp is caught in a dust storm, and Esperanza's mother contracts Valley fever. She has to be admitted to the hospital and the doctors are unsure if she will survive. Esperanza, desperate for money to support herself and pay her mother's medical bills, takes work on the farm camp despite being underage. She starts to save money after realizing that Abuelita is probably being spied on by Tío Luis and likely can't access her money in Mexico. She stockpiles money orders in the hopes of one day sending them to Abuelita and allowing her to travel to the United States

Tensions rise in the camp as migrants from Oklahoma flee the Dust Bowl and look for work in California. They work for less pay and subsequently cost some Mexican immigrants their jobs, including Miguel's job with the railroad company. There are rumors that a camp is being built for Oklahoma migrants (likely based on places like Weedpatch Camp) that will have indoor plumbing, hot water, and even a swimming pool. Strikers from the farm camps insist that the only way to improve conditions in and for all of them is to unify and refuse to work, but many families are afraid of losing their only income and being unable to care for their children. Esperanza continues to work, crossing picket lines because she needs to pay for her mother's hospital stay. Following a massive demonstration by the strikers, the farm owners called immigration officials to round up the demonstrators. As part of the Mexican Repatriation initiative, many of the people deported were natural-born American citizens who had never been to Mexico.

Faced with injustice after injustice and the strain of her sick mother, Esperanza is traumatized. She has a breakdown and laments the terrible conditions they are subjected to. Miguel insists that things will get better as long as they wait and work hard, but Esperanza doesn't believe there is any hope. They have an argument, with Esperanza insisting that Miguel is "still a peasant" even in the United States and Miguel dismissing her as "still believing [she is] a queen." The next day, they find that Miguel has left to seek work in Northern California.

Esperanza's mother finally recovers and is allowed to return home. Esperanza proudly goes to show her mother the money orders she's saved for Abuelita that they could use, only to discover that the money is missing. It's clear Miguel took them when he left. Weeks pass until Miguel's family receives a note asking them to meet him at the train station, and to bring Esperanza. It was revealed he used the money orders to travel to Mexico and retrieve Abuelita in secret as "proof that things will get better."

The book ends on the day of Esperanza's 14th birthday and Esperanza has finally learned to be grateful for what she does have: her family reunited, friends who love her, and most of all: hope. Esperanza means hope in Spanish.

Background information[edit]

American laborers from Oklahoma were often hostile toward the Mexican workers because they felt they were taking away their jobs. Mexican migrant laborers would work for much lower pay, so there was much tension between the migrant workers on the fields. Some felt that their conditions were unlivable, so they began to protest for better working conditions. Still, others refused to join the protest in fear that they would be fired. In the 1920s and 1930s (about the time the story takes place) California remained about 86% white. Most of these people were those who owned the land, while the 36,800 workers, many of whom were Mexicans, did not.

Critical reception[edit]

Along with its Best Books citation, Publishers Weekly gave Esperanza Rising a starred review, citing its "lyrical, fairy tale - like style". It praised the way "Ryan poetically conveys Esperanza's ties to the land by crafting her story to the rhythms of the seasons" and the fact that "Ryan fluidly juxtaposes world events... with one family's will to survive".[2] Kirkus Reviews disliked the "epic tone, characters that develop little and predictably, and... romantic patina". However it also found that the "style is engaging, her characters appealing", ultimately saying that the story "bears telling to a wider audience".[3]

Children's Literature praised Esperanza Rising and suggested that it "would be a great choice for a multicultural collection".[4] The book has been incorporated into school curriculum in literature, social studies, and Spanish.[5] The University of Missouri has a detailed literature unit available online, including maps, photos and links to other resources.[6] Berkeley High School used recordings of the book with its English as a Second Language students in an Earphone English group. They found that Esperanza Rising doesn't just appeal to students who, like Esperanza, have emigrated from Mexico, but "also to those who have moved here after losing their fathers to violence in the former Yugoslavia".[7]



  1. ^
  2. ^ "Children's Review: Esperanza Rising". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved June 14, 2012.
  3. ^ "Kirkus Reviews: Esperanza Rising". Kirkus reviews. Retrieved June 14, 2012.
  4. ^ "Barnes and Noble Review: Esperanza Rising". More About This Book: Editorial Reviews. Barnes and Noble. Retrieved June 14, 2012.
  5. ^ Boccuzzi-Reichert, Angela (May 2005). "A Book Club for Teachers". School Library Journal. Retrieved June 14, 2012.
  6. ^ "eThemes". Literature: "Esperanza Rising" by Pam Munoz Ryan. University of Missouri.
  7. ^ Goldsmith, Francisca (May 2002). "Earphone English". School Library Journal.
  8. ^ "Pam Munoz Ryan's website - Awards".