Allison's Book Bag

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Posted on: April 6, 2012

Many girls dream of growing up to be rich. Yet initially it might be difficult to relate to Esperanza Ortega and her fairy tale wealthy life. Her family owns a grape vineyard and hires servants to work in it. As such, Esperanza is used to every last chore being done by others. Even routines that most of us take for granted such as washing and dressing ourselves are done for Esperanza. The family wealth also allows for private schools, formal teas, silk dresses, and porcelain dolls. Oh, and then there’s the Quinceañeras or presentation parties. For these, girls who are fifteen years of age wear white dresses and dance with the sons of the richest families. After that, they can be courted. Sounds like the life of a princess.

When disaster strikes, the family migrates to the United States during the Depression Era. Here, Esperanza seems a little more down to earth. Now life involves rides on crowded trains. Her family shares a two-room cabin on farm campgrounds. Laborers all know each other’s business. Even toilets are not private. Everyone has a job to do. If not out on the fields, they might be like Esperanza in having to babysit children and sweep floors. Households have menial tasks to do such as cleaning diapers. And now everyone is poor and lives in dirt-filled quarters. Although our family isn’t poor, I related much easier to this lifestyle.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan is based on the life of her maternal grandmother, whose privileged life in Mexico was dramatically altered when she immigrated to the United States. Naturally, throughout the book are many references to the Spanish language and to Mexican traditions. For example, running through Esperanza Rising is the theme: “Aguántate  tantito y la fruta caerá en tu mano” or “Wait a little while and the fruit will fall into your hand.” The rest of the Spanish insertions are of single words. My being from Canada, the Spanish words are mostly new to me and so I wished I could hear Esperanza Rising on tape. The traditions of a fiesta, La Navidad, and a pinata were more familiar to me, although I found the details of interest. At the camp, the Mexican workers also held a jamaica every Saturday night during the summer, where they had music and food and dance.

When Ryan researched into the labor camps, she found prejudice existed. In Esperanza Rising, Esperanza feels prejudice in America because she is Mexican. Most telling are those in the camps. One of Esperanza’s friends failed, despite meeting the criteria of having the highest grades in her class, to become Queen of the May. No one except white girls has ever received the honor. Despite the dream that immigrants have of even the poorest man becoming rich if he tries, Mexicans are hired to lay tracks and dig ditches but never to work as mechanics. When families from Oklahoma receive a new camp, it includes luxuries not given to Mexican such as hot water, inside toilets, and a swimming pool.

Esperanza asks one day why the family drives far away to shop at the Japanese market. The response is that the Japanese storekeeper treats them like people. When Esperanza probes further, she is candidly told:

“People here think all Mexicans are alike. They think that we are all uneducated, dirty, poor, and unskilled. It does not occur to them that many have been trained in professions in Mexico…. Americans see as one big brown group who are good for only manual labor. At this market, no one stares at us or treats us like outsiders.”

The worst example is that when Mexicans speak out against the miserable camp conditions, immigration authorities are called. Not only are illegal immigrants rounded up, but so is anyone who looks Mexican. Sometimes those sent back to Mexico were native-born Americans who had never been to Mexico. According to Ryan, between the 1929 and 1935 repatriation period (in which her book is set), at least 450,000 Mexicans and Mexican Americans were sent back to Mexico.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Allisons' Book Bag Logo

Thank You!

Allison’s Book Bag will no longer be updated. Thank you for eight years!

You can continue to follow me at:



Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 123 other followers

%d bloggers like this: