by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Character Role Analysis
Papa, Abuelita, Mama, Miguel, even Isabel
In Esperanza Rising, guidance doesn't come from just one person—it's a family affair. Many different characters mentor Esperanza and help her learn how to live in a new and scary environment. In fact, people are giving her advice even before she hits her major obstacle (also known as California): Papa tells Esperanza to have patience, and Abuelita teaches her that life will be difficult, but that she should "never be afraid to start over."
In the transition, the guidance continues. Mama gives Esperanza several lectures about keeping her chin up throughout it all, and reminds her that they'll be okay as long as they have each other. Miguel gives Esperanza her first lessons about social inequality, but also encourages her to stay optimistic. And even little Isabel, who is younger than Esperanza by several years, has some wisdom to impart—she teaches Esperanza how to wash clothes, clean, and take care of babies.
So why is this role of mentor or guide shared by so many characters in the novel? We think it helps drive home the message that family and community are the bomb dot com. No one can succeed on their own—it takes a village. (Or in this case, a camp. But you get the idea.)
And of course, Esperanza gets her own shot at mentoring, too. In the end, she gets to teach Isabel some of the many lessons she has learned along the way.