You know those stories your grandparents tell you? They usually start with "when I was a kid…" and end with some message about how you have it easy? Yeah, those. Well Pam Muñoz Ryan heard plenty of those in her day. She knew that her grandma had immigrated to the United States from Mexico as a young woman, and for many years, she heard about how difficult it was to grow up in poverty on a company farm. So when she found out that, in Mexico, her grandmother had lived like a princess, she was shocked.
The story of this strong, vibrant woman who left the familiar behind and moved to California was just too good to resist. Muñoz Ryan had to put it down on paper. With a few novelistic tweaks, the author's grandmother became Esperanza Ortega, the heroine of the book you're about to read. And that's how Esperanza Rising came to be.
Besides Esperanza Rising, which came out in 2000, Muñoz Ryan has written numerous picture books and young adult novels that have earned her tons of impressive awards, like the Pura Belpré Award for portraying the Latino cultural experience, and the California Young Reader Medal. She's particularly good at the whole strong-young-woman thing. Many of her books, which have been published in Spanish and English, have Esperanza-like lady protagonists.
One of the author's goals in turning her grandmother's experiences into a novel was to help teach non-Latinos about the Mexican immigration experience. Done and done. But the most important goal was just to tell a good story. Straight from the horse's mouth: "My most ardent desire is for the reader to turn the page. For me, that's ultimately the most important reason to tell any story" (source).
What does the story of a Mexican immigrant to the United States set in 1930 have to do with our twenty-first century lives? Just ask Esperanza. When the young heroine of Esperanza Rising moves to a foreign country, she experiences a lot of social pressures that are familiar to the millions of immigrants living in the U.S. today. Like, for example, dealing with racial prejudice, learning a new language, and finding work in a really bad economy. As if being a teenager weren't hard enough already, right?
Today, just like in the 1930s, immigration is a major hot-button issue. Politicians spout their opinions every day on what to do about the number of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. We're talking everything from an electrified fence that would keep illegal immigrants out of the U.S. to the DREAM Act, a law that would make it easier for children of undocumented immigrants to become citizens. And about a zillion things in between.
No matter where your sympathies lie, Esperanza's story helps humanize this controversial issue. Through Esperanza's eyes, we learn what it would be like to leave our home, our friends, and even our language behind in order to start a new life in a new country.
Esperanza Rising reminds us that the challenges facing the U.S. today with regards to immigration aren't really new. And in the novel, just like in real life, there's no easy solution.
Pam Muñoz Ryan
Love that name. And love this website. Check it out for the author's biography, a list of her published works, and even some advice to student writers (yes, we're talking to you).
Explore the Story
Scholastic's interactive animation of Esperanza Rising is so addictive; we'd be a little embarrassed to admit how much time we've spent playing with it. So we won't. Plus, there are links to other fun Esperanza-inspired activities, like a crossword puzzle and adorable crafts.
And the Pura Belpré Award for Narrative in 2002 Goes to...
You guessed it—Pam Muñoz Ryan for Esperanza Rising. The Pura Belpré Award was established in 1996 to honor Latino and Latina writers and illustrators of children's books whose work celebrates the Latino cultural experience. This is what we call a deserved win.
This USA Today article sheds light on a chapter of American history that isn't often studied in schools—the forced deportation of thousands of Mexican Americans in the 1930s.
The 1933 Cotton Pickers Strike
The strikes in which Marta participates in the novel are totally based in history. This report, written in 1938, tells the history of the California Cotton Pickers Strike of 1933, one of the largest agricultural strikes ever. And it took place in the San Joaquin Valley, where Esperanza Rising is set. Fancy that.
In this interview, Pam Muñoz Ryan discusses her family history, her upbringing, and the plot of Esperanza Rising. Can't ask for much more than that.
A Writer on Writing
Here, Pam Muñoz Ryan discusses why and how she became a writer. Pretty inspiring stuff, if you ask us.
From the Horse's Mouth
Sit back, relax, and listen as Pam Muñoz Ryan reads from the chapter "Los Higos (Figs)."
Boogie down, it's birthday time. Well, even if it's not, pretend like it is with this traditional Mexican birthday song.
Pam Muñoz Ryan
We have a thing for authors, but we think she's particularly good lookin'.
Mexican-American Workers on Strike
The strike that Marta helps to organize in Esperanza Rising represents a real movement in California history. In the 1930s, many Mexican American agricultural workers went on strike to demand better wages and working conditions.
Take a look at the cover of Esperanza Rising. What do you think? Can we judge this book by its cover?