Study Guide

Papa (Sixto Ortega) in Esperanza Rising

By Pam Muñoz Ryan

Papa (Sixto Ortega)

Papa isn't like other wealthy landowners in Mexico. Sure, he's rich, but he's not greedy. He sympathizes with the poor and gives land to some of his most loyal workers. He treats his employees with respect and considers his head foreman, Alfonso, to be his best friend.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

All these wonderful characteristics make Papa a great foil for the more typical landowners. What was it like to work for one of these guys? Well, just listen to what Miguel has to say to Esperanza about it:

"Your father was a good man. He gave us a small piece of land and a cabin. But your uncles... you know their reputation. They would take it all away and treat us like animals. We will not work for them." (3.66)

Seems like most of the landowners in Mexico were more like Esperanza's uncles than her father. The workers weren't happy about it—so much so that they started a revolution. Although the Mexican Revolution is a decade in the past at this point, some disgruntled bandits still roam the countryside, taking out their anger on the wealthy. When Papa is killed by bandits, it's not because he was a bad boss. It's because he was being grouped together with the other wealthy landowners.

Papa's death is especially tragic because he was a loving and affectionate father and husband. Esperanza, Mama, and Miguel are all devastated. And we're not gonna lie—we are, too.

Life After Death

But Papa's influence on his family continues even after his death. Alfonso and Miguel transplant Papa's rose garden to their new home so that the family can remember him. And Esperanza will never forget Papa's love for the land or the way he taught her to listen to the earth's heartbeat by lying on the ground:

"This whole valley breathes and lives," he said, sweeping his arm toward the distant mountains that guarded them. "It gives us the grapes and then they welcome us." He gently touched a wild tendril that reached into the row, as if it had been waiting to shake his hand. He picked up a handful of earth and studied it. "Did you know that when you lie down on the land, you can feel it breathe? That you can feel its heart beating?" (1.2)

Papa's tender relationship with the land and will stick with Esperanza no matter where she travels. In fact, she'll use this trick whenever she needs to feel grounded. (Yep, pun intended.)

Most importantly, Papa taught Esperanza and Miguel patience. "Aguántate tantito y la fruta caerá en tu mano," he used to say. "Wait a little while and the fruit will fall into your hand" (1.10). This phrase helps Esperanza and Miguel learn to be patient in their struggle to make a living in the United States. And we're pretty sure it's going to pay off.