"They don't want us banding together for higher wages or better housing," said Marta. "The owners think if Mexicans have no hot water, that we won't mind as long as we think no one has any." (6.97)
The farmers pay the workers very little, and the housing that they provide is kind of... well, gross. Marta points out that the farm owners seem to be intentionally keeping information from the workers so that they won't ask for better pay or living conditions.
"Of course I need my job, but if all the workers join together and refuse to work, we might all get better conditions." (6.101)
Marta explains to Esperanza's family the logic of striking. The trouble is, everybody needs to join the strike in order for it to work. But joining the strike is risky because the strikers could lose their jobs. Tough call for Esperanza.
"Is this how we want to live?" She held the kitten by the back of the neck, waving it high in the air. It hung limp in front of the crowd. "With no decent home and at the mercy of those bigger than us, richer than us?" (8.57)
In Marta's opinion, the Mexican workers are as helpless as little kittens. And she's trying to get them to act more like big, powerful wildcats. Grrr.
"Señor, does it not bother you that some of your compadres live better than others?" yelled one of Marta's friends. "We are going to strike in two weeks. At the peak of the cotton. For higher wages and better housing!" (8.60)
The strikers are smart cookies: they time their protests so that they'll happen just when the farmers need workers the most. What effect are they hoping to have?
"They only get seven cents a pound for picking cotton. They want ten cents a pound. It seems like such a small price to pay, but in the past, the growers said no." (8.71)
Think about it: all this hubbub over three measly cents. We know it's 1930, but that's still nothing. It goes to show you how poor these workers really were—those three cents made an absolute world of difference.
"And now, more people are coming to the valley to look for work, especially from places like Oklahoma, where there is little work, little rain, and little hope. If the Mexicans strike, the big farms will simply hire others. Then what would we do?" (8.71)
Josefina explains the real danger of speaking up about the terrible working conditions on the farms. If the workers stick up for themselves, it's likely that they'll lose their jobs. There are so many people desperate for a job that the farmers will have no difficulty in finding new workers.
"Repatriation," said Marta's aunt. "La Migra—the immigration authorities—round up people who cause problems and check their papers. If they are not in order, or if they do not happen to have their papers with them, the immigration officials send them back to Mexico. We have heard that they have sent people whose families have lived here for generations, those who are citizens and have never even been to Mexico." (10.58)
This is one of the most contentious issues here: how is it fair to deport people who are American citizens?
"¡Americana! ¡Americana!" yelled one woman and she began to unfold some papers. One of the officials took the papers from her hand and tore them into pieces. "Get on the bus," he ordered. (12.41)
In this scene, the immigration official doesn't care if the woman is an American citizen or not. Because she's causing trouble, and because she's of Mexican heritage, he's kicking her out of the country. No matter your opinions on immigrations, this one's a no-brainer: it's unfair, unjust, and definitely illegal.
She was glad she had kept working and thankful that the camp had voted not to strike, but she knew that under different circumstances, it could have been her on that bus. [...] Some of these people did not deserve their fate today. How was it that the United States could send people to Mexico who had never even lived there? (12.67)
Esperanza starts to suspect that the United States isn't quite as perfect as she had thought it would be. For the first time, she starts to sympathize with the strikers.
"Nothing is right here! Isabel will certainly not be queen no matter how badly she wants it because she is Mexican. You cannot work on engines because you are Mexican. We have gone to work through angry crowds of our own people who threw rocks at us, and I'm afraid they might have been right!" (13.46)
When Esperanza realizes that she and her family might not be able to accomplish their goals because of racial discrimination, she flips her lid. She's starting to see the shades of grey where before things were just black and white.