Study Guide

Esperanza Rising Poverty

By Pam Muñoz Ryan


"We have little money and Hortensia, Alfonso, and Miguel are no longer our servants. We are indebted to them for our finances and our future. And that trunk of clothes for the poor? Esperanza, it's for us." (4.86)

Hate to break it to you, but this isn't a "rags to riches" story. In fact, it's quite the opposite.

In front of the station, a crippled Indian woman crawled on her knees, her hand outstretched toward a group of ladies and gentlemen who were finely dressed in clothes like the ones that used to hang in Esperanza's and Mama's closets. The people turned their backs on the begging woman but Carmen walked over and gave her a coin and some tortillas from her bag. (5.95)

This is a pretty powerful moment, don't you think? A woman with next to nothing to her name shares her valuable food with a beggar. Why is Carmen so generous, when she has so little to give?

"She has eight children and sells eggs to survive. Yet when she can barely afford it she gave your mother two hens and helped the crippled woman," said Miguel. "The rich take care of the rich and the poor take care of those who have less than they have." (5.96)

Think back to everyone's descriptions of Papa's generosity. Is it fair to generalize like this, or was Papa just an exception to the rule?

"But why does Carmen need to take care of the beggar at all?" said Esperanza. "Look. Only a few yards away is the farmer's market with carts of fresh food." (5.97)

This is a classic rich-girl moment on Esperanza's part. She can't understand how anyone could starve when there's plenty of food lying around.

"There is a Mexican saying: 'Full bellies and Spanish blood go hand in hand.' [...] Have you never noticed?" he said, sounding surprised. "Those with Spanish blood, who have the fairest complexions in the land, are the wealthiest."

Miguel points out to Esperanza that the issues of poverty and race are totally connected in Mexican society. Do they see examples of this when they get to the United States, too?

"They work wherever there is something to be harvested. Those camps, the migrant camps, are the worst."

"Like when we were in El Centro?" said Isabel.

"Worse," said Josefina.


Esperanza tried to imagine conditions that were more shabby than this room that was covered in newspaper to keep out the wind. Could things possibly be worse? (8.65-67, 74)

It's tough out there for a migrant worker. Esperanza has seen her share of poverty, and even she can't imagine the worst of it.

There were only ten wooden toilet stalls for hundreds of people and Esperanza could smell the effects from the truck. Some people lived in tents but others had only burlap bags stretched between poles [...] (11.72)

When Esperanza visits the strikers' camp, she sees for herself that things could indeed be worse. The people living there don't have any sort of permanent shelters at all—just tents and some outhouses.

"We were thrown out of our camp because I was striking. My family has not eaten in two days. There are too many people coming into the valley each day who will work for pennies. Yesterday I worked all day and made less than fifty cents and I cannot buy food for one day with that." (11.76)

Imagine being so poor that you can't even buy food for one day with your wages. Makes you feel pretty grateful for what you have, right? Esperanza, too.