Study Guide

Esperanza Rising Prejudice

By Pam Muñoz Ryan


"Esperanza, people here think that all Mexicans are alike. They think that we are all uneducated, dirty, poor, and unskilled. It does not occur to them that many have been trained in professions in Mexico." (11.39)

Esperanza is surprised to learn that Americans have this stereotype of Mexicans. It's not at all true in her experience, but then again, she's used to stereotyping (or at the very least seeing herself as above) poor people. Now the tables have turned.

"Americans see us as one big, brown group who are good for only manual labor." (11.41)

Yikes. Unfair much? The sad thing is, this stereotype also reminds us of the equally unfair way Esperanza saw the wealthy treating the poor in Mexico.

"At this market, no one stares at us or treats us like outsiders or calls us 'dirty greasers.' My father says that Mr. Yakota is a very smart businessman. He is getting rich on other people's bad manners." (11.41)

Maybe Mr. Yakota is more respectful toward Mexican immigrants than the other shop owners because he, too, is an immigrant. Or maybe he's just being a smart businessman, because he knows you catch more flies with honey. Either way, Esperanza will take it.

There were special sections at the movie theater for N****es and Mexicans. In town, parents did not want their children going to the same schools with Mexicans. (11.42)

Yep. Unfortunately, way back in the 1930s, segregation was still totally legal in the United States. Wrong? Sure. But legal. While it's something we talk about as if it were distant history, folks like Esperanza had to live it.

"Has a Mexican girl ever been chosen Queen of May?" she asked Josefina.

Josefina's face took on a disappointed look and she silently shook her head no. "I have asked. They always find a way to choose a blonde, blue-eyed queen." (13.11)

The knowledge that sweet little Isabel won't get to be Queen even though she's earned the highest grades, just because she isn't white and blonde, is just plain ridiculous. And totally infuriating. And isn't that precisely the point? The more we react with emotional disgust, the more we see how unfair and cruel the dominant prejudices were—especially when they impacted children.

"There is always a reason. That is the way it is," said Josefina. "Melina told me that last year the Japanese girl had the best marks in the third grade and still they did not choose her." (13.13)

This example reminds us yet again that Mexicans weren't the only ones to suffer from prejudice in the 1930s. Discrimination applied to pretty much anyone who wasn't white. Unfortunately, things will only get worse for the Japanese community, as many of them will be placed in internment camps during World War II.

"They are making a new camp for people from Oklahoma," said Isabel. […] "They get inside toilets and hot water! And a swimming pool!" (13.22)

Isabel is so excited about this new camp, but Esperanza is old enough to realize what it means that the camp for white workers will be nicer than their own. Sure, the folks from Oklahoma had it seriously rough. But many of the Mexican immigrants had an even tougher go of it.

"The Mexicans can only swim on Friday afternoons, before they clean the pool on Saturday mornings."

Esperanza pounded the dough a little too hard. "Do they think we are dirtier than the others?" (13.25-26)

We can tell Esperanza is upset by this news, and by the implication that Mexicans are dirty. It's a silly rule for an even sillier reason.

"Have you heard that they are building a new camp for the Okies, with a swimming pool? The Mexicans can only swim in it on the afternoon before they clean it! Have you heard they will be given inside toilets and hot water? Why is that, Miguel? Is it because they are the fairest in the land?" (13.46)

Esperanza has remained quiet about all the injustice she has seen… until now. This outburst lets us know that she's learned a lot by quietly observing what's been going on around her.