Study Guide

Esperanza Rising Society and Class

By Pam Muñoz Ryan

Society and Class

They [the campesinos] were covered top to bottom, in long-sleeved shirts, baggy pants tied at the ankles with string, and bandanas wrapped around their foreheads and necks to protect them from the sun, dust, and spiders. Esperanza, on the other hand, wore a light silk dress that stopped above her summer boots, and no hat. (2.3)

One big clue that Esperanza and the workers on her father's ranch are in two separate social classes? Their clothes.

"Change has not come fast enough, Esperanza. The wealthy still own most of the land while some of the poor have not even a garden plot. There are cattle grazing on the big ranches yet some peasants are forced to eat cats. Papa is sympathetic and has given land to many of his workers." (2.25)

The question of who got to own land was a real hot button issue in Mexico in the early 1900s. (For more on this, read about the Mexican Revolution in our section on "Setting.") Esperanza's dad is a wealthy landowner, but that doesn't make him a bad guy—he's sympathetic to the cause of the landless poor, and gives away land to some of his employees.

But now that she was a young woman, she understood that Miguel was the housekeeper's son and she was the ranch owner's daughter and between them ran a deep river. Esperanza stood on one side and Miguel stood on the other and the river could never be crossed. (2.52)

Even Esperanza feels the disconnect between her (ranch owner's daughter) and Miguel (housekeeper's son). No matter how good lookin' and handy he is, Esperanza won't give him a second look.

"My father and I have lost faith in our country. We were born servants here and no matter how hard we work we will always be servants. [...] The work is hard in the United States but at least there we have a chance to be more than servants." (3.66)

Miguel is sure that things are different in the United States—land of the free. There, it doesn't matter who you are or how poor you were born. If you work hard, you can be successful. Sounds to us like he's got a strong case of the American Dream.

"I would have worked at the railroad in Mexico [...] But it is not easy to get a job in Mexico. You need una palanca, a lever, to get a job at the railroads."
[…]
"I hear that in the United States, you do not need una palanca. That even the poorest man can become rich if he works hard enough." (5.73, 76)

According to Miguel (did you notice that he's involved in a lot of these quotations about Society and Class?), you have to know the right people to get the job you want in Mexico. Basically, it's all about networking. The United States, he thinks, is a place where hard work is the only thing that matters. What do you think, is Miguel right?

Mama had always been so proper and concerned about what was said and not said. In Aguascalientes, she would have thought it was "inappropriate" to tell an egg woman their problems, yet now she didn't hesitate. (5.86)

What's going on here? When Mama and Esperanza were wealthy and living on the ranch, Mama had all sorts of strict rules about how to relate to the lower class. But now that they have lost everything, Mama isn't following these rules anymore. What gives?

Esperanza noticed that the people in the first cars were escorted to the shortest lines and passed through quickly. (6.1)

When the passengers cross the border from Mexico into the United States, the wealthier people from the first class cars get the VIP treatment. But the poorer people have to stand in long lines and answer more questions; and in the end, many of them are turned away. In this case, race has nothing to do with it—it's all about the Benjamins.

"Those people are Filipinos," she said. "They live in their own camp. And see over there?" She pointed to a field down the road. "Those people are from Oklahoma. They live in Camp 8. There's a Japanese camp, too. We all live separate and work separate. They don't mix us." (6.96)

Isabel explains to Esperanza that the farm workers of different ethnicities and nationalities live separately. One the one hand, this allows Esperanza to speak Spanish in her new community. But on the other hand, it allows farm owners to give preferential treatment to some groups based on racial bias. And, you know, it kind of prevents quality mingling.

She repeated Hortensia's recipe and as she sat for the second time with her hands smothered, she realized that it wouldn't matter how much avocado and glycerine she put on them, they would never look like the hands of a wealthy woman from El Rancho de las Rosas. Because they were the hands of a poor campesina. (11.10)

The changes in Esperanza's life have left their mark on her body. We're pretty sure this means that Esperanza's transformation from spoiled rich girl to gracious young woman isn't just temporary.

"In Mexico, I was a second-class citizen. I stood on the other side of the river, remember? And I would have stayed that way my entire life. At least here, I have a chance, however small, to become more than I was." (13.48)

Despite all of the racial prejudice that Miguel encounters in the United States, he still believes he has more of a chance to change his life here than he did in Mexico. What keeps him going?