Study Guide

Esperanza Rising Visions of America

By Pam Muñoz Ryan

Visions of America

Esperanza suddenly felt guilty and did not want to admit that she had never noticed or that it might be true. Besides, they were going to the United States now and it certainly would not be true there. (5.101)

Esperanza doesn't notice that the poorest people in her country tend to have the darkest skin until Miguel points it out to her. But she figures things will be different in the United States, where surely there's no such thing as racism. Right? Right?

As they rounded a curve, it appeared as if the mountains pulled away from each other, like a curtain opening on a stage, revealing the San Joaquin Valley beyond. Flat and spacious, it spread out like a blanket of patchwork fields. Esperanza could see no end to the plots of yellow, brown, and shades of green. (6.75)

The San Joaquin Valley, Esperanza's new home, reveals itself to her dramatically, like a set on a stage when the curtain rises. And that's a fitting introduction, when you consider the fact that this is supposed to be the place where Esperanza can seek a new life and make her dreams come true. Of course nothing is as it seems, and it might not be all beautiful fields and endless opportunity.

This was not a gently rolling landscape like Aguascalientes. For as far as the eye could travel, the land was unbroken by even a hillock. Esperanza felt dizzy looking at the repeated straight rows of grapes and had to turn her head away. (6.77)

The endless acres of farmland make America seem like a very prosperous and grand place. Esperanza finds it a little overwhelming, which is funny, considering the fact that she misses her old, straight life.

"She was born here and her mother, too. They are citizens," said Isabel […] "Her father came from Sonora during the revolution. They have never even been to Mexico." (8.44)

Esperanza learns that not everyone in her new community is an immigrant. Not everyone is like her. In fact, there are boatloads of Mexican Americans who have never even seen Mexico. So is there any shared experience that ties these folks to the more recent immigrant community, other than their ethnic background?

Esperanza looked out the window. Thousands of acres of tilled soil were becoming food for la tormenta and the sky was turning into a brown swirling fog. (9.43)

La tormenta? No thank you. This dust storm sounds downright terrifying. But it also reminds us of what's going on in America during the time in which this book takes place. In the 1930s, dust storms in the Midwest forced a ton of farmers out of their homes. And where did they go? California, of course, where they had to compete for jobs with immigrants from Mexico and other countries, too.

"Are we going to starve?" asked Isabel.

"No, mija," said Josefina. "How could anyone starve here with so much food around us?" (12.26-27)

It's hard to imagine that poverty could exist in the middle of such abundance. Seriously, can't they just pick some food from the rows, whenever they're hungry? Not exactly. See—the food isn't theirs. It's the farm owners'. The workers have to live in very impoverished conditions. Some families—like the one Esperanza runs into at the strikers' camp—are even starving, because they can't make enough money to get by.

Something seemed very wrong about sending people away from their own "free country" because they had spoken their minds. (12.53)

Esperanza thinks Americans are hypocritical to claim that theirs is a "free country." She wants to know how folks can say that people are free, and then deport citizens for speaking their minds. For Esperanza, America is not exactly the land of liberty she once thought.

"In time, they will be back, especially if they have families here. They will reorganize and they will be stronger. There will come a time when we will have to decide all over again whether to join them or not." (12.66)

Miguel understands that Marta's strike isn't an isolated event. This will be a part of a larger movement for workers' rights in the United States, and they'll have to pick sides. Life in America is definitely complicated. Esperanza has to make a lot more choices and tough calls than she would have if she had stayed on her straight and narrow path back home.

When they got to the top, Esperanza looked out over the valley. The cool, almost morning air filled her senses. Below, she could see the white roofs of the cabins in straight rows, the fields beginning to take form, and over the eastern mountains, a hopeful brightening. (14.89)

Earlier, Esperanza found the view of the enormous San Joaquin Valley to be totally overwhelming. But now it looks calm and peaceful, and the sunrise in the east seems hopeful. Funny how things change, huh?

Then she flew over a river, a thrusting torrent that cut through the mountains. And there, in the middle of the wilderness, was a girl in a blue silk dress and a boy with his hair slicked down, eating mangos on a stick, carved to look like exotic flowers, sitting on a grassy bank, on the same side of the river. (14.103)

On her fourteenth birthday, Esperanza literally has a vision of America. She sees herself and Miguel as children, only now, in America, they are no longer separated by a rigid class structure (that's what the river stands for, we think). They can sit on the same side of the river and be together. Sigh.