Abuelita is full of wise little gems in Esperanza Rising, but our favorite one is this: "Do not be afraid to start over" (2.38). If perseverance had a tagline, that would be it, don't you think? That or "get up off your lazy bum and keep at it." Either way.
Esperanza quickly figures out that Abuelita isn't just talking about crocheting. Our young protagonist is forced to leave her home, her friends, and all of the comforts of her former life in order to start over in a strange new country—the United States. Esperanza and her family work hard for pennies a day and live in poverty. And to make matters worse, they have to contend with racism and prejudice. But Esperanza, whose name means "hope" in Spanish, never gives up. Why? Because she has the support and love of her family and that special spark inside her.
Esperanza really learns what it means to be determined when her mom gets sick and she has to take on the responsibility of leading the family.
Miguel is the main force behind Esperanza's perseverance—his ambition and optimism convince her to keep on keepin' on.
Next time on Soap Opera Central, a young woman's idea of "home" is thrown into crisis when her evil uncle burns down her family's house. Oh wait, no, that's actually what happens in Esperanza Rising. Esperanza and her Mama have to make a choice: keep their wealth and be separated by the evil Tío Luis, or flee the country and live together in poverty. In the end, it's a pretty easy decision.
Their new digs in California aren't what Esperanza is used to. Instead of a luxuriously furnished mansion, she and her Mama have to share a two-room shack with three other people. But as Esperanza's Mama teaches her, it doesn't really matter where they go. As long as they're with the people they love, they are home. (Cue sappy music.)
The objects that decorate Esperanza's new home in California—babies' toys, Isabel's pictures, peaches from the field, and Papa's roses—represent the blending of Esperanza's old and new lives.
Even though Esperanza is related to her uncles by blood, she doesn't really consider them to be her family. On the other hand, Hortensia, Alfonso, Miguel, and their relatives in the United States do become part of Esperanza's family, even though they're not technically related.
Esperanza Rising is fictionalized, sure, but the events behind the story are incredibly real. And when it comes to farm laborers during the Great Depression, questions of fairness and justice are everywhere.
In our story, Marta and some of the other workers protest that the farmers are taking advantage of them. They go on strike, refusing to work until the farmers pay better wages and provide better living conditions. Marta believes that Mexicans will never be able to get ahead because of racial prejudice, and she thinks that striking is the only way to achieve justice. At first Esperanza disagrees, but eventually she starts to have some sympathy for Marta's point of view.
What do you think? It's not easy to form your own political opinions—especially when real people are involved—but Esperanza Rising encourages us to do just that.
Esperanza and her family are silly not to join the strike right away. Their employers are treating them unjustly by paying such low wages and providing terrible housing. The only way the workers can hope to be treated fairly is to get everyone to refuse to work until the farmers agree to pay higher wages.
Esperanza and her family are wise not to join the strike. If they refuse to work, they will lose their jobs to unemployed workers from Oklahoma, who are willing to work for pennies a day. If they just keep working hard and don't cause trouble, Esperanza and her family will eventually prosper.
The characters in Esperanza Rising aren't just running away from Esperanza's super scary uncle. They're also looking for jobs and an opportunity for a better life. In Mexico in the 1920s, people like Miguel, Alfonso, and Hortensia knew that the social divide between the upper class and the peasants was pretty much uncrossable. If you weren't born to an upper-class family, your social and economic status was limited, no matter how hard you worked. (Even Esperanza thinks so, and she doesn't hesitate to snobbishly make that clear to Miguel.)
Cue the American Dream—the idea that, by working hard in the U.S., anyone can be successful. Unfortunately, Miguel and his family learn quickly that the United States of the 1930s has social problems of its own, including rampant racism and discrimination. But despite these setbacks, they soldier on and keep fighting for their dreams.
The train ride from Mexico to the United States represents a space of social transition for Esperanza and her Mama. They are moving from a society that is sharply divided into two classes, to a society in which all Mexicans are seen as equal. The train is the physical connection between these two different spaces, and it's also the first place where Esperanza's Mama teaches her to interact with poor Mexicans as equals.
Miguel and Esperanza were equals throughout the entire book; Esperanza just didn't realize it until the end.
For the first twelve years of her life, Esperanza lives the life of luxury. We kind of imagine it like this. But when she and her mother lose everything and have to flee to the United States, Esperanza gets a crash course in poverty. She learns about the connection between class and race, the relationships between the rich and the poor, and the quality of life for poor workers. What's more, she learns this all first hand. Talk about the biggest reality check ever.
If Esperanza had continued to live her life of luxury and privilege, she never would have learned that many people live in poverty and struggle to survive. Losing everything makes Esperanza a more knowledgeable and sympathetic character.
The novel makes the argument that the unfairness of working conditions on the big farms is one of the causes of poverty.
When we first meet Esperanza in Esperanza Rising, we can tell she's a sweet kid—but we have no idea if she's really a good person. After all, it's pretty easy to be agreeable when you're super wealthy and everyone throws you big parties all the time. The real test of a person's character is how they act when the going gets tough, right?
Esperanza's parents and grandmother do their best to teach Esperanza some important lessons about patience, bravery, and kindness. And boy, do these lessons pay off. Esperanza keeps their words in mind as she's challenged by the death of her father, the loss of her home and fortune, and the difficulties of a new life in a strange country. It's not easy, and Esperanza definitely makes a few mistakes along the way. But ultimately we find out that this is a young lady with a lot of integrity.
The most important lesson that Esperanza learns from Mama is that nothing matters more than being with the people you consider your family.
Esperanza has to learn to be a virtuous person. On the train, she is judgmental and unkind to the other passengers. But she learns from this mistake, and makes up for it by treating several other characters with kindness and generosity.
Esperzanza Rising is the story of plans gone awry. And boy do we mean awry. As the daughter of a wealthy Mexican rancher, Esperanza looks forward to a future as straightforward as the rows of grapes in her father's vineyards. But that future soon disappears and Esperanza finds herself immigrating to a strange new country where she has no idea what lies around the bend. Her fellow immigrants come to the United States with big dreams and plans to work hard, and despite the many difficulties that Esperanza encounters, she comes to feel that making a new life in the United States is a dream worth having.
Esperanza's goals at the end of the novel are much more awesome than the plans of her twelve-year-old self, because accomplishing them will require lots of hard work, and that's what really counts.
When she has to take on the responsibility of caring for her sick mother, Esperanza becomes an adult—and her dreams become more adult, too, especially compared to her childish dream of getting her wealth back.
Esperanza and Miguel imagine the United States to be a land of opportunity, where everyone gets a chance to succeed. Unfortunately, this dream turns out to be a wee bit idealistic. Sure, it looks like the United States is a prosperous place. With farmland extending as far as the eye can see, how could anyone starve in a place like this? But as it turns out, plenty of people in the U.S. are struggling with issues like poverty, exploitation, and racial prejudice. In Esperanza Rising, America is no utopia. But it's still a place with a better chance for making dreams come true.
America in this book is a big old bummer. Poverty and prejudice make persevering tough work for our characters.
The racial prejudice of American employers and the abuses of the immigration officials show Esperanza that working in the United States is no better than being a servant in Mexico. Mexicans in the United States are treated like "second-class citizens" (13.48).
In moving from Mexico to the United States, Esperanza and her family move from a very classist society to one in which discrimination usually depends on racial and ethnic bias, rather than how much money you've got in your wallet. As a light-skinned member of Mexico's upper class, Esperanza isn't used to being discriminated against. In fact, she's used to being the one doing the discriminating. But Esperanza Rising is all about out with the old, in with the new, so Esperanza will have to figure out how to rise above the differences that divide her community. In doing so, we're pretty sure she'll create a new and better life for herself.
So much for equality. Even though the United States is supposedly a classless society, racial discrimination in Esperanza Rising means that the Mexican immigrants, as well as any other groups that are not white, are treated as second-class citizens.
Funny how the tables have turned. Esperanza goes from being a person who discriminates against the poor in Mexico to a person who experiences discrimination because she is Mexican.