Closer Readings Commentary

Celebrate Hispanic Heritage with Esperanza Rising

I am poor, but I am rich. I have my children, I have a garden with roses, and I have my faith and the memories of those who have gone before me. What more is there?
― Pam Muñoz Ryan, Esperanza Rising

Esperanza Rising is a story filled with wealth and poverty, rose gardens and hard labor, faith and doubt, memory and thinking ahead—and much more. Set in post-revolutionary Mexico and in California during the time of the Great Depression, this novel portrays the challenges of a young immigrant girl as she comes of age and wakes up to the adult realities of love and sacrifice. It both conveys and transcends the cultural and personal struggles that many poor families experience and speaks to the plight of immigrant children the world over.

Esperanza Rising: Learning Not to Be Afraid to Start Over explores the historical, social, and cultural backstory that helps to account for the great contrasts and contradictions that migrants confronted as they entered the U.S. during the Great Depression. It helps students understand the working conditions for farm laborers in the 1930s and explains why the farmers and growers did not pay more or provide better living accommodations for them. It also addresses the attitudes of American landowners toward the farm laborers and especially toward those who came from Mexico. A Spanish-language version, Esperanza Renace, is also available.

The Author

Pam Muñoz Ryan,a Mexican American writer, was born in Bakersfield in the San Joaquin Valley of California in 1951. She has written more than thirty books, which have garnered many accolades, including the NEA's Human and Civil Rights Award and the Virginia Hamilton Literary Award for multicultural literature.

Esperanza Rising has received numerous awards, including thePura Belpré Award,which ispresented to a Latino or Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays the Latino cultural experience in a work of literature for children or youth.

The Novel

The novel begins with Esperanza as a child of six in 1924. It then jumps ahead six years to the eve of her thirteenth birthday and continues to follow her into young adulthood. The setting of the novel shifts from the large ranch in Aguascalientes, Mexico, which a decade earlier had been a center of revolutionary activity, to migrant labor camps near Arvin, California.

EDSITEment’s The Centennial of the Mexican Revolution, 1910–2010 offers some excellent background on Esperanza’s story. Although the Revolution officially ended with the proclamation of the new Constitution in 1917, many instances of lawlessness and revolutionary activity lingered, with subsequent assassinations of government officials. At the time of the story, some of these former revolutionaries were still active as bandits, especially against the large landowners like Esperanza family. This historical background lends depth and richness to the plot and setting as well as the characters.

Activities for the Common Core

Activity 2 encourages critical thinking and analysis and asks students to make lists of the pros and cons to help them understand what was at stake for Ramona and Esperanza when they had to decide whether to stay in Aguascalientes or flee to California. It offers a way to think about what the consequences might be for each decision. Trace the route of the trip to the United States on a map. The goal is to help students appreciate the difficulty of such a decision and to understand the hoped for rewards as well as the hardships. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.7.9 Compare and contrast a fictional portrayal of a time, place, or character and a historical account of the same period as a means of understanding how authors of fiction use or alter history.

Activity 3 is a dramatization exercise that commences after students have reviewed the Web resources and finished reading a sufficient portion of the novel. Each group chooses a subject for a short dramatic scene describing some activity from a day in the life of a farm laborer or a member of a farm laborer's family based on their reading of Esperanza Rising as well as their background research. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.7.4 Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with pertinent descriptions, facts, details, and examples; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.

Activity 4 focuses student attention on the literary qualities of the novel as well as the larger themes and the lessons learned by Esperanza from her experiences. Each group makes a chart on which they list the parts of the story, the setting, the characters, themes, symbols, imagery, etc. They create an outline of the plot of the story. EDSITEment Esperanza Rising LaunchPad can be used as an additional or alternate independent student activity. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.7.3 Analyze how particular elements of a story or drama interact (e.g., how setting shapes the characters or plot).

 Through these activities students examine the universal issues of immigration and uncover the difficult choices faced by those who decide to leave their home country and migrate to the United States.