"Esperanza Rising": Learning Not to Be Afraid to Start Over

When she is a young girl learning with difficulty to crochet, her grandmother unravels all of Esperanza's rows and tells her, "Do not be afraid to start over." Although she does not realize it at the time, this advice will become Esperanza's guiding principle as she learns to confront some of life's harsher realities.

Pam Muñoz Ryan was inspired to write Esperanza Rising by the stories she heard as a child from her grandmother, Esperanza Ortega Muñoz. Set in the early 1930s, twenty years after the Mexican Revolution and during the Great Depression, Esperanza Rising tells the story of a young Mexican girl's courage and resourcefulness when at the tender age of thirteen she finds herself living in a strange new world. Esperanza, whose name means "hope" in Spanish, is born to a world of pampered comfort and privilege on a large and successful ranch. But when her father is killed by bandits, she and her mother are eventually forced to flee their life of privilege and travel to the United States where they survive as best they can as migrant farm laborers. When her mother falls ill with Valley Fever, Esperanza learns the value of family and friends. She finds ways to care for her mother and cope with the difficulties of making a new home, rising again like the mythical phoenix in the stories her grandmother told her when she was a child.

In this lesson students will explore some of the contrasts that Esperanza experiences when she suddenly falls from her lofty perch as the darling child of a wealthy landowner surrounded by family and servants to become a servant herself among an extended family of immigrant farm workers. The lesson will also look behind the story at the historical, social, and cultural circumstances that help to account for the great contrasts and contradictions that Esperanza discovers when she comes to the United States. And, finally, the lesson will invite students to contemplate some of the changes that Esperanza undergoes as she confronts herself and her circumstances and grows from a pampered child into a resourceful and responsible young woman.

A Spanish-language edition Esperanza Renace is also available.

Guiding Questions

What challenges must Esperanza learn to overcome when she leaves her comfortable home in Mexico to begin a new life in the United States?

What is the source of Esperanza's "hope" for happiness?

Learning Objectives

At the end of this lesson, students will be able to: analyze and identify the structural elements of the novel.

Describe Esperanza's growth in maturity and understanding.

Recognize the social distances that separate Esperanza and her family from their farm workers and peasants in Mexico and the migrants from other citizens in the United States.

Understand some of the reasons for Mexican immigration to the United States after the Mexican Revolution and during the Great Depression.

Appreciate why some of the farm laborers want to strike, while others do not, even when they are sympathetic to the strikers and their goals.

Describe the working conditions for farm laborers in the 1930s and explain why the farmers and growers do not pay more or provide better living accommodations.

Understand the competition for work among the various groups of farm laborers.

Explore the attitudes in the United States toward the farm laborers and especially toward those from Mexico.

Analyze the role of the Great Depression and the internal migration of farm laborers in the development of the U.S. Government policy of repatriating Mexican Workers during the Great Depression.