Lesson Plan

Esperanza Rising: Learning Not to Be Afraid to Start Over

Mexican woman farm laborer picking tomatoes in a California field, 1938.
Photo caption

Mexican woman farm laborer picking tomatoes in a California field, 1938. These were the very same circumstances and times that Esperanza lived and worked in as a child.

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

Esperanza Rising was inspired by the stories author Pam Muñoz Ryan was told as a child by 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  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 overcome when she leaves her home in Mexico to live in the United States?

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

Why does Esperanza's story resonate today?

How do familial relations influence how we view and interact in the world?

Learning Objectives

Analyze and identify the structural elements of the novel.

Identify specific examples in the text to describe Esperanza's growth in maturity and understanding.

Assess the economic and cultural reasons for Esperanza's experiences in Mexico and the United States.

Examine the causes for Mexican immigration to the United States after the Mexican Revolution and during the Great Depression.

Draw upon text-based evidence and interpretation of historical documents to explain why workers went on strike and how this may have affected their positions in the U.S.

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.

Draw connections between between attitudes in the United States toward the farm laborers and especially toward those from Mexico then and now.

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.