After you have read the first three or four chapters of Esperanza Rising, try to imagine what it was like for Esperanza growing up on a large ranch in central Mexico. Follow the link below to a map of Mexico and find Aguascalientes. You can get a closer view by selecting Aguascalientes on the pull down menu. You can also listen to Las Mañanitas, the Birthday Song.
Write a short play in which you and your classmates act the parts of Esperanza and her family, and servants, and friends, celebrating Esperanza's twelfth birthday, the one before her father was killed by bandits. Before you begin, re-read the first three chapters and make notes on what was being planned for her thirteenth birthday. Then answer the questions below.
- Who comes to Esperanza's birthday party?
- How many friends her own age does she have?
- What gifts does she expect to receive?
- What gift does her father give her every year?
- What are the games they play and songs they sing?
- What is the birthday song?
- How is Esperanza’s birthday party different from what you would expect?
Immigrating to the United States
When you have read the first six chapters of Esperanza Rising, through "Los Melones" (cantaloupes), stop and consider the big decision that Ramona, Esperanza's mother, must make. After the death of her husband, Sixto Ortega, Ramona must decide whether to marry his brother, Tio Luis, and stay at El Rancho de las Rosas in Aguascalientes. Or should she leave her home and her mother behind in Mexico and run away with her daughter, Esperanza, and go along with her friends and former servants Alfonso and Hortensia and their son Miguel to California?
This was a very big decision for Ramona. To help you understand its importance, try the following exercise: make two lists. First list all the reasons why Ramona and Esperanza might want to stay on the ranch in Aguascalientes instead of running away to California. Then make a second list of all the reasons why they would choose to leave and go with Alfonso and Hortensia and Miguel to California. What do you think you would do if you had to make such a decision?
Before you make your lists, follow the links to these websites to see what life was like for those living in Mexico during and just after the Mexican Revolution of 1910:
After you visit the websites, answer the questions on the Immigration Worksheet and make your two lists: 1. Reasons to stay in Aguascalientes, and 2. Reasons to go to California.
A Day in the Life of Farm Laborers
What would it be like to be a migrant farm worker in the 1930s? Based on your reading of Esperanza Rising and on the websites listed below, write a short dramatic sketch describing some activity you might be engaged if you were living in one of the farm labor camps in the 1930s. Or conduct an interview with Esperanza or one of the other characters in the novel. The following links will give you more information on the Great Depression and on migrant farm workers:
- Introduction to Surviving the DustBowl, PBS documentary
- Historical Background on the Great Depression
- Photo Essay of the Great Depression
- Mass Exodus from the Plains (Okies and other Dust Bowl Migrants)
- Dust Bowl Timeline
- Mexican and Mexican American Migrant Laborers
- Interview with Augustus Martinez, a Mexican Farm Laborer
- Interviews with Jose Flores, a Mexican Farm Laborer
Imagine yourself working in the fields or taking the part of a union organizer who visits with the others and try to persuade them to join the union and strike. Or perhaps you are going shopping at the Japanese grocery, or preparing a meal after a day of working in the fields. Or you may be a journalist conducting an interview with Esperanza or one of the other farm laborers in which you ask them about their working conditions. Before you write your dramatic sketch, answer the following questions to help you prepare:
- Where do the farm laborers keep their food?
- What household appliances do they have available to them?
- Where do they take a bath or go to the restroom?
- What kinds of food do they have to eat?
- Where do they sleep?
- Where do they buy their food and clothing?
- Where do the children play or go to school?
- What is valley fever? Why were Esperanza and her mother especially vulnerable?
Taking an Inventory of the Novel
When you have finished reading Esperanza Rising, go to the story worksheet and answer the following questions:
- Who are the main characters in the novel?
- Where does the story take place?
- Can you identify any objects, like the rose bushes that Miguel and his father save from the fire, that act as symbols or seem to have some deeper meaning in the story?
- What are the important actions in the story, when something important happens?
- What lessons and meaning do you take away from your reading of the story?