Esperanza Rising Summary

Pam Muñoz Ryan

Esperanza Rising

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Esperanza Rising Summary

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Esperanza Rising is a young adult historical fiction novel, written in 2000 by Pam Muñoz Ryan and set in the 1930s. It is loosely based on Ryan’s grandmother’s life. She had lived like a princess in Mexico, but upon immigrating to the United States, had her life upended, suddenly finding herself poverty stricken. Esperanza Rising begins in Aguascalientes, a small state of Central Mexico, and ends in the San Joaquin Valley, California. Hers is a story of a young girl helping her family create a new life for themselves. Esperanza Rising includes themes of perseverance, prejudice, the idea of the home, poverty versus wealth, society and class, the “American Dream,” and justice and judgement. It is a fictional tale depicting a tumultuous time in North American history—The Great Depression. American-Mexican trade suffered, people lost their jobs on both sides of the border, and Mexicans who thought moving to America would solve their problems were deeply misinformed. Working conditions were dire and non-native workers were unfairly paid. Esperanza and her family tell their story about these years.

It is soon after the Mexican Revolution, a time in history when many resent wealthy landowners. Twelve-year-old Esperanza Ortega lives on el Rancho de las Rosas, with her Papa, her mother, Ramona, and grandmother, Abuelita. Esperanza has a very close relationship with her father, who teaches her everything he knows about the ranch and the land they live on. The day before her thirteenth birthday, Esperanza pricks her finger on a rose thorn, a sign of bad luck.

Esperanza’s father is late coming home that night. She tries not to worry, but soon Papa’s older stepbrothers arrive with Papa’s silver belt buckle in their hands, and announce that Papa has been kidnapped by bandits. Tío Luis is a bank president, and Tío Marco the mayor of Aguascalientes; both are very powerful men. Moments later, Alfonso and his son Miguel—servants on the ranch—arrive with a wagon. Inside is Papa’s body, and Esperanza knows the step-brothers must be responsible.

The devastated Esperanza and Ramona find out that Papa left the house to them, but because land is not owned by women, the land is given to Tío Luis. The two stepbrothers spend more and more time at the ranch, first offering to buy the ranch, and then Luis offers to marry Ramona, threatening her as he does. Both of these offers she refuses. Soon after, their home is suddenly burning before their eyes. As they flee, Miguel saves Abuelita, who hurts her ankle and is nearly left behind.

Again, Luis offers to marry Ramona, and this time she agrees, lying to buy her family some time. One night, Ramona, Esperanza, Alfonso, Miguel, and his mother, Hortensia, sneak away, leaving Mexico forever. They have to leave Abuelita in a nunnery so her ankle can heal, but Esperanza hopes she will be reunited with her beloved grandmother in America.

The two families travel for several days via train, and are picked up by Juan, Alfonso’s brother. Juan and his wife, Josefina, have three children. When Esperanza first sees the small cabin in a migrant workers’ camp they are to live in, she becomes indignant, even horrified. Ramona reminds her daughter that the important thing is that they are safe and together. Esperanza must take care of the babies and the house while the adults go out to work in the fields. She makes an enemy out of Marta, a young girl intent on organising the Mexican workers to strike for better working conditions, and struggles to successfully complete household tasks, which she has never had to learn before. Miguel teaches her patiently, once again saving the day.

One day, a dust storm sweeps through the San Joaquin Valley. The men, women, and children all return home safely, but not long after, Ramona breaks out in a fever. She has caught Valley Fever, and is unable to work. Ramona gets even sicker and is moved to the hospital. Hortensia explains to Esperanza that her mother is deeply depressed. Esperanza promises to become the head of the household and take care of her mother. This is a key moment in Esperanza’s character development, as she stops complaining about her situation and begins to work at the only available job, removing eyes from potatoes.

There is a strike during the spring, when the asparagus are meant to be harvested, but it is unsuccessful, and most of the strikers are taken away and deported. Esperanza finds Marta hiding behind a shed, and in a moment of foresight and maturity, helps the girl disguise herself to avoid deportation and separation from her mother. Soon after, Ramona recovers and is allowed to return home.

Miguel’s once promising mechanic job is given to another worker who is willing to work for a much lower, unlivable wage. Esperanza finally reaches her breaking point, taking her anger out on Miguel, who disappears during the night with the money Esperanza had been saving for her grandmother. Esperanza is distraught with knowing that she will never see her grandmother again, and Miguel’s betrayal. Soon after, though, Miguel returns with Abuelita!. He snuck her out carefully, without alerting Tío Luis. Abuelita is finally reunited with her daughter and granddaughter, and a year after her father’s murder, Esperanza has found a small moment of peace.