Esperanza Ortega possesses all the treasures a young girl could want: fancy dresses; a beautiful home filled with servants in the bountiful region of Aguascalientes, Mexico: and the promise of one day rising to Mama’s position and presiding over all of El Rancho de las Rosas.
But a sudden tragedy shatters that dream, forcing Esperanza and Mama to flee to California and settle in a Mexican farm labor camp. There they confront the challenges of hard work, acceptance by their own people, and economic difficulties brought on by the Great Depression. When Mama falls ill from Valley Fever and a strike for better working conditions threatens to uproot their new life, Esperanza must relinquish her hold on the past and learn to embrace a future ripe with the riches of family and community.
The summary is from the book jacket, published by Scholastic Press.
This was a book that was difficult to put down! Esperanza comes from a very unique family that treated their many workers with respect, as if they were a part of a larger family. That was not the norm for this way of life on prosperous ranches in Mexico at that time. Although raised wealthy, and definitely pampered, Esperanza enjoys and returns the love and friendship she receives from many of the people who work in her home. But when tragedy demands that she must leave her home, this extended family protects her, as her family had always protected them, and they make a new life in what feels like a new world. New routines, new expectations, and a new set of needs seems overwhelming, but Esperanza must learn that the things that made her rich in her old life, are all the things she brought with her into her new one. This is a beautiful story and I will definitely be reading it again in the future!
Download the Esperanza Rising Unit
1. Make a Venn Diagram and compare/contrast the elements of Esperanza’s old life with her new one.
2. Research the strikes of the migrant workers in California around the year 1930. I googled with the key words: California migrant workers 1930’s strike, and discovered a wide range of wonderful sites. Pick three and evaluate what they have in common. Make a list of the top three concerns the workers had. What demands did they make to address these concerns? Make two sample picket signs as if you were a worker on strike and do your best to get your point across with as few words as possible.
3. (This makes for a great whole class activity.) Make a financial plan for a farm. Many of the large growers in California during the 1930’s based the field workers’ pay on the depression and the vast number of potential workers that continually flooded in from Mexico, the Midwest (due to the Dust Bowl), and the Philippines. If you owned a farm, how would you base the pay for your employees? Would you consider how much you make from selling your goods? Would you consider consider how cheaply you could replace your labor if they didn’t want to work for low wages? Make a plan for how you would decide the amount you should/could/would pay your employees.
If you would like a structured set of questions to accompany the book, I have attached a unit. It is a series of questions that require the reader to either infer or draw conclusions throughout the entire story.