Tuesday, December 1, 2015

"Esperanza Rising:" Hope in Dire Situations

My almost 11 year old daughter, Raina, devours books.

Every night, my husband and I have to get a little bit mean about her turning her light out to go to bed.  Many times she doesn't even hear our requests because she is engrossed in her books.  She usually replies with, "I just want to finish this chapter." And then when she gets to the end of that one, she just wants to finish the next chapter. Some nights she turns out her light and once we close our door, she turns it right back on so she can read some more.

We get angry, but we also totally understand because that's the way we are when it comes to books.

When Raina tells me a book is good and that I have to read it, I listen because she knows books.  She read Pam Munoz Ryan's "Esperanza Rising" at the beginning of the school year and after she finished it she said, "I really think you would love this one, Mommy.  It's really inspiring and beautiful."

I finally put it on the top of my "To Be Read" stack of books and tore through it in a day.  Raina was right; "Esperanza Rising" is a beautiful and inspiring book.

Written 15 years ago, "Esperanza Rising" won numerous accolades and awards after its publication including the Pura Belpre Award and Publisher's Weekly Best Book of the Year.  It tells the story of Esperanza, a wealthy 12 year old girl who lives with her beautiful mother and kind father in Aguascalientes, Mexico during the 1930s.  They are landowners with numerous servants and ranch hands at their service.  Esperanza's perfect world of dolls, roses and parties disappears when her father vanishes and is found murdered.  After Esperanza's evil uncles try to claim all that was her father's (even her mother), they escape with a few of their servants and immigrate to a farm in California where they are hopeful that life will be better.

But the harsh realities of life for Mexican immigrants greets them.  They share a small shack with their former servants, they are pushed to work all day long for meager wages, and they are stricken with illness and more hardships than they ever imagined.  From dust storms to union strikes, Esperanza grows up quickly in her new reality and needs to learn how to not only survive but how to provide for her ailing mother and save for her grandmother to be able to leave Mexico and join them.

Written in lush details that pay homage to the land and it's abundance and fury, "Esperanza Rising" was both educational and magical.  I never doubted Esperanza's strength and fortitude in the face of struggle.  She learned and adapted quickly.  It isn't just Esperanza's story that was engrossing.  The supporting characters are equally believable and strong.  Miguel's undying hope for a new beginning even against all odds, and angry Marta who fights for what is right even to her own detriment show the struggles that immigrants faced during the Great Depression and the racism that faced them then. Sadly, many of the same obstacles remain today.

I loved this book, and I know that many other children and adults will love it as well.  Although it was written for a young audience, adults (like me) can truly appreciate the symbolism, the artistry and the story of hope.

While I was reading "Esperanza Rising" Raina asked me a few times what I thought.  I told her, "It's beautiful and inspiring just like you said it would be."

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