Book: Esperanza Rising
Author: Pam Munoz Ryan (click on the author's name to go to their webpage)
My Rating: 5/5 stars
Chelle from The Prairie Library recommended Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan. I was a little skeptical with it being a Juvenile Fiction book but decided to keep an open mind and checked it out of the library. Chelle could not have been more right. This book was fantastic--so much so, that it is making my short list for the best book I've read this year.
Esperanza Rising is about Esperanza, a wealthy young Mexican girl that has grown up on a ranch called El Rancho de las Rosas during the era of The Great Depression. When her father is killed by bandits, she, her mother, and their servants are put in a precarious position. They cannot maintain the ranch without Papa and so the servants--Hortencia, Miguel, and Alfonso decide to move north and seek agricultural work in America. A series of events requires Esperanza and her mother to flee Mexico as well, and the five make their way to Southern California and begin working the fields to make a life for themselves. Life is hard for Esperanza because she is used to a life of luxury, but she feels the pressure to perform duties just like anyone else in order to avoid the shame and embarrassment of not knowing how to do the work. She works hard and undergoes a transformation as she adjusts to her new life.
I loved this book for a few reasons. The book is gives a voice to migrant workers and is told beautifully. I think with the current climate in my country regarding immigration, this book is very valuable to understanding the mind of an immigrant worker. The book personifies the resilience and perseverance of immigrants in the United States despite working and living conditions that were less than desirable. These immigrants came to America in search of a better life which the country was known for. The poem by Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty showed the welcoming of newcomers to America with these words:
"...Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"People flocked to the U.S. in search of this idea of prosperity. The characters of Esperanza Rising embody this hope of prosperity while encountering the everyday challenges that were typical during The Great Depression. Overall, whether you are of school age or an adult, I think this book is a great way to understand the mindset of many immigrants throughout history in the United States. I absolutely loved this novel and think that the subject matter could not be more relevant in American society today. I highly recommend reading it so that we can start a better dialogue in the United States about immigration policy.
I thought this was a book that offered a chance to have discussion and dialogue about a current event, so if you are interested, please click the 'Read More' to view some links and my take on the issue. Also, feel free to leave links in the comments if you have a viewpoint on this. My only request is that we keep the conversation civil.
After reading this book, I felt that more needed to be said on the subject so I have decided to post a few links to explain what is going on in the United States with regards to immigration and illegal immigration. I want to post a SPOILER WARNING because a few of the topics I am going to post about are covered in the book.
It tells the story of the migrant worker in America in a way that is profound. Farm workers have and always will be, and integral part of my country, but too often their story gets little attention. The book really personifies the resilience and perseverance of immigrants in my country which I appreciate given what is currently happening with regards to calls for immigration reform.
During the Great Depression, immigrant farm workers labored hard for little pay and had competition for jobs from people moving west in search of work. Because people were struggling to put food on their table, organizing a movement for fair labor practices was difficult and exploitation was rampant. The struggle for better wages and fair treatment resulted in labor strikes and tension was so great that government raids swept through labor camps. Often these people were deported back Mexico--some of these people were natural born citizens of the United States. The book discusses these issues and the struggle of immigrants to decide to work and stay under the radar or risk deportation. I actually didn't know about "Mexican Repatriation" before reading this book, and now I definitely want to read more about it (discussed in the author's notes at the end of the book).
I cannot think of a more relevant topic for a book in the U.S. right now. With Arizona's S.B. 1070 legislation (that was largely blocked by a Federal judge this morning, July 27), the question of immigration reform in the United States remains. There is so much to sift through with "news" programs saying that illegal immigrants are responsible for tons of crime, draining the system, etc. Immigration groups argue that the Arizona law will cause racial profiling of minorities to become more prominent. So who is right?
I'm going to provide a few links here for you to sift through if you are interested in the topic. It's a very divisive issue, but I think the consensus on both sides is that illegal immigration is a problem in this country and the government needs to act. How people think the government should act on the problem is where people split.
- Roy Beck's "Immigration by the Numbers"
- Fact Check - Arizona's 'Papers Please' Law
- NY Times - Judge Blocks Key Parts of Immigration Law in Arizona
- Reason.com - Mike Flynn, Shikha Dalmia, and Terry Colon on America's Absurd Immigration Line (make sure you click on the graphic to see it in a larger form--it's more readable that way)
- Meet the Press (YouTube Video) - John McCain commenting on securing America's borders
- Mormon Times - McKay Coppins: The fierce immigration debate continues in Mormon communities (I am not Mormon, but I absolutely love what this man has to say)
Some of you may be asking how I feel about this topic. I am going to be honest and say that yes, I believe we need to secure our borders. The Mexican drug cartels are perpetuating a huge amount of violence along the border of Mexico and the United States and I think both the U.S. government AND the Mexican government need to work together to crack down on the drug trade and the cartel violence. Did you know that more than 23,000 Mexicans have died in cartel violence since President Felipe Calderon declared a war on the cartels in 2006? There is an obvious problem along the border.
However, I do not feel like most illegal immigrants coming across the border are drug mules and violent criminals. I think most of them are coming here in search of a better life. The Reason.com graphic I posted above I think is very telling of why so many people come to the United States illegally. I have worked with many immigrants throughout my lifetime--to my knowledge, they were all hard workers that adhered to the law. So while I agree that we do have an illegal immigration problem that needs to be addressed, I also think that we need to allow workers to fill jobs that aren't filled by American citizens. Whether those are low-paying or high-paying jobs, I don't really care. I think we should legitimize workers that take those jobs that would otherwise remain unfilled and give them visas to work (see TakeOurJobs.org). This way, they would be paying into our system and people couldn't complain about them being a burden on our government services. I think that our Federal government needs to crack down on border crime which to me is a completely different issue from illegal immigration. Do I think we should just hand a visa to any person that walks across the border? Absolutely not, but I don't think that every person that comes to this country expects a hand-out. On the contrary, I think most of these people are hard workers.
Most of what bothers me is the rhetoric of things being said by my fellow citizens. Things I've heard people say (including out of my own friends' mouths): "We speak English in America," or "Mexicans are lazy." This is just not the case. I grew up in a state that was largely bilingual and was settled by the Spanish before Westward Movement (in fact, I am from the oldest capital city in the U.S.--Santa Fe, NM). I think people should be able to speak more than one language in this country, but I also believe that immigrants MUST learn English! We need to be inclusive and help immigrants with their English skills--Why do we not make free English classes mandatory? I know some immigrants that work over 80 hours a week to support their families. Surely their employers could spare an hour out of their employee's work day to send them to an English course. Also, Mexicans are most definitely NOT lazy. Every person from south of the border (not only Mexico) that I've met has been a tremendously hard worker, and I support their efforts to be here and improve their life.
My view is that we need REAL dialogue in this country (rather than listen to cable news rhetoric) so that we can work on what is a sustainable number of both skilled and unskilled legal immigrants in this country. We need to focus on eliminated the Mexican cartel violence along the border rather than accuse all illegal immigrants of being criminals and drug mules. Let's make Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas a safe place to live along the border AND work on immigration issues at the same time.