Esperanza Rising - Pam Munoz Ryan







Book: Esperanza Rising
Author: Pam Munoz Ryan (click on the author's name to go to their webpage)
Publisher: Scholastic
262 pages
My Rating: 5/5 stars

A few months ago, I asked my readers to recommend books about American History to me and 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.

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DISCUSSION

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.

Links

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. 

11 comments:

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Great review! Esperanza means "hope" in Spanish, which certainly seems fitting to Esperanza's story and her growth in life! Thanks for this!

Ellie M said...

Esperanza Rising is a beautiful book, you did a wonderful review for it and I heartily agree with your assessment. I am also noticing those comments being made. I am so appalled I don’t even want to go into it (much), suffice it to say that these are people who are near and dear to me. I don’t think they mean to be racist, but like you said they are letting the media sway their opinions. I believe that it is lack of an education and the desire to truly understand people and cultures different from their own. For instance a comment like “If they want to come to America they should adopt our ways” this was in response to Muslims wanting to build a Mosque at ground zero. “Or, that is adding insult to injury” excuse me but if France had bombed the World trade center would we have said it was the Christians fault? That is a little off topic of the immigration debate but it is all involved with a real disconnect who and what America is. Obviously according to some we are all white Christians and that is what we should all conform to or get out …hmmm? It’s silly really because if they thought about it before they spoke they might not have said anything at all. I really wish I had more time to discuss this further but …the day at a computer is ending for me. Whew, I loved your discussion and think it is right on.

Gwen@ChewDigestBooks.com said...

Wow, what a beautiful and very well thought out way to state your stance.

For me it is very simple, illegal immigration is not a good for anyone, the US or the immigrant. I am all for amnesty and really hope that one day, we humans can learn to celebrate our differences as opposed to using them to desperate us.

The attitude of people, even those that I love, just makes me want to cry. (or slap them silly) Just last month, I visited my dad in AZ. I nearly died when he mentioned that if my boyfriend ever came out with me, that he better bring his birth certificate. (He has a Spanish name and heritage)I reminded him that Art's family has been here longer than his own German ancestry, but he still didn't see his bigotry.

I agree with you, the generalizations are horrible and totally untrue. Life as an immigrant is so hard and constantly filled with worry & fear. That is no way to live and no way to achieve the dream that is America.

If you are looking for another book about immigration, I suggest From Every End of This Earth by Steven V. Roberts. It is a collection of stories from immigrants from all over the world and for varying reasons. (my review~ http://chewdigestbooks.com/2009/11/from-every-end-of-this-earth-13-families-and-the-new-lives-they-made-in-america-by-steven-v-roberts.html)

Ellie M said...

Ok, now I can say my peace about immigration. Unless you are 100% Native American, not too long ago your relatives immigrated here to seek a better life. Illegal immigration is an issue that needs to be addressed but stopping people on the street to ask them what their immigration status is violates a person’s rights. Breaking up families and treating this problem like it is all the fault of those who come here illegally is not the solution. Instead of doing something about it, the government has turned a blind eye because it has created a system in which they do not have to claim responsibility for and that has worked well for our Agriculture. It is time to own up to some responsibility and fix the problem on a case by case basis. Make people legal who deserve to be and send the trouble makers home (honestly, probably most of the trouble makers are our problem any way)

Sadly, what I am seeing is an aversion to immigration over all. Not just the illegal kind. I think it is a sensitive issue because I do understand the sentiment, if you have a hard time taking care of your own people why bring in more that might not be able to take care of themselves? There is a practical self severing side to this argument. Why are we not able to fill jobs with Americans… why wont Americans work in the fields and why are they not educated enough to become doctors? I think it has to do with allowing an illegal work force to fill a need (shame on the government) and our poor education system which just sees budget cuts year after year and are run inefficiently. Any way you look at it, the finger needs to be pointed back at ourselves and the solutions lies there too. I agree that not everyone deserves to become an American and that it is no longer necessary to bring people into this country to fill a population void. But as we have needs, be it family, love or employment needs, let’s not make it too hard for people. And let’s remember what makes this country so unique, that we are made up of many different cultures and many different people who can unite together in our common desire to be free to be what we are. Really, there is nothing less American than wanting to deny someone’s freedom.

Carin B. said...

@Coffee and a Book Chick - Thanks for stopping by my blog. Esperanza did make a huge life change in the book which I absolutely loved. She really grew into a full person through her trials and I very much appreciated it and felt there were many life lessons kids could learn from her change of behavior.

@Ellie - You definitely summed up my feelings. I know that people are upset about illegal immigration, but the rhetoric out there is against more than illegal immigrants. Some days I find it hard to look in the mirror and see the face I was born with because I feel less American than I should. My America wasn't English only and my culture wasn't wholly typically American. When I see all the pundits on TV bringing people on their shows it somehow makes me feel less worthy of being in my own country. While Arizona is trying to bring attention to a problem that they clearly have, I feel like I separate Mexican drug cartel violence from illegal immigration. The two are mutually exclusive to me. I don't like that in my youth I couldn't wait to get rid of my Spanish surname because no one bothered to learn how it's pronounced (outside of New Mexico) and I never wanted to learn Spanish because I wanted to be like everyone else. Because of it, I had a void with my own family and I am now ashamed of my actions, but I digress. I think that while S.B. 1070 has brought publicity to the problem of border violence, symbolically it has opened the floodgates of stereotyping and normalized/encouraged racism against "ethnic" people. What I want is real dialogue about how to solve the border violence problem AND the illegal immigration problem. It's so hard to watch television at all anymore because when I turn it on I feel like there are constant blanket statements about Hispanics draining the system and being criminals on cable television shows. I feel so defeated when I look in the mirror because I wonder if people think these terrible things about me when they see me. I don't want to ever feel like I am being asked for my ID simply because I have non-Anglo features (which apparently is illegal according to law, but I maintain that we only have to look back at our history to know that the law doesn't always protect people from mistreatment even when it is intended to). I want to be proud of both my Japanese and Hispanic heritage instead of looking in the mirror and seeing something that my country apparently doesn't like.

@ChewDigestBooks - That is really sad about your family. I actually made the decision not to go to Utah for my mother-in-law's family reunion because of the "Concerned Citizens of America" letter and the fact that my husband is flying into Phoenix and changing planes before going on to Salt Lake City. I really struggled with feeling like I was overreacting, but I made the decision not to go because I felt like I needed to stand up for what I believe in. The op ed piece I linked to from the Mormon Times made me question whether that decision was right too--I really appreciated what he had to say. My family is like your boyfriend's. My dad's family has been in New Mexico longer than it has been a state in the country (our family name was traced back to the 1600s) but I now feel like I have to justify my presence in my own country.

It's just hard because it's a divisive issue and I definitely think the system is broken. I know so many people will disagree with me, but I was just trying to say how all the rhetoric is making me feel as a multi-ethnic person. I want to respect others opinions, but I also want them to be willing to hear my perspective as well.

SARAH said...

I started writing a comment, then decided not to for whatever reason. I guess I'll just say that I like the dialogue you have started. I think it's necessary and I like the fact that you aren't afraid to start a dialogue. Also, great book review.

Carin B. said...

@Sarah - Thanks for reading the review. I actually finished the book 3 weeks or so ago and had a really hard time writing up a review because I was afraid of what people would say.

I would like to say that even if you feel differently and want to weigh in, I will respect your opinion and anything you have to say. Like I said, I want better dialogue in our country and listening to others opinions is the only way to get that on track. On my links I tried to post opposing viewpoints so that people could know how both sides feel even though I am clearly on one side of the issue. Please feel free to say what you want for sure!

Chelle said...

Great review and I'm glad you enjoyed the book. I think it's a fantastic title for kids to read since many who do may come from families unwilling to see two sides of the immigration story. Great dialogue here, too!

Carin B. said...

@Chelle - Thanks for suggesting the book for me. It was absolutely eye opening and now I will have to find books on Mexican Repatriation. I am amazed that I'd never even heard of it before!

Vasilly said...

I'm definitely adding to my TBR pile. You wrote a great review.

Carin B. said...

@Vasilly - Thanks! It really is on the top of my list for favorite book of the year so far. Very thoughtful book. It really did surprise me just how amazing a juvenile fiction book can be (I know...that's really bad of me to think that way!). I hope you'll enjoy it!

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