Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Pam Muñoz Ryan's Esperanza Rising

My daughter's fifth grade class is going to read Pam Muñoz Ryan's Esperanza Rising and since we had just bought it I decided to read it as well. It is the story of a girl from Aguascalientes in the 1930s who has to leave Mexico after her father is killed. Her mother takes her to California to meet up with family of their servants in the central valley town of Arvin, where they work in a company agricultural camp.

The story itself is simple (riches to rags) and the characters not entirely developed but I kept reminding myself that I wasn't the audience. I really like the idea of children in the U.S. having to think about the issues in the novel.

There is of course the question of discrimination, but also social class. Esperanza's family had money in Mexico and she took that for granted. She had to then see what it was like to be poor and how that felt. There is the issue of how workers are treated, why strikes happen, and the difficult questions they pose (should I strike when I need to feed my family? What happens when other workers accept less than me? What could a strike accomplish?). What is fair? Indeed, how does the "American Dream" work for some people versus others?

We'd all be better off if more children had to grapple with these questions, humanizing immigrants and even understanding a bit more of the history of Latin American migration to the United States.


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