The Ingredients of Esperanza
by Alexie Basil and Alana Pedalino
Introduce your students to literary motifs by exploring the many fruits and vegetables that make their way into Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan.
Pam Muñoz Ryan uses an unusual naming convention for the chapter titles in Esperanza Rising—they’re all named after fruits or vegetables!
Esperanza starts her journey judgmental of those who have less than she does, but ends with an understanding that there are more important things in life than wealth. And as your students read, they will discover that these fruits and vegetables serve as a motif for this central theme of the award-winning novel: classism.
Encourage your students to track Esperanza’s character growth through the fruits and vegetables that appear in the story. Here’s what we noticed:
When the story begins, Esperanza and her family are very wealthy—mostly thanks to the extensive orchards at their ranch, El Rancho de las Rosas. The Ortegas’ servants harvest the grapes while the Ortegas themselves reap the rewards.
Papá secretly orders papayas for Esperanza’s 13th birthday. While this may not seem like a big present today, during this time period, ordering fruits from afar was a luxury the vast majority of people could not afford.
After narrowly escaping from a disastrous house fire, Esperanza and her family say goodbye to El Rancho de las Rosas forever; they are in the fig orchard. Despite her abuelita telling her they will rise like phoenixes from the ashes, Esperanza is despondent and stomps on figs.
In order to sneak away from Tío Luis, Esperanza, Mamá, and Hortensia stow away in a secret compartment of a wagon concealed by guavas. This is the moment when Esperanza realizes that her life is changing forever, and that she is no longer isolated from the peasants.
As they drive through the Californian camp, Esperanza sees melons being grown and harvested in the fields. Hoping to feel close to her father, Esperanza presses an ear to the ground, trying to hear the “earth’s heartbeat.” She’s devastated when she can’t.
When Esperanza arrives at her new home in the United States, it’s onion season. She’s shocked to discover that even her servants’ homes back in Mexico are nicer than her new living quarters. When she struggles to complete basic household chores, Esperanza is ashamed of her privileged life for the first time.
Esperanza and Isabel shell almonds together—the almonds will be used to make flan at a party. She’s afraid of going to the event because Marta, a migrant worker Esperanza doesn’t get along with, will be there; but after facing her fears, Esperanza’s eyes are opened to Marta’s perspective.
During her first time in charge of watching Pepe and Lupe, Esperanza feeds the babies plums and accidentally makes them sick. She’s transforming from a child into an adult and is slowly figuring out her place in this new world—and is learning how much she has to learn.
When Mamá gets sick, Esperanza starts working alongside Hortensia and Josefina to remove potato eyes for money—it’s the only job available in the winter. It’s tough, but Esperanza is determined to push through.
Esperanza notices her once soft and delicate hands are now rough and calloused—they’re a working person’s hands. Hortensia makes her a salve using avocado. But in this moment, Esperanza accepts that she is now poor and likely her life will never be the same.
During asparagus season, some workers go on strike in order to win better working conditions. Esperanza has to choose if it’s worth risking her livelihood to protest, or if she should keep working.
Esperanza learns that even though her friend Isabel is a perfect candidate for “Queen of the May,” she doesn’t stand a chance of winning because of her skin color. Frustrated with constant exposure to racism, Esperanza and Miguel end up in an argument in which Miguel accuses Esperanza of still thinking of herself as a “queen” like she was before.
Like the first chapter, the last chapter of Esperanza Rising is named after grapes. Abuelita is finally reunited with Esperanza and the rest of the family, and Esperanza learns that love is more important than money.
Did your students find other connections between fruits and vegetables and the central themes in Esperanza Rising? Please share on social media using the hashtag #ScholasticBookClubs.
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