Ashley Haywood, English Teacher, Intrinsic Schools
Esperanza Rising tells the story of a young girl’s struggle to cope with dramatic life changes caused by family tragedy and immigration. The novel follows Esperanza Ortega from her privileged and contented life in post-Revolutionary Mexico to the harsh poverty and discrimination she faces as an immigrant in California during the Great Depression. Esperanza, whose name means “hope,” dreams of building a life for her family despite the myriad of challenges she faces. This engaging and lyrical work of historical fiction deals with themes about immigration, loss, prejudice, and perseverance.
Although the specific historical contexts may be unfamiliar to students, the themes are more universal. The short pieces of informational text and memoir found in the “Cultural Perception” and “Culture Memoirs” differentiated lesson sets allow students to explore these themes in more depth. You could use the pieces as an introduction or an extension to the novel; however, I like to weave them into class discussions throughout the study of the text. I’ve found this helps increase volume reading and pushes meaningful text-to-text connections. For example, students could read Santiago’s memoir excerpt, “How to Eat a Guava,” and compare the symbolism of the guava to symbols of home and childhood in Esperanza Rising.
If you would like to explore the history of migrant farm workers in the United States, have students read the articles about Cesar Chavez. Students can analyze how the harsh living and working conditions depicted in the novel led to the boycotts and social activism. To wrap up a unit on historical fiction, I like to have students write their own narrative in the genre. Students can demonstrate their understanding of the setting and genre by writing from the perspective of a character other than Esperanza. The creative focus of the assignment keeps students engaged and eager to share their work with one another. Alternatively, students could imagine Esperanza as an adult and perhaps connect with the stories of Cesar Chavez.