Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Esperanza Rising ~ Pam Muñoz Ryan Visit

I love my kids' school. It's a magical place. The teachers are incredible, and I couldn't imagine a more creative learning environment for my son and daughter. One of the things I love most about our great school is that our students learn about and value art in all its forms - visual, written, performance, and musical.

The fifth grade classes have been studying California. The history, culture, government, climate, landscape and the art. The teachers have been reading the glorious book, Esperanza Rising, and discussing Mexican farm labor, migrant workers, and the San Fernando agricultural area among other things. It is the perfect book to generate a rich and interesting dialogue.

The big drumroll moment came yesterday. Pam Muñoz Ryan, the author of Esperanza Rising, came to talk to our students about her life as an author and to answer questions about her work. She brought and autographed donated copies of her books for the school and generously agreed to read the last chapter of Esperanza's story. The kids were thrilled. The teachers were thrilled. It was magical.

In honor of the author's visit, I am re-sharing a previous blog post I wrote on Esperanza Rising. If you haven't read the book, please do. And share it with your favorite student studying California history. You won't be disappointed.

"Be patient and the fruit will fall into your hand."  This quote is from Esperanza Rising, a middle grades book by Pam Muñoz Ryan.  It is also the words the author wrote to my twelve year old niece, Lindsay, when she autographed the book for her in 2001.  The story of Esperanza is one of hope and patience, and what it truly means to be rich.

I loved the story of Esperanza, the wealthy Mexican landowner's daughter who becomes a campesina living and working on a company farm in the San Fernando valley during the Great Depression.  I thought that Muñoz Ryan did a lovely job of portraying the plight of the Mexican farm worker, accurately describing their struggles with a MG-age appropriate story.

I was worried when I first started the book that Esperanza was going to be a stereotypically spoiled rich girl who transforms into a hardworking farm worker and a union hero.  Thankfully, she wasn't.  Esperanza did come from a life a privilege and was accustom to nice things, but she did what she had to do to support her family.

Muñoz Ryan does make the distinction between migrant of the working/peasant class and those that came to the camps from wealthy backgrounds.  The working class families endured the hard work and living conditions of field workers in San Fernando Valley with the hope of making a better life for themselves.  They viewed the work they did as an opportunity to improve their lives.  Their wealthy counterparts had fallen from positions of power and luxury.  The prospects of hard work were daunting, but the emotional toll was even more difficult.  In the minds of the formerly wealthy campesino, life was cruel and farm work was about survival, not self-improvement.

I loved the author's use of frutas y verduras as the chapter titles.  Esperanza learns to mark the passage of time not by seasons or months, but by cosechas.  The book also delves into the early efforts of migrant workers to unionize and strike for better living and working conditions and for fair wages.  Valley Fever, an illness that still exists, is another of the risks that field workers of the San Fernando Valley faced as they strived to provide for their families.

Muñoz Ryan peppers her dialogue with spanish word and phrases and gives young readers a taste of life in Mexico and in Great Depression-era California.  It's a great book for the classroom or the home.

This book brought to mind other amazing stories of class, power, adversity and the struggle for equality. Here are a few that come to mind:

The Lemon Grove Incident (movie)
Me Llamo Rigoberta Menchu y Así Me Nació La Conciencia by Rigoberta Menchu
Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Roots by Alex Haley
Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

Add to my list.  I'd love to read your examples.

Blog you later!

Ali B