Esperanza Rising Author's Note Read Aloud



authors know I can still see my grandmother crocheting blankets and zig-zag rows she made one for each of her seven children many of her 23 grandchildren I am the eldest of the grandchildren and for the great-grandchildren she lived to see my grandmother Esperanza Ortega was the inspiration for this book when I was a young girl grandma used to tell me what her life was like when she first came to the United States for Mexico I had heard stories about the company farm camp where she lived and worked and the lifelong friend she made there when she talked about those people and how they helped her through her desperate trying times she sometimes cried at the memories it wasn't until I had children of my own that my grandmother told me about her life in Mexico about a fairy tale existence with servant's wealth and grandeur which had preceded her life in the company farm camp I wrote down some of her recollections from her childhood how I wish I had written down more before she died because I can never stop wondering about her transition from Mexico to California and what it must have been like eventually I started to imagine a story based on the girl who might have been her this fictional story parallels her life in some ways she was born and raised in Aguascalientes Mexico her father was six Dorthea and her mother Ramona they lived on El Rancho de la Trinidad which had changed to El Rancho de las rosas and her uncle's did hold prominent positions in the community a series of circumstances including her father's death eventually forced my grandmother to immigrate to the United States to accompany own farm labor camp in arvin California unlike Esperanza in the story my grandmother had already married my grandfather hey soos Munoz when she immigrated to California like Miguel he had been her father's mechanic in the segregated Mexican camp with my grandfather she lived much like the characters in the story she washed her clothes in communal tubs went to Jamaica's on Saturday nights and cared for her first three daughters that's where my mother Esperanza Munoz was born during the early 1930s there are many strikes in the California are agricultural fields often growers evicted the strikers from their labor camps forcing money to live together and makeshift refugee camps sometimes on farms in the outskirts of towns the growers were powerful and can sometimes influence local governments in Kern County sheriff's arrested picketers for obstructing traffic even though the roads were deserted in Kings County one Mexican man was arrested for speaking to a crowd in Spanish sometimes the strikes failed especially in areas that were flooded with people from states like Oklahoma who are desperate for work at any wage in other instances the strong voices of many people change some of the pitiful conditions the Mexican repatriation was a very real and often overlooked part of our history in March of 1929 the federal government passed the deportation act that gave counties the power to send great numbers of Mexicans back to Mexico government officials thought this would solve the unemployment associated with the Great Depression it didn't County officials in Los Angeles California organized deportation trains and the Immigration Bureau made sweeps in the fan San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles arresting anyone who looked Mexican regardless of whether or not they were citizens or in the United States legally many of those sent to Mexico were native-born United States citizens and had never been to Mexico the numbers of Mexicans deported during the so called voluntary repatriation was greater than the need of American removal of the 19th century and greater than the japanese-american relocations during World War two it was the largest involuntary migration in the United States up to that time between 1929 and 1935 at least 450,000 Mexicans and Mexican Americans were sent back to Mexico some historians think the numbers were closer to a million even though my grandmother lived in this country for over 50 years I can still remember her breaking out a nervous perspiration and trembling as her passport was checked at the border when we returned to the United States from a shopping trip in Tijuana she always carried the fear that she could be sent back on a whim even though repatriation had long been over my father Don Bell came to California during the dustbowl from the Midwest and ironically worked for the same company farm where my mother was born by that time my grandmother had moved her family to a small house in Bakersfield it 1030 T Street mom and dad weren't destined to meet quite yet dad was 12 years old when he picked potatoes during World War two with the diaper crew children paid to pick the fields because of the great shortage of workers due to the war he says the children weren't always the most diligent employees and admits he more often threw dirt clods at his friends than he picked potatoes later when he was 16 he spent a summer working for the same farm driving trucks back and forth from fields and delivering workers much of our nation's produce comes from this one area in California it is hot in the summer and cold in the winter there are dust storms in tule fog and some people do contract valley fever before I got married I took the required blood tests in San Diego where I lived during my college years the doctor called because of an urgent finding on my lab results I worried that something dramatic had been found until the doctor said you tested positive for valley fever I let out a sigh of relief I grew up seeing lugs of grapes on kitchen tables I picked plums peaches apricots nectarines persimmons almonds walnuts and pecans from backyard trees every year in August I saw the grapes laid down on the ground to make raisins the same way they've been made for generations lemons tomatoes or squash appeared on our doorstep from neighbors or my grandmother's Gardens I'd never been conscious of having any symptoms of Valley fever the only fever I recollected was my burning affection for my beginnings in my belongings of course I tested positive I said to the doctor I grew up in the San Joaquin Valley I knew that I had been naturally immunized to the actual disease by merely living there from the air I had breathe growing up my family's feelings for the company camp are deep rooted and still filled with loyalty for their start in this country and for the jobs they had at a time when so many had none most of the people I interviewed who lived in the same camp with my grandmother held no grudges against the Oklahomans or others who competed for their jobs at the time one man I interviewed said we were also poor the Okies the Filipinos they were poor too we all knew the feeling of wanting to work and feed our families that was why it was so hard for many of us to strike when I asked about prejudice I was told sure there was prejudice horrible prejudice but death think how things were back then many struggled just to put food on the table and sometimes seemed to be resigned to the social issues of the time they focused only on survival and put their hopes and dreams into their children's and grandchildren's futures that's what grandma did she survived all of her children learned English and so did she some of her children went to college one became a professional athlete another member of the United States Foreign Service others became secretaries a writer an accountant in her grandchildren newscasters social workers florists teachers film editors loyal lawyers small business owners and another writer me our accomplishments were her accomplishments she wished the best for all of us and rarely looked back on the difficulties of her own life it is no wonder that in Spanish Esperanza means hope

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