Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Esperanza is the main character of Esperanza Rising, and she experiences a great deal of growth over the course of the novel. At the beginning of the novel, Esperanza is a rather proud and spoiled girl. Her father, Sixto, owns a large ranch and commands several servants. An essential part of Esperanza’s character is how others treat her at the start of the story, because it demonstrates why she thinks so highly of herself.
At one point, Esperanza considers her future and thinks about what marriage will be like. She is a member of the upper class in Mexico, so it is expected that she will marry someone who is of equal rank or higher. Her life, up to the point of her father’s death, has been blessed by doting love from everyone around her. Esperanza enjoys the love they show her so much that she doesn’t want to leave her parents’ house, even when she is grown and married:
She couldn’t imagine living anywhere other than El Rancho de la Rosas. Or with any fewer servants. Or without being surrounded by the people who adored her.
Esperanza has an inflated sense of self because of the way she lives. She is waited on hand and foot by the family servants and even called “Mi Reina” (“my queen”) by Miguel, the son of some of the indigenous servants. Having grown up with all of this attention makes Esperanza’s downfall even more difficult when has to flee with her mother to the United States and finds herself in the company of “peasants.”
Her flight to the US and subsequent loss of social standing cause immense turmoil in Esperanza’s life and result in a great deal of character development. First, Esperanza lowers herself to learn how to do everyday tasks that she used to see as beneath her station. Then, when her mother becomes ill, Esperanza has to work hard to pay the medical bills, and this helps to rid her of the stubborn pride she used to feel. However, it isn’t until the end of the story, when Miguel retrieves her Abuelita, that Esperanza finally sees that there is always hope, even at the darkest of times.
Through all of her struggles, and from learning to work on the farm and supporting her mother, Esperanza learns a valuable lesson: “Do not be afraid to start over.” Esperanza has realized that her life, even if it isn’t the life she always imagined, is precious. There is always hope, and things that are lost can be replaced.
Ramona Ortega (Mama)
Ramona is Esperanza’s mother. She is a reliable and resilient woman who flees with Esperanza to the United States rather than be forced into a terrible marriage with Luis. Ramona becomes deathly ill with valley fever during the novel, forcing Esperanza to work hard and support her. She eventually recovers and has an emotional reunion with Abuelita when Abuelita arrives from Mexico. Ramona demonstrates what Esperanza can become, because while Ramona was a member of the upper class in Mexico, she understands the value of work and the importance of family over wealth and comfort. Her resilience and hope provide an essential example to Esperanza. When Esperanza struggles to cope with their new situation, her mother tells her, “Do you know how lucky we are, Esperanza? Many people come to this valley and wait months for a job. Juan went to a lot of trouble to make sure we had this cabin waiting for us when we got here. Please be grateful for the favors bestowed upon us.”
Sixto Ortega (Papa)
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Sixto Ortega (Papa)
Esperanza’s father, Sixto, whom Esperanza calls Papa, only appears briefly in the novel before bandits murder him for being a landowner. He is a jovial and robust character who teaches Esperanza important life lessons like “Aguantate tantito y la fruta caera en tu mano,” which means “wait a little while, and the fruit will fall into your hand”—meaning “be patient.” This is a lesson that Esperanza finds difficult to follow for much of the story. He also teaches Esperanza how to listen to the heartbeat of the earth—something that grounds her in times of trouble and helps connect her to his memory when he is gone. While Papa is killed early in the story, his shadow looms large over everything that happens after. The other characters talk about him often, and Miguel and Esperanza frequently reference lessons he taught them to deal with life’s challenges.
Abuelita (which means “little grandmother”) is Esperanza’s maternal grandmother and lives with Esperanza’s family on their ranch in Mexico. She is injured in the fire that Luis sets to punish Ramona for refusing to marry him, and Ramona and Esperanza are forced to leave her at a convent in Mexico before escaping to the United States. Abuelita’s life lessons stay with Esperanza and show her that it is never too late to start over when plans go awry. The importance of Abuelita to the family is magnified by the fact that Esperanza works and saves as much money as possible to bring Abuelita to California. She is the center that helps keep the family together, and she provides comfort to Ramona after her sickness.
Tío Luis is one of the early antagonists in the story. He is rendered harmless after Ramona and Esperanza escape to California, but he is instrumental in chasing them there. Luis is Sixto's eldest stepbrother and a bank president; he is also an evil man who attempts to force Ramona to marry him after Sixto dies. After he burns down the ranch, Mama thwarts him by agreeing to his marriage proposal but then fleeing to the United States. He sends me to tail Abuelita, forcing her to escape with Miguel during the night.
The younger stepbrother to Sixto, Marco, is not very bright. He is the mayor, but he is also Luis’s lackey. He follows along with the plan to force Ramona to marry Luis because he wants to sell the ranch and all of Sixto’s possessions, even though they don’t have the legal right to do so.
Miguel is Alfonso and Hortensia’s son. He is part Indian, which gives a hint as to the relationship he has to the Ortega family: indigenous peoples in Mexico were treated far worse than other groups and were almost always relegated to the lowest social classes. Miguel and his family are “peasants” who serve on the Ortega ranch. Esperanza once wanted to marry Miguel, before she understood the class differences between them. She tells Miguel that he is on the far side of a “river” from her, meaning that the class divide is too great to cross.
Miguel becomes one of Esperanza’s closest friends, though she often argues with him and disrespects him because of the difference in their social classes. It is Miguel who retrieves Abuelita at the end of the story, proving once and for all the goodness of his heart—and leading Esperanza to imagine them having a life and family together.
Miguel is vital in the story because he represents the “peasant” class. He lives his life with virtue and integrity, as do most people who pick produce on the farm. Through Miguel, the author shows that honor doesn’t come from social standing, but instead from the actions one takes towards others. How Miguel treats people is far more important than the social status of his birth, and Esperanza realizes this truth near the end of the novel.
Alfonso is Miguel’s father and one of Sixto’s closest friends. Though he is a servant in Sixto’s house, he is entrusted with a great deal of authority. Alfonso, like Miguel, proves that loyalty and integrity are found in all social classes when he finds work for Ramona and claims her and Esperanza as family so that they can live in the farm camp. His loyalty shows that, sometimes, a found or chosen family can be of more value than one’s actual relatives, like Esperanza’s ill-intentioned uncles.
Hortensia is Miguel’s mother. Like her husband, she shows the importance of character over social class in her love and care for Esperanza when Ramona falls ill. She is a kind woman who works hard. Esperanza looks down on her at the start of the story, but by the end, she respects her for the work she does and the friendship she offers.
Marta is one of Esperanza’s rivals in the camp. She doesn’t like Esperanza, calling her a princess turned peasant. Her own father died in the Mexican Revolution, fighting against landowners like Sixto, so she feels no sympathy for the death of Esperanza’s father. While Esperanza doesn’t understand the strike, she does offer Marta help when she is in hiding from immigration authorities. When it appears that Marta has been taken, Esperanza prays that Marta and her mother are safe and together. While Marta is an important character in her own right, representing the struggles of Mexican farmworkers, she also helps Esperanza grow less selfish through the story by forcing her to care for someone who was once her enemy.
Isabel is a young girl, Miguel’s cousin, who adores Esperanza and the stories Esperanza tells her about her life on the ranch. She doesn’t understand the class distinction between herself and Esperanza, and she acts as a breath of fresh air in Esperanza’s life and offers her the comfort of a friend. Despite her youth, Isabel serves as an example for Esperanza of the strength of family and hope for the future.