Esperanza Rising: Summary, Characters & Vocabulary

Instructor: Mary Grace Miller

Mary Grace has taught first grade for 8 years and has a Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education and is licensed in ESL.

Esperanza is a word that means 'hope' in Spanish. It's also the name of main character Esperanza Ortega in the book 'Esperanza Rising', a young adult book written by Pam Muñoz Ryan and published in 2000. Learn a little bit about this book in the following lesson.

Plot Summary

At the beginning of the book, Esperanza Ortega and her parents live in Mexico. They are very wealthy and have many servants at their ranch.

This ranch picture shows how Esperanza and her family may have lived in Mexico.

Their luck changes quickly, though, when Esperanza's father is killed by bandits, or robbers. After this, Esperanza and her mother find out that their ranch goes not to them, but instead to Tío Luis, one of Señor Esperanza's stepbrothers.

Tío Luis offers to marry Esperanza's mother, Ramona, but she tells him no. Esperanza does not like him either. Later, Ramona changes her answer to yes but only to trick Tío Luis: Ramona and Esperanza are planning to run away to the United States.

Esperanza and Ramona make it to a labor camp in California, but because they escape during the Great Depression, they are very poor. This is hard for Esperanza to get used to because her life in Mexico was so privileged.

In California, Ramona works in the fields while Esperanza stays home. During a dust storm, Ramona becomes sick and has to go to the hospital. When this happens, Esperanza gets another job so that she can pay the hospital bills.

At the end of the story, life is looking hopeful again for Ramona and Esperanza. Ramona is healthy and out of the hospital, and Miguel and Abuelita have joined them from Mexico.



Esperanza Ortega is the main character in the book. She begins the book as a 12-year-old.

Tío Luis

Tío (tío is the Spanish word for uncle) Luis is Esperanza's uncle, the stepbrother of her father. Esperanza does not like Tío Luis and tells him so when he announces his plans to marry her mother, Ramona.


Miguel is one of Esperanza's friends and servants in Mexico who also makes it to America.


Ramona is Esperanza's mother and a wealthy socialite in Mexico. She is very intelligent and cunning and is able to escape with Esperanza to the United States.


Abuelita is Ramona's mother and Esperanza's grandmother who remains in Mexico when Ramona and Esperanza escape. At the end of the book, Miguel brings her back to the United States to be with the rest of the family.

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