In January, Esperanza waits outside in the cold for the truck that will take her to tie grapevines. Though it is a new year, nothing feels new—it “already seem[s] old.” During the week she works during the days and cooks dinner in the afternoons, then helps with the babies and Isabel’s homework each night. On the weekends, she goes to visit Mama. Every other week, she buys a money order from the market and saves it in her valise—if she keeps working until peach season, she thinks, she will save enough for Abuelita’s travel.
Esperanza feels bogged down by her routine, unable to escape the constraints of her hard new life. Even so, she has adapted to its demands, and has begun to come up with ways to strategize, save, and still conserve some measure of hope that all of her hard work will soon pay off.
That night, after work, Esperanza soaks her frozen, cracked hands in a bowl of water. She barely recognizes them as her own. Hortensia makes a paste of avocado and glycerine for Esperanza to coat her hands in—after long days of horseback riding back in Aguascalientes, Mama used to swear by this same cure. When she rinses the paste off twenty minutes later, though, her hands look the same.
One afternoon, Esperanza and Miguel go to visit Mama at the hospital, but her doctor stops them from going down the hall to her room. Mama has gotten worse, and to minimize the chances of her contracting another infection, she is not allowed any visitors for a month. Esperanza begs to see her mother quickly, and the doctor relents. Esperanza rushes into the room, where her ghost-pale mother lies limp on the bed. Esperanza tries to talk to Mama, but Mama is too weak to talk back. Before leaving, Esperanza braids Mama’s thin, scraggly hair into a long plait and tells her she loves her. As she leaves, Mama whispers back thinly, “I love you, too.”
Just when Esperanza thought things couldn’t get any worse, some more bad news comes her way: she will not be able to visit Mama any more, and will be totally alone and isolated from her family now as she makes her way on the farm.
Three weeks later, it is the first day of spring, and Hortensia urges Esperanza to take advantage of the nice weather and get out of camp for the day. Esperanza herself has been depressed and withdrawn since she’s been barred from visiting Mama, and she knows that everyone is worried about her. Esperanza takes a grocery list from Hortensia’s hands and goes to fetch Miguel so that they can go to a nearby Japanese market—the proprietor, Mr. Yakota, is kind to Mexicans when few other shop owners in town are. On the ride over, Miguel explains that many Americans see Mexicans as “one big, brown group who are good for only manual labor”—kind people like Mr. Yakota are a rarity here.
Esperanza knows that everyone around her is worried, so she tries her best to let herself be cheered up instead of retreating further into her own worry and misery. Even on a free, sunny day, though, she and Miguel find their actions and plans dictated by the racist, prejudiced systems and people around them.
While Miguel talks to some men about a railroad job outside, Esperanza goes into the market and looks around. There are many Mexican specialty foods available, and even a paper piñata. Esperanza purchases it along with the groceries and her money order, and when she comes out of the store, Miguel asks her what she’s doing with all the money orders she buys. Esperanza explains that she’s saving them in her valise so that someday she can bring Abuelita to America. The piñata, she says, is for Mama—when she’s allowed to visit again, she wants to hang it in her mother’s hospital room.
Even in the midst of hard times, Esperanza is trying to allow herself small moments of hope and joy. Though she can’t do anything very nice for herself, she tries to do nice things for others: saving money on Abuelita’s behalf, and purchasing a treat for her sick mother.
On the way back to camp, Miguel and Esperanza see Marta and her mother walking down the road, and stop to give them a ride. Marta confesses that they have been “tossed out” of the migrant workers’ camp, and are now going up to work at the strikers’ farm. Esperanza feels a “twinge of envy” seeing Marta together with her mother. Even though she knows that they are going through a difficult time, at least they have one another.
Even though Marta and her mother are facing miserable conditions and eviction from their home, they have one another—Esperanza is all alone, and envious of this one advantage Marta has over her.
Miguel and Esperanza drop Marta and her mother off at the strikers’ farm, where the conditions seem bleak. Marta and her mother, though, are excited to be at their new home. Marta asks Esperanza if she’s sure she isn’t “on [their] side,” Esperanza responds calmly that she must take care of her own mother. Marta tells her and Miguel that in a few weeks, during the asparagus season, “things are going to happen all over the county.” Fields and railroads will be shut down and a strike will be in full effect—“If you have not joined us by then,” Marta says, “be very careful.”
Marta says goodbye to Miguel and Esperanza with a final warning—she wants them to be prepared for the full force of the strikers’ action to come down upon them, and gives them one last chance to join together with the protestors in solidarity.
A few nights later, Esperanza arrives home from a hard day’s work to find a splendid meal—Miguel’s favorite dinner—laid out in the kitchen. Miguel announces that he’s finally secured a job in the machine shop at the railroad. So many railroad workers have joined the strike, he says, that a mechanic position at last opened up. As Esperanza watches Miguel talk about his new job, his “dancing” eyes remind her of how Papa’s looked “when he used to talk about the land.”
The strike works to Miguel’s advantage, at last permitting him to take a job he loves. His passion and happiness remind Esperanza of Papa—she feels, through Miguel, the first glimmer of genuine excitement she’s felt in a very long time.