As the weeks go by, Esperanza realizes that the strikers are “more organized than ever.” They hand out fliers, paint their slogans on old barns, and hold meetings regularly. Though Esperanza continues to work, she grows nervous—and her neighbors do, too. Asparagus season is approaching, and the vegetables must be picked before the high heat comes in June. Esperanza and the others know that the strikers’ plan is to strike just as the “tender stalks” become ready for plucking.
As the strike becomes more and more of a reality and threatens Esperanza and her fellow workers’ ability to do their jobs, tensions are high, and the entire camp is on edge waiting to see what will happen at the start of asparagus season. The bitter, tough vegetable is symbolic of the strike’s tough and bitter nature.
When Esperanza, Hortensia, and Josefina arrive at the packing shed on the first day of the strike, they are met by a picket line of women booing and urging them to join the strike. Esperanza is frightened and intimidated, and wishes she could explain to the women how badly she needs her job—but she knows her voice alone does not matter to them. That night at dinner, Esperanza and the other women compare their days with Alfonso, Juan, and Miguel’s—their workdays, too, were affected by the strike.
Just as Esperanza could not ever impress upon the bandits who killed her father that he wasn’t like the other rich, cruel landowners of his class, she cannot possibly impress upon these strikers her individual needs and problems.
As the strike goes on, the women in the packing shed find “surprises” in the crates of asparagus they’re sorting—rats, broken glass, snakes, and razor blades all make their way mysteriously into the boxes of produce. There is nothing anyone can do about the strikers, though—America is a free country, and as long as no one catches them doing anything harmful or illegal, their campaign will continue. Alfonso states that things will soon get better, but Miguel thinks they’ll get worse—workers from desperate plains states have been flocking to the farms offering to take the strikers’ jobs for even lower wages and worse conditions.
The strike is a volatile, nuanced issue that threatens to tear apart the entire camp. There are many variables at play, and though the strike aims to strengthen the precarious position of the workers on the farm, in reality, many believe it will only weaken what little autonomy the workers have and destabilize their claims to their jobs.
One day, Esperanza is packing asparagus when she notices something strange. The strikers’ chanting, which has become the background noise of her days, suddenly ceases. The other women notice, too, and as they look out the window, they see a caravan of buses and police cars outside—Josefina shouts that “immigration” has arrived to do a “sweep.” The strikers flee and scatter to escape la migra. Esperanza worries that the officials will come for her and the others, but Hortensia explains that the company needs them, and will guard them.
In this passage, it becomes clear that the strikers have much more to lose than just their jobs—their new lives in America are being taken away from them because they chose to exercise their “right” to free speech. For the underprivileged workers, though, the “rights” of white, wealthy Americans don’t seem to apply.
As Esperanza watches strikers being loaded onto the buses, Josefina explains that regardless of citizenship status, they will all be sent back to Mexico—they are causing problems for the government by talking about forming a farm workers’ union, and the government doesn’t like dissent. Josefina tells Esperanza that it’s time to get back to work—and to “feel thankful” that they are not the ones getting pushed onto the bus.
Esperanza realizes that she needs more elastics to bundle the asparagus. She goes out to the dock behind the shed to retrieve them. Huddled in between a “maze of tall crates,” she finds Marta, who begs Esperanza not to tell anyone she’s there—she has to take care of her mother, and cannot be caught. Though Esperanza thinks of how mean Marta has been to her, she knows that she can’t play a role in separating the girl from her mother. Esperanza quietly retrieves a spare apron and some burlap sacks from a nearby hook and gives them to Marta, so that she will look like a worker and be able to sneak past la migra. Marta thanks Esperanza—and apologizes for misjudging her.
Even though Marta has been cruel to Esperanza in the past, Esperanza knows that she cannot turn Marta in—she has to do what’s right, and do what she can to prevent Marta from becoming another faceless victim of the Americans’ cruel deportation policy. This passage shows that Esperanza has really learned to empathize with people different from her, and has come to see the inherent dignity and worth of every person, no matter their class, privilege, or beliefs.
That night, Esperanza lies in bed, listening to the adults in the next room talk about the strike. There are rumors that the police arrested and deported the strikers simply to make more jobs for the white Americans coming in from the east. Hortensia is relieved that the strike is over, but Miguel says it isn’t—in time, the strikers will regroup, reorganize, and come back even stronger, and their family will soon be faced again with the choice of whether or not to join them. Esperanza cannot stop thinking about Marta, and whether she made her way back to the strikers’ farm without being caught.
This passage shows how the goals of the strike were taken advantage of by the white bosses hoping to clear space for other white Americans in need of work. The Mexican workers’ attempts to better their lives through organized resistance were quashed—all in the name of perpetuating racism, classism, and the ongoing suppression and oppression of marginalized migrant workers.
The next morning, Esperanza asks Miguel to drive her to the strikers’ farm before the start of work. When they arrive, the camp is basically abandoned. Miguel notes that immigration has been here, too. Esperanza looks across the field but sees no sign of Marta anywhere. She hopes quietly that Marta and her mother are together, wherever they are.
The novel never resolves what became of Marta and her mother, but Esperanza has learned enough to know that, in all likelihood, the only thing that really matters is whether or not Marta and her mother have one another to lean on for support and hope.