Señor Rodriguez hurries Mama, Hortensia, and Esperanza into a secret compartment in the wagon specially built for them. It is not safe for women to be seen on the road at night because of bandits, and Luis and Marco’s spies could be anywhere—Señor Rodrigez explains that they will need to travel to Zacatecas so that they can safely board a train bound for the border there. Señor Rodriguez wishes them all luck on their journey, and as Esperanza settles in, she can hear the men above dumping guavas onto the floor above them.
As Esperanza, Hortensia, and Ramona hide in a secret compartment in the wagon, they are intimately aware of how dangerous the journey they’re undertaking could be for all of them—and yet their freedom is worth any price.
As they set out on their journey, Esperanza is nervous, but Hortensia comforts her by reminding her of a night when bandits came to the house to loot it—and Esperanza, Mama, Miguel, and Hortensia all hid under a bed upstairs. When the bandits got to the bedroom, everyone was terrified, but Miguel, who’d caught a field mouse in his pocket, set it loose and spooked the bandits, who soon left. When Papa came back from work and heard about Miguel’s bravery, he offered him anything he wanted as a reward for rescuing Esperanza—and Miguel said he wanted to go on a train ride.
Even when she was a wealthy “queen” back at El Rancho de las Rosas, Esperanza was no stranger to dangerous situations—as she recalls how Miguel saved her in her childhood, she fondly remembers her Papa’s gratitude, and her own.
One day, Esperanza and Miguel both got all dressed up, and Papa took them on a train ride to Zacatecas. They sat in compartments with seats of soft black leather and ate delicious food in the fancy dining car. As Esperanza recalls the memory, she wishes that she were once again riding to Zacatecas with Papa—not in an uncomfortable secret compartment covered by guavas.
The luxury of Esperanza’s last journey to Zacatecas is contrasted against this painful and uncomfortable one to show just how angered and disgusted she is by the shift in the circumstances of her life.
Two days later, Esperanza, Mama, Hortensia, Alfonso, and Miguel at last arrive in Zacatecas. As Esperanza stretches while waiting for the train, she looks forward to the comfort of a compartment after so many hours in the cramped little wagon. When the train pulls up, though, Esperanza and her mother board alongside Miguel, Alfonso, and Hortensia—onto a train car filled with peasants. Esperanza is horrified and asks Mama why they aren’t traveling in first class. Mama explains that this is all they can afford, and the disgruntled Esperanza takes her seat on an uncomfortable wooden bench.
Esperanza is in for another rude awakening as she boards the train in Zacatecas—she is no longer going to live and travel in the lap of luxury, and must learn to accept that her family is no longer wealthy or “special.”
When Esperanza takes her doll out of her suitcase to play with it, a dirty peasant girl comes up to her and asks to see the doll. Esperanza yanks the doll away and puts it back into her valise, and the little girl starts to cry. Ramona apologizes to the peasant girl’s mother for her own daughter’s “bad manners.” Quietly, Ramona tells Esperanza that when she scorns “these people,” she scorns Miguel, Hortensia, and Alfonso, too. Mama takes out her crocheting bag and makes a yarn doll for the little girl, who accepts the gift happily. At the next stop, when the little girl and her mother get off the train, Esperanza is relieved that she doesn’t have to be “reminded of her own selfishness and Mama’s disapproval for miles to come.”
Esperanza’s cruelty towards the small peasant girl on the train shows that she believes she is better than the common people who surround her. Ramona reminds her that such an attitude is not only unbecoming or cruel, but now additionally self-hating—Esperanza and the little peasant girl she has “scorned” are of the same class, and neither of them is better than the other. Esperanza will have to keep learning this difficult lesson time and time again as the novel unfolds—she is reluctant to let go of her former life.
At each stop the train makes, Miguel and Alfonso hurry off with a mysterious package, and then hurry back on just before the train pulls out of the station. Esperanza asks to know what’s in the package, but Alfonso says she has to wait to see until they arrive in California. Though Esperanza grows more and more irritable with each stop, Miguel enjoys the train journey, and declares his desire to work on the railroad once they get to California. In America, Miguel says, “even the poorest man can become rich if he works hard enough.”
Esperanza is annoyed by Miguel’s optimism. She is unable to understand that while she is undergoing a painful transition and the loss of her wealth and standing, Miguel believes he is standing on the precipice of great change and the opportunity to at last make something of himself in a new place.
When a woman gets onto the train with a cage full of hens, whose eggs she sells to feed her family, Mama and Hortensia begin talking and gossiping with her, sharing their life stories even though the woman is a complete stranger. The woman says that even though she’s poor, she is “rich” because she has her family, her garden, and “the memories of those who have gone before [her.]” Mama, moved to tears, tells the woman of their family’s recent loss. Esperanza quietly suggests that Mama not “tell a peasant [their] personal business,” but Mama whispers back that “now [they] are peasants, too.” When the woman reaches her stop, she gifts Ramona two of her chickens, wishing her good luck on her new journey. The women embrace like they are old friends while the flabbergasted Esperanza looks on.
Esperanza did not learn her lesson through her interaction with the little peasant girl—now, as she watches her mother interact with a poor stranger, she again tries to act like she and Ramona are somehow above such interactions, but Ramona is quick to once again remind Esperanza that there is no difference between them and anyone else in their compartment. Esperanza is full of anger and bitterness, but Ramona is accepting her new circumstances and the start of a strange journey with grit, grace, and an open heart and mind.
After the woman gets off the train, Esperanza watches out the window as she gives some money to a “crippled Indian woman.” Miguel watches too, and remarks that “the rich take care of the rich and the poor take care of those who have less than they have.” He also notes that “Full bellies and Spanish blood go hand in hand”—the fair-skinned people of Spanish descent are often wealthy and privileged, while dark-skinned and indigenous Mexicans have less. Esperanza tells Miguel that’s just “something that old wives say,” but Miguel retorts that it’s “something the poor say.”
Esperanza has a lot to learn about the way the world really operates. Miguel, though, having lived his whole life as a “peasant,” knows that the entire world is rigged against the poor, the indigenous, and the disabled—he is trying to help Esperanza see the truth and stop living in her fantasy world as gently but firmly as he can.