The train reaches the border the next morning, and Esperanza and her fellow passengers are corralled into a hot, tightly-packed building to pass through immigration. Though at the front of the line, the immigration official gives Mama a hard time for a moment, she insists that all of their papers are in order and they are entering California to work. He at last stamps their papers and waves them through. While the two of them wait to be reunited with Miguel, Hortensia, and Alfonso, they watch as many people are sent back across the border because of problems with their papers or proof of work.
This passage is the first moment in which Muñoz Ryan introduces her readers to the difficult, often racist treatment immigrants face at the border. Though Ramona is able to talk her way through, many are not as lucky, and face the end of their journey before it’s even really begun.
After another train ride, Esperanza wakes up to find that they have all arrived in Los Angeles. Alfonso excitedly points out the window. His brother Juan and his wife Josefina have come with their children—infant twins and a young girl—to welcome them all to America. After Alfonso and his family reunite, he introduces them to Esperanza and Ramona—he explains that his family already feels they know them because of all the letters he and Hortensia have written about them over the years. When Miguel introduces Esperanza to his little cousin, Isabel, the eight-year-old girl immediately begins asking Esperanza about her luxurious life back in Mexico, her fancy dolls and clothes, and how she “always [got] her way.”
Alfonso’s family greet and welcome Ramona and Esperanza with open arms. The young Isabel is particularly entranced by their new guests—and longs to hear Esperanza’s fanciful stories of wealth and privilege which must seem, to Isabel, like fairy tales; so distant and far-off that they couldn’t possibly be real.
Everyone follows Juan, Josefina, and Isabel to their truck, and as they get in, Juan warns them all that there is still a long ride ahead. As they set off, Esperanza looks out the window at the lush Los Angeles landscape and feels grateful for the room in the truck to stretch her legs. She holds the twin babies—Pepe and Lupe—and listens to Isabel’s stories about the company camp where they all live. The farm is over six thousand acres, and their family pays seven dollars a month to live on the property in a cabin with water, electricity, a kitchen, and access to a school, where Isabel will soon start classes.
Though Isabel excitedly shares stories about her home, Esperanza is less than impressed by the idea of living and working in a place where running water is a luxury.
When the group stops for lunch, Esperanza wanders away and looks out on the valleys and plains. Remembering Papa’s lesson from years ago, she lies down on the ground and places her ear to the dirt, hoping to hear the earth’s heartbeat. Though she waits patiently, she hears nothing, and begins screaming and crying in frustration. She shuts her eyes and feels herself careening out of control. After she calms down a bit, she realizes that Miguel is standing over her—he asks if she’s all right, and then admits that he, too, misses Sixto, “the ranch and Mexico and Abuelita, everything.” Miguel takes Esperanza’s hand, and this time, she does not let go.
This passage shows that Esperanza feels disconnected from the earth, from her past, and from her memories of Papa. She is frightened, isolated, and in pain—it is only through Miguel’s friendship and empathy that she is able to gather herself together and summon the strength to complete the journey to the camp.
The group arrives at the company farm in the San Joaquin Valley. As they head into camp, a girl about Miguel’s age waves at Juan, and he stops to pick her up in his truck. Isabel introduces the girl as Marta, and explains that though she “lives at another camp where they pick cotton,” her aunt and uncle live on this farm and she often stays with them. When Isabel introduces Esperanza to Marta, she explains that Esperanza is from a huge, beautiful ranch where she “had lots of servants and beautiful dresses and went to private school.” Marta teases Esperanza for being a “princess” and asks where all her “finery” is. Miguel urges Marta not to tease Esperanza, who has just lost her father. Marta retorts that her father died, too—fighting in the Mexican Revolution against wealthy landowners like Esperanza’s father.
This passage introduces Marta—a feisty and sometimes even petty or cruel radical who has no interest in or patience for Esperanza’s past as the daughter of a wealthy landowner. Marta scorns the wealthy just as Esperanza scorns the poor—the two are opposites, and Marta will emerge as the major antagonist (but a perhaps justified one) of the novel’s latter half through her constant digs at Esperanza and her derision of the systems that perpetuate divides in wealth, class, and privilege.
Trying to change the subject, Isabel points out all the different kinds of people who work in the fields—Filipinos, Japanese, and people from Oklahoma. Marta says that the camp purposely keeps people of different ethnicities separate—“they don’t want us banding together for higher wages or better housing,” she explains, before going on to say that if necessary, workers must strike for better conditions—even if it means risking their jobs.
Despite her youth, Marta can see clearly the systems that keep her people oppressed and demoralized, and wants to do something to change things no matter the risk. In this way, she is like Esperanza and Ramona—backed into a corner, she knows she must either risk everything or lose her independence standing for nothing at all.
Marta admits, though, that the conditions on this farm are not so bad—there are even large fiestas each Saturday night during the summer. As the truck approaches the Mexican camp, Marta teasingly tells Esperanza that “no one will be waiting on [her] here” before hopping out of the truck.
Marta gets one last dig at Esperanza in before leaving the group—she wants to remind the girl that her former wealth means nothing here, something that Esperanza already knows all too well.