As they arrive at the Mexican camp and get out of the truck, Esperanza surveys the small wooden cabins—they are not even as nice as the servants’ cabins back on El Rancho de las Rosas, and one large wooden building provides the toilets for the entire group of homes. A foreman shows Esperanza and her mother to a small cabin with two rooms, and Esperanza asks if this is theirs or Hortensia, Alfonso, and Miguel’s—Ramona explains that they will all share this cabin together. As Mama begins unpacking, she sings a little tune, and Esperanza asks how Mama can sing and be happy when they are “living like horses.”
Esperanza is not just saddened now, but actually angry—and outwardly cruel—about the conditions she and Ramona have found themselves in. She seems to have learned nothing on their long train journey, even though Ramona tried to impress upon her that to “scorn” those who were once of a different class than them is now to scorn themselves.
Mama shuts the door to their room and orders Esperanza to sit down. She explains that had they stayed in Mexico, they would have had only one choice: to be separated, and miserable. Here, they have two choices: to be together and miserable, or together and happy. Mama declares that she has chosen to be happy, and urges Esperanza to choose the same—and to be grateful for the favors their former servants have “bestowed upon [them.]”
Things are terrible for Ramona and Esperanza—they have lost everything in a matter of weeks. The one thing they still have, though, is each other, and Ramona urges Esperanza to understand just how vital that is.
As Mama goes back to her packing, Isabel enters the room and sits with Esperanza. She asks the older girl to tell her a story of being “so very rich”—Esperanza replies that she is “still rich,” and simply awaiting the arrival of Abuelita and her money. Her new situation, she assures Isabel, is only temporary. Isabel leaves the room and Esperanza falls asleep, wondering how she’ll ever be happy or grateful “when she ha[s] never been more miserable.”
Even after yet another intimate talk with Ramona about their new circumstances, Esperanza is still unable to believe that she is not “still rich,” and incapable of feeling anything other than abject misery and self-pity.
Esperanza wakes early the next morning, having slept through dinner and most of the night. It is nearly dawn, and in the kitchen, Mama and Hortensia are eating breakfast and drinking coffee—they already have work today. Mama explains that Isabel and Esperanza will look after Lupe and Pepe while the grown-ups work picking and packing grapes. Esperanza says that she wants to work, too, and Mama tells her that she will have a job—every afternoon, she will sweep the camp platform used for meetings and dances in exchange for a rent deduction.
In spite of her unhappiness, Esperanza does want to prove her worth through hard work. Ramona assures her that she will be able to make herself useful around the house and the camp without going into the fields.
After the women leave for work and Esperanza and Isabel finish feeding the babies breakfast, they each pick up one of the twins and set out so that Isabel can show Esperanza around the camp. She points out the platform and where the brooms are stored, and walks through the rows of cabins greeting neighbors. Isabel introduces Esperanza to her best friend, Silvia, and Esperanza feels a pang of longing for her own best friend Marisol. Isabel also introduces Esperanza to two women, Irene and Melina, who have already heard all about Esperanza’s journey. As Isabel and Esperanza head home to change the babies, Isabel explains that “everyone in camp knows each other’s business.”
In the light of a new day, Esperanza has, for the first time, a mildly optimistic outlook about her new life as she lets Isabel show her around the camp—a small, isolated place where everyone knows everyone, and where word travels fast.
Back at their own cabin, Isabel teaches Esperanza how to change the babies and wash their diapers. Esperanza is reluctant to scrub the dirty diapers, and when Isabel realizes that she doesn’t know how to wash clothes at all, she becomes alarmed—next week, Isabel says, she’ll be going off to school, and Esperanza will be home alone with the babies and the laundry. Esperanza promises that she will learn fast. Isabel asks if Esperanza knows how to sweep—embarrassed, Esperanza says she does, but deep down has no clue.
Esperanza is afraid to become the butt of Isabel’s jokes or the object of her derision by admitting that she doesn’t know how to do simple tasks. Rather than facing the truth, she chooses to bury her shame and insist that she’s capable of doing things she’s never done before, isolating herself even further than she needs to.
After the washing is done, Esperanza goes out the platform to sweep it. Once she has the broom in her hand, though, she realizes that she is clueless—she tries and tries but cannot make the broom move the way she wants it to. She soon becomes aware of Marta and some other girls pointing at her and laughing, calling her “Cinderella.” Mortified, she runs back to her cabin and sits on the bed, confiding in Isabel at last that she does not know how to do any housework at all. Esperanza worries she’ll never be afraid to show her face outside again—the whole camp will by now know of her failure.
Esperanza attempts to do something she’s never done before, and pretty much fails—because it’s such a simple task, the other girls make fun of her and point out how her life of wealth and luxury hasn’t prepared her for any work at all. This is a turning point for Esperanza as she realizes just how much her past is holding her back from thriving in her new world.
Miguel enters the room with a dustpan and broom and teaches Esperanza the proper and efficient way to sweep. Isabel giggles as she watches the lesson. When it’s over, Esperanza thanks Miguel for his help, and he replies, “At your service, mi reina.” He is not teasing her, though—his voice is kind. Esperanza asks Miguel if he secured a railroad job—he replies that he’s frustrated because the railroads will only hire Mexicans to lay track and dig ditches. Miguel, an accomplished mechanic, wants to work in the fields instead until someone will give him a chance.
Miguel is facing just as many difficulties as Esperanza, just on a different scale and for different reasons. He is one of the few who does not tease her for her lack of knowledge of basic cleaning skills—he wants her to learn and thrive, and extends empathy, kindness, and even a reminder that even when forced into a new setting, it is not a bad thing for Esperanza to remember who she used to be and where she came from.
Miguel leaves, and Isabel asks Esperanza once more to tell her about her life “as a queen” in Mexico. Struck with inspiration, Esperanza agrees to tell Isabel all the stories she wants—if Isabel will teach her how to pin diapers, wash, sweep, clean, and cook.
Even as Esperanza leaves behind more and more of her past with every day, she is keeping it alive in her memory and in Isabel’s mind.