For weeks, Esperanza hardly leaves Mama’s side, feeding and bathing her and attending to her every need. As a November chill settles over the farm, the doctor returns and tells Esperanza that Mama’s condition hasn’t changed. One evening, Mama calls for Abuelita’s blanket, and Esperanza retrieves it from her valise and brings it into Mama’s room. Esperanza realizes how badly Mama needs her own mother. That night, Esperanza starts crocheting the unfinished blanket, moving up over mountains and down into valleys. As the days go by, the blanket grows longer, and women from all over camp bring Esperanza new skeins of yarn to add to her stash. Mama remains listless, though, and often weeps in silence. Esperanza worries that “after all her hard work in getting them there,” Mama has at last “given up.”
As Esperanza faces the most difficult challenge she’s had to shoulder yet—caring for her sick mother—she turns to Abuelita’s lessons from crocheting for strength, and a reminder that sometimes one must go into a “valley” before arriving at the top of a “mountain.” The whole community comes together in support of Esperanza in her time of grief, but Esperanza remains fearful that nothing can pull her mother back from the brink of succumbing to her illness.
A few weeks later, the fields frost over and Mama’s breathing grows more labored. The doctor comes back and says that Mama should be in the hospital—not only is she ill and weak, but she’s depressed. Esperanza begins crying, afraid that “the hospital is where people go to die,” but Hortensia assures her that Mama is going to the hospital to get better. Esperanza asks what the doctor meant when he said that mama was depressed, and Hortensia explains that Mama has lost a lot of things in just a few months—the strain on her body and her heart have made her feel “helpless.”
Ramona has been strong, staunch, and seemingly indomitable ever since the death of her husband—never once has she given into fear or self-pity. Now, though, everything seems to have become too much for her, and she succumbs not just to her illness but to the pain, sadness, and grief she has been holding back this whole time.
As the doctor takes Mama off to the hospital, Esperanza worries that she has failed her mother in some way, and becomes determined to write to Abuelita. Hortensia warns her that her uncles will surely be monitoring the mail, but Esperanza knows she has to do something. Late that night, she goes out to the small shrine out back and prays for the Virgin to show her a way to help Mama.
Esperanza feels alone and uncertain of what to do. She wants help, but knows she is all but barred from asking for it from her Abuelita. With nowhere to turn, Esperanza goes out to the shabby little rose garden—a symbol of her fledgling hopes—to pray.
The next evening, Esperanza, knowing she has to find a way to bring some money in, asks Miguel to help her find some work so that she can earn money and help bring Abuelita to America. Miguel worries that Esperanza will get in trouble for being too young to legally work, but Esperanza is determined. Miguel suggests Esperanza go to work cutting potato eyes with Hortensia and Josefina for the next few weeks—if she’s good at that job, they’ll hire her to tie grapes and pack asparagus.
Esperanza is done pitying herself—she is ready to put her privileged outlook aside, keep her head down, and work hard for the good of her family. She has matured greatly since coming to California.
A few days later, Esperanza is bundled in a small wooden shed with Josefina, Hortensia, and a group of other women. They are wrapped in blankets, shawls, and gloves, and clutch warm bricks to their bellies as they cut out potato eyes for planting. Esperanza quietly listens as the women discuss a renewed plan to strike in the spring. The women worry that strikers will be sent back to Mexico by la migra—immigration authorities. On the other hand, there are also rumors that any Mexicans who cross the picket line and continue to work will be vulnerable to violence. Esperanza knows how much depends on her being able to secure a job in the spring, and decides that nothing—and no one—will stand in her way.
Muñoz Ryan accomplishes something difficult with great compassion here—she shows how complicated and nuanced striking for better rights, conditions, and compensation can be. Esperanza is essentially on her own, and knows she can’t lose the job she’s worked hard to earn—she doesn’t want to strike because of all she stands to lose, even though she sees the potential for helping the greater good that the strike could accomplish.
A few nights before Christmas, Esperanza helps Isabel make a yarn doll for Silvia. Isabel asks what Christmases were like at El Rancho de las Rosas, and asks Esperanza to describe the beautiful gifts she received. Esperanza admits that she can’t remember her specific presents—”all [she] remember[s] is being happy.”
On Christmas day, Esperanza visits Mama in the hospital. During the visit, however, Mama sleeps deeply and doesn’t even wake at the sound of Esperanza’s voice as Esperanza tells her all she’s missing back at the camp. The only present Esperanza has been able to find for her mother is a smooth round stone. As she leaves the hospital, she sets it on Mama’s nightstand, kisses her forehead, and tells her not to worry—Esperanza says she herself “will take care of everything.”
This sad, painful moment contrasts the beautiful tales of warm, happy family Christmas celebrations Esperanza told Isabel with the reality of what Esperanza’s life has become: a painful, lonely, burdensome series of tests and trials.