Cortney R. Costa
Esperanza Rising begins in 1924, right before the Great Depression, caused by the Stock Market Crash of 1929, otherwise known as Black Tuesday. In 1910 Mexico had experienced the beginning of a major Revolution that lasted into the following decade, and created conditions of violence, uncertainty, and economic hardship in many regions of the country. During this time, unemployment was high, and times were extremely difficult for most families. Mexican migrant workers were finding jobs in the United States that would pay them more money than they were able to make in Mexico's struggling economy. The American farm owners were happy to hire the Mexican workers because it was considerably cheaper to pay them than other American workers. Although they had been present in the fields and orchards of the United States for decades, Mexican immigrant workers became a major segment of the California labor force for the first time in the 1920's. Between 1921 and 1930, there were nearly half a million legal immigrants from Mexico recorded coming into the United States. In the San Joaquin Valley (where Esperanza Rising takes place), Mexicans accounted for 56 percent of California's agricultural labor force (Starr. p. 61-65). While working in California, these Mexican families were very secluded for reasons such as language, social status, race, and religion. In many areas, the children were sent to separate schools, and many dropped out by high school (Starr, p. 65). Because of the situation with the Great Depression, everyone was fighting for jobs, money, and a comfortable financial situation. Many of the "white" farm workers were often uncomfortable around the immigrant workers, and were hostile towards them because they felt they were taking away their jobs. Again, the migrant workers would work for much lower pay, so employers would much rather hire them. There was also much tension between the migrant workers on the fields. Some felt that their conditions were unlivable, and they deserved much better, so they began to protest and fight for what they believed. Still, others refused to join the protests in fear that they would be fired. In the 1930's (about the time this story takes place) California remained about 88 percent white. Most of these people were those who owned the land, while the 368,000 workers, many of whom were Mexicans, were doing the work on these farms.