On a warm, partially cloudy, and breezy day, Estrella and her extended family arrive at the barn. Peaches, oranges, avocado trees, biting sun, and two teenage boys who are picking peaches in the surrounding fields become Estrella's new reality. A little doll with whom she shares her thoughts, her frustrations, and her disappointments is still her best friend. Estrella, the protagonist of
Under the Feet of Jesus
by Helen Maria Viramontes, is a young teenager who is growing up and has to fight all the way to womanhood. She experiences rejections and prejudice for being the daughter of a migrant mother who cannot afford expensive clothes or health care when it is needed.
Migrant workers, poverty, family issues, rejections, bullying, exploitation, health care issues, and solitude are Estrella's everyday reality. Her journey toward womanhood is hard and made nearly unreachable by the constant struggles that she faces every day under the beating sun of a land that is rich and full of dreams but foreign to her. This is also what many of my students experience every day. They fight to be accepted in a world that is absolutely foreign to them because their parents are illegal immigrants and are misjudged, or are bullied for different issues, and/or are neglected by their families. I want to explore and discuss these issues with my teenage students because I might offer them an answer to their unanswered questions. Viramontes' s novel is a great start, but my unit will also include other visual and non-fictional readings to help my students grow and mature into adulthood, and to teach them the skills that they need once they go to college or start a career.
My decision to present fictional and non-fictional texts is also connected to New Historicism, a theory of literary criticism that states the importance of "crossing the boundaries separating history, anthropology, art, politics, literature, and economics."
Every text, fictional or non-fictional, reflects different cultural perspectives and the combination allows the reader, in this case my students, to have a complete view of the teenager's dilemma of adulthood in a societal environment that is difficult, impossible, and/or hurtful.