My Diary Esperanza Ortega
Summer, 1924 “Our land is alive, Esperanza,” my papa said as he lead me by the hand through our vineyard. We walked through the valley together and lay down to feel the valley’s breath. Our heart’s were all beating as one. Now I know that our land is connected with us so thoroughly that we will never leave, not even if we have to.
Summer, 1930 Six years later, My father is dead. He left early this morning with the vaqueros to work the cattle, but at nightfall, Tio Marco and Tio Luis, my uncles, brought us bad news and Papa’s belt buckle. The neighbors warned him just last night about bandits, but Papa was a good man, and if he would not work, there would be less income for all of the workers. Papa believed in treating every man fairly, and he always acted accordingly. The bandits must not have known that.
Summer, 1930 Tio Luis and Tio Marco have taken over this house. They visit every day and “help with taxes,” but they are really just greedy snakes. Today, Tio Luis offered to marry Mama. Mama? Marry a goat? I find that hard to believe. Mama refused, and Tio Luis scowled, as stony as an uncombed field. Abuelita later said that he was not thinking of wealth when he offered marriage. He wanted Mama as his wife because of the influence she has over the people.
Summer, 1930 The nightmare of today is finally over. I woke up to flames, now I am going to sleep to ashes. Our beautiful home, as well as all the vineyards, have been burned to the ground. I know who is to blame. Tio Luis wants Mama to have no choice but to marry him, so he has destroyed our lives here in Mexico. Abuelita was hurt when our house burned, and she will not be able to travel for many months. We are all lost. It seems our lives have been burned to dust, and we are now simply ashes, going wherever the wind takes us.
Summer, 1930 Alfonso and Miguel, though they were good friends of Papa’s, are traveling to America, and they have asked us to go as well. Of course, we will have to travel in secret, or Tio Luis will stop us. Abuelita will be staying behind until her ankle has healed, at which time we will try to pay for her passage to America. She is sending her knitted blanket with me. I will finish when I have the chance. We will be going to California. There we all hope to find work, so we can begin to build a new life in America. There, Tio Luis will never find us.
Autumn, 1930 We have finally arrived at our new home in California. It is a squalid, dirty, horrid place. They don’t even have enough beds for everybody, and the floor is so full of dirt that it is grey. Here in America, there is no river flowing between the noble and peasant, but they certainly seem to need one! I have met my cousins, and they are the usual type of peasant. Always asking about refined lifestyle, always working at the most undesirable tasks, and dreadfully uneducated. I cannot wait to go back to Mexico.
Autumn, 1930 They expect me to sweep floors! Though I protested when the others laughed at the idea of me working, I am beginning to see their side of things. I am made for silks, while they are made for sweat. I am only accomplished at being a noblewoman, and I am beginning to doubt that I could ever learn to be a peasant. My life’s ashes seem to have been blown into a bramble patch, where they have no chance of bearing fruit.
Autumn, 1930 There we were, wrapped in blankets, with dust whistling through the cracks in our cabin. While my cousins and I were out tending to our chores, a dust storm came very suddenly, and we rushed inside, seeking what shelter we could find. The workers, including Mama, were trapped out in the field for hours because the trucks could not get to them. Mama has been coughing dreadfully ever since. As I recall that experience, that is one of the only times when I was afraid for my mothers life. Thinking of her, out there in the brown, gritty wind, not knowing if she was safe, made me sick with worry.
Winter, 1930 Mother has been coughing most horribly for quiet a while, ever since the dust storm. My aunt has suggested going to the hospital. When I heard this, it made me afraid for my mother again. Isn’t the hospital “the place people go to die?” Was Mama really so sick that she was in danger of death? It made me want to cry out : don’t let Mama die! I would be alone in the world. No home, no family. Abuelita is still in Mexico, and I cannot take care of myself. I cannot even sweep a floor properly. While watching Mama in the hospital, pale as milk, it reminded me of Abuelita’s blanket. I am working on it now, though there is still much to be done.
Winter, 1930 I have decided to get a job. It was a hard decision, but I need to pay Mama’s hospital bills, and I also must learn to make my way in this world. I am also saving to help bring Abuelita to America. Mama has caught pneumonia, and the doctor at the hospital says that she is slowly wasting away. She is lonely for Papa and Abuelita, her mother. She has had the weight of the world on her shoulders for too long, and now she is ready to just let go. Yes, she would finally be free, but what would happen to me? I must learn to take care of myself, and it is my responsibility to earn income.
Spring, 1930 Miguel is a pigheaded goat. I used to like him, but he continues to think that I still act as highhanded as royalty. Does he not see how different I am from when I was in Mexico? I can do things for myself now, and I am proud of it. Standards in this camp are so much lower than on a Mexican ranch. My last birthday was not celebrated with parties or papayas. Even my hands are rough and chapped. They are the hands of a laborer, not of a princess. And yet he still says that I “still think [ I am ] a queen.”( ) How blind he has become.
Spring, 1930 It was not until a few days later, when Mama began to show signs of improvement, that I realized that, when he left, Miguel took my hard-earned money with him. That thieving pig! He knows what that money is for, and the amount of work it took to get it. I toiled in the fields for months to save up even my small amount. Now I have almost no chance of bringing Abuelita to America before midwinter. I am almost finished with the blanket now, although I have had to unravel too many stitches to count. Abuelita always said “don’t be afraid to start over,” and that has gotten me this far. The blanket only has a few rows left. It will be complete by the time we are able to bring Abuelita here.
Summer, 1930 This noontime, Miguel returned to the labor camp, as well as my Abuelita! He had taken the money because he was going to Mexico, and he knew how important Abuelita was to Mama and I. When Abuelita stepped off the train, Mama was almost bouncing with delight. We all sat down to discuss the recent happenings on the grass, and I pulled out Abuelita’s blanket to finish it. As I knitted the yarn into the valley pattern, I imagined that, with each stitch, I was building a new life for us in America, where we can finally bloom.