Summary: “A Rice Sandwich”
Esperanza envies the kids who get to eat lunch in the canteen at school instead of having to go home for lunch. She pesters her mother to write her a note giving her permission to eat at the canteen and to pack her a lunch. Her mother is reluctant at first, but after it becomes clear that none of the other kids will need bag lunches, she writes a note for Esperanza and packs her a sandwich, one made of rice since the family cannot afford lunch meats. At school, Sister Superior does not accept Esperanza’s mother’s note, saying that Esperanza lives too close to school and must go home to eat. The Sister points to some rundown tenements up the street, accusing Esperanza of living there. Esperanza is embarrassed and nods her head, even though the buildings the nun points to are much more rundown than her own house. She gets to eat at the canteen that day but is too upset to enjoy the experience.
For Esperanza’s cousin’s baptism, Esperanza’s mother buys her a beautiful new outfit but forgets to buy the shoes that go with it. At the party after the baptism, Esperanza refuses to dance because she is embarrassed by her old brown saddle shoes. Her Uncle Nacho insists she is beautiful, and the two of them do a fancy new dance while everyone watches and applauds. Esperanza is proud that one particular boy watches her dance.
Esperanza, Nenny, Lucy, and Rachel jump rope and discuss the meaning of the hips they are beginning to develop. Rachel says that hips are good for propping a baby on while cooking, but Esperanza thinks this idea is unimaginative. Lucy says that hips are for dancing, while Nenny, who is too young to understand what it’s like to develop hips, says that without them, you might turn into a man. Esperanza defends Nenny, then tries to give a scientific explanation about the purpose of hips that she gleaned from Alicia. Esperanza begins to believe hips have a musical quality. Rachel, Lucy, and Esperanza make up original chants about hips while dancing and jumping rope. Nenny repeats a rhyme she already knows, embarrassing Esperanza with her childishness.
Summary: “The First Job”
Esperanza’s family wants her to get a summer job. She has been spending her days playing in the street and plans to begin looking sometime in the near future. One day, when she comes home after she lets a boy push her into the water from the open fire hydrant, she discovers that her aunt has found her a job matching pictures with negatives at the local photofinishing store. Esperanza just has to show up and lie about her age. The actual work is easy, but the social aspects of the job are difficult for Esperanza. She doesn’t know whether she can sit down. She eats her lunch in the bathroom and takes her break in the coatroom. In the afternoon, a man Esperanza describes as older and Oriental befriends her. Esperanza feels more comfortable now that she has someone to eat lunch with. He asks her to give him a kiss because it’s his birthday, but when Esperanza leans over to kiss him on the cheek he grabs her face and kisses her hard on the lips for a long time.
Esperanza experiences shame and embarrassment so acutely in these sections that the feelings nearly paralyze her. When she wants to eat at school, the nun makes her feel ashamed about where she lives—the second time a nun has demeaned Esperanza this way. In “Chanclas,” which means “sandal,” Esperanza’s immense shame at her clunky school shoes keeps her from enjoying the party. When Esperanza has her first job, she is embarrassed because she doesn’t know whether to stand up or sit down, and her shame leads her to scarf down her lunch in the bathroom. In all three of these situations, Esperanza’s shame is largely self-imposed. People do not try to make Esperanza feel bad. Even in her experience with the nun, who does try to embarrass her, Esperanza ultimately exiles herself out of shame once she gets to the canteen. These sections suggest that, to succeed, Esperanza must overcome not only the obstacles society sets up, but also the stumbling block of her own feelings of shame.
“A Rice Sandwich” and “Hips” reveal the often vast differences between spoken and written language, or, in other words, public and private voices. In “A Rice Sandwich,” we can hear Esperanza’s mother’s written voice in her note to the nun. Esperanza is ashamed of the note, which is not written convincingly enough to make the nun follow its instructions. The writing is stilted and childish, much different from the dynamic style in which Esperanza writes, and the voice of Esperanza’s mother that we hear in the writing differs from other playful neighborhood voices. Esperanza has her own shortcomings in the voice she shares with others. The voice Esperanza uses with her friends is neither as lyrical nor as interesting as her written voice. In “Hips,” Esperanza expresses greater interest in the scientific explanation for hips than in the more creative, everyday uses her friends suggest, just as in “And Some More” Esperanza concerns herself with the actual names for clouds.
It's me—Mama, Mama said. I open up and she's there with bags and big boxes, the new clothes and, yes, she's got the socks and a new slip with a little rose on it and a pink-and-white striped dress. What about the shoes? I forgot. Too late now. I'm tired. Whew!
Six-thirty already and my little cousin's baptism is over. All day waiting, the door locked, don't open up for nobody, and I don't till Mama gets back and buys everything except the shoes.
Now Uncle Nacho is coming in his car, and we have to hurry to get to Precious Blood Church quick because that's where the baptism party is, in the basement rented for today for dancing and tamales and everyone's kids running all over the place.
Mama dances, laughs, dances. All of a sudden, Mama is sick. I fan her hot face with a paper plate. Too many tamales, but Uncle Nacho says too many this and tilts his thumb to his lips.
Everybody laughing except me, because I'm wearing the new dress, pink and white with stripes, and new underclothes and new socks and the old saddle shoes I wear to school, brown and white, the kind I get every September because they last long and they do. My feet scuffed and round, and the heels all crooked that look dumb with this dress, so I just sit.
Meanwhile that boy who is my cousin by first communion or something asks me to dance and I can't.
Just stuff my feet under the metal folding chair stamped Precious Blood and pick on a wad of brown gum that's stuck beneath the seat. I shake my head no. My feet growing bigger and bigger.
Then Uncle Nacho is pulling and pulling my arm and it doesn't matter how new the dress Mama bought is because my feet are ugly until my uncle who is a liar says, You are the prettiest girl here, will you dance, but I believe him, and yes, we are dancing, my Uncle Nacho and me, only I don't want to at first. My feet swell big and heavy like plungers, but I drag them across the linoleum floor straight center where Uncle wants to show off the new dance we learned. And Uncle spins me, and my skinny arms bend the way he taught me, and my mother watches, and my little cousins watch, and the boy who is my cousin by first communion watches, and everyone says, wow, who are those two who dance like in the movies, until I forget that I am wearing only ordinary shoes, brown and white, the kind my mother buys each year for school. And all I hear is the clapping when the music stops. My uncle and me bow and he walks me back in my thick shoes to my mother who is proud to be my mother.All night the boy who is a man watches me dance. He watched me dance.