One by one, students stood up and gave their answers. Most gave short, simple responses. José was brief to explain why he wanted the part of Miguel, the boy who helped Esperanza and her mamá escape to America. Robert took forever to explain why he wanted to play Tío Luis, who tried to force Esperanza’s mamá to marry him after her papá was murdered.
Finally, it was Abby’s turn. The path to get to the front of the room went on forever like a gravel road in the woods. She could feel her knees knocking and her hands sweating. Dios, por favor, ayúdame, she silently prayed. Once up front, Abby made sure she smiled at the audience, making eye contact with everyone, like any good actress would.
“I’d like to play the part of Esperanza because my life is so much like hers. First of all, I’m from Mexico. We were never rich like Esperanza was, but we did live on a ranch. Like Esperanza, we had to move to the United States to work in the fields.
“I didn’t have to ride on a dirty, crowded train to get to America like Esperanza, but my father had to lift me way high up over his head as he carried me across the Rio Grande River to get to Texas. I don’t remember it because I was only a baby, but I’m sure that was not easy for my papá.
“In the book, Esperanza’s father was killed, and my father was also killed. He was shot a few years ago when the carnicería down the street was robbed.”
Abby paused briefly as she noticed that Mrs. Franklin seemed to be wiping a tear from her eye. This confused her for a moment, but soon that sweet smile on Mrs. Franklin’s face returned, so Abby continued.
“Also, my abuelita is still in Mexico; and as you know, Esperanza and her mamá had to leave Esperanza’s abuelita behind when they came to America.
“Finally,” Abby wrapped up, “I want to play Esperanza because I like how strong of a person she was forced to become. In the story, a girl named Marta made fun of her because she didn’t know any English. I’ve had to learn English too. I’m pretty good at it now, but I wasn’t always. So, that is why I’d like to play the part of Esperanza.”
Abby was sure to smile and make eye contact with her audience once again. She could only hope that her speech would help her get the part. She navigated her way back to her desk as gracefully as she could, while the other students began applauding.
“Well,” Mrs. Franklin concluded, and she winked in Abby’s direction. “Your speeches will help me make my decisions; but I need one more night to really think this through.” The students groaned again. “I promise I will announce the character assignments tomorrow.”
The school day finally came to an end. Mrs. Franklin stopped Abby as she was hurrying out the door to go pick up Alfredo and Ana from their classrooms.
“Abby, would it be okay if I stopped by your house later today? I want to talk to your mamá.”
Abby hesitated. She was eager to get home and finish cleaning the kitchen before helping Alfredo with his homework. “I think so, Miss. My mamá doesn’t get home until six o’clock at night; but my tía should be there by five o’clock. Can you talk to my Tía Veronica instead?”
“Yes. Will you be there if I need help with my Spanish?”
Abby giggled, “Sure, Miss. I will help you. I gotta go get Alfredo and Ana.”
“Adios, míja,” Mrs. Franklin laughed, and waved her out the door.
Mrs. Franklin watched as Abby ran across the dry grass of the school yard toward the kindergarten wing. Crinkling her mouth to one side, she wondered how best to encourage Abby’s mother to give her fewer responsibilities at home. This was a dream-come-true for a young girl with very few dreams that ever came true, and she had to make sure Abby would be successful.
White paint was peeling off the rotting window frames as Mrs. Franklin climbed the rickety porch steps to Abby’s house that evening. Before she could knock on the door, it swung wide open, and there stood Abby, Alfredo and Ana, all smiling up at her.
“Buenas tardes,” Mrs. Franklin said. “Is your mother or your auntie home?” Ana just stood there and smiled. Alfredo looked up at Abby to see what she would do. Abby opened the door, inviting Mrs. Franklin inside.
“Oh, Miss, I forgot. My tía had a doctor’s appointment today, and Mamá is not yet home from work. But I fixed a plate of galletas for you if you’d like to come in and wait.” Mrs. Franklin hesitated, thinking of the enormous stack of papers waiting to be graded; but she had come this far, so she graciously accepted Abby’s invitation and joined the children at the small kitchen table where a small plate of store bought cinnamon cookies sat in the center.
Mrs. Franklin’s eyes wandered over to the family room where she saw school books and notebooks strewn out across the floor.
“You must have been helping Alfredo with his homework, huh Abby?” she asked.
“Oh, yes, Miss. But I haven’t done my homework yet. I will though. I promise. Then, I want to practice my lines for Esperanza.” Abby stopped herself, and then began again slowly. “But I guess if someone else gets the part, I don’t need to.”
Mrs. Franklin hesitated and then smiled, “Abby, one reason I wanted to speak with your mother is to be sure you have enough time at home to rehearse, if you do get the part of Esperanza. It’s a lot of work, and you have to memorize the lines.”
“Oh yes, I know the lines; you see, I want to be an actress when I grow up.” Abby’s brown eyes brightened with enthusiasm. “Oh Miss, I can do this, I promise. Do you want to hear me?”
Without waiting for a response, Abby jumped right into reciting the first lines of the play. It was clear she had even blocked out her movements, using the kitchen as a stage. She began by going over to the window and looking out,
“Where is Papá? He was supposed to be home by now. The harvest celebration will be ruined without him. He was going to help me pick roses for the tables tonight.”
Abby turned to Mrs. Franklin and whispered, “Could you say Mamá’s lines, please Mrs. Franklin?”
Feeling lucky that she remembered the lines, Mrs. Franklin rose, draped her sweater over her shoulders like a shawl, and entered into the play.
“Don’t worry, híja. He’s just a little late.”
Ana and Alfredo promptly turned off the television and moved to face the kitchen to watch the performance.
“But Mamá, I AM worried. Just last week, the neighbors warned Papá about bandits. Why are there bandits anyway?”
“Change has not come fast enough, Esperanza,” Mrs. Franklin noticed that Alfredo and Ana were mouthing along with her, and she realized that the entire family had already been helping her rehearse. She had to stifle a smile.
It was Abby who broke character then. She laughed as she hugged Mrs. Franklin without thinking.
“So, what do you think? Wouldn’t I be a good Esperanza?”
Mrs. Franklin clapped and laughed. “Well, Abby, I’m very impressed.” She sat back down at the small table. “You know, I guess I don’t really need to speak with your mamá after all. I think I’ve misjudged you, míja. You will be able to play Esperanza...easily!”
“Yes!” Abby screamed and smiled a smile as big as her face could hold. “Oh thank you, Miss. I’m so excited. I promise to work hard, and keep up with my homework too.”
“Don’t tell anyone until I announce it at school tomorrow, though, okay?” Mrs. Franklin got up to leave, but Abby stopped her.
“Miss? You said you mis-jugged me. What does that mean?”
“It means I foolishly thought you would not be able to work hard enough to be Esperanza in the play. That was wrong of me, and I apologize. To misjudge someone means that you don’t know them well enough, so you sometimes think the wrong things about them.”
“Oh, I get that all the time, Miss,” Abby said dismissively, “just because I’m Mexican. But now you know me better, right? And you believe I can do it!”
“Yes, I do, Abby dear.”
(Excerpt from Abby Rising)