The first book I read that introduced me to Hispanic culture at all was called Esperanza Rising, by Pam Munoz Ryan, in the third grade. I remember our teacher reading it to us in class, all of us sitting in a circle on the floor, criss-cross applesauce, hands in our laps, and cherishing the few beautiful Spanish words that were included. The strong, loving main character Esperanza worked hard to help her mother recover from illness, and provide money to bring her Abuelita up to California from Mexico. One of the things I loved most about her was her name, Esperanza, which in Spanish, means "hope".
So many years later, I find I am reading about a new, entirely different, but no less inspiring, Esperanza, in The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. This story is about a young Latina girl growing up in a hard Chicago neighborhood, and her longing to leave all of the hardship behind. This neighborhood, full of lecherous older men, abusive and controlling fathers and husbands, mothers who don't know how to handle their children, and girls who feel trapped in it all, made me wince as much as smile. I remember friends who had to read it, analyze it, cut it up into little tiny peices and suck all the symbolism, tone, and story out of it in Freshmen English class, and they completely hated this book. However, if you are steel enough to get through the unfairness, and empathetic enough to go through Esperanza's life with her, then I would definitely read this short compilation of vignettes told from Esperanza's point of view, about the neighborhood she lived in, and the hope she had for getting out.