From the perspective of the young adult he was then, Francisco Jiménez describes the challenges he faced in his efforts to continue his education.
During his college years, the very family solidarity that allowed Francisco to survive as a child is tested. Not only must he leave his family behind when he goes to Santa Clara University, but while Francisco is there, his father abandons the family and returns to Mexico. This is the story of how Francisco coped with poverty, with his guilt over leaving his family financially strapped, with his self-doubt about succeeding academically, and with separation. Once again his telling is honest, true, and inspiring.
|Publisher:||Perfection Learning Corporation|
|Product dimensions:||4.60(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.80(d)|
|Age Range:||10 - 13 Years|
About the Author
Francisco Jiménez emigrated from Tlaquepaque, Mexico, to California, where he worked for many years in the fields with his family. He received both his master’s degree and his Ph.D. from Columbia University and is now the chairman of the Modern Languages and Literature Department at Santa Clara University, the setting of much of his newest novel, Reaching Out. He is the award-winning author of The Circuit, Breaking Through, and La Mariposa. He is also the recipient of the John Steinbeck Award. He lives with his family in Santa Clara, California.
Read an Excerpt
The day I had longed for had finally arrived. It was Sunday, September 9, 1962. I felt excited and nervous as I got ready to make the trip north to Santa Clara. I had worked hard to make this journey to college even though it seemed improbable for so many years. I did not anticipate, however, how difficult it would be to leave my family, especially my older brother, Roberto.
Roberto and I had been inseparable ever since we were children living in El Rancho Blanco, a small village nestled on barren, dry hills in the northern part of the state of Jalisco, Mexico. I called him “Toto” because when I was first learning to talk, I could not pronounce “Roberto.” In Mexico, he used to take me to church on Sundays. In the evenings, he and I huddled with our parents around a fire built with dry cow chips in the middle of our adobe hut and listened to our uncle Mauricio tell ghost stories. I kept Roberto company every day while he milked our five cows by hand before dawn, and I helped him fetch water from the river. I cried every time Toto was out of my sight. Whenever I misbehaved, my parents punished me by separating me from him.
Hoping to leave our poverty behind and start a new and better life, my family emigrated illegally from Mexico to California in the late 1940s and began working in the fields. From the time I was six years old, Toto and I worked together alongside our parents. He sang Mexican songs to me such as “Cielito Lindo” and “Dos Arbolitos” while we picked cotton in early fall and winter in Corcoran. After we were deported in 1957 by la migra and came back legally, Roberto took care of me like a father when he and I lived alone for six months in Bonetti Ranch, a migrant labor camp,. He was a sophomore in high school and I was in the eighth grade at the time. The rest of our family stayed in Guadalajara and joined us later. During that time, I helped him in his job doing janitorial work at Main Street School in Santa Maria after school, and on weekends we worked together topping carrots or thinning lettuce. After graduating from high school, Roberto got married and continued working as a custodian for the Santa Maria School District on weekdays. And even though he had left our home in Bonetti Ranch to start his own family, we saw each other often. On weekends he and I worked together for the Santa Maria Window Cleaners, a commercial janitorial company.
Roberto and his wife, Darlene, dropped by early that Sunday morning with their baby girl, Jackie, to say goodbye. Darlene, who looked a lot like the actress Elizabeth Taylor, patted Roberto on the back, trying to console him, while he and I hugged each other. “He’ll be back for Thanksgiving,” she said. Being separated from my brother was as painful as yanking out a fingernail.
My father was in one of his usual bad moods and impatient to get going. “Vámonos, pues,” he said annoyed. Let’s get going. Ever since he had hurt his back from doing stoop labor for many years and could no longer work in the fields, his temper had gotten worse. Bracing himself on Roberto’s broad shoulders, he carefully slid onto the passenger’s seat of our old, beat-up DeSoto. His face was pale and drawn and his eyes were red from lack of sleep. He was upset because I was leaving home. He wanted our family to always be together.
I locked the front door to the army barrack, which we rented from Mr. Bonetti. I climbed in the driver’s seat, slammed the bent door shut, and quickly fastened it with a rope to keep it closed. As we drove out of Bonetti Ranch, I rolled down the cracked window so I could make hand signals. My father flinched every time the car hit potholes in the dusty road. Trampita, my younger brother, sat between my father and me. We gave José Francisco the nickname “Trampita,” Little Tramp, because my parents dressed him in baby clothes we found in the city dump when he was born. My other younger brothers, Torito and Rubén, and my little sister, Rorra, sat in the back seat with my mother. They were excited to make the trip, but they kept quiet because my father did not tolerate noise, especially when he was in a bad mood.
I turned right onto East Main and headed west on the two-lane road toward Santa Maria to take highway 101 north to Santa Clara. The sun poked its head above the mountains behind us, casting a shadow in front of our DeSoto. On both sides of the narrow road were hundreds of acres of strawberry fields, which my family had worked in during the harvest season, from sunup to sundown, a few years before. As we approached the Santa Maria Bridge, I remembered the pain I felt every time we had crossed this bridge on our way north to Fresno to pick grapes and cotton every September < for eight years. During that time I alwaaaays missed the first ten weeks of school because I was working with my familly in the fields.
From tthe corner of my eye I saw my ffather close his eyes. “Do you want me to drive, Panchito?” Trampita whispered. “You look tired.” My family called me “Panchito,” the Spanish nickname for Francisco, which was my birth name.
“No, thanks. You need to rest yourself. You’ll have to drive back.” Trampita had to take over my janitorial job and work thirty-five hours a week, as I did, while going to school to help support our family. Without him, I would not have been making this journey.
Through the rearview mirror I saw my mother dozing off with her arms around Rorra and Rubén, who were fidgety. Torito gazed out the side window, humming something to himself.
We called Rubén, my youngest brother, Carne Seca, because he was as thin as a strip of beef jerky when he was a child. He sat on my father’s lap whenever we traveled from place to place, following the crops. My father favored him because, according to my mother, Rubén looked like my dad. Rorra, my little sister, whose given name was Avelina, followed me around whenever I was home. She liked being teased, and often when we poked fun at each other, she would remind me of the time she was four years old and took two of my favorite pennies from my coin collection and bought gum with them from a gum machine. “I am stuck on you,” she’d say, laughing. We called her Rorra, “doll,” because she looked like one. We all doted on her. I felt a pain in my chest, thinking about not seeing them every day. We passed familiar coastal towns along the way: Nipomo, Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach. As we approached San Luis Obispo, I remembered visiting California Polytechnic College during my junior year. Now I was headed to the University of Santa Clara, and the only thing I knew about college for sure was that it would be more difficult than high school. I knew this because Mrs. Taylor, my freshman social studies teacher, often told our class, “You think the work I give you is hard? Wait until you go to college!” Our DeSoto strained to climb the San Luis Obispo grade. There was a string of cars behind me. “Move to the right and let cars pass you,” my father said, waking up from his nap. “I can see why you didn’t get a good grade in driver’s ed,” Trampita said, laughing. I lightly elbowed Trampita in the shoulder and steered to the right lane. The driver behind me gave me a nasty look as he passed by. I kept my eyes straight ahead, avoiding eye contact with the other drivers. “I hope I don’t get a ticket for driving so slow,” I said.
What People are Saying About This
"[Jimenez] does a thorough job . . . of describing the difficulties, such as feeling unprepared and disadvantaged when compared to others, that some first-generation college students face . . . There are several kind-hearted mentors and benefactors . . . These gestures of kindness offer readers hope. This book is recommended for the library that already has the first two books on its shelf."VOYA (3Q3P)
"No one who reads these life stories will forget them. Jiménez reaches out to let us walk in his shoes, feel his pain and pride, joy and sorrow, regrets and hope. All three books should be required reading for Californians. Students of Mexican heritage will see themselves. The rest of us will better understand what it takes to make this journey. And we'll all be hanging on for the next book."Sacramento Bee, Living Here section (pg. D3)
"In this eloquent, transfixing account, Jimenez again achieves a masterful addition to the literature of the memoir."Smithsonian Magazine, Best Books of the Year 2008