JIMENEZ, Francisco. The Circuit. 134 p. University of New Mexico Press, 1997. ISBN 0-8263-1797-9 $10.95.
This is a collection of short stories based on the life of the author, Francisco Jimenez, while he was growing up as the son of migrant farm workers in California. The story is historical fiction, set in the 1940ís and details the travels of this Mexican family from Guadalajara, Mexico to the central California valleys where the abundant crops offer a livelihood to those people willing to travel to pick whatever crop is in season.
The stories told are written in the first person and seem to be told in sequential order. There are time periods which are skipped, but they are tied together very well as the main character grows from one who watches the little children, to a picker of the crops himself. He goes from suffering the boredom of a non-participant sitting in the family car to the physical pain of a farm worker who spends his days in the fields. It is something of a coming-of-age story as it follows him from his first experience in elementary school to being removed from his eighth grade classroom by the immigration authorities.
Throughout the book, the authorís school experiences are emphasized and his limitations with the English language are painfully real. Many of his teachers become important role models in his life due to their caring. His despair at having to leave school for every move seems to give him the impetus to continue his education and eventually write his life story.
The family lives in the sparsest of conditions, with a minimum amount of food to eat and barely enough clothing, yet they are a close and caring family. As difficult as this life is, they continue adding to their family and assume their roles as either farm workers, cooks, or the caretakers of the younger children. Complaints are not in their vocabulary, but a strong work ethic and perseverance are emphasized. Their struggles are many, but survival is paramount to all of them. Their religious faith is strong, as well as their pride in their Mexican heritage.
Because of delving into the family dynamics, this collections of stories is specific in its handling of multicultural issues. Family closeness, both in living conditions and in emotional bonds, is emphasized. It is because of this closeness and love for one another that they are able to survive their frequent challenges. When the father cannot work because of his bad back, the others take over for him. When the mother is pregnant, she becomes the cook for the camp since she can no longer do the picking.
Spanish words are used throughout the stories and the descriptive writing of the author is very realistic. The main theme seems to be the survival and love of their family while they are living in an adopted foreign country. Their survival in hardship situations seems to be a miracle much of the time, especially when the sick baby lives through his illness. They are a part of a community of Mexicans who are living illegally in the United States, so they do have something in common with their neighbors and co-workers. The plot of each story is of high interest to the reader, and we get to know many of the characters better and better. The authorís character is the main one which is developed throughout the story and it is his thoughts and feelings we know best.
This book is written for the fifth to eighth grade levels, though it could also be used with high school students for its historical interest. It teaches lessons of perseverance in difficult times and in difficult situations. It would be good to use in teaching children about the difficulties of being poor in a country where the characters are not part of the mainstream culture. Tolerance of differences in human beings and in cultural differences are also a strong theme in this collection of stories.
By Bonny Cassutt
Jimenez, Francisco. The Circuit. 112p. Univ. of New Mexico 1997. ISBN 0-8263-1797-9 (pbk)
The Circuit by Francisco Jimenez is a collection of short autobiographical stories from the life of the author as a migrant child. Through the eyes of a child we see what it is like to leave Mexico illegally hoping for a better life in California. We also see how hard each member of the family has to work just to keep a roof over their heads and to have food to eat. Sometimes the roof was merely the roof of a tent or a garage. The authorís descriptive writing creates vivid pictures of each place they make into a home. The family stays together and grows as they move from one labor camp to another.
This is a culturally specific multi-cultural book because it describes the life of a migrant farmer family in America. It describes the work of the farmers, their living conditions, and how the children are educated. It describes what it is like to be surrounded by people who only speak English when you can only understand Spanish.
The book is written in the first person and I could sympathize with the authorís dream to be able to stay in one place and go to school without interruption. I was impressed by the way the author continued to educate himself, even when he was not in school.
The book could be used in the classroom to discuss how there are families that live like this. This is happening in the world today. How would you react to a migrant child in your class? How could you make this child feel welcome? What could you do to help this child?
I didnít want this book to end. I want this story to continue. I want to know how this child overcame tremendous obstacles to become a successful writer.
By Joanne Olsen
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