From Francisco Jimenez comes the third book in his series of endearing memoirs about his life as a young person of an immigrant Mexican family of migrant workers. I enjoyed reading about Jimenez’s challenges to obtain a post-secondary challenge, as well as learning more about Jimenez himself. In addition, I appreciated how Reaching Out included background information from earlier memoirs. Thanks to this provision, Reaching Out serves equally well as a standalone book or as part of an informative autobiographical series.
The first chapter of Reaching Out begins by highlighting the arrival of a day that Jimenez has longed for. On Sunday, September 9, 1962, his family drives him to Santa Clare College. It’s a dream Jimenez at times never expected would happen. In the 1940’s, his family emigrated illegally from Mexico to California and began working in the fields. About fifteen years later, when Jimenez was just in eighth grade, the family was deported. Even when they later returned legally, the entire family continued to work in low-paying jobs to survive. And to send Jimenez to college.
As can happen with dreams, this achievement was only the first step in an arduous journey. Jimenez continued to struggle with finances, feelings of being torn between responsibility as a student and to his family, having self-doubt about his abilities to succeed academically, and trying to adjust to living in an essentially English-speaking Caucasian environment. While his peers enjoyed initiations, sports events, and drinking parties, Jimenez buried himself in studies and sought sources of income beyond scholarships. Receiving his first D’s felt like a major disappointment, despite reassurance from his roommate that these grades are typical of one’s first college year. Further disheartening to him was that one of his low grades came even in a Spanish class. You see, even though Jimenez could speak Spanish, he had never written compositions in his native language nor had he read books in Spanish. Still, he persevered and eventually turned those grades into A’s. To afford the ongoing expenses of a college education, Jimenez worked janitorial positions in the summers and during the school year took on several part-time jobs, including that of tutoring students, typing papers, and serving as a reader for a professor. One can’t help but feel inspired by Jimenez’s strong work ethic!
The farther along one reads of Reaching Out, one also can’t help but gain an appreciation for his moral values too. Even in his high school days, Jimenez had wanted to make a difference, and attempted to do so by running food drives to help poor migrant families. By the time he enters college, Jimenez has determined to follow in the footsteps of others who have helped him and become a teacher. During his second year, he also joins a religious organization. Duties for it include working with the poor in Mexico in the summer, along with attending cell group discussions about social issues. Eventually, despite the impact it could have on his classes and on his family’s employment, Jimenez’s sense of right and wrong also lead him to join efforts to unionize farm workers. Being driven myself by a desire to invoke change, I felt a lot of compassion for Jimenez.
Although clearly serious in personality, Jimenez also has a lighter side, which also adds to the pleasure of Reaching Out. He enjoys dances, especially ones in tune to the music of Elvis Presley. Although not a sports fan, he makes a deal with his roommate to attend them if his friend will go to dances. Such a deal leads to a memorable drinking binge, as well as to a mad dash at night to arrive back to the dorm before curfew. Jimenez is also not immune to love. Several later chapters describe the deepening of a friendship with a classmate, who later becomes Jimenez’s wife.
Although there are less direct references in Reaching Out than in his earlier memoirs to his Mexican heritage, Jimenez clearly cares about it and wants to give back to his people. There are references to prejudice, as well as to cultural traditions. All three of his memoirs are based on memories, interviews, photographs, and other records, and make for an educational and fascinating read. A fourth memoir was apparently published this year. I look forward to reviewing it at a later date!
My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.
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