Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘Reaching Out

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.

How would you rate this book?

In honor of Allison’s Book Bag being five years old this year, I’m taking this week to repost my most popular reviews over the past five years. From 2013, as part of a multicultural roundup, there is….

From the time he was four until he was fourteen-years-old, Francisco Jimenez lived in constant fear. It all started in 1940, when his parents moved the family from Mexico to California, with the hope of leaving their life of poverty behind. At the border, the family dug a hole underneath the wire wall and thereby illegally entered the United States. Although Francisco’s father always hoped to return to Mexico, Francisco liked getting an education. If the family returned, he’d lose this because there wasn’t any school in their village. And so naturally his fear of being deported grew daily. Then in eighth grade, it happened. The first chapter in Breaking Through by Francisco Jimenez is about how the family comes to the United States, is forced to return to Mexico, but then re-enters legally with visas. The rest of this autobiographical book, told from the viewpoint of Francisco, is about how the Jimenez adjust to their American life.

What stood out most to me about Breaking Through is how eagerly Francisco tries to learn the ways of his new country. To fit in with his peers, he pays attention to what his peers talk about and do. This leads him to take an interest in music and dances. Many of the songs such as Rock Around the Clock and Venus in Blue Jeans he doesn’t initially understand: “I tried to make sense of them and picture them in my mind. Why would a rock circle a clock? Why would the planet Venus dress in jeans?” He convinces his brother for the two of them to teach each other to dance, because this will help them meet new girls and make new friends. When invited out to a restaurant, he watches for social cues on how to behave. For example, this is how he learns the proper place for a napkin is not on table or floor but on one’s lap. Not everything is about being socially accepted; Francisco also tries to excel in school. When he finds an old Doctor Doolittle book in the dump, he reads a few pages every night to help him learn English. He also watches movies to improve his English. Typing is one of the classes he needs to take to get into college. When he finds an old one, he types every night to improve his accuracy and speed. Last, he copies notes from school onto cards that he studies while on the job.

Breaking Through is largely about being poor. The Jimenez family first moves to the United States from Mexico to escape a life of poverty. For a long time, it seems as if those dreams aren’t going to be fruitful. The father and the children work in the fields, sometimes even during school hours. Despite their multiple jobs, the family isn’t regularly able to pay their rent on time or even put food on the table. Countless times, the family has to find things they need such as sneakers for gym class by rummaging through garbage. This leads to Francisco’s father feeling depressed and to some of the family arguments. Just like Finding Paris is partly a picture of being part of foster care, so Breaking Through is partly a picture of being caught in poverty.

Yet Breaking Through is also about being Mexican. There are references to Mexican foods, music, and heroes. Sadly, there are also run-ins with prejudice. When Francisco’s mom rubs garlic on him to cure him of ringworm, Francisco is called “stinky Mexican”. The two eldest boys have their hearts broken, when girls break up with them after finding out that the Jimenez family is from Mexico. Last, some employers even advise them, “Don’t tell people you’re American. You could easily pass for Americans.”

Happily, in the midst of their struggles are many supportive adults. When Francisco informs his school counselor that he wants to be a teacher, Mr. Kinkade tells him that he’ll need to go college and that this will be expensive but that there are scholarships available. He also looks at Francisco’s schedule and makes substitutions of classes more suitable for college. Later, Francisco’s English teacher also tries to help by writing comments on his papers about how to improve. She encourages him to read for fun to improve his English, but there is no time for newspapers or books. Yet when she gives him Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck to read, Francisco is finally able to identify with a novel. The last example I’ll give you is from an assembly. After reading about how valiantly Francisco tried to become American, I wondered if he would ever have a chance to share from his Mexican culture. One day in assembly he does.

Other than a Scholastic interview, I found little information about Francisco Jimenez. In that interview, he shares how he wrote Breaking Through. Besides relying on memory, he interviewed family members and looked through family photographs and documents, obtained his junior high and high school records, and visited some of the places where the family lived in migrant-labor camps.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

 

“Most of the characters in Breaking Through are … members of my family. All of them appreciated my writing their story because they felt that their story was the story of many, many families who experienced the migrant way of life and many families who are experiencing that same life today.”–Francisco Jimenez, Scholastic Interview

From the time he was four until he was fourteen-years-old, Francisco Jimenez lived in constant fear. It all started in 1940, when his parents moved the family from Mexico to California, with the hope of leaving their life of poverty behind. At the border, the family dug a hole underneath the wire wall and thereby illegally entered the United States. Although Francisco’s father always hoped to return to Mexico, Francisco liked getting an education. If the family returned, he’d lose this because there wasn’t any school in their village. And so naturally his fear of being deported grew daily. Then in eighth grade, it happened. The first chapter in Breaking Through by Francisco Jimenez is about how the family comes to the United States, is forced to return to Mexico, but then re-enters legally with visas. The rest of this autobiographical book, told from the viewpoint of Francisco, is about how the Jimenez adjust to their American life.

What stood out most to me about Breaking Through is how eagerly Francisco tries to learn the ways of his new country. To fit in with his peers, he pays attention to what his peers talk about and do. This leads him to take an interest in music and dances. Many of the songs such as Rock Around the Clock and Venus in Blue Jeans he doesn’t initially understand: “I tried to make sense of them and picture them in my mind. Why would a rock circle a clock? Why would the planet Venus dress in jeans?” He convinces his brother for the two of them to teach each other to dance, because this will help them meet new girls and make new friends. When invited out to a restaurant, he watches for social cues on how to behave. For example, this is how he learns the proper place for a napkin is not on table or floor but on one’s lap. Not everything is about being socially accepted; Francisco also tries to excel in school. When he finds an old Doctor Doolittle book in the dump, he reads a few pages every night to help him learn English. He also watches movies to improve his English. Typing is one of the classes he needs to take to get into college. When he finds an old one, he types every night to improve his accuracy and speed. Last, he copies notes from school onto cards that he studies while on the job.

Breaking Through is largely about being poor. The Jimenez family first moves to the United States from Mexico to escape a life of poverty. For a long time, it seems as if those dreams aren’t going to be fruitful. The father and the children work in the fields, sometimes even during school hours. Despite their multiple jobs, the family isn’t regularly able to pay their rent on time or even put food on the table. Countless times, the family has to find things they need such as sneakers for gym class by rummaging through garbage. This leads to Francisco’s father feeling depressed and to some of the family arguments. Just like Finding Paris is partly a picture of being part of foster care, so Breaking Through is partly a picture of being caught in poverty.

Yet Breaking Through is also about being Mexican. There are references to Mexican foods, music, and heroes. Sadly, there are also run-ins with prejudice. When Francisco’s mom rubs garlic on him to cure him of ringworm, Francisco is called “stinky Mexican”. The two eldest boys have their hearts broken, when girls break up with them after finding out that the Jimenez family is from Mexico. Last, some employers even advise them, “Don’t tell people you’re American. You could easily pass for Americans.”

Happily, in the midst of their struggles are many supportive adults. When Francisco informs his school counselor that he wants to be a teacher, Mr. Kinkade tells him that he’ll need to go college and that this will be expensive but that there are scholarships available. He also looks at Francisco’s schedule and makes substitutions of classes more suitable for college. Later, Francisco’s English teacher also tries to help by writing comments on his papers about how to improve. She encourages him to read for fun to improve his English, but there is no time for newspapers or books. Yet when she gives him Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck to read, Francisco is finally able to identify with a novel. The last example I’ll give you is from an assembly. After reading about how valiantly Francisco tried to become American, I wondered if he would ever have a chance to share from his Mexican culture. One day in assembly he does.

Other than a Scholastic interview, I found little information about Francisco Jimenez. In that interview, he shares how he wrote Breaking Through. Besides relying on memory, he interviewed family members and looked through family photographs and documents, obtained his junior high and high school records, and visited some of the places where the family lived in migrant-labor camps.


Allisons' Book Bag Logo

Thank You!

Allison’s Book Bag will no longer be updated. Thank you for eight years!

You can continue to follow me at:

Categories

Archives

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 125 other followers