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Teaching Multicultural Literature : A Workshop for the Middle Grades
Workshop 1 Workshop 2 Workshop 3 Workshop 4 Workshop 5 Workshop 6 Workshop 7 Workshop 8
Workshop 8: Social Justice and Action - Joseph Bruchac and Francisco Jimenez
Overview
Authors and Literary Works
Joseph Bruchac
Biography
Work
Interview
Francisco Jimenèz
Biography
Work
Interview
LeAlan Jones/ Lloyd Newman
Biography
Work
Key References
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Commentary
Student Work
Resources
Interactive Workbook -- Explore two poems using strategies from these workshops. Go.
Channel-Talk -- Share your views on the discussion board. Go.


Authors and Literary Works
Talking with Francisco Jiménez

In your writing, how much have you drawn on your own experiences?

Everything I write is autobiographical. I've written four books that deal with my experiences in the migrant setting. The first one is The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child, where I describe the first nine years of my family living in California, moving from place to place following seasonal crops. The collection begins with the story "Under the Wire," in which I describe the hopes and dreams that my family had when we first left Mexico and crossed the border to California, hoping to leave our life of poverty behind. Once we crossed the border, we ended up in Santa Maria, California, in a migrant labor camp, a tent camp, and that's where we began our migrant life.

What made you decide to write The Circuit?

I feel that for the most part these individuals have been invisible, so I wanted to make sure that their voices would be heard. These are people who work very, very hard, from sunup to sundown, and are all part of the American experience. The migrant experience -- working in the fields and harvesting the crops -- contributed to the richness of our diversity, and so, therefore, that experience is part of who I am as an American, and the history of who we are as a nation.

How did you prepare to write The Circuit?

I looked through family documents. We had report cards that I had from grade school. I was able to find some old photographs from that period. I also found Mexican music that we used to listen to in the car when I was a child. The music helped to take me back in time. There were some songs, for example, that my father loved to listen to. He would get tears in his eyes, because it would take him back to his homeland. And as I listened to the same songs, I could see my father's face. And that was very helpful for me.

I visited some of the places where we lived in the migrant camps. Many of the camps no longer existed, but I went to other camps that were very similar, which helped me to recall the past. Once I had gathered all this research, I decided to focus on particular memorable experiences that I felt had made a difference in my life -- that helped shape who I am.

Talk about a few of these experiences.

In the story "Inside Out," I talk about my first experience in school, which was very traumatic, simply because I couldn't speak English and I couldn't understand what the teacher was saying, so I couldn't communicate with her. I had to repeat first grade because I didn't know English well enough. That experience was very important to me and it shaped a lot of my own beliefs about teaching and education, because I don't want any child to go through that experience I went through.

Back then we were not allowed to speak a language other than English in the school setting. Not being able to express myself through language, and especially my own language, really hurt me. It scarred me, and gave me a lack of self-confidence. I felt that because my language was not valued, I myself was not valued. To this day, even when I give public presentations in English, I still have that uneasiness because of the traumatic experience I had -- many, many years ago -- when I was in the first grade. That's why I think it's so important for all of us, as teachers, to value the child's native language. Whether we're teaching the elementary or the middle school or high school, we must value the students' native languages and their cultural backgrounds while we teach them to learn English and other languages. It's very important to value every child and the gift that child brings to our school system.

Describe "Moving On," the last story in The Circuit.

It was a tragic experience for our family, and a very significant period in my life. Historically, in 1954, this country was suffering an economic crisis. To give a little background, the federal government had created a program to give the border patrol more resources to deport people who were here without documentation. The program went from 1954 to 1959, I believe. They called it Operation Wetback, because the people got wet crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico to the United States. So that was the official title given to this effort: Operation Wetback.

We were caught by the border patrol in 1957-58. I was in the eighth grade and I was ready to recite the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence, which we had to memorize for our eighth-grade class. I still remember it: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." And it was right before I was to recite it to my teacher. At that moment, I heard a knock on the door, and my eighth-grade teacher opened the door, and in walked the principal and the border patrol officer. He asked where Francisco Jiménez was. So my worst nightmare -- of being caught by the border patrol, and being deported back to Mexico -- was becoming a reality.

Why did you use a child's voice in The Circuit?

I wanted readers to hear the child's voice, to feel through his heart, and to see life through his eyes. I think that The Circuit is popular with students in junior high school because the character in the work is more or less their age, at least in the last story. And I purposely wrote the stories from the child's point of view. The child narrates or describes the experiences, but of course they're my experiences.


To what extent is The Circuit an accurate account of your experiences?

After I did the research, I decided to select those memorable experiences that made a difference in my life, and to create a story around each experience. Obviously I could not remember some of the details about each. For example, I include dialogue in some of the stories. I couldn't remember the exact words that were said, so in those cases I invented dialogue to capture the essence and reality of the experiences. In many cases I couldn't remember other details. So there is some creativity, invention, imagination that goes into writing, and that went into writing these stories. If I were to give a percentage, I would say 80 percent of it is based on reality and the rest is imagination and creativity on my part.

What were you trying to convey about the migrant experience in the novel Breaking Through?

The title Breaking Through refers to breaking through various obstacles that I encountered in my life. In Breaking Through I describe how I experienced discrimination and I ask, How does one break through being discriminated against because of one's color or one's language or one's looks? Another theme that comes through, I think, in The Circuit and Breaking Through is how I attempted to acquire an education while coping with poverty, and trying to reconcile my Mexican heritage with my new American heritage -- sometimes taking the best from one and the best from the other and blending the two, and sometimes rejecting part of one or the other. It's about navigating one's self through life, experiencing love and neglect, fairness and unfairness, prejudice. How do we break through? How do we sustain ourselves as we go through these life experiences that are not very positive?

As for discrimination, well, I was brought up in a family that believed that we were all the same in the eyes of our creator. My father used to say, "It doesn't matter whether you work in the fields like I do or you're president of this country, we're both human beings and we should be respected for who we are." Even though I was hurt when people called me "you wetback," or "you chili stomper," I would listen to my father.

What sustained my being able to break through was my family's love and their insistence on hard work, respect, and faith, and hope that no matter how difficult life was, if we worked very hard and applied ourselves, we would break through. And so I took those values that I learned from my family and applied them to my education. The value of hard work, and not to give up, to have hope, to have faith, and that's helped me tremendously.

back to top Next: LeAlan Jones/ Lloyd Newman: Biography
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