Part 4 – His words to you: quotes from Francisco Jimenez

Sandy Kaser, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona

In my university classes, I sometimes use a strategy called “text rendering,” in which we read aloud a passage from a text or article that we found to be particularly meaningful. Although it is all right to discuss the passages, I personally prefer simply to hear the words and let them stand. I invite you now to hear the words of Francisco Jimenez taken from some of the multiple sources I reviewed in which he speaks in a public forum.

So these are his words to you.

The following quotes were taken from a movie transcript and can be found on www.teachingbooks.net.


    There’s no doubt in my mind that if I hadn’t had certain teachers, I am absolutely sure that I wouldn’t have made it. I wouldn’t have been able to break through the circuit, basically. So for that reason I wrote the book Breaking Through as a tribute to my teachers.
    My older brother said, “You know, there’s a lot of personal stuff in there, are you sure you want to publish it?” And I said, “Well, you know, I don’t think about these stories as only our family’s stories. They’re the stories of many families.” And he saw that was the right thing to do.
    From very early on, I was motivated and wanted to go to school. Whatever I learned in school, it was mine to have and to hold. And it didn’t matter how many times we moved – that knowledge, that learning – would go with me. Learning, education became the stability I was looking for.
    It’s important for us to appreciate and to value all the different cultures that make up our society. I think of what we study in school or the curriculum is like a mirror. If we look in the mirror and we don’t see ourselves, then we become invisible. What does that do for our own self-concept and our sense of time and place? My hope is that my books, in some way, contribute to the curriculum so that children and young adults, who traditionally have not been able to see themselves reflected in that mirror, can see themselves now reflected.

The following words are excerpts from “Challenges Give Meaning to Our Lives: Francisco Jimenez and Social Justice” by Susan Carlile and published in the ALAN Review, Fall 2004.


    Many readers relate to the struggle of trying to reconcile two cultures, a native culture and a new American one. I tried to blend the two as I was growing up, taking the best from each.
    It’s a matter of respect. They (his parents) gave me life and they taught me very important lessons. My father used to say that every person must be respected.
    I strongly believe that education is the best means for people to progress in life. It gives people many, many choices for the kind of life they want to live, and the kind of lifestyle they want to have. But more importantly I think – and it’s a cliché, but it’s true – a well-educated society maintains a rich democracy. When our society is not well educated, democracy suffers. The other reason that I strongly support public education is that it is the best means for people who come from poor economic background to escape poverty. The obstacles are greater, but at least the opportunities are there. Education helps to level the playing field.
    I think overall cultural and human understanding between the United States and Mexico has improved. In the recent years, I have felt discouraged; but overall I think it has improved, especially in education. I think teachers are better prepared than they were many, many years ago to appreciate and be sensitive to cultural differences. I think our society as a whole is much more receptive to cultural and linguistic differences than they were man years ago. My hope, and my whole focus, is to try to promote that acceptance and appreciation. It’s always been a struggle, but the struggle is worth it. Rather than being discouraged completely and giving up, we should meet those challenges with hope and courage. Those are the challenges that give meaning to our lives.
    Being in the classroom gives me energy. It’s wonderful to be helping young people develop their talents and to see them getting engaged and wrestling with the subject matter. That’s very exciting to me. I strongly believe that I learn from them. They have different experiences that they bring to discussions that profoundly enrich me as a teacher. Students have responded positively to our journey together. I tell them how blessed I feel to be a teacher and to have the privilege of learning from them and helping them to learn.
    Some writers will say that they don’t have any political agenda. They say that they write simply because they need to write. I admire that. But that’s not why I write. I write purposefully and I have in mind why writing is important to me. It’s the same reason that I enjoy teaching. My hope is that through my teaching, writing, and my public speaking, I can serve as a bridge for cultural understanding. I am not motivated to do “esoteric” scholarship even though I value it. I’d rather do scholarship or writing that might make a difference in our society.

The following words of Francisco Jimenez are excerpts from an interview for Scholastic. The entire interview is available at www.scholastic.com.

    I started writing when I was a sophomore in high school. My English teacher assigned essays that were based on personal experiences. I began to write about the experiences I had as a child growing up in a family of Mexican migrant workers. Mrs. Bell read the essays and felt that I had writing talent, even though I had difficulty with the English language. Her words were very encouraging. She had me read The Grapes of Wrath, and although the novel was difficult to read, I could not put it down because I could relate to what I was reading. For the first time I realized the power of language to move hearts and minds.
    From the start I decided to relate stories from the point of view of the child. In writing the stories, I could hear the child’s voice; I could see through his eyes and feel through his heart.
    I originally wrote “The Circuit” (as a short story) in Spanish, and then translated it into English and gave it the title “The Circuit”. It received the prize for the best short story published in the Arizona Quarterly. Many years later in 1995, when I had time to write again during my sabbatical, I decided to write the other 11 stories in the collection following the same format.
    In my first story I describe the experience of crossing the border from Mexico into California, hoping to leave a life of poverty behind, starting a new and better life. We crossed the border without documentation (illegally). We did not have the financial means to obtain the permit or the visa. The last story in the collection, entitled ‘Moving Still’ deals with our experience of being deported back to Mexico.
    My favorite books growing up were biographies. I enjoyed reading about the lives of famous people like Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson.
    My advice is that even though English is a difficult language to learn, with hard work and with the help of teachers, they will be able to learn the language. My advice is that as they work hard to learn English, they do not forget their own native language because it’s an asset to be bilingual.
    I put a lot of thought into my writing. I generally do nine drafts of every story I write. After I do the research, I do a lot of reflection. I reflect on those memories and recollections from my childhood, and I look at them from an adult point of view. In the process I make a series of discoveries – discoveries about myself, my family, my place in society and my own community, and I gain a deeper sense of purpose in meaning in terms of my role as a teacher and as a servant to my students.
    I think it is important to realize that there are many people who have never had the opportunity to read or write and who are very intelligent. I wrote The Circuit and Breaking Through to chronicle part of my family’s history, but more importantly to voice the experiences of an important sector of our society that has been largely ignored. Through my writing I hope to give readers an insight into the lives of migrant farm worker families and their children, whose back breaking labor puts food on our tables, their courage, struggles, hopes and dreams for a better life for their children and children’s children give meaning to the term “The American Dream.” Their story is the American story.

Sandy

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