“Not since Tomás Rivera’s . . . .and the earth did not part has a book expressed so well the experiences of the migrant campesinos as Francisco Jimenez has done in The Circuit. Its contents are representative of the best in the field of Chicano short story.” ~Luis Leal
The Circuit is a series of independent but intertwined short stories that brings the reader into the life of a young Francisco Jiménez, or Panchito as he was known as a child. Each autobiographical chapter can stand on its own, but when read in its entirety, it tells the story of Jimenez’ childhood growing up in a family of migrant farm workers. While this may be a slightly different style of novel than many students are used to, it’s actually quite reader friendly. Jiménez’s writing style is simple and clear—but not simplistic. He manages to capture the tone of a young boy, engaging both young and old readers alike. He expresses the emotions of Panchito in a way that a child could understand and relate to, but that also deeply move the adult reader.
Rudolfo Anaya describes The Circuit in the following manner: “This is truly a telling of the American Dream, a family who works hard under the worst of circumstances, and whose work is never recognized. . . .The family’s odyssey is heartrending, but it is the truth, and it’s skillfully told by someone who’s been there.” Too often our classroom discussions of the American Dream gloss over or ignore stories like that of the Jiménez family. At the beginning of the book, Jiménez writes, “. . .Papá’s eyes sparkled whenever he talked about it with Mama and his friends. ‘Once we cross la frontera, we’ll make a good living in California,’ he would say, standing up straight and sticking out his chest” (p. 1). Unfortunately, our discussions of the possibilities of the American Dream, or even more recent conversations around immigration, stop there. They don’t consider the rest of the story—what it was actually like for the Jiménez family, moving constantly, living in tents or run down shacks, barely making enough money to survive. It’s easy to see why we might ignore this part of the story—it flies in the face of what we would like to believe is possible with hard work and commitment, it discredits our American Dream. Yet, if we want to present the truth to our students, we have to expose them to stories like that of Francisco Jiménez. Not only because it may teach them a part of our country’s history they’re not familiar with, but it may also legitimize a part of history that some of our students are all too familiar with because it represents their own family’s story. Pat Mora explains it best: “May Francisco Jiménez’s stories trouble our individual and collective conscience, insisting that we confront the gap between historical rhetoric and the lives of migrant children in this land.”
Jiménez’s novel is an engaging and valuable one for adults and children alike. Published in 1997, teachers have been using it in classrooms with great success for over a decade now. As an awarding winning book that is readily available in English and Spanish, it’s an incredible classroom resource. There are numerous free teacher’s guides and supplementary materials available online to aid teachers in implementing The Circuit in elementary, middle and high school classrooms (I highlight a number of them at the beginning of our own Educator’s Guide).
The Circuit is the first of three novels that tells the story of Jiménez’s journey all the way through high school and college. I should warn you though, The Circuit ends on a cliffhanger, so you may want to have the second book ready and waiting when you reach the end—both for you and your students. Be sure to check out Ailesha’s post on the other two books in the series: Breaking Through, and Reaching Out.
I hope you are as moved by this book as I was. If you use it in your own classroom, I’d love to hear about it and I’m sure our other teachers would too!