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Teaching Multicultural Literature : A Workshop for the Middle Grades
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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
Biography

Francisco Jiménez was born in 1943 in San Pedro, Tlaquepaque, Mexico, the second of two children in a family that would later number nine. Currently a professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at Santa Clara University, Jiménez is author of The Circuit and Breaking Through, notable fictionalized memoirs about migrant worker life as seen through the eyes of a boy.

Francisco was four years old when his family first migrated without papers to the San Joaquin Valley of California, hoping to leave behind forever their life of poverty. Instead of the good life they sought, the Jiménez family found years of backbreaking work as migrant workers -- living in tent camps, moving constantly to follow the harvest, and always trying to avoid "La Migra," the immigration authorities.

Young Francisco went to work in the fields at age six. Even though his schooling was sporadic because of the constant moves, he came to realize early that education would be his salvation. But the obstacles were formidable. In schools where only English was spoken, Jiménez remembers, "My first experience in school was very traumatic simply because I couldn't speak, and I couldn't communicate with the teacher, and I couldn't understand what she was saying... It scarred me for life." He failed the first grade, but Jiménez persisted, eventually becoming student body president of his high school and graduating with a 3.7 grade point average. Along the way there were many tough times, including the deportation of the entire family back to Mexico when they were finally discovered. A border patrol officer came to Jiménez's eighth-grade class and took him away. But the family was fortunate to find a way back, this time on a legal footing, when a Japanese sharecropper they had worked with agreed to sponsor them.

A literary epiphany came to Jiménez when he was a sophomore in high school. His English teacher thought he might like to read John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, after she was struck by an autobiographical assignment he turned in. "For the first time I was able to relate my life to something I was reading," recalls Jiménez. "The story of my family as migrant workers was part of the American story, just like the Joad family."

The initial encounter with English-only classrooms and the connection with The Grapes of Wrath gave direction to much of Jiménez's later academic and professional career. With scholarships and loans, he was able to go to Santa Clara University, where he majored in Spanish. He went on to receive master's and doctoral degrees in Latin American literature from Columbia University, under a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. After teaching at Columbia briefly, Jiménez returned to Santa Clara University, where he became the Fay Boyle Professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures and Director of the Ethnic Studies Program.

In 1997, his fictionalized memoir, The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child, was published. "I wanted to chronicle part of my family's own history," says Jiménez, "but more important, to document the migrant experience of many, many families from the past and the present whose hard work helps to develop the economic power of our nation." The Riverbank Review commented, "Jiménez has taken us inside a way of life, in all its sweetness and all its sorrow. It is a valuable book for young people, both for its artistic values and for the issues it illuminates." Author Rudolfo Anaya called the stories "so realistic they choke the heart."

The Circuit parallels the Jiménez family's odyssey from the hopeful time when they first crossed into America through their ignominious deportation back to Mexico. A sequel, Breaking Through, picks up the autobiographical story and follows the immigrant boy's high school years. Smithsonian observed that Jiménez's "page-turning narrative, devoid of sentimentality, is a substantial contribution to the literature of the memoir."

His books have received many honors. They have won the Americas Award, been Booklist Editors' Choice books, and been noted as a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age. The Circuit also won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction, was named the American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults, and received a Jane Addams Honor Book Award, in addition to several other awards. Breaking Through was named both a Smithsonian Notable Book for Children and Young Adults and one of the Notable Books for a Global Society. It also received the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Book Award and the William Allen White Children's and Young Adult Book Award, among others, and was chosen as a Silicon Valley Reads: One Book, One Community Reading Program book.


Anchoring Jiménez's significant academic and professional life is his position as the Fay Boyle Professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures and Director of the Ethnic Studies Program at Santa Clara University. He was chosen as U.S. Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education). He has served on various professional boards and commissions, including the California Council for the Humanities, Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities (WASC), the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the Santa Clara University Board of Trustees, and the Far West Lab for Educational Research and Development.

As a member of a Delegate Assembly and of the Executive Committee on Chicano Literature of the Modern Language Association, Jiménez advocated the inclusion of Chicano literature as part of American literature. "Since then, many departments of English in the country now consider Chicano literature as part of American literature," says Jiménez, "and it's taught in the English departments just as African American literature, Asian American literature, and other ethnic literatures are taught in the English departments."

Francisco Jiménez has also written children's books. La Mariposa (published in both English and Spanish editions) won a Parent's Choice Recommended Award, made the Americas Commended List, and was a Smithsonian Notable Book for Children. The Christmas Gift/El Regalo de Navidad, an illustrated bilingual book for children, received a starred review in Publisher's Weekly, was selected as a Notable Children's Book by the American Library Association, was included on the Americas Commended List, and received the Cuffie Award from Publisher's Weekly for "Best Treatment of a Social Issue."

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