At Hood River Reads finale: The journey

Cardboard boxes were a constant in Francisco Jiménez’s childhood. The author of this year’s book selection for Hood River County Reads, “The Circuit,” told a large audience Monday evening that the boxes represented the fragile and unstable life of a migrant family.

“I yearned for stability,” Jiménez said. “And where I found this sense of stability was in education. Whatever I learned in school, no matter where I was that knowledge would go with me.”

The stability Jiménez found in education took him from a first grader who didn’t know a word of English to a graduate of Santa Clara University who went on to study at Harvard and earn a master’s degree and Ph.D. from Columbia University.

Today he is chairman of the Modern Languages and Literatures Department at Santa Clara University and director of the Division of Arts and Humanities there.

The road between the two was full of joy and sadness, triumph and defeat, justice and injustice, prejudice and fairness, he said.

“Teachers and my family’s love and instance on hard work, faith and respect sustained me and guided me along my journey,” Jiménez said.

His story is the story of many immigrant people from the past and the present, he said. Consequently it has been translated into many other languages including Japanese, Chinese and Italian.

“We live in a world where people are being displaced,” he said. “Either because of war, or basically because of poverty; and they’re moving from their country to other countries, looking for a better life.

And not all of those people are from other countries. Jiménez was greatly affected by Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” when he learned that the book’s Joad family had much the same experience as he when they moved to California during the Dust Bowl years in Oklahoma. Though American, as “Okies” they were subject to the same prejudices as his family had been.

The story also gave him the first idea that perhaps he could write his own story. Later, with encouragement from his peers, he eventually did.

“The greatest challenge in writing ‘The Circuit’ was to relate my experiences from the point of view of a child; to make it accessible to both children and adults,” Jiménez said. “I wanted teachers and readers to hear the child’s voice, see through his eyes and feel through his heart.”

Monday’s event capped the Hood River County Reads project. Those who haven’t read “The Circuit” or its sequels, “Breaking Through” and “Reaching Out,” may still check them out at the library.

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