Award-winning Mexican American author and educator Francisco Jimenez spoke to the hearts of the more than 400 immigrant students who attended his March 3 talks at Mission College. “Taking Hold: From Migrant Childhood to Columbia University,” the most recent of his four memoirs, was the focus of his presentation.
An introduction from Mission College student Lariza Benavides, who had read one of Jimenez’s earlier memoirs for a class, set the stage.
“Reading literature that we immediately relate to helps us know that our dreams are possible. I thank Francisco Jimenez for this inspiring work because it has inspired me to keep moving forward in my education,” she said.
A Santa Clara University professor emeritus from humble beginnings in Tlaquepaque, Mexico, Jimenez immediately established rapport, pointing out his shared immigrant background to students and even admitting to being nervous.
“I want to tell you how privileged I feel to have so many of you attending this presentation. I know that many of you are struggling to make way in your education…. But your struggles and your not giving up, give us all hope for a better future,” he said.
“Most of us are immigrants or descendants of immigrants…,” continued Jimenez. “And if you think about why your parents or great grandparents came to this country, I suspect that the answer would be the same. They came here looking for a better life for their children.”
“So all of us owe our ancestors a tremendous amount of debt for the sacrifices they made and the struggles they went through in order for you and for me to have a better education and a better life.”
Jimenez described his first three memoirs, which set the context for “Taking Hold.” In “The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child,” he recounted that his family entered the U.S. illegally and worked in the California fields, following seasonal crops and living in tent cities.
“Breaking Through” is about Jimenez’s high school years, when he struggled to keep up with classes while working as a janitor 30 – 35 hours a week. He further struggled to bring his Mexican culture into the American world and the American culture into his Mexican world.
“Reaching Out” recounts his undergraduate experiences at Santa Clara University, where, although torn between academic responsibility and a sense of duty to his family, he persevered and earned a B.A. degree. Marching to Sacramento with Cesar Chavez in 1966 to boycott grapes focused his life on social justice.
Jimenez then read selections from “Taking Hold,” his 2015 memoir about attending graduate school at Columbia University in New York City, where he received M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Latin American literature.
In concluding his talk, Jimenez told why he writes and encouraged others to tell their own diverse stories, calling multi-cultural literacy “a part of the mandate for a learned society.”
“Our task as teachers, scholars and writers is to recover, analyze and transmit stories by and about the different ethnic groups that make up our diverse society. We must break through and expand the common culture through texts reflecting our culturally diverse society,” said Jimenez.
“The importance of multi-cultural literacy to a large degree inspires my writing. I wrote…to document part of my family’s history but, more importantly, to voice the experiences of Mexican immigrants, some of whom are migrant farm workers, whose courage, struggles and hopes and dreams for a better life for their children and their children’s children, give meaning to the term ‘the American dream.’ Their story is an important and integral part of the American story. It is your story.”
And through sharing stories, Jimenez concluded, “We make connections, we break down walls that separate us, we become enriched and, consequently, we take comfort and rejoice in our shared humanity.”