Santa Clara University Professor Emeritus Francisco Jiménez is nationally acclaimed for his award-winning memoirs. He wrote about his life as a child of Mexican immigrants struggling to survive and raise their family by harvesting seasonal crops in California.
Breaking Through, the second of Jiménez’s memoirs, came to life on stage for about 5,000 Bay Area children from more than 27 schools throughout March. The dramatization of his teenage years was taken on the road to some schools.
Children were bused from other schools to Santa Clara University (SCU), where they also toured the campus. About 360 children viewed the last performance of the 50-minute play at the Louis B. Mayer Theatre.
Breaking Through, adapted for stage by Leo Cortez, was brought to life by four professional actors. They portrayed 19 characters, making split-second costume changes.
The elementary through high school children laughed, applauded, gasped in shock, and exclaimed as the events of Jiménez’s life unfolded.
At least one child cried.
“I cried for 45 minutes — to see the story of my father’s life acted out and come to life and watch the kids’ reactions,” said Tomás Jiménez, one of Francisco Jiménez’s three adult sons.
“The stories were part of our dinner table conversation growing up,” said Tomás Jiménez, a Stanford University associate professor of sociology.
The children at SCU watched the stage drama as young Francisco and his family were deported from California to Mexico and then returned. They watched as Francisco fought to stay in school rather than work in the fields and as his family faced prejudice.
They were inspired as Jiménez achieved the seemingly impossible dream of attending college. He received a scholarship enabling him to attend Santa Clara University.
A Shared Story
Fifth and sixth grade students from Cadwallader Elementary School in San Jose read the memoir Breaking Through in advance. For some, Jiménez’s story was their story.
“I’m inspired to be a better person. I came from the Philippines, and I can really relate to it,” said Gabrielle.
“It’s so inspirational, everything the family has been through. I’ve always wanted to be like Francisco and learn and have a good life,” said Lela. “My dad is from South Africa and my mom is from the Azores.”
“The whole story is very relatable for many people. For me, because I come from Argentina, and it was very hard,” said Tiziana.
“It’s inspiring to see how Francisco worked hard over the years,” said Ania. “He never gave up.”
The Jiménez Family Reflects
Francisco Jiménez was also in the audience at the Louis B. Mayer Theatre. Tomás Jiménez stood back as children clustered around his dad before and after the performance.
“My dad says he’s not writing to tell his story. He’s writing to tell the story of a lot of people in the U.S.,” said Tomás Jiménez. “I’m very proud of my dad. It’s special to see his enormous success, to see him get to enjoy the fruits of his labor.”
“I feel honored. It’s nice the children get to see part of their culture on stage,” said Francisco Jiménez. “It gives them a sense of self-worth and pride. Also, it affirms their families’ valuable experiences as farm workers who contribute greatly to the economy our nation.
“It gives children the opportunity to become more appreciative and compassionate of our country’s cultural and ethnic diversity.”
Arts for Social Justice
Breaking Through, the play, was sponsored by SCU Presents. It was part of the Arts for Social Justice initiative to address social issues through art.
It is the second in the “The Trilogy” of Jiménez’s memoirs to be adapted for stage and presented free to schools, including Don Callejon Elementary School in Santa Clara and Peterson Middle School in Sunnyvale. The Circuit was presented in 2018. A third play is planned for 2020.
“Immigration is the most divisive issue in our nation,” said Butch Coyne, director of SCU Presents. “This is why we’re doing this show. It humanizes the situation.”