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Authors: Francisco Jiménez

Breaking Through


Table of Contents

Title Page

Table of Contents





Forced Out

Home Alone

Stepping Out

Together Again

Back to the Fields

Saint Christopher Medal

Summer Skirmishes

Becoming a Saint

If the Shoe Fits

A Promotion

A Typing Machine

Making Connections

Broken Heart

Behind the Wheel

Turning a Page

Los Santitos

Choosing Sides

Junior Scandals

Running for Office

A New Life

A Test of Faith

A Fumble

A Breakthrough

Graduation Day

Still Moving

A Note from the Author

To my family

© 2001 by Francisco Jiménez

All rights reserved. For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.

The text of this book is set in 11-point Goudy.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Jiménez, Francisco, 1943–
Breaking through / Francisco Jiménez.
p. cm.
Sequel to: The circuit.
Summary: Having come from Mexico to California ten years ago, fourteen-year-old Francisco is still working in the fields but fighting to improve his life and complete his education.
0-618-01173-0 (English hardcover)
0-618-34248-6 (English paperback)
1. Mexican Americans—Juvenile literature. [1. Mexican Americans—Biography. 2. Agricultural laborers—literature. 3. California—literature.] I. Title.
57525 Br 2001 [Fic]—dc21 2001016941

Manufactured in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


I would like to thank my brother, Roberto, and my mother, Joaquina, for providing me with a wealth of personal stories, some of which I have incorporated in this book. Special thanks to my immediate family—Laura, Pancho, Lori, Carlo Vicente, Miguel, and Tomás—for patiently listening to various drafts and offering helpful comments.

I wish to thank the community of my childhood, whose courage, tenacity, faith, and hope in the midst of adversity have been a constant inspiration to me in my writing and in my personal and professional life.

I have lasting gratitude to my teachers, whose guidance and faith in my ability helped me break through many barriers.

Thanks to many students, colleagues, and friends, especially Fr. Paul Locatelli, S.J., Fr. Stephen Privett, S.J.,
Peter Facione, Don Dodson, Alma García, Susan Erickson, and Alan Bern, for encouraging me to continue writing.

I am thankful to Santa Clara University for giving me the time to write this book and for valuing my work.

Finally, I am also indebted to my editor, Ann Rider, for her valuable suggestions for improvement and her gentle encouragement to write from the heart.

There is at bottom only one problem in the world...
How does one break through?
How does one get into the open?
How does one burst the cocoon and become a butterfly?

—Thomas Mann,
Dr. Faustus

Forced Out

I lived in constant fear for ten long years, from the time I was four until I was fourteen years old.

It all started back in the late 1940s when Papá, Mamá, my older brother, Roberto, and I left El Rancho Blanco, a small village nestled on barren, dry hills several miles north of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, and headed to California, hoping to leave our life of poverty behind. I remember how excited I was making the trip on a second-class train traveling north from Guadalajara to Mexicali. We traveled for two days and nights. When we arrived at the United States–Mexico border, Papá told us that we had to cross the barbed-wire fence without being seen by
la migra,
the immigration officers dressed in green uniforms. During the night we dug a hole underneath the wire wall and wiggled like snakes under it to the other side. "If anyone asks you where you were born," Papá said
firmly, "tell them Colton, California. If
la migra
catches you, they'll send you back to Mexico." We were picked up by a woman whom Papá had contacted in Mexicali. She drove us, for a fee, to a tent labor camp on the outskirts of Guadalupe, a small town on the coast. From that day on, for the next ten years, while we traveled from place to place throughout California, following the crops and living in migrant labor camps, I feared being caught by the Border Patrol.

As I got older, my fear of being deported grew. I did not want to return to Mexico because I liked going to school, even though it was difficult for me, especially English class. I enjoyed learning, and I knew there was no school in El Rancho Blanco. Every year Roberto and I missed months of school to help Papá and Mamá work in the fields. We struggled to make ends meet, especially during the winter, when work was scarce. Things got worse when Papá began to have back problems and had trouble picking crops. Luckily, in the winter of 1957, Roberto found a part-time job working year-round as a janitor at Main Street Elementary School in Santa Maria, California.

We settled in Bonetti Ranch, where we had lived in army barracks off and on for the past few years. My brother's job and mine—thinning lettuce and picking carrots after school and on weekends—helped support our family. I was excited because we had finally settled in
one place. We no longer had to move to Fresno at the end of every summer and miss school for two and a half months to pick grapes and cotton and live in army tents or old garages.

But what I feared most happened that same year. I was in my eighth-grade social studies class at El Camino Junior High School in Santa Maria. I was getting ready to recite the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, which our class had to memorize. I had worked hard at memorizing it and felt confident. While I waited for class to start, I sat at my desk and recited it silently one last time:


We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness...


I was ready.

After the bell rang, Miss Ehlis, my English and social studies teacher, began to take roll. She was interrupted by a knock on the door. When she opened it, I saw the school principal and a man behind him. As soon as I saw the green uniform, I panicked. I felt like running, but my legs would not move. I trembled and could feel my heart pounding against my chest as though it too wanted to escape. My eyes blurred. Miss Ehlis and the officer walked
up to me. "This is him," she said softly, placing her right hand on my shoulder.

"Are you Francisco Jiménez?" he asked firmly. His deep voice echoed in my ears.

"Yes," I responded, wiping my tears and looking down at his large, black shiny boots. At that point I wished I were someone else, someone with a different name. My teacher had a sad and pained look in her eyes. I followed the immigration officer out of the classroom and into his car marked
. I climbed in the front seat, and we drove down Broadway to Santa Maria High School to pick up Roberto, who was in his sophomore year. As cars passed by, I slid lower in the seat and kept my head down. The officer parked the car in front of the school and asked me to wait for him while he went inside the administration building.

A few minutes later, the officer returned with Roberto following him. My brother's face was as white as a sheet. The officer asked me to climb into the back seat with Roberto. "
Nos agarraron, hermanito,
" Roberto said, quivering and putting his arm around my shoulder.

"Yes, they caught us," I repeated. I had never seen my brother so sad. Angry, I added in a whisper, "But it took them ten years." Roberto quickly directed my attention to the officer with a shift of his eyes and put his index finger to his lips, hushing me. The officer turned right on Main Street and headed toward Bonetti Ranch, passing
familiar sites I figured I would never see again: Main Street Elementary School; Kress, the five-and-dime store; the Texaco gas station where we got our drinking water. I wondered if my friends at El Camino Junior High would miss me as much as I would miss them.

"Do you know who turned you in?" the officer asked, interrupting my thoughts.

"No," Roberto answered.

"It was one of your people," he said, chuckling.

I could not imagine whom it could have been. We never told anyone we were here illegally, not even our best friends. I looked at Roberto, hoping he knew the answer. My brother shrugged his shoulders. "Ask him who it was," I whispered.

"No, you ask him," he responded.

The officer, who wore large, dark green sunglasses, must have heard us, because he glanced at us through the rear-view mirror and said, "Sorry, can't tell you his name."

When we arrived at Bonetti Ranch, a Border Patrol van was parked in front of our house, which was one of many dilapidated army barracks that Bonetti, the owner of the ranch, bought after the Second World War and rented to farm workers. My whole family was outside, standing by the patrol car. Mamá was sobbing and caressing Rubén, my youngest brother, and Rorra, my little sister. They hung on to Mamá's legs like two children who had just been found after being lost. Papá stood between
my two younger brothers, Trampita and Torito. Both cried silently as Papá braced himself on their shoulders, trying to ease his back pain. Roberto and I climbed out of the car and joined them. The immigration officers, who towered over everyone, searched the ranch for other undocumented residents, but found none.

We were hauled into the Border Patrol van and driven to San Luis Obispo, the immigration headquarters. There we were asked endless questions and given papers to sign. Since Papá did not know English and Mamá understood only a little, Roberto translated for them. Papá showed them his green card, which Ito, the Japanese sharecropper for whom we picked strawberries, had helped him get years before. Mamá showed birth certificates for Trampita, Torito, Rorra, and Rubén, who were born in the United States. Mamá, Roberto, and I did not have documentation; we were the only ones being forced to leave. Mamá and Papá did not want to separate our family. They pleaded with the immigration officer in charge to allow us to stay a few more days so that we could leave the country together. The officer finally agreed and told us we could leave on a voluntary basis. He gave us three days to report to the U.S. immigration office at the border in Nogales, Arizona.

The next morning as we were getting ready for our trip back to Mexico, I went outside and watched the school bus pick up kids from the ranch. As it drove away, I felt empty inside and had a pain in my chest. I went back
inside to help pack. Papá and Mamá were sitting at the kitchen table surrounded by my brothers and sister, who listened quietly as my parents discussed our trip. Papá took out the metal box in which he kept our savings and counted it. "We don't have much, but we'll have to live on the other side of the border with the little we have. Maybe it'll last us until we fix our papers and come back legally," he said.

"And with God's help, we will!" Mamá said. "There's no doubt."

"I am not that sure, but we'll try," Papá responded.

I was happy to hear Papá and Mamá say this. I relished the thought of returning to Santa Maria, going back to school, and not fearing
la migra
anymore. I knew Roberto felt the same. He had a sparkle in his eyes and a big smile.

Papá and Mamá decided to cross the border in Nogales because they had heard that the immigration office there was not as busy as the one in Tijuana or Mexicali. We packed a few belongings, stored the rest in our barrack, and left our
our old jalopy, locked and parked in front. Joe and Espy, our next-door neighbors, drove us to the Greyhound bus station on North Broadway in Santa Maria. We bought our tickets to Nogales and boarded. Papá and Rorra sat across the aisle from Roberto and me. Torito and Trampita sat in front of us. Roberto closed his eyes and leaned his head back. Tears rolled down his cheeks. He puckered his lower lip and clenched his hands.
I placed my left arm over his shoulder and looked out the window. The gray sky threatened rain. A boy about my age waved good-bye to a couple sitting behind us. He reminded me of Miguelito, my best friend in the third grade in Corcoran. I missed him for a long time after he and his family moved from the same labor camp we lived in.

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