Summary of The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child

Instructor: Kelly Beaty

Kelly has taught fifth grade language arts and adult ESL. She has a master's degree in education and a graduate certificate in TESOL.

The 12 short stories in The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child, by Francisco Jimenez, are about coming to the U.S. during the 1940s and 1950s. Read a summary of the book, and then test yourself.

Migrant Farm Work Through the Eyes of a Real Family

The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child was written by Francisco Jimenez, who was born in Tlaquepaque, Mexico, in 1943, and emigrated to the United States with his family when he was a young child. Despite an early struggle to learn English, Francisco developed a love for languages and education in general. He earned a Ph.D. in Latin American literature from Columbia University and has spent much of his adult life as a college professor.

Although the stories in this book are set in the 1940s and 1950s, many of the issues are still relevant today. Immigrants still work for low wages, struggle with learning English, and worry about getting deported and separated from other family members. Together, the twelve short stories that make up this book reveal much about the plight of migrant workers.

The Circuit

While the story details are fictitious, the people, places, and events are based on this author's real life. Readers learn what it was like to attend elementary school without knowing English, work long days harvesting produce, and endure substandard living conditions.

The opening story, 'Under the Wire,' describes the family's belief that a move to the U.S., even an illegal one, would be their only way to find consistent work. Living in a small Mexican village, they had no electricity or running water, no education, and no prospects for a better life.

The Jimenez family entered the U.S. shortly after the end of WWII. This was a time when farmers were eager to hire cheap laborers to work in their fields. Many farmers relied on immigrants to fill this need. At the same time, the U.S. was strictly enforcing legal immigration policies. Two of the short stories describe run-ins with la migra, a Spanish term used in reference to those who enforce immigration laws.

The Plight of Migrant Workers

Did the promise of a new life become a reality for this family? Well, let's just say that things must have been pretty bad in Mexico. The Jimenez family found work - hard work. They harvested strawberries, cotton, and grapes by hand, getting paid according to the size of the harvest. When it rained a lot, they did not get paid. When the crops did not produce abundant produce, they did not earn much money. When a child was sick, part of the work crew was not available.

Home consisted of one migrant labor camp after another. These camps provided temporary housing to people while they harvested crops. As crop seasons changed, so did homes. Sometimes home was a tent, sometimes the garage of one of the farmers, and sometimes one of many shacks set apart for farm laborers. At its best, home was the downstairs of an old house. The only thing consistent about home, for the Jimenez family, was that it changed two or three times each year.

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