Breaking Through Summary

Francisco Jimenez

Breaking Through

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Breaking Through Summary

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The work of Mexican-American writer and editor Francisco Jimenez has appeared in scores of anthologies, and he counts among his honors the Americas Book Award, the Carter C. Woodson National Book Award, and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. Breaking Through is one of a number of autobiographical books he has released, including Reaching Out, The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child, and La Mariposa, among others. Breaking Out is in structure similar to Sandra Cisneros’s novella The House on Mango Street in that it consists of a collection of individual anecdotes that make up a whole bigger than its parts. Narrated by Jimenez in the past tense, he continues to tell the tale of his life that he began in The Circuit.

The memories Francisco shares in Breaking Through begin when he is thirteen and he, his mother, and his brother Roberto are caught by the immigration authorities, or la migra, and made to leave their California home. They travel through the night on a bus to Nogales, Arizona, near the border of Mexico and the United States. He recalls events from the late 1950s and early 1960s. Along with his parents, sister, and seven brothers, Francisco strives to keep the family intact while dealing with hard labor, racial injustices, and poverty.

The family initially arrived in the United States from Mexico in the 1940s, and Francisco’s father (Papa), possessing a work visa from a farmer named Ito, was the only member to be in the country legally. The family survived nomadically from one labor camp to the next in those times as the father worked the fields seasonally. The family was deported back to Mexico when Francisco was fourteen. This did not last for long as they were able to obtain proper documentation and found themselves waiting to be able to return to the United States, staying in a hotel room near the border. Once allowed to cross the border, only Francisco and his brother Roberto went because they would be able to work and raise money to send for the rest who stayed with Papa’s sister.

While working to be able to bring their family to the United States, Francisco and Roberto live on their own, and start to assimilate into American culture. Francisco develops an interest in dancing and in the growing music genre, rock and roll. The brothers attend dances at a local veterans memorial hall on Saturdays and attend American films, which was not something the family would ever partake in. Once the rest of the family is able to return from Mexico, life returns to the way it once was. The brothers are permitted to attend the Saturday night dances, but that is their only night out for the week unless they choose to trade it for a different activity on a different night. To Papa, this is primarily a practical arrangement. The boys work for Mike Nevell’s cleaning company on weekdays and at times are needed in farmer Ito’s fields on the weekend so their father wants them to always be ready to work as the family relies on all of the income they can earn.

Papa is sometimes limited in the amount of time he is able to spend working the fields as he suffers from serious back pain. This in turn often affects his mood, which only becomes worse as he is loath to not be able to provide for his family. Francisco’s mother encourages her sons to pursue other activities, especially if they are school related. Francisco, a conscientious student, works hard, directing much attention toward English and typing, the classes that he finds the most difficult. He earns a good grade in typing with the help of an old typewriter he came across at an office he was cleaning and was able to use for practice. He spends extra time with his English teacher to revise his work and make lists of new words he needs to master, carrying them with him at his job. When his brother Roberto marries and leaves home, Francisco fills the void he feels by getting more involved with school as president of the Spanish club and performing in a student variety show.

At the start of his senior year of high school, Francisco becomes ill with mononucleosis, which saps him of his energy, leaving him unable to work or attend school. His mother and siblings cover for him at work, and at his mother’s urging, he prays for healing. He is back on his feet in about a month. Francisco approaches life with his future in mind. He works with his guidance counselors to select the correct classes and to learn about colleges and scholarships. Ultimately, he is accepted by Santa Clara University, and having risen above the many obstacles that stood in his way, moves away from home to start his new life.