Reading the way

Reading the way

By Clay Hamilton

Photo by Charles Barry
Something to be thankful for: literacy and social good. The stories of Francisco Jiménez ’66 continue to inspire both.

José Roque, a professor in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, says that reading is the way to improve as a human being. He wants to improve Mexico by helping Mexicans become better people through books. To this end, he co-founded the community-wide bilingual reading project Libros sin Fronteras (Books without Borders).

The project, a collaboration between people from Mexico, the United States, and Canada, aims to promote literacy and an appreciation for literature through the shared experience of reading, regardless of culture or language. It’s an ambitious endeavor. While Mexican literacy is growing, a UNESCO assessment of reading in 108 countries placed Mexico next to last. Still, Roque is confident that bringing people together in discussion will improve lives and promote social good.

So how do you inspire someone to pick up a book? With a good story.

Libros sin Fronteras found such a story in a book by Francisco Jiménez ’66, Cajas de Cartón or The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child. Jiménez, the Fay Boyle Professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures and director of the Ethnic Studies Program at Santa Clara University, based the book on his experiences growing up as the son of migrant workers. It’s a poignant examination of a family struggling to make a better life, seen through the eyes of a child.

To inaugurate the literacy project, the group distributed over 200 copies of the book in both English and Spanish throughout the community of San Miguel and then held discussions involving children, teens, and adults. The discussions culminated in a visit in November by Jiménez, who stressed the importance of reading and education. “It is important to study the arts and humanities; children need to be reflected in those studies. We need an inclusive education, to protect and educate all groups of society,” he said in an interview with Atención San Miguel.

Coincidentally, here in the San Francisco Bay Area, the book was also chosen by the Solano library as a part of the larger California program Book-to-Action. Book-to-Action transforms the traditional concept of a book club by taking it a step further: After collectively reading and discussing a book, readers engage in a community service project related to the book’s topic.

More than 300 copies of the book were distributed. In June, more than 100 people attended a series of book discussions in Solano county. The meetings were reflective and, at times, emotional. Afterward, participants were invited to a presentation to learn about a variety of initiatives helping migrant children in the area. Talks by the Office of Migrant Education, the Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, the Vacaville Produce Pipeline, and the Fairfield-Suisun Produce Pipeline introduced participants to the work being done to improve the lives of migrant children and the important contributions that could be made through volunteering.

Inspired by the program, the library formed a new partnership with the Office of Migrant Education, offering library facilities for a summer educational academy. During the course of the academy, 60 children, grades K–6, came to the Fairfield Civic Library to work on math and language arts skills. The academy helped provide a jump start to their regular education.

Jiménez’s story is a universal one, said a participant. “We can all relate to it in some kind of way. We may not have had his exact kind of struggle, but everyone's had something in their life that they've had to overcome.”

Read more

Read selections from Jiménez’s two autobiographical sequels to The Circuit in Santa Clara Magazine: The second volume, Breaking Through, was featured in the Summer 2003 issue and the third volume, Reaching Out, was featured in Fall 2008.

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