The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child

by Francisco Jiménez

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

The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child is a 1997 book of twelve interconnected, semiautobiographical short stories by Francisco Jiménez.

  • In “Under the Wire,” Francisco and his family leave Mexico for California, where they live in a tent city on a strawberry farm.
  • In “Soledad,” Francisco is lonely when he must look after his little brother instead of picking cotton with the rest of his family.
  • In “Inside Out,” Francisco starts first grade. Although he has a difficult time because he does not speak English at first, he excels in art.


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Last Updated on September 6, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1087

The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child by Francisco Jiménez relates the experiences of a migrant family in twelve interconnected short stories that detail the family’s arrival in California when Francisco is about four through part of his eighth-grade year.

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In “Under the Wire,” Francisco and his family—Papa, Mama, and older brother Roberto—are living in Mexico on El Rancho Blanco, but Papa and Roberto dream of crossing la frontera and finding a better life in California. The family finally sets out, taking the train part of the way and then slipping under the barbed wire fence at the border. A woman drives them to a tent city on a strawberry farm, but there is no work. The boys watch the trains, and Roberto thinks that they must not be in California yet since they have not found a better life.

Francisco is lonely in “Soledad” when he must watch his younger brother, Trampita, while Papa, Mama, and Roberto work in the cotton field. Francisco picks some cotton, too, and mixes it with dirt so it will weigh more and make his family more money. His parents scold him and tell him that his job is to care for Trampita.

“Inside Out” presents Francisco’s first experience at school. He does not speak English, so he cannot understand anything his first-grade teacher, Miss Scalapino, says. He consoles himself by observing a caterpillar in a jar and by drawing in art class. Mr. Sims, the principal, gives him a green jacket when the weather turns cold, but classmate Curtis tries to take the jacket, claiming it is his. One of Francisco’s drawings wins a blue ribbon in art, and he has the honor of releasing the caterpillar-turned-butterfly.

Francisco’s baby brother Torito becomes terribly ill in “Miracle in Tent City.” The little boy stops breathing twice and has a high fever and a hard stomach. Papa and Mama take Torito to the hospital, and the family prays hard to Jesus and Mary. Papa and Mama even vow to pray for a year to Santo Niño de Atocha to save Torito’s life. Before the year is up, Torito is healthy again, and Mama reveals that the doctor had said it would take a miracle to keep the child alive.

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The third-grade Francisco enjoys watching the neighbor’s goldfish “El Angel de Oro” and playing with his friend Miguelito in Corcoran during cotton picking season. The rain falls constantly, though, keeping the family from work. At one point, the village floods, washing many fish into muddy puddles. Francisco does his best to rescue them and leaves one in a coffee can on the neighbor’s step so that the goldfish will not be lonely like Francisco is when Miguelito moves.

Christmas is coming in “Christmas Gift,” and Francisco has his heart set on a ball. The family has no money, though, not even to buy the few meager possessions of a young couple who comes to the door of their cabin. Francisco starts fourth grade, and the children all receive bags of candy for Christmas, to Francisco’s disappointment.

The family is living in a garage in “Death Forgiven,” and they have a pet parrot named El Perico. Francisco considers the bird a close friend, and El Perico develops another friendship with the neighbor’s cat. When the parrot makes too much noise, Papa hits him with a broom and accidentally kills him. Francisco prays and manages to forgive his father.

Francisco is growing up in “Cotton Sack,” but he is not yet big enough to have his own cotton sack for work. Rain keeps the family from the fields, and when they finally do go out, Francisco helps his parents and Roberto. At Thanksgiving time, Papa, Roberto, and Francisco go out to work on a cold morning, and Francisco discovers that it is too cold for him to pick cotton. He is not yet ready to have his own cotton sack.

“The Circuit” begins with the family’s move after strawberry picking season in August. They go to Fresno to pick grapes and live in an old garage. The weather is boiling hot, and Francisco gets sick but continues to work anyway. He is in sixth grade when he goes to school in November. His teacher, Mr. Lema, works with Francisco to improve his English during lunch hours and plans to teach Francisco how to play the trumpet. But cotton picking season has now ended, and it is time for the family to move again.

In “Learning the Game,” Francisco has finished seventh grade. He spends time playing kick-the-can with his brothers and neighbor Carlos, but Carlos will not let Manuelito play. Francisco also goes to work with Papa and Roberto and meets Gabriel, another laborer. The contratista, or foreman, orders Gabriel to pull a plow, but Gabriel refuses to be treated like an animal and do something that he believes is wrong. He is fired. Francisco stands up to Carlos and refuses to play kick-the-can unless Manuelito can play, too. Carlos gives in, but Francisco soon outgrows the game.

Tragedy strikes in “To Have and to Hold.” The family moves to Orosi to find a better place to live. Francisco now has a collection of pennies, including a 1910 Lincoln Head penny from his father and an 1865 Indian Head penny from his friend Carl. Francisco also carries a notepad in his pocket and uses it to learn English words, grammar, and math. He reviews it while he works and memorizes the information. When Francisco’s little sister, Rorra, takes the 1910 and 1865 pennies and uses them to buy gum, Francisco is furious. But a mix-up at the store leads to a fire that destroys the family’s house. They all get out safely, and Papa rescues the savings box, but Francisco has lost his pennies and notepad. He realizes, though, that he has memorized everything on the lost notepad.

Finally, in “Moving Still,” Papa’s back hurts so much that he cannot work, and the family is trying to survive on Roberto’s income. La migra, the immigration authority, is a constant threat. The family moves to Santa Maria hoping to find safety at Bonetti Ranch. Francisco starts eighth grade and must memorize part of the Declaration of Independence. Roberto gets a job as a janitor at Main Street School, and the family hopes for some stability. But then an immigration officer arrives at Francisco’s school and takes him away.

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Chapter Summaries