The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child

by Francisco Jiménez

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Chapter 1 Summary

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Last Updated on September 6, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 320

In “Under the Wire,” the narrator, Francisco, nicknamed “Panchito,” is about four years old. It is the late 1940s, and Francisco lives with his parents and older brother, Roberto, in their native Mexico. Papa dreams about crossing la frontera, the border, and moving to California, where he hopes they can “make a good living.”

Roberto, who is four years older than Francisco, is especially excited about going to California. The boys’ cousin Fito lives in Guadalajara, works in a factory, and lives in a house with electricity. His life seems like paradise compared to the family’s meager existence on El Rancho Blanco. Roberto does not like his chores. Francisco loves the stories that he hears from his parents and relatives in the evenings.

One day, Papa announces that the family will cross la frontera for California. They take the train for the first leg of the journey, and Francisco is startled by all the motion and noise. They are on the train for two days and two nights. Roberto tells his little brother that he heard the people in California can just pick up money from the streets any time. Papa says that this is a joke, but he hopes their life will be better. Mama prays that it will be so.

Outside of Mexicali, the family avoids the border guards and slips beneath a barbed wire fence. A woman, Lupe Gordillo, picks them up on the other side and brings them to a tent city on a strawberry farm. They cannot start work for two weeks, to Papa’s disappointment and worry. The family manages to survive, and Roberto and Francisco enjoy watching the trains and waving at a particular conductor. Roberto thinks they must not be in California yet since things are not as they expected. The conductor throws the boys a bag of fruit and candy, and Roberto exclaims that the train must come from California.

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Chapter 2 Summary