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 Characters

The main characters in The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child include Francisco, Papa, Mama, and Roberto.

  • Francisco, a son of migrant workers from Mexico, is the stories’ narrator and protagonist. The book traces his growth from a four-year-old boy to a compassionate, determined, hardworking young teenager who loves to learn.
  • Papa is Francisco’s father, who dreams of a better life for his family.
  • Mama is Francisco’s mother, a wise and religious woman.
  • Roberto is Francisco’s older brother, who works in the fields alongside the boys’ parents.


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Last Updated on September 6, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1067


Francisco is a thoughtful, serious boy who is determined to do his best for his family and himself. The stories in The Circuit trace Francisco’s growth from a four-year-old in Mexico who loves Mass and stories and who is already learning how to do chores to help his family to an eighth grader who has discovered a love of learning and developed a strong work ethic and determination. Along the way, Francisco also develops a sense of compassion, as when he tries to save the dying fish from the muddy puddles. He learns patience and integrity as he works long hours day after day and observes people like Gabriel stand up against mistreatment. He comes to insist upon fair play as in the kick-the-can game when he will not play unless Manuelito does, too.

Francisco is not perfect, of course. He tends to drift off into his imagination when things get too hard at school, and he is sometimes embarrassed by his family’s way of life, especially around friends like Carl who live much differently. There are days when Francisco does not want to work and times when he must learn that his ideas are wrong. Yet he perseveres for the sake of his family and their dream of a better life.


Papa is a man with a dream. He wants to bring his family to California so that they can find a better life. Yet that dream is not fulfilled, and Papa is always filled with worry. His constant concern is to find work and make money to support his family, and when he cannot, he descends into a somewhat moody silence. When the rain falls for days, for instance, and no one can work, Papa goes back to bed with his aspirin and cigarettes and broods. He cannot abide noise when he is worried, and once, this drives him to a rage and a rash act when he kills the family’s pet parrot.

When Papa’s back fails and he cannot work because of the pain, he feels like he has failed his family, like he is now useless. This frustration, however, does not really arise from selfishness but from a desire to care for the people he loves. Papa’s deep love is made visible when he presents Mama with the embroidered handkerchief for Christmas.


Mama is a wise, faith-filled woman. She is slightly hesitant about the family’s move to California and prays that it will turn out well. When it does not work out as the family had hoped, Mama labors side by side with her husband and oldest son to earn a living. When she cannot work in the fields, she does other tasks to earn money while she cares for her growing family.

Mama’s faith shines when Torito falls ill. She and Papa are determined to save their son, and they turn to prayer, making a vow that Mama believes brings them the miracle they long for. She also wisely refrains from telling Roberto and Francisco how sick their baby brother is until he has recovered. She realizes that the boys cannot handle the strain of that knowledge. Indeed, Mama’s wisdom appears again and again as she guides her children, as when she helps Francisco see that his sister is more important than his pennies and that he has not lost anything when he loses his notepad because all the information is already in his memory.


As a young child, Roberto has unrealistic dreams of California, but these are quickly shattered. Instead of falling into disillusionment and despair, however, Roberto turns to hard work and self-sacrifice. As the oldest child in a large family, Roberto must always be the responsible one who does the work so that his younger siblings can survive. Roberto works in the fields day after day, apparently not complaining, at least not in Francisco’s presence.

Roberto is fully dedicated to his family, but understandably, he is sometimes upset by not being able to attend school. He also dislikes moving so much, but instead of grumbling about it, he decides to get a permanent job so that his family can stay in one place. He is thrilled to take a job as janitor at the Main Street School even though this would be an embarrassment for many young people his age.

Miss Scalapino

Miss Scalapino is Francisco’s first-grade teacher. She does not really know how to help Francisco, at least not at first, for she speaks no Spanish, and he speaks no English. She leaves Francisco to his own devices for the most part, and she rather unfairly scolds him for speaking Spanish with a friend. Miss Scalapino does, however, notice and recognize Francisco’s artwork. She even enters it in an art contest, where Francisco wins first prize. This gives Francisco more confidence, and Miss Scalapino also allows him to release the caterpillar-turned-butterfly, which provides him with a sense of acceptance and belonging.

Mr. Lema

Mr. Lema is Francisco’s sixth-grade teacher. He is an observant and understanding man who does not pressure Francisco into reading on the first day of class after he notices the boy’s discomfort. He is immediately willing to help Francisco learn English and works with him during lunch hours for weeks. Mr. Lema also wants to give his student another chance to branch out, so he offers to teach Francisco how to play the trumpet. Mr. Lema is a generous person with a kind heart who is willing to reach out to a boy in need in a way that gives Francisco dignity and enthusiasm.


Gabriel is a young migrant worker who dares to stand up to Mr. Diaz, the contratista, and refuse to do what he believes is wrong. Gabriel has a wife and three children, and he works hard to send them money, but he is disgusted by Mr. Diaz’s abuse and dishonesty. When Mr. Diaz demands that Gabriel pull a plow like an animal, the young man refuses. He will not give in to the contratista and give up his dignity, even when Mr. Diaz knocks him down and kicks him. Gabriel does not return the violence, but he will not obey the unjust order. Gabriel inspires Francisco to stand up to Carlos in the children’s kick-the-can game so that Manuelito can play.

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