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 Themes

The main themes in The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child are the migrant experience, religious faith, education, and family.

  • The migrant experience: Francisco and his family are migrant workers who hope for a better life in California and encounter numerous hardships.
  • Religious faith: The family’s Catholic faith provides them with hope and comfort in difficult circumstances.
  • Education: Papa and Mama want Francisco and his siblings to have the opportunity to pursue an education.
  • Family: Francisco and his family rely on each other and work hard on each other’s behalf.


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Last Updated on September 6, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 973

The Migrant Experience

The migrant experience of Francisco and his family revolves around hope and hardship. It begins with hope. Papa hopes that life will be better in California. The family’s existence in Mexico seems to be at a dead end of farm labor, dirt floors, and poverty. Roberto is especially anxious to go to California, although his hopes are not founded on anything close to reality. He has learned from his cousin Fito (and from the movie Fito watched) that people in California can simply pick up money in the streets. Papa laughs at such an idea, but he, too, has a notion of what California will be like. He seems to dream of progress, of finding work that will bring more money and a more comfortable and stable life for his family.

When the family arrives in California, however, their hopes are quickly tested. There is no work for two weeks, and they must live in a crowded, dirty tent city that is, perhaps, worse than what they left behind. Roberto thinks that they must not be in California, for this place does not match his vision. Papa is disappointed, for he wants to work immediately and start making his dreams come true.

Those dreams and hopes fade even more as time goes by and the family encounters one hardship after another. Their lives are all about work. They pick strawberries, then grapes, then cotton in a seemingly unending cycle. They live in squalor, although they strive to make each of their homes as clean and inhabitable as they can. Twelve-hour days and constant worry about money and jobs and being discovered and deported weigh down upon them.

Yet somehow the family continues to hope even in the midst of hardship. Francisco hopes for an education. Roberto hopes for a good job that can get him out of the fields and settle the family in one place with enough income to eliminate at least some of their worries. Papa and Mama hope to raise their children and keep them safe. Hope remains through the struggles and fears. Sometimes, in fact, it seems that all the family has left is hope and each other.

Religious Faith

Religious faith is central to life for Francisco and his family. It provides a sense of stability, hope, and love in the midst of the hardships, struggles, and fears of migrant life. In Mexico, Francisco, Roberto, and their parents go to Mass every Sunday, and Francisco loves this time of worship and prayer.

In California, the family no longer attends Mass, for they must work seven days a week just to earn enough to stay alive. But this does not mean that their religious faith wavers. In fact, it probably grows stronger. The family prays constantly and keeps a picture of the Virgen de Guadalupe in their dwelling. The children pray voluntarily and consistently, and prayer brings Francisco comfort when his father kills the family’s parrot and at other times during the worst of his trials. When Torito becomes ill, Papa and Mama vow to pray to Santo Niño de Atocha, the Child Jesus, for a year to save their son’s life. They receive their miracle, and their faith grows stronger yet as Torito, against all odds, recovers from the disease that could have killed him.


One of the reasons Francisco and his family move to California is to take advantage of the opportunities for education for the children. Papa and Mama never went to school, and they seem to deeply regret their lack of education. Papa explains to Francisco at one point that he does not understand the Mexican Revolution because he did not go to school or have the chance to study it. He wants more for his children.

Getting an education brings trials of its own for Roberto and Francisco. They speak no English, so learning comes slowly and only with great difficulty and perseverance. They cannot attend school all the time, either, for their parents need their labor in the fields to bring in money so the family can survive. The boys start school late every year, but every year, they go in spite of exhaustion and frustration. Education is that important.

Slowly but surely, the boys learn. Francisco, especially, begins to thrive over time as he learns English. He makes an extra effort to study, keeping his notepads in his pocket, filling them with words and math and grammar rules, and reviewing and memorizing the information all the time. He finds teachers like Mr. Lema to help him, and his love of learning steadily grows. Francisco seems to realize, at least on some level, that education may eventually break the circuit of work and poverty and give him the better life his family longs for.


Francisco and his family must rely fully on each other to survive, and the love among them is clear throughout the book. Papa wants a better life not so much for himself as for his family, and this is why he goes to California and then works himself almost to death for years. Mama loves her children and cares for them tenderly, and she prays fiercely (as when Torito is ill) and teaches calmly (as when she shows Francisco that his sister is more important than his pennies).

The children work hard for their family, and there is a true sense of unity among them. They all have jobs, and while, at times, they may not want to do them, they put the family’s good before themselves. Francisco learns this when he wants to pick cotton instead of watch Trampita and again when he longs to have his own cotton sack before he is ready. Survival depends on the cooperation of every family member, and they all participate fully.

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