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‘Breaking Through’ author stops in S.A.

San Antonio Express-News (09/19/2002)

Author - Lisa Brothers Gutierrez

“Breaking Through” is a story of any American kid growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, testing the boundaries of independence while maintaining respect for his or her parents.

The story is unique in that it’s an autobiography told by a poor immigrant Mexican teenager, whose experiences might seem foreign and rather shocking to most U.S. children.

Author Francisco Jiménez will discuss and sign copies of “Breaking Through” (Houghton Mifflin, $15) at 3 p.m. today, in the LBJ Student Center Ballroom, Southwest Texas State University, 601 University Drive, San Marcos. He’ll speak in San Antonio at 5:30 p.m. Friday in the Buena Vista Street Building Theater of the UTSA Downtown campus, 501 W. Durango Blvd.

The presentations, followed by a reception and book signing, are co-sponsored by the UTSA College of Education and Human Development, Southwest Texas State University’s College of Education and Latino Leadership for the San Antonio Library Foundation. Both events are free and open to the public.

“Breaking Through” has garnered Jiménez several awards, including Southwest Texas’ Tomás Rivera Mexican American Childrens Book Award, which Jiménez accepts at 6 tonight at a reception in the Southwestern Writers Collection, Alkek Library, seventh floor, at SWT. This event is free to the public.

The Rivera award, named for the first Hispanic Distinguished Alumnus of SWT, was developed to acknowledge authors and illustrators dedicated to depicting the values and culture of Mexican Americans.

“I am honored to receive this award because Tomás Rivera’s life and works have been a constant inspiration to me in both my personal and professional life. He was a personal friend of mine whom I respected and admired tremendously,” Jimenéz wrote in an e-mail from Santa Clara, Calif., where he is the Fay Boyle Professor of Modern Languages and Literature and Director of the Ethnic Studies Program at Santa Clara University.

“Breaking Through” is technically a sequel to “The Circuit: Stories From the Life of a Migrant Child,” a book about Jiménez’s early childhood.

In “Breaking Through,” Jiménez begins with his deportation at age 14, but he often refers to his earlier years so readers can identify and understand Jiménez the teenager without having to read “The Circuit.”

In “Breaking Through,” Jiménez depicts very matter-of-fact the conditions of his childhood as the son of migrant laborers in the farms of California. He doesnt resort to sentimentality, yet is able to evoke the readers emotions when he writes about living in tents, missing months of schooling because he had to work in the fields with his family during the growing seasons and his brushes with prejudice.

“I wrote ‘Breaking Through’ to pay tribute to my family and teachers and to document part of my own history,” Jiménez says. “But more importantly to voice the experiences of many children and young adults who confront numerous obstacles in their efforts to get an education, to ‘break through’ like the butterfly breaking through its cocoon.”

Jiménez shares turning points in his life without preaching.

“How (people) manage to ‘break through’ depends as much on their courage, hope and God-given talents as it does on loving; compassionate and generous people who commit themselves to making a difference in the lives of children and young adults,” Jiménez says.

Young Mexican Americans may identify with Jiménezs attempts to bridge a generation gap and meld his two cultures.

“In this work I describe my struggles to continue my formal education while coping with poverty and attempting to reconcile my familys traditional Mexican culture with my ‘new’ American culture,” Jiménez explains.

For example, his skepticism with his father’s being healed by a curandera, his love for both Mexican music and rock n roll, his father’s “don’t talk back” attitude versus societys questioning of authority. Even his name — Panchito to his family and Frankie to his friends in school — reflects the confusion of Jiménez’s youth.

As he grows, Jiménez reflects the changes going on in the country at the time. He becomes more aware of the political climate and the growing civil rights movement, which play a part in his decision to run, successfully, for student body president his senior year.