FAIRFIELD — The immigrant experience is the American experience.
That was just one of the points driven home Thursday night by author and Santa Clara University professor Francisco Jiménez as he addressed more than 200 people at the Solano County Events Center.
The event was part of the Solano County Library’s Book to Action program in which readers read a book, meet to discuss it and also participate in a volunteer community service project.
This time, the readers were also able to meet the author after reading Jiménez’s book, “The Circuit,” which chronicles his life growing up as the child of undocumented migrant farm laborers.
The audience included at least two groups of middle and elementary school students who read “The Circuit” or another of Jiménez’s autobiographical novels.
The book was also part of the program for the Solano County Library’s literacy program, said program manager Joanne Wright.
“For many participants, this was the first book they ever read,” Wright said as she introduced Jiménez.
As he described his experiences growing up, moving between the California central coast town of Santa Maria and the San Joaquin Valley as his family chased work, Jiménez narrated a slide show that included family photos from his early years. The experiences of discrimination and marginalization, as well as the grim fact of having to go to work in the fields at age 6, were things that Jiménez said helped shape him as an individual.
When asked by one student whether he would change anything about his life, the answer was a resounding, “No.”
“My story is not unique,” Jiménez said to the audience, later adding, “The migrant experience is an important part of the American experience.”
As he grew up working in the fields, he said he took refuge in learning.
“I found a sense of stability and permanence in education,” Jiménez said.
That was despite starting school two and a half months late every year as his family moved back to Santa Maria after the last harvest in the Central Valley. Jiménez also took the opportunity to encourage the audience members.
“All work is noble and should be appreciated and respected,” he said.
After the presentation, Jiménez took questions from the audience, mainly from the students, and then he signed autographs for those who brought their books.
The night also made the whole experience of reading Jiménez’s works more real, said teacher Ramiro Barron, who was there with his sixth-graders from Markham Elementary School in Vacaville.
“For us it’s an opportunity. It’s a privilege for us to be able to enjoy his company,” Barron said. “They can see it, they can visualize it. They’re experiencing the full effects. For them it’s a wonderful experience, it’s something that they’ll never forget.”
He said Jiménez is an inspiration for all.
“And I can tell you that ultimately they’ll walk out of here knowing that anything is possible,” Barron said. “That they can be writers, they can be authors. They can tell their own stories, their own life experiences and be proud of who they are, whether they come from a Mexican-American background or anywhere else, they have to have that pride in who they are.”
Reach Mike Corpos at 427-6979 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mcorposdr.