Interview with Francisco Jiménez, guest author of Libros Sin Fronteras
By Jade Arroyo
Libros Sin Fronteras is a non-profit project in San Miguel de Allende and in the surrounding communities which encourages reading and an appreciation for literature. The featured author this year was Francisco Jiménez, whose book Cajas de Carton was read and studied in the program. Francisco Jiménez, born in 1943, attended Santa Clara University in California with scholarships and earned a Ph.D. at Columbia University. He has taught literature and ethnic studies at Santa Clara, where he is now the Director of the Division of Arts and Humanities. His books (the second and third volumes of his autobiography are Breaking Through / Senderos Fronterizos and Reaching Out / Más allá de mi) have been translated into many languages and have won numerous awards.
Jade Arroyo: What is Cajas de Cartón about?
Francisco Jiménez: It is an autobiographical work based on the experiences I had as a child when my parents left Mexico to work in the US in order to leave poverty behind and start a better life. There are 12 stories that tell memorable experiences, such as when we crossed the border illegally and then when we started working in the fields, harvesting strawberries and we lived in migrant camps, without light or services. This was in 1947. Isolation was also a strong experience by not being able to speak English.
JA: Why did you write these stories?
FJ: I realized that my experiences were the experiences of many people, of many migrants in the United States. Even today, many years later, they still go through these hard things, especially in social matters. In Mexican culture, community and family are important; North America promotes individualism. My inspiration was to document the history of myself and my family. Over time, one opens one’s eyes and heart to various cultures without losing one’s own. What I do with my work is to break the barriers that separate us, whether it is through racial or social discrimination.
JA: How did you got involved with Libros Sin Fronteras?
FJ: Thanks to Susan Neulist and teacher Juan Roque who invited me to participate, the purpose is to promote literacy. To read is critical because if you do not read you cannot learn. I want to thank Susan and Richard Neulist (initiator of this bi-cultural literacy project) for the wonderful work they’re doing, for their interest and concern about education. It makes a great change in children’s lives and promotes the exchange between the two cultures.
JA: Do you think the language is a barrier?
FJ: It is a barrier for the person who does not understand.
JA: What is the importance of language?
FJ: The language transmits the culture. If the language gets lost, then culture is lost.
JA: What is the purpose of literature?
FJ: Expressing the human spirit.
JA: What is your opinion about Mexican children?
FJ: I hope they do not lose their cultural values, and maintain their roots and the education given by parents within the global statement. It is important to study the arts and humanities; children need to be reflected in those studies. We need an inclusive education, to protect and educate all groups of society. The Indian groups need respect and recognition that the children will learn through study.
JA: Do you see any specific problem in rural children of San Miguel?
FJ: Yesterday I went to La Palma and I was impressed by the children, by their intelligence and kindness. I wish they could have more resources to develop, the country’s democracy depends on the education of children.
JA: What is your opinion about our northern border?
FJ: It serves only to separate us from each other. Its existence is political and economic. For example, when the US economy suffers, then the Mexicans are criticized and rejected, when the economy is strong and they need cheap labor, then borders open. It’s very hypocritical.
JA: How do you see the mix of cultures in Mexico?
FJ: For geographical reasons the two cultures are mixed. Young Mexicans are losing their culture and imitating American culture. Mexican culture has enriched the United States extensively: food, music, tradition, etc.
Cajas de Cartón is available online at Amazon.com (in both printed and Kindle version) and at the store Natura 39, on Ancha de San Antonio.