Sample text for Reaching out / Francisco Jimenez.

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College Bound

The day I had longed for had finally arrived. It was Sunday, September 9, 1962. I felt excited and nervous as I got ready to make the trip north to Santa Clara. I had worked hard to make this journey to college even though it seemed improbable for so many years. I did not anticipate, however, how difficult it would be to leave my family, especially my older brother, Roberto.
Roberto and I had been inseparable ever since we were children living in El Rancho Blanco, a small village nestled on barren, dry hills in the northern part of the state of Jalisco, Mexico. I called him "Toto" because when I was first learning to talk, I could not pronounce "Roberto." In Mexico, he used to take me to church on Sundays. In the evenings, he and I huddled with our parents around a fire built with dry cow chips in the middle of our adobe hut and listened to our uncle Mauricio tell ghost stories. I kept Roberto company every day while he milked our five cows by hand before dawn, and I helped him fetch water from the river. I cried every time Toto was out of my sight. Whenever I misbehaved, my parents punished me by separating me from him.
Hoping to leave our poverty behind and start a new and better life, my family emigrated illegally from Mexico to California in the late 1940s and began working in the fields. From the time I was six years old, Toto and I worked together alongside our parents. He sang Mexican songs to me such as "Cielito Lindo" and "Dos Arbolitos" while we picked cotton in early fall and winter in Corcoran. After we were deported in 1957 by la migra and came back legally, Roberto took care of me like a father when he and I lived alone for six months in Bonetti Ranch, a migrant labor camp,. He was a sophomore in high school and I was in the eighth grade at the time. The rest of our family stayed in Guadalajara and joined us later. During that time, I helped him in his job doing janitorial work at Main Street School in Santa Maria after school, and on weekends we worked together topping carrots or thinning lettuce. After graduating from high school, Roberto got married and continued working as a custodian for the Santa Maria School District on weekdays. And even though he had left our home in Bonetti Ranch to start his own family, we saw each other often. On weekends he and I worked together for the Santa Maria Window Cleaners, a commercial janitorial company.
Roberto and his wife, Darlene, dropped by early that Sunday morning with their baby girl, Jackie, to say goodbye. Darlene, who looked a lot like the actress Elizabeth Taylor, patted Roberto on the back, trying to console him, while he and I hugged each other. "He'll be back for Thanksgiving," she said. Being separated from my brother was as painful as yanking out a fingernail.
My father was in one of his usual bad moods and impatient to get going. "V�monos, pues," he said annoyed. Let's get going. Ever since he had hurt his back from doing stoop labor for many years and could no longer work in the fields, his temper had gotten worse. Bracing himself on Roberto's broad shoulders, he carefully slid onto the passenger's seat of our old, beat-up DeSoto. His face was pale and drawn and his eyes were red from lack of sleep. He was upset because I was leaving home. He wanted our family to always be together.
I locked the front door to the army barrack, which we rented from Mr. Bonetti. I climbed in the driver's seat, slammed the bent door shut, and quickly fastened it with a rope to keep it closed. As we drove out of Bonetti Ranch, I rolled down the cracked window so I could make hand signals. My father flinched every time the car hit potholes in the dusty road. Trampita, my younger brother, sat between my father and me. We gave Jos� Francisco the nickname "Trampita," Little Tramp, because my parents dressed him in baby clothes we found in the city dump when he was born. My other younger brothers, Torito and Rub�n, and my little sister, Rorra, sat in the back seat with my mother. They were excited to make the trip, but they kept quiet because my father did not tolerate noise, especially when he was in a bad mood.
I turned right onto East Main and headed west on the two-lane road toward Santa Maria to take highway 101 north to Santa Clara. The sun poked its head above the mountains behind us, casting a shadow in front of our DeSoto. On both sides of the narrow road were hundreds of acres of strawberry fields, which my family had worked in during the harvest season, from sunup to sundown, a few years before. As we approached the Santa Maria Bridge, I remembered the pain I felt every time we had crossed this bridge on our way north to Fresno to pick grapes and cotton every September < for eight years. During that time I always missed the first ten weeks of school because I was working with my family in the fields. From the corner of my eye I saw my father close his eyes. "Do you want me to drive, Panchito?" Trampita whispered. "You look tired." My family called me "Panchito," the Spanish nickname for Francisco, which was my birth name.
"No, thanks. You need to rest yourself. You'll have to drive back." Trampita had to take over my janitorial job and work thirty-five hours a week, as I did, while going to school to help support our family. Without him, I would not have been making this journey.
Through the rearview mirror I saw my mother dozing off with her arms around Rorra and Rub�n, who were fidgety. Torito gazed out the side window, humming something to himself.
We called Rub�n, my youngest brother, Carne Seca, because he was as thin as a strip of beef jerky when he was a child. He sat on my father's lap whenever we traveled from place to place, following the crops. My father favored him because, according to my mother, Rub�n looked like my dad. Rorra, my little sister, whose given name was Avelina, followed me around whenever I was home. She liked being teased, and often when we poked fun at each other, she would remind me of the time she was four years old and took two of my favorite pennies from my coin collection and bought gum with them from a gum machine. "I am stuck on you," she'd say, laughing. We called her Rorra, "doll," because she looked like one. We all doted on her. I felt a pain in my chest, thinking about not seeing them every day. We passed familiar coastal towns along the way: Nipomo, Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach. As we approached San Luis Obispo, I remembered visiting California Polytechnic College during my junior year. Now I was headed to the University of Santa Clara, and the only thing I knew about college for sure was that it would be more difficult than high school. I knew this because Mrs. Taylor, my freshman social studies teacher, often told our class, "You think the work I give you is hard? Wait until you go to college!" Our DeSoto strained to climb the San Luis Obispo grade. There was a string of cars behind me. "Move to the right and let cars pass you," my father said, waking up from his nap. "I can see why you didn't get a good grade in driver's ed," Trampita said, laughing. I lightly elbowed Trampita in the shoulder and steered to the right lane. The driver behind me gave me a nasty look as he passed by. I kept my eyes straight ahead, avoiding eye contact with the other drivers. "I hope I don't get a ticket for driving so slow," I said. "Like your father," my mother said, tapping my father on the back of the head. My father was not amused. He had been stopped by the highway patrol a couple of times on our way to Fresno for driving our carcachita, our old jalopy, too slowly. He was not cited either time because we gave the officer the excuse that our mattress, which was on top of the car roof, would fly off if he drove too fast, even though it was tied with ropes to the front and rear bumpers. The heat increased as we continued north past Atascadero, and Paso Robles. Rorra said she was hungry. "Yo tambi�n tengo hambre," Rub�n said, agreeing with her. "We'll stop in King City," my mother said as we passed by the sign for the turnoff. "No, let's wait until we get to Santa Clara," my father said firmly. "Agu�ntense!" Put up with it. There was dead silence. A half-hour later, Rorra and Rub�n made it known again that they were hungry. "My stomach is making funny noises," Rorra said sheepishly, rubbing her stomach with her right hand. "What's it saying?" my father asked, chuckling. "It wants food." "Mine too," Rub�n chimed in. "How about stopping in Soledad?" my mother suggested, noticing that my father was in a better mood. "No, it will bring us bad luck," my father quickly objected. I understood my father's objection-soledad means "loneliness" or "a lonely place" in Spanish. I disagreed with him, but I didn't contradict him. I knew better. "As soon as you see an open area, pull over," my father said, lighting up a cigarette. We approached a long row of tall eucalyptus trees along the left bank of the highway, right outside of King City. I slowed down and made a left turn onto a narrow dirt road and continued for a quarter of a mile, followed by a cloud of dust, and parked the car on the side of the road. "Thanks for bringing us to the desert," Trampita said. "I am sure our taquitos will taste better with a little dust on them." "Qu� chistoso," my mother said, laughing. Very funny. My father looked at me and smiled. "This isn't dust, Trampita. It's powdered salsa." "Ya pues," my mother said. Enough. "Let's eat." She took an army blanket from the trunk of the car and a large brown grocery bag, which she handed to Torito. She spread the blanket on the ground for us to sit on. Trampita and I helped our dad sit with his back leaning against the front right tire. "I made these taquitos with chorizo and eggs this morning," my mother said proudly as she handed them out. Rub�n and Rorra gobbled their tacos and asked for another one. "Que los mantenga el gobierno," my father said. Only the government can afford to feed them. "That's for sure," my mother said, lightly stroking Rorra's hair. "You'd better eat a couple more, Panchito. You won't get these at the university." I had not thought about what the food would be like at college until my mother mentioned it. Beginning in middle school, Roberto asked her not to make us tacos for our school lunch because kids made fun of us. So she made us sandwiches instead but always put a chile pepper with the sandwich to add flavor. We continued our trip through the Salinas Valley, which looked like a huge, colorful tapestry. It was bordered by mountain ranges to the west and cut in the middle by a black strip of road that stretched as far as the eye could see. Along the way were acres and acres of lettuce, cauliflower, celery, vineyards, and strawberries, and yellow, red, purple, and white flowers. "It looks like paradise, a green heaven," my mother said, in awe. "Not for people working the fields," my father countered. I agreed with him. Every few miles I saw a string of old, dusty cars and pickup trucks parked on the edge of the fields, and clusters of farm workers hunched over, picking the crops or hoeing weeds. Our own family had done the same kind of work year after year for the first nine years we were in California. As we entered Salinas, I remembered that this was John Steinbeck's birthplace. Miss Bell, my sophomore-year English teacher, had asked me to read The Grapes of Wrath after she had read an essay I wrote about Trampita. The novel was difficult to read because I was still struggling with the English language, but I could not put it down. I identified with the Joad family. Their experiences were like my own family's, as well as those of other migrant workers. I was moved by their story, and for the first time I had read something in school to which I could relate.
"You're going too fast. Slow down, Panchito!" my father exclaimed, pressing his right foot against the floorboard. I was so absorbed in my thoughts that I did not notice I was speeding. We passed through Gilroy and Morgan Hill and entered San Jos�. It was large and cosmopolitan compared to Santa Maria, which had only 28,000 people. My heart began to beat faster as I drove north on The Alameda. "I think we're getting closer," I said. "I believe The Alameda becomes El Camino Real, but I'm not sure." "What do you mean, you're not sure?" my father asked. "What's the address?" "I don't know," I said apologetically, confused. "I know it's on El Camino Real in Santa Clara." I pulled into a Texaco gas station and Trampita got out to ask for directions. My father was upset. He was biting his lower lip and searching in his shirt pocket for a cigarette. "We're okay," Trampita said as he slid back into the front seat next to my father. "Keep going on The Alameda for another mile until it becomes El Camino Real. El Camino Real goes right through the university." I sighed in relief. I pulled out of the gas station and continued on the The Alameda, which was lined with spruce and sycamore trees and large Spanish colonial- style homes. "Mira, Panchito," my mother said. Look. "Those houses look like the ones in the rich part of Guadalajara. They're beautiful." I looked in the rearview mirror. My mother seamed sad. She had always wanted a house of our own, but no matter where we lived, whether it was in an old garage, a tent, or army barrack, she always made it our home. She displayed Mexican knickknacks, like miniature ceramic dogs or birds, and placed cut wildflowers in a vase on whatever crate or box happened to serve as our table. "Nuestra casa," she would say proudly. Our house. We arrived at the university and entered the main gate, which was lined with tall palm trees. Facing us was a large wooden cross, about twenty feet tall, in the center of a glorieta, and a few yards beyond it was the Mission Church. "Looks like one of the churches in Mexico," my mother said. "Qu� linda!" How beautiful! Its Spanish-style fa�ade had carved wooden statues of saints on both ends and two large dark brown wooden central doors, with two smaller ones on either side. To the left was a bell tower. As I drove around the glorieta, our DeSoto backfired, spewing a cloud of black smoke behind it. I quickly parked in front of a building called Dalia Walsh Hall. New cars with huge, sharp tailfins and shiny chrome fenders entered the gate. Rorra and Rub�n pressed their noses against the window, trying to see them. Trampita slid lower in the seat. As I watched the passengers get out, I felt tense. They were all well dressed. Many of the men wore suits and the women dressed in colorful dresses or skirts and blouses. Most of the boys my age appeared taller than I and had crewcuts; some wore jackets. I looked at my pointed black boots and then glanced at my long hair in the rearview mirror. In its reflection, I could see my mother nervously pressing the front of her faded yellow dress with her hands. I glanced at my father. He was biting his lower lip and his hands were clenched. "Aren't we getting out?" Torito asked, rolling down the window. "Not yet," I said, reaching underneath the seat and pulling out the campus map sent to me by the university. I was stalling for time, waiting for the family parked next to us to leave. "I'll be in Kenna Hall," I said. "According to this map, Kenna is on the other side, behind Walsh." I untied the rope that held the driver's door shut, got out, and went around to help my father.
"I am not getting out, Panchito," he said decisively, lighting a cigarette. "I am not either," my mother said apologetically. "I'll stay with Rorra and your father while you and the boys unload your stuff." I didn't argue with them; I knew how they felt. While my family waited in the car, I went looking for Kenna Hall to check in. I followed other students and their families who seemed to be headed in the right direction, though a few of them seemed as lost and confused as I was. I spotted a short line of people waiting outside the entrance to an old, gray three-story dormitory, which turned out be Kenna Hall. The line moved quickly. When it was my turn to check in, the attendant, who was sitting behind a small table, smiled and asked politely: "What's your name?" "Frank Jim�nez." At home I preferred being called Panchito. But my first grade teacher, Miss Scalapino, had called me Frank because she said it was easier to pronounce. The name Frank stayed with me throughout elementary school. In junior high and high school I was called Frankie, which I favored over Frank because it was closer to the English translation of the name Panchito.
"You're not on our list," he said, running his index finger on a long list of names beginning with the letter H. "It's under the J's," I said, spelling it out for him. He gave me a puzzled look as he checked off my name with his red pencil.
"It's a five-dollar deposit for the key; sign here, next to your name," he said. I handed him a five-dollar bill and signed. He inspected my signature, shook his head, and handed me the key in a small white envelope. I rushed back to the car, keeping my head down and not looking at anyone. Trampita and I unloaded the boxes out of the trunk and placed them on the sidewalk in front of the DeSoto. I glanced over and noticed the bulge underneath his striped blue shirt. When he was an infant, Trampita had gotten a hernia. We were living in a migrant labor camp in Santa Rosa that winter. Our parents worked at night in an apple cannery and left Roberto to take care of Trampita and me while they were gone. One cold night, after Roberto and I had fallen asleep, Trampita rolled off the mattress that was on the dirt floor and landed outside the tent and cried so much that he had ruptured his navel. "Why can't I go with them?" Rorra whined. "I want to go with them, too," said Rub�n. "Ya, pues!" my father said impatiently. Enough. "Do you understand?" My sister stomped her feet, turned around, away from my father, and made a bad face. Adjusting his soiled cap, my father said, "Torito, you take Rub�n with you and help Panchito and Trampita with the boxes." "I'll take care of Rub�n," Torito said proudly. "Better behave, mijo," my mother said, gently warning Rub�n as he jumped out of the car. Trampita, Torito, and I headed to Kenna Hall, each one of us carrying a box. Rub�n skipped along to keep up.
We walked up a narrow stairway to the second floor of Kenna, following other students carrying suit cases, stereos, and boxes. They squeezed past others who were coming down the stairs empty-handed and on their way to get more of their belongings. The dimly lit hallway with dark brown vinyl floors looked like a long tunnel. Loud banging noises echoed in the corridor as students slammed room doors shut. A quarter of the way down the hall we found my room, 218. I buttressed the box on my knee and balanced it with my left hand while I unlocked the door. A ray of light coming from the room's window pierced through and burst into the hallway. Trampita and Torito, who were huffing and puffing, dropped the boxes on one of the two empty beds. I set down my box on the other empty one. The rectangular room had identical worn furniture on both sides: a tall, narrow closet by the entrance, a twin bed with a blue and white striped mattress, and a light brown wooden desk and chair to match and an adjustable desk lamp. "This looks like the one-room cabins we used to live in when we picked cotton in Corcoran," Trampita said, "only it's a little smaller." Noticing my growing sadness, he quickly added, "But at least it doesn't have holes on the walls!" "Okay, let's get going. Our parents are waiting for us." I pushed them lightly out of the room. We headed back to the car. "Ya era tiempo," said my father, irritated. It's about time. "What took you so long?" "I am sorry," I responded. "It was very crowded." I hugged Trampita, Torito, and Rub�n and said goodbye to them. I opened the back car door and kissed Rorra and my mother. "Que Dios te bendiga, mijo," my mother said, giving me a blessing. I felt my throat tighten and I tried to hold back my tears. My father put out his cigarette and patted me on the back. He reached into his wallet and took out a card with a faded picture of the Virgen de Guadalupe and handed it to me. "Cu�date, mijo," he said. Take care of yourself, son. His lower lip quivered. "Remember . . . be respectful. If you respect others they will respect you." "S�, Pap�," I said, kissing lightly his scarred and leathery hands. Trampita slid into the driver's seat, fastened the door with the rope, started the motor, and slowly backed out of the parking space. The car sputtered as they drove away, leaving a trail of gray smoke behind. I stood alone on the sidewalk and waved goodbye, following the DeSoto with my eyes until it turned right onto El Camino Real and disappeared.

Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Mexican Americans -- Fiction.
Mexican Americans -- Juvenile fiction.
Agricultural laborers -- Juvenile fiction.
California -- Juvenile fiction.