89 pages 2 hours read

Francisco Jiménez

Cajas de Carton

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 1996

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Summary and Study Guide


Cajas de Carton, the English title of which is The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child is a collection of autobiographical short stories by writer Francisco Jimenez, who was born in Jalisco, Mexico and crossed the US-Mexico border into the United States as a boy. Jimenez writes about his experience living and working in labor camps and tent cities with his family, and the many long years of intermittent schooling and constant migration from one California city to another, following the growing seasons. Jimenez paints a portrait of his life in distinct moments, from his early childhood up to eighth grade.

Because the book does not follow one consistent plotline, and instead provides glimpses of memorable moments from Jimenez's life, the time and place are sometimes difficult to determine. The family typically follows a pattern of unemployed winter months in Santa Maria, California, which the Jimenez family considers their true home, followed by strawberry season and grape season in Fresno, and cotton season in Corcoran. The family moves every few months, living in tents, derelict garages, condemned houses, and unkempt barracks. They own a used Plymouth, which they call “Carcachita,” or the old jalopy. The Jimenez family uses this car to transport their single mattress and few possessions from city to city.

Jimenez spends his early years watching his younger siblings while his parents and Roberto, his older brother, work the fields. In these years, Jimenez dreams of helping to contribute to his family's finances, and tries time and time again to prove his worth as a laborer. Later, when he has to leave school for months at a time to work, and to work on holidays and weekends while he is enrolled in school, Jimenez is exhausted. He yearns to go to school full-time, and to stay in one place.

A number of significant events occur over the course of the book. Many babies are born in the Jimenez family, including Trampita, Torito, Ruben, and Rorra. As the narrative progresses, Jimenez slowly learns how to speak English and read, though he maintains his strong Mexican accent. Jimenez also experiences significant moments of fear and loss, including the near-death of his infant brother, Torito, who becomes ill and is taken to the hospital so late that the doctor tells Mama it will be a miracle if Torito lives.

At the end of the book, Papa can no longer work because long years of manual labor have ruined his back. Roberto tries to get a job in Santa Maria, so the family can settle down and have some financial security. Once Roberto finds a job, however, the Jimenez family is reported to Border Patrol. In the last story, "Moving Still," Jimenez describes his fear and dread as la migra come to his classroom and takes him away in a car. Jimenez has no idea where he and his brother, Roberto, will go.