The civil war was horrific. But El Salvador now has a murder rate the highest in the world, fueled by gangs and drugs. The level of violence is like war. There is no clear way out.
This also: Nearly half a century after Francisco Jiménez graduated from Santa Clara, after more than 40 years in the classroom, last year he retired from teaching. His final class, in Spanish literature, was interrupted when a crowd descended on the room in Kenna Hall: colleagues and former students, family members and children studying his books in junior high. A quiet end to this man’s teaching would not do. There was song and laughter and tears.
In August, Francisco and his family drove south to visit Santa Maria, a city they knew well. As Francisco writes in Taking Hold:
When my father could no longer work, my family stopped following seasonal crops. We settled in Bonetti Ranch, a migrant camp in Santa Maria, a small agricultural town in the central coast of California. To support our family, Roberto and I got janitorial jobs, each of us working thirty-five hours a week while going to school. My brother worked for the Santa Maria Elementary School District, and I was employed by the Santa Maria Window Cleaners, cleaning commercial offices. All during high school I worked in the mornings before school, in the evenings, and on weekends, sweeping and dusting offices, cleaning windows and toilets, and washing and waxing floors.
His brother Roberto worked four decades for the school district. He and Francisco were close. Roberto died in December 2014 at the age of 75.
Last year, on the western outskirts of town, where fields meet the sidewalks and edifices of new houses, Santa Maria built a new school for its children: Roberto and Dr. Francisco Jiménez Elementary School. It is the first school in the district to introduce a dual-language immersion classroom. Up the road in San Luis Obispo, a better-funded school district, they have had such programs for years.
For the school dedication ceremony, there were children and parents who first began learning English through stories in The Circuit. There were books for the taking, and there were memories shared of working the fields with the back-breaking, short-handled hoe.
For years, Francisco was the Fay Boyle Professor of Modern Languages. Now he is professor emeritus, and a scholarship has been named in his honor at Santa Clara. He continues to speak to promote education and literacy, since that was so profoundly a part of his journey from the fields to a life of teaching and scholarship. Francisco has long felt at home talking to children as well as teaching university students; he has visited scores of schools over the years and hosted hundreds of schoolkids from families with meager means as they visit the Mission Campus. He has spurred their little hearts and growing brains to think: Reach for the stars.