A fifth-grader tells how stories by Francisco Jiménez helped her understand her own immigrant father.
The prompt: Write a letter to an author telling him or her how his or her book changed the way you view the world. To whom would you write?
Los Angeles fifth-grader Lara Bagdasarian chose to write to Francisco Jiménez ’66 after reading his stories in The Circuit. The task was part of the Letters About Literature program, an annual national contest held by the California Center for the Book with support from the Library of Congress.
Jiménez is the Fay Boyle Professor of Modern Languages and Literatures. The Circuit, first published in 1997, is a collection of historical fictions based on his experiences growing up as a son of migrant workers.
In young Lara’s letter to Jiménez, she describes how her father came to the United States as an immigrant and how she didn’t understand why he was always so hard on her about schoolwork and learning English. “Your book made me feel a lot better about my dad,” she wrote. “I am now sure that he cares about me and he is just trying to help me become a better person .… The Circuit has helped me understand my dad and realize his good intentions.”
Lara’s letter was selected as a national winner in the contest. As a reward, she received a $500 gift card from Target for herself and, for her local community or school library, a $10,000 grant.
Below is Lara’s full letter to Professor Jiménez:
Dear Francisco Jiménez,
I used to think my dad was too hard on me. Whatever I did just wasn’t good enough for him. I had no idea why he was being so critical of me, so I assumed he just didn’t believe in me. After reading your book, The Circuit, I understand my dad better and what he has been trying to tell me.
My dad is an immigrant just like you. He came to the U.S. when he was 14 years old. He spoke broken English, his family had to sleep together in one room, and he had to work to help his family out. He had to earn everything he got.
My dad chastises me about not taking enough initiative to learn another language. He says that when he was a kid he had to learn English on his own. I used to not listen to him, but after I read your book, I started to think about what he said differently. I thought about when you chose to stay in for recess at school everyday to practice English and when, while you were working in the fields, you looked at your notebook and tried to memorize the English words that you didn’t know. It must have taken a lot of initiative to do that all by yourself.
My dad also gets upset at me when I start asking for too much. My dad says that one Christmas he was hoping for a soccer ball. He got a tennis ball instead, so he used to pretend his tennis ball was a soccer ball. Your story, “The Christmas Gift,” made me feel for the first time what it must be like not to get something that you want so badly that you would do anything for it.
My dad makes me do extra work even after I have done all of my homework. He says working hard is the only way to get far in life. The Circuit describes the importance of hard work much better than my dad described it. When you won a prize for your butterfly drawing, it made you feel like you were bursting out of your cocoon and you were flying away on your wings to become noticed. Before, your classmates had not paid attention to you. My dad told me that when he had just come to the U.S., he won a math prize. Now I understand how he must have felt. I think he is pushing me to work extra hard because he wants me to feel the same way.
Your book made me feel a lot better about my dad. I am now sure that he cares about me and he is just trying to help me become a better person. The Circuit has helped me understand my dad and realize his good intentions. Thank you for sharing your childhood memories with me.