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The Jumping Tree: A Novel

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Saldaņa, Jr., Rene, The Jumping Tree.  New York: Delacorte Press, 2001. ISBN: 0-385-32725-0.

 

The Jumping Tree is a brilliant novel that centers on the coming of age of a 12 year old boy in South Texas.  Reynaldo Castaņeda is a 6 grader in La Joya, Texas a town very close to the border of Mexico.   He is used to crossing the border back and forth because part of his family lives in Ciudad Mier and the other part lives in Texas.  Reynaldo understands the way of life on both sides of the border perfectly well.   As Reynaldo matures he distinguishes the difference between friends from the barrio, Nuevo Peņitas, and his friends from school.  The first group is only interested on playing; they don’t care about getting an education.  On the other hand, his friends at school are the “A” group of the school and are interested in extra curricular activities and good grades.

Reynaldo’s main concern is about becoming a man.  He admires his father very much, and wants to become a man just like him.  This proves especially difficult every time Rey has to make decisions about school activities and friendships.   Reynaldo is very careful in making certain choices; he understands that his actions will have different kinds of effects.  For example, Rey knew smoking was a bad choice for him and decided to sacrifice Chuy’s friendship rather then become entangled in the problems of smoking.   Rey believes that real men don’t cry; they never show their emotions.  However, after the death of his father’s younger brother he realizes that even the toughest man breaks down and cries for the death of his brother. 

“Perhaps the highest compliment that can be paid to Saldana's warm coming-of-age novel is that it also speaks to us in that third language. Indeed, well before young Rey's consciousness is awakened by the rights worker, by a fiery history teacher and by firsthand encounters with anti-Mexican bigotry, Saldana has immersed the reader in the texture and detail of hardscrabble family life in a Texas border town.”--New York Times

Through the collection of short stories of Reynaldo's experiences, the author gives us a true picture of the cultural experiences lived in South Texas with all the influence Mexico has on the way of life here.  “Yes, we are in America, but we are bilingual and bicultural. (p.172)”   The influence of both cultures exists almost in everything.  People speak by code-switching Spanish and English swiftly in everyday conversations.   Although Reynaldo’s family has lived in the United States for many years, they still do many things like the people on the other side of the border.  For instance, the roof of their house is flat and made from cement like the houses of Northern Mexico.   However, they are proud of being American citizens and believe that education and hard word are the best way to improve their way of life.  

As Reynaldo goes from 6th to 7th to 8th grade the meaning of being Chicano or Mexican-American changes.  He realizes that Chicanos need to stand tall to defend our name by being proud of who we are and by setting good examples.

This novel is a great tool that can be used with Middle School Mexican-American students to teach them of the importance of preserving their language and heritage.  I feel an overwhelming of emotions as I read the following advice given to Reynaldo by his father, “But no matter what they teach you in school, mi’jo, don’t forget where you come from, and don’t ever be embarrasses about speaking Spanish.  It’s the language of our people. (p. 51)”

 

Reference:

Markee, Patrick. The New York Times Book Review, Sept 16, 2001 v106 i37 p27(1). At http://ezproxy.twu.edu found on July 5, 2005.

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