Study Guide

Pocho

by José Antonio Villarreal

Pocho Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Pocho recounts the lives of Mexican migrant farm laborer Juan Rubio, his wife, and their nine children as they attempt to hold their family together, survive the Depression, and adjust to American culture. As family bonds disintegrate, the only son, Richard, defines himself against both Mexican and American cultures and affirms his determination to become a writer. The first of eleven chapters introduces Juan Rubio, a colonel in Pancho Villa’s army, and depicts his grief over the Mexican Revolution’s failure, his flight from Mexico, and his resettlement in California; the chapter ends with the birth of Juan’s only son, Richard. Richard’s background and development from childhood to young adulthood in chapters 2 through 9 strongly resemble experiences of José Antonio Villarreal’s own life. The division of each chapter into two or three sections emphasizes the tensions, conflicts, and multiple perspectives associated with the construction of Richard’s personal identity: family, church, school, language, sex, friendship, career, money, prejudice, injustice, and, most important, dual cultural allegiances. Dramatic events of chapters 10 and 11 (including Juan’s leaving home, Richard’s high-school graduation, and his enlistment in the U.S. Navy) move Richard to the brink of adult responsibility and an uncertain future as a man and as a Mexican American.

As early as age nine, Richard is aware of his attraction to books and his interest...

(The entire section is 437 words.)

Pocho Summary (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Pocho is generally regarded as the first novel by an American of Mexican descent to represent the experiences of emigration from Mexico and acculturation to the United States. Although this pioneering work went out of print shortly after publication, a second edition appeared in 1970 during the Chicano Renaissance, and it has since become part of many multicultural literature classes. Set in the years between 1923 and 1942, the novel recounts the quest for personal and cultural identity by Richard Rubio, son of a soldier exiled after the Mexican Revolution and now a migrant farmworker in Santa Clara, California. As a pocho, a member of the first generation born in the United States, Richard grows up deeply attached to the traditions of his family and very attracted to the values and lifestyles of his American peers.

In addition to trials faced by every young person while growing up, such as the struggle with authority, the search for independence, the thirst for knowledge, and the hunger for sexual experience, Richard faces special challenges in self-definition. He confronts poverty, family instability, a blighted education system, racial prejudice, a society torn by economic crises, and world war.

Richard’s passage from childhood into adulthood is given unique shape not only by the circumstances of the Depression but also by the turmoil of life as an itinerant farmworker and the powerful tensions between Mexican and American cultures. Poverty inspires his dreams of success. A life of physical labor belies his intellectual nature. He identifies intensely with his macho father but cannot abide his violence, coldness, and self destructiveness. Drawn to the beauties of the church, he nonetheless rejects faith. He is deeply attached to his mother but finds her helplessness repugnant. Obliged to become the man of the family as a teenager, he finds that his responsibilities clash with his solitary nature, his love of books, and his emerging personal identity as a writer. His choice to join the Navy is more personal than patriotic. To resolve his conflicts he chooses exile from his shattered family, escapes from his poverty without prospects, and seeks release from the fragments of the two cultures he has not yet pieced together. He leaves to face what he knows will be a struggle for a new identity as a man, as an artist, and as an American.

Pocho Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Bruce-Novoa, Juan. “Canonical and Noncanonical Texts: A Chicano Case Study.” In Redefining American Literary History, edited by A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff and Jerry W. Ward, Jr. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1990.

Bruce-Novoa, Juan. “Pocho as Literature.” Aztlán 7 (Spring, 1976): 65-77. Claims that Pocho deserves careful literary analysis instead of the sociological, historical, and political responses given it for fifteen years. Argues that the book’s literary stature arises from its exploration of themes that are not culture-bound but are of universal appeal: the individual’s struggle for identity, search for moral direction, and need to contribute to the world.

Grajeda, Rafael F. “José Antonio Villarreal and Richard Vasquez: The Novelist Against Himself.” In The Identification and Analysis of Chicano Literature, edited by Francisco Jiménez. New York: Bilingual Press, 1979. Asserts that the significance of Pocho lies in its historical status as the first novel by a Mexican American depicting the cultural identity of Mexican Americans. Perhaps because of this, it is in fact an unmistakable “failure”; obvious, sentimental, flat of character, and stylistically “flaccid.”

Luedtke, Luther S. “Pocho and the American Dream.” In...

(The entire section is 485 words.)