Barrio Boy Questions and Answers
by Ernesto Galarza

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What are examples of the technique of speech, actions and interactions of the characters in the story that the author uses to bring the characters to life throughout the story Barrio Boy?

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Galarza uses dialogue and direct characterization to describe the events of his childhood.

Galarza often incorporates dialogue directly into the paragraph when he characterizes someone, such as his memorable description of his experiences with his American first grade teacher Miss Ryan teaching him to read.

Frequently she burst into happy announcements to the whole class. “Ito can read a sentence,” and small Japanese Ito, squint-eyed and shy, slowly read aloud while the class listened in wonder: “Come, Skipper, come. Come and run.” (p. 209)

In this case, the technique of the teacher’s speech brings her to life because we realize hoe perky and enthusiastic she is.  She really believes that her students can learn, even though they are English language learners from a variety of backgrounds.  It does not phase her one bit.  Her enthusiasm is contagious, and they start to believe that they can learn, and they do.  Ernesto explains that all of the students have “similar moments of glory” and he does too.

In addition to dialogue, Galarza also describes interactions of characters and direct characterization.  For example, he says that teachers tried to pronounce the children’s foreign names, and did not try to scrub their identities from them.  Yet in their interactions with the teacher, the children feel she is with them. 

Her radiant, no-nonsense character made us either afraid not to love her or love her so we would not be afraid, I am not sure which.  It was not only that we sensed she was with it, but also that she was with us. (p. 209)

These different forms of characterization capture a well-rounded picture of Galarza, and of the characters and people in his world.  The teacher is alive on his pages, and we experiences his triumphs here as he learns to read just as we felt his suffering and hardships earlier when he struggled with war and poverty.

Getting to America was not easy for Galarza, and fitting in wasn’t either.  The barrio is not an easy place for a boy, even if it isn’t a war-torn homeland.  Galarza’s careful use of dialogue and direct characterization in describing interactions between characters expertly captures the events so that the reader feels like he or she was there, and really gets one step closer to understanding what it might have been like, or at least empathizing.

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