José is Eddie's high school friend who comes home to Fresno on leave from the Marines. In Chapter Four, he informs Eddie that he is soon to be shipped out to a "top secret" destination. He offers to take Eddie out for breakfast at a local Mexican restaurant called Cuca's. After finishing, they meet a black man selling onions. José agrees to buy three bags and after they go to the man's car to get the onions, Eddie sees Mr. Stiles's truck across the street. The truck had been stolen while in Eddie's possession a few days earlier. José heads off to look at the truck while Eddie goes back into the restaurant to phone Mr. Stiles. When he returns to the street, José is lying on the ground, a victim of a stabbing, presumably by the guys who stole the truck. José is taken to the hospital where he has stitches placed in his stomach and shoulder. The onions are symbolic of the misfortune and grief which pervades the novel. It is fitting that José should be purchasing onions just before the unfortunate incident.
In Chapter Seven, José is recovering from his wounds and is able to accompany Eddie and Coach (who works at the playground in Eddie's neighborhood) on a fishing trip. In this section, José reveals that he didn't know the guys who stabbed him. Eddie had originally believed that his nemesis Angel was responsible for the theft of the truck. When Eddie is involved in a fight with Angel and is injured, he turns to José who, despite his mother's objections, helps Eddie by bringing him ice for his bruised back. Later, he accompanies José to the hospital for the removal of José's stitches. José admits that he feels pretty good after being treated. Eddie claims that José was "getting better" right before his eyes. Soto is suggesting that José will go on with his life. He is a survivor, even though "without even leaving his country, [he] had seen enough wars to be permanently scarred." In the end, Eddie follows in the footsteps of José as he joins the military and is on his way to training at the end of the novel. Whether José was able to continue in the Marines is never stated.