The city of Fresno is in the middle of California's Central Valley, one of the most important agricultural areas in the United States and the world. A wide variety of crops are grown in this fertile region, including onions. In Chapter One of Gary Soto's novel Buried Onions, the protagonist, Eddie, explains the sadness of the Mexican barrio of Fresno, claiming that a "huge onion" was buried under the city and that its vapors permeated everything, bringing tears to the eyes of those who lived there. To reinforce this theme Eddie describes Belinda, his best friend's sister, who has a tear permanently tattooed on her cheek.
This buried onion explains the tragedies and day-to-day malaise of his neighborhood, especially among several of the males, who are either dead, in jail, or committed to a life of crime. Those men, like Eddie and José, who want to escape this existence always seem to be drawn back into the sadness. Eddie can't seem to get a break, losing jobs, being arrested and constantly tormented by Angel and Samuel. José is stabbed while trying to help Eddie and is not able to "ship out" with his Marine Corps unit. In the end, in a symbolic confrontation, Eddie is presented with two onions as he walks through a field outside of Fresno. After taking the onions in his hands he suggests that he has cried the last of his "childhood tears."