Barrio Boy is an autobiographical novel by Ernesto Galarza, which details his family's flight from their small Mexican village and subsequent struggles to adapt to life in America. 

  • Ernesto and his family flee their small Mexican village when the government begins drafting young men for the resistance army. They eventually settle in Sacramento.
  • Ernesto's mother remarries and moves the family to a primarily white neighborhood. Ernesto thrives in high school.
  • Ernesto's mother dies, and he and his uncle José move into a basement apartment. Ernesto works menial jobs over the summer before returning to school.
  • As the new school year begins, Ernesto contemplates his future.


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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 240

Barrio Boy, by Ernie Galarza, is the true story of the author’s experience moving from a small village in Mexico to a barrio in Sacramento, California. Galarza describes his memories from when he was four years old until the time he started high school. Ernie belonged to a family of poor farmers, and his life in the Mexican village was defined largely by the tensions that escalated between the working class and the Mexican government. These tensions eventually forced Ernie and his family to leave their farm and village and start a new life in America.

When the Galarza family leaves their village, they move to various towns in Mexico and then to Tucson, Arizona, before they make their home in Sacramento. During the transition, Ernie is exposed to different ways of life and must adjust to different cultural traditions. When they arrive in Sacramento, Ernie has grown somewhat accustomed to change, but life in America brings a host of new problems and insecurities. He has opportunities in America that he never had in Mexico, and as he observes the world and begins to process his observations, he learns to pursue those opportunities and embrace them. As Galarza recounts his childhood memories of assimilating into American life, he reveals cultural divisions that define the immigrant experience, and he highlights the struggles of his people to find their place in a new country without losing touch with their Mexican heritage.


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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 871

Ernesto is born in an adobe in a small Mexican village that is hidden away in a mountainous region. It is so small that the town has only one street, no police, no fire department, and no mayor. The village belongs to everyone.

Ernesto’s parents are divorced, so Ernesto lives with his mother, Henriqueta, as part of the property settlement. He also is reared by his Uncle Gustavo, his aunt Esther, and his Uncle José. Part of his daily chores is to watch over his pets: Coronel, his rooster; Nerón, his watchdog; and Relámpago, a burro who really does not belong to anyone.

Ernesto does not attend school so he does not know how to read or write well. Having a career is not as important as being able to prove his manhood through hard manual labor. Beginning at age seven, Ernesto learns that being a man means working day and night without pay.

One summer day, a great hurricane showers the village. The street is flooded, and everyone works together to save what is left of houses and corrals. Before the stories of the flood can be talked about, the rurales, special government police, enter the town looking for young men to be drafted in the army for the revolution. They do not allow anyone to leave. Fearing the worst, Henriqueta decides the family must escape. The night before the family slips away north, Halley’s comet appears in the sky. According to Don Cleofas, the oldest person in the village, this is an omen of something serious.

After a day and a half traveling on horseback, Ernesto and his family arrive in Tepic and settle in their new home. Life is different. Uncle Gustavo and José now work for pay, and the marketplace becomes an adventure for Ernesto. He even begins to be educated at home. The problems of the revolution his mother thought she left behind at the old village (which people called Jalco) follow them to Tepic. Good news, however, arrives in the form of jobs on the Southern Pacific Railroad. The family again travels north to Acaponeta. Living there, close to the railroad station, means that revolutionaries often come to the family’s door. With every grace, Henriqueta serves the men. Soon, a letter from Uncle Gustavo orders them to leave Tepic for Urias to get away from the violence. The stay in Urias does not last long, as the revolution soon enters Urias.

Ernesto and his family move farther north to Leandro Valle, Mazatlán. Living there, Ernesto soon begins to work, to earn money, and to become part of a gang. He also starts first grade. However, life in Leandro Valle does not last long either, and they leave for the United States.

After many weeks in Tucson, Ernesto and his mother travel by train to Sacramento to meet with Uncle Gustavo and José. With his limited English, Ernesto and his mother find their way in Sacramento, where they live in an apartment at 418 L Street. Ernesto encounters many nationalities, including Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino. The stay in the United States is to remain permanent. Whether it be by season or not, José finds work. Their homes in run-down places are always temporary.

Life in the United States is different for Ernesto. There are no marketplaces, no plazas, no close neighbors. Living in the United States also changes the way some Mexicans behave. For Ernesto, who enters first grade and works odd jobs, his English becomes better. Still, Ernesto and his family remain a Mexican family. Pocho, the unflattering name for an Americanized Mexican, is what Henriqueta jokingly calls Ernesto.

With the remarriage of his mother, the family decides to move into a new house in Oak Park, a house outside the barrio surrounded by English-speaking neighbors. Ernesto makes friends with a neighborhood boy, Roy, and soon buys a secondhand bicycle. He explores his new neighborhood and gets a job as a carrier for the city’s newspaper. Enrolled at Bret Harte School, Ernesto’s knowledge of English develops quickly. His family is impressed by his education and a phone is installed for his use.

Homesickness becomes a problem for his family, but for Ernesto the problem is his responsibility of taking care of his younger sisters. This ordinary daily routine ends when an influenza epidemic spreads into the city. Uncle Gustavo dies, then Ernesto’s mother.

With the advice of Mrs. Dodson, the landlady, José and Ernesto look toward the future. They move to a rented basement room on O Street, on the edge of the barrio. Ernesto continues his education and works odd jobs with José. He is hired as a farmhand, and he learns how to drive a tractor. He works as a drugstore clerk, then finds a job as a delivery boy and later as a Christmas card decorator.

During his summer vacation, Ernesto works with other barrio people in the labor camps. He sees how the laborers are mistreated by the contractors, and he goes to the state authorities for help. The laborers do not appreciate his efforts. Summer ends, so Ernesto returns home, bikes his way to the high school, and thinks of his future.

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