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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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.

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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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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...

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