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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 290

There are a handful of main characters in Ernesto Galarza's 1971 memoir Barrio Boy.

Ernesto

The memoir begins in Mexico with Ernesto living with his single mother, a seamstress. He is roughly 4 years old then. As the narrative progresses, Ernesto and his mother are forced to move several...

(The entire section contains 1094 words.)

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There are a handful of main characters in Ernesto Galarza's 1971 memoir Barrio Boy.

Ernesto

The memoir begins in Mexico with Ernesto living with his single mother, a seamstress. He is roughly 4 years old then. As the narrative progresses, Ernesto and his mother are forced to move several times in order to avoid the fighting of the Mexican Revolution (1910 through the early 1920s). They eventually move to the United States—first living in Tuscon and then in Sacramento. It's while they are in Sacramento that Ernesto first lives in the barrio, the Spanish word for neighborhood and a term that others use to denigrate Mexican immigrants.

Ernesto's mother
Doña Henriqueta is a single mother. When the reader is first introduced to her, she and Ernesto are living in a hand-made adobe house in rural Mexico. A seamstress, she works very hard day and night to ensure that Ernesto is well cared for and never hungry. One of Ernesto's favorite memories, he recalls, is making tamales with his mother. Doña eventually teaches Ernesto to read and encourages him to get an education. When they move to Sacramento, Doña meets another Mexican immigrant and remarries. She has two children with her new husband, which Ernesto reflects on fondly. However, she suddenly dies from influenza, resulting in Ernesto moving in with his uncle José.

Ernesto's uncles José and Gustavo Galarza
Both of Ernesto's uncles are very loving and supportive. Both are brothers of Doña Henriqueta. Some time after the family moves to Sacramento, Gustavo passes away from influenza, as well does Doña. This tragedy results in José agreeing to let Ernesto live with him in the barrio, provided that Ernesto continues to go to school and takes care of those expenses.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 804

Ernesto Galarza

Ernesto Galarza (ehr-NEHS-toh gah-LAHR-zah), a child of single mother, Doña Henriqueta, who moves him from place to place to avoid the Mexican Revolution but, nevertheless, manages to give him a sense of security. Ernesto’s earliest memories are of Jalcocotán (Jalco), a Mexican village where he, his mother, and his mother’s brothers, José and Gustavo, moved after her divorce. the four move in with their Lopez relatives. As a toddler, Ernesto learns the importance of work by running errands and looking after the family’s chickens. When armed soldiers visit the village, Ernesto’s mother flees with her son, José, and Gustavo, first to Tepic, then to Acaponeta, then to Mazatlán. From his mother, Ernesto learns to read and write. After an arduous journey by train to the United States, Ernesto and his mother rejoin José and Gustavo in Sacramento, California. In the multiethnic barrio, Ernesto finds odd jobs that introduce him to various Americans, including Hindus, Chinese, and people of other nationalities. Ernesto learns English in first grade and becomes a translator for barrio residents. Doña Henriqueta remarries, and the family buys a house in an American neighborhood. After Gustavo and Henriqueta die of influenza, Ernesto moves back to the barrio with his Uncle José. Ernesto is fired as a farmworker when he files a complaint about polluted water in the migrant camp. the novel’s ending suggests that Ernesto will continue both his schooling and his activities as a labor organizer.

Doña Henriqueta

Doña Henriqueta (DOHN-yah ehn-ree-KEH-tah), a single mother. She was divorced by her husband when her son, Ernesto, was an infant. With the baby and her brothers, José and Gustavo, she moves in with her sister’s family in Jalco. She helps to support the family as a seamstress. As they travel from place to place to avoid the Mexican Revolution, Henriqueta makes her young son feel that each move is an adventure. She teaches Ernesto to read and write and insists that he respect others. In Sacramento, Henriqueta marries another Mexican immigrant. When the family buys a house in an American neighborhood, she feels isolated. Henriqueta and her second husband have two girls and a boy before she dies of Spanish influenza.

José Galarza

José Galarza (hoh-SEH), Doña Henriqueta’s brother, twelve years older than his nephew Ernesto. José likes to joke and is impatient with authority figures. In Jalco, he makes up comic versions of the Latin liturgy, ending his career as an altar boy. When the family’s beloved Nerón gets rabies, José kills the dog with a stick. José must hide from therurales when they come to Jalco searching for recruits. As the family move from place to place, José displays great ingenuity in finding odd jobs. While an employee of the Southern Pacific Railway, he takes Ernesto for a ride on a handcar. When José shouts “Viva Madero” at a group of men, they respond with shots. In Mazatlán, José is hired to build stone markers. To avoid paying him, the foreman tries to murder José on the way home. José’s confrontation with the patrón precipitates the family’s flight to the United States. José takes care of the family when they are stricken by influenza. After Henriqueta dies, he and Ernesto return to the barrio. He provides his nephew with food and lodging on the condition that Ernesto pay for his school expenses.

Gustavo Galarza

Gustavo Galarza (gews-TAH-voh), Ernesto’s uncle and Doña Henriqueta’s brother. Gustavo precedes the family to Tepic and sends for them when he has found a job and lodging. He and José move ahead of the family to Mazatlán, where the brothers find work with the Southern Pacific Railway. In Sacramento, Gustavo dies of Spanish influenza.

Don Catarino Lopez

Don Catarino Lopez (kah-tah-REE-noh LOH-pehs), the husband of Doña Henriqueta’s sister (Ernesto’s Aunt Esther) and father of two sons, Jesús and Catarino, Jr. For Ernesto, Don Catarino is the embodiment of the authoritarian jefe de familia (head of the family). When Henriqueta and her brothers and son move northward, the Lopez family remains in Jalco. the Lopezes sail to San Francisco in an attempt to rejoin the rest of the family in Sacramento, but they are detained at Angel Island because of an irregularity in their papers. They return to Jalco.

Mrs. Dodson

Mrs. Dodson, the owner of the boardinghouse in the Sacramento barrio where Doña Henriqueta and her family live. She helps the family navigate an unfamiliar culture and introduces young Ernesto to the victrola, pancakes with Karo syrup, and comic strips.

Miss Ryan

Miss Ryan, Ernesto’s beautiful, energetic first-grade teacher. She gives Ernesto private tutoring in English, praising each step in his mastery of the language.

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