Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 798

Galarza’s Barrio Boy is a chronological narrative of the events leading up to his entrance into high school, but it lacks the action and tension of a fully fictionalized story. It is an outward-looking autobiography, sharing little of the author’s inner feelings as he grows up, reading like an encyclopedic...

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Galarza’s Barrio Boy is a chronological narrative of the events leading up to his entrance into high school, but it lacks the action and tension of a fully fictionalized story. It is an outward-looking autobiography, sharing little of the author’s inner feelings as he grows up, reading like an encyclopedic description of the various places that he lived during these sixteen years. The adolescent reader will be able to visualize, almost to the smallest detail, each home, village, train car, and street experienced by Galarza.

From the rich descriptions, it would be easy to draw pictures or build models of life in the mountain pueblo of Jalcocotán, the cities of Tepic and Mazatlán, or the Sacramento barrio. Jalcocotán was a small village of adobe cottages built on both sides of an arroyo, which carried fresh melted snow water down the mountain year-round. It was an isolated pueblo, tucked in a gully between two narrow rocky entrances, which provided protection from both enemies and hurricanes. Galarza was enthralled with Tepic, a busy town with a wonderful market, cathedral, central park, and electric lights at the fiesta. In the Sacramento barrios, he attended school and met Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese, Italian, Polish, and African-American students. He ran errands, sold newspapers on the corner, and worked various jobs around the wharves.

The young adult reader who likes extensively detailed description will be fascinated by his tale, but the reader searching for the inner psychological story of a boy fleeing the Mexican Revolution and adjusting to life in the United States may be discouraged. Galarza recounts the escape from Jalcocotán, the fighting around Tepic, the stagecoach and train rides through fighting armies, and life in the besieged city of Mazatlán, with cannon fire landing all around his house. Yet he shares very little of his own emotion, or that of others, during these life-threatening moments.

Galarza offers extensive details of life in Sacramento, his family’s move to a house in a suburb of Sacramento, what it was like to be one of the few Chicanos in the new school, and his adolescent thoughts of becoming a doctor or lawyer. Yet, he does not explore these dramatic life changes at any emotional level. Even in his descriptions of the central loss of his mother and uncle in an influenza epidemic, forcing his move back to the barrio and crushing his hopes for a profession, the author maintains the narrative stance of a newspaper report.

Even though Galarza’s story focuses more on settings, two of the book’s themes will be especially informative for adolescent readers: the Mexican Revolution and the plight of poor Mexicans in Mexico and the United States. The author’s sympathies are with the poor. When the Mexican uprising began and the government army came to take young men away to fight, the Galarza family fled, with Gustavo, José, Henriqueta, and Ernesto escaping north to the city of Tepic. The reader can sense that Galarza was glad to escape because he was in favor of the revolution. As the reader accompanies him to Tepic, the tent city of the Southern Pacific Railroad, and finally Mazatlán, where they were freed by the revolutionaries, the descriptions of the revolution clearly reveal Galarza’s sympathies.

Galarza reveals how his family struggled to live a decent and secure life in both Mexico and the United States. He describes their continuous work to provide basic needs such as shelter and food. Throughout the story, the family is portrayed bringing out their scarf of coins and deciding how much is needed to pay rent, to buy clothes and food, or to help his uncles travel to a better-paying job. By portraying the difficult life of a laborer, Galarza provides an understanding of the causes of the Mexican Revolution.

The book provides information about the run-down Chicano barrio in Tucson; the two, three, or four jobs that Galarza and his uncles had to maintain in order to live in the Sacramento barrio; and the loss of the house when all died but José and the author. The need for work and his facility with English brought Galarza in contact with many barrio Chicanos who needed help with government officials and at the telegraph office or pharmacy. From this contact, he learned of the difficult life that his people lived. He clearly demonstrates this sympathy in his descriptions of his summer work on the ranches with other barrio people from all around California. He witnessed the mistreatment of the farm laborer and even made an organizing speech when bad water killed several children in a migrant camp. Galarza’s account builds this theme of injustice as experienced by Chicano immigrants in the United States during the early 1920’s.

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Critical Context