Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 715

Barrio Boy is aptly subtitled The Story of a Boy’s Acculturation. Ernesto Galarza recounts his immigration northward from a small village in Nayarit, Mexico, to the edge of the barrio in Sacramento, California. His adjustments in a new country, a new language, a new lifestyle bring many changes for Galarza. Small town life does not prepare Galarza for the differences he encounters in the cities of Mazatlán and later Sacramento. Ernesto’s tenacity and strength, however, allow him not only to survive but also to maintain his sense of identity as a Mexican. Acculturation, then, for Galarza, is not the process of abandoning one’s culture but rather is the process of adaptation. This autobiography speaks to those who have traveled to the United States and who have faced the challenges of acculturation.

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The autobiography is structured into five sections. Each part confronts Galarza’s step-by-step process from being a Mexican to becoming a Mexican American. The first section, “In the Mountain Village,” is a study in provincial Mexican life. Everyday mannerisms, traditions, and roles are poignantly played out. The lyrical description of the village and its people reads like a pastoral. One of the longest sections of the autobiography, the first section provides a clear and distinct portrait of Galarza’s life before his move north.

When the family leaves the village, life becomes much less idyllic. Being able to settle down proves difficult during a revolution. “Peregrinations,” the longest section of the book, tells this part of Galarza’s story. Galarza also speaks sincerely of the struggles of the people, whether on burros or on foot, who move northward seeking refuge.

Realizing their best hope lies in emigrating to the United States, the family, in “North from Mexico,” makes the decisive journey. Galarza details the train ride he and his mother endure. The train creates in him a discomfort and an uneasiness toward the American people, whom he finds both “agreeable and deplorable.”

“Life in the Lower Part of Town” reflects the determination of Galarza and his family to benefit from the opportunities afforded to them. He begins his journey toward acculturation as he learns English and studies in school. He also acknowledges the differences in lifestyle between the Mexican and the Anglo American. He also points out his poverty.

The acculturation of Galarza becomes complete in “On the Edge of the Barrio.” Having to learn on his own, Galarza works toward a promise of success. He participates, in his education, in society, and he becomes part of the American working class. His new identity as a Mexican American, because of his social participation, illustrates the positive balance Galarza maintains as a Mexican living in an Anglo American society.

With his life story set against the historical background of the Mexican...

(The entire section contains 715 words.)

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Critical Context