Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Ernesto Galarza divides the narrative of Barrio Boy into five parts, each corresponding roughly to a place in which his family lived. The first part tells of the family’s early history and Galarza’s first five years of life in Jalcocotán, a village high in the Sierra Madre range. There, Ernesto learned his native language as he listened to tales of ancient Native Americans and ghosts, sang songs, and played in the street. He enjoyed life in this free village, where none of its dwellers were indebted to the haciendas of the faraway valleys. He learned of work in the mountains, clearing the deep forest surrounding the pueblo for growing coffee, bananas, and peppers. He also began to learn to read using the only book in the house, his mother’s cookbook.

The second part, “Peregrinations,” details the family’s movements over the next two years, from 1910 to 1912. At the first stop in Tepic, Galarza’s uncles, Gustavo and José, found plenty of work. Soon the revolutionary fighting neared the town, everything closed, and the family moved north. After his first stagecoach and train rides, Galarza found himself living in a tent city beside a railroad roundhouse, as Gustavo and José had jobs with the Southern Pacific Railroad. Galarza began to learn English from Gustavo, whose boss was a gringo, or white man. When the revolution forced the layoff of the railroad workers, the family moved further north to Mazatlán. At seven years old,...

(The entire section is 484 words.)

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Jalcocotán (hal-ko-ko-TAN). Small mountain village in central Mexico. Referred to as Jalco, this isolated and seemingly inaccessible pueblo provides the idyllic, almost edenic, setting for young Ernesto. In this small village, the only street with no name is a place that belongs to everybody. Although the living conditions are primitive—with extremes in weather, torrential downpours that cause flooding, and back-breaking labor—Ernesto’s innocence flourishes here. In the village he lives a safe, secure life and learns a set of values by which to measure his life; these values he metaphorically later carries with him throughout his journey.

Before the rurales—special national police who maintain order in the countryside through violence and terror—enter and threaten the village’s idyllic existence, the greatest danger Ernesto faces is getting his ear pulled for being disrespectful to adults. However, after the rurales invade his sanctuary, his family flees the village to find safety and work. Uprooted, they are forced to leave many belongings behind, but they take their two most valuable items: an Ajax sewing machine and a cedar chest. Throughout their arduous travels, these tangible possessions symbolize the intangibles of their village life that give their life meaning and promise.


*Tepic (TAY-pik). Large city south of Jalco that provides Ernesto’s family with temporary security and a safe haven from the violence of...

(The entire section is 625 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Flores, Lauro. “Chicano Autobiography: Culture, Ideology and the Self.” The Americas Review 18, no. 2 (Summer, 1990): 80-91. Explores the style, characterization, and structure of the autobiography. Asserts that Barrio Boy shows how society influences the individual.

Márquez, Antonio C. “Self and Culture: Autobiography as Cultural Narrative.” Bilingual Review 14, no. 3 (September-December, 1987/1988): 57-63. Focusing on the theme of acculturation and adaptability, examines Barrio Boy as a celebration of individuality and culture. The themes of self-motivation and cultural pride are emphasized.

Robinson, Cecil. Mexico and the Hispanic Southwest in American Literature. Rev. ed. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1977. Offers an analysis of Barrio Boy as an autobiography and social commentary. The place and contribution of Barrio Boy to the Hispanic literary tradition is also examined.

Rocard, Marcienne. The Children of the Sun: Mexican-Americans in the Literature of the United States. Translated by Edward G. Brown, Jr. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1989. Analyzes the internal struggles and conflicts in Barrio Boy as well as other Hispanic novels and autobiographies. Barrio Boy is examined as the portrayal of acculturation from the immigrant’s point of view. Also examines the politics of acculturation.

Saldívar, Ramón. “Ideologies of the Self: Chicano Autobiography.” Diacritics 15, no. 3 (Fall, 1985): 25-34. Analyzing the language and characterization of Barrio Boy, examines individuality and the problems associated with moving from one culture to another. Barrio Boy is compared to other Chicano autobiographies.