Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Barrio Boy, by Ernesto Galarza, tells the story of a boy caught between worlds as he moves from Mexico to the United States and comes of age under difficult conditions and amid social and political strife. He yearns to find his place in the world and establish roots, yet each place he moves he finds himself challenged by a clash of cultures. The complexity of adapting to new ways of life is a theme in the novel, as is understanding new ways of thinking, and learning to accept change. All these challenges define the immigrant experience and explain the immigrant’s feelings of displacement.
As a child growing up in Mexico, Ernie experienced the effects of the turmoil that developed as the workers revolted against the ruling elite. He witnessed the disruption, and he felt it, and he saw how the clash between economic classes led to social and personal strife. He felt a larger clash between cultures, too, as he learned that the life and philosophies of the working class were quite different from those of the elite—a fact that was just as apparent to him in California as it was in his homeland. As Galarza describes the obstacles Ernie faces during his journey from the barrios of Mexico to a working-class neighborhood in Sacramento, he explores the themes of subjugation, community, honor, and displacement. Ernie escapes the Mexican Revolution when he moves to California, but he continues to feel caught between worlds and lost in a sea of strangers. Galarza conveys the idea that adaptation is necessary for survival, however. The challenge for Ernie is to come to terms with that necessity —to seize the opportunities he is given without forsaking his honor and abandoning his roots.