Barrio Boy by Ernesto Galarza Book Review

Author Information

The author of Barrio Boy, is Ernesto Galarza. Ernesto was born in Jalcocotan, Nayarit (which is in Mexico) on August 15, 1905 and died in 1984. During Galarza’s early childhood, he lived in a small village of Jalcocotan, all while he learned respect for the things he had. Ernesto came to the United States at a young age, during the Mexian Revolution which happened in the early 1900’s. His generation and their obstacles and triumphs are reflected in his autobiography “Barrio Boy”, making the book a worthy historical reference.

While Ernesto was growing up, he helped out his family in harvesting their crops. He worked in the harvest crops of Sacramento, California. Working in these conditions inspired his views on the way Mexicans were treated as farmworkers. He soon became concerned about the way that the Mexican agriculture workers were treated poorly, and lived in bad condtions all while being a school boy. During these hard times, a baby died, from drinking the polluted water they were given.

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When the Mexican people found out about this, they decided to ask Ernesto to lead the village in a protest, because Ernesto had been taught English in school.

Galarza showed his student activism towards Mexian-American in the early 1929’s, which was when he vocalized his views on the way that the Mexian-American’s were being treated. He finished up high school, and after graduation he continued on with his education. He went to Stanford University, where he was the first Mexican-American to ever be admitted.

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Mr. Galarza earned his Ph. D. in history and political science at Columbia University.

After World War II, Dr. Ernesto Galarza soon became a labor organizer because of his endorsement of the AFL-CIO, he was also named the National Farm Labor Union’s executive secretary. Galarza was deeply committed to the education of young people, and the thought that everyone should have an opportunity to get a good education. Which might be the reason that he started to write literature for children.

Ernesto Galarza was the author of numerous books which included topics on social and economic values, expecially toward the Mexican-American society. Galarza’s wife was Mae, who developed a bilingual education program, which is now a model for other programs. Along with all of Galarza’s accomplishments, he translatted the ‘Mother Goose’ stories into Spanish, and with that book, he also wrote Barrio Boy, which originated from stories that he told his daughters. And in 1976, Ernesto Galarza became the very first Mexican American to be nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature.


The begining of the book took place in a quaint village in Mexico, called Jalcocotan or Jalco for short. Jalco was around the mountains of the Sierra Madre de Nayarit. The nearest city from Jalco was Tepic, from Tepic it was near impossible to get to Jalco. You would have to go down mule tracks, on either a mule or on a burro, and the whole time just hold on the best that you could. The indians that founded Jalco wanted it to be difficult to get into this village, which is why they choose the small rocky places and the gullies surrounding Jalco. They thought of Jalco as ‘some natural storm cellar’, so that they wouldn’t be hit with the hard hurricanes that sometimes occured.

Jalco is where Ernesto Galarza grew up, and he considered himself and anyone growing up in the puebl ‘jalcocotecanos’. In the book he talked about how great Jalco was because it gave protection from outsiders, and it only had one street. This street was an open stretch of a mule track, but it had been widened through out the years, to be able to ‘park six automobiles hub to hub’. In Jalco, there was a line of houses, or cottages on each side. Roofs, were made only of thatched palm, and there was no windows, while the backs of the houses were called corrales, because ‘they were narrow alleys that led uphill to the edge of the forest on the upper side of the village’.

Ernesto had to move to Tepic. They thought that bolas were forming, which the book gave deffinition to as: ‘any group of persons who got together to overthrow the establishment or to inglicht upon it anguish or alarm; when armed and operating in the mountains, they were more accurately called “guerillas.” ‘. and they thought that they would soon be coming to Jalco the revolution was going to move to Jalco. Gustavo had been chosen to go to Tepic, and see what was going on over there. The night that he left, there was a major comet that Don Cleofas said foretold that something very impacting was soon to happen, but specially he said this comet meant that La Revolucion was coming our way. Gustavo came back to Jalco a few days after the comet. What he saw there was guards, and men being taken to regiments, which made Ernesto’s family decided to move into Tepic where they would all get jobs and find a place to live.

The revolution scared Ernesto’s family, and everytime they thought that the revoultion was gettin close, they packed up their stuff, with a lot of thought involved, and moved to the next city. The book says that the ‘city was peaceful while we lived there but in the vecindad there was the talk and the feeling of trouble. My mother lived in dread that Jose would be picked up and taken away as a draftee to fight for Don Porfirio’. After they found out that no one could enter or leave Tepic without being stopped bu the patrols, and how regiments were getting quartered around the village in Tepic, they decided to go to Acaponeta. In Acaponeta Ernesto said that the most important place was the railway station, which he stood far away from the tracks and watched the people get on and off of the train, and watch the train go off into the distance. The train stain was also the center of the revolution, because there were soliders in the boxcars, and Ernesto and his mother could see how the revolution was evolving.

A letter came in from Gustavo that said for Ernesto and his mom to go to Urias, from Acaponeta. Gustavo said that he would send a money order to them both to help transport them from Acaponeta to Urias. Gustavo’s letter also said that Esther would also go to Urias to meet up with them, because they were also sending him money. A few days later they left on a train from Acaponeta, to go to Urais, where they meet up with Gustavo and Jose.

They stayed in Urais for a while, but when Dona Florencia found a room for rent, they were off to Mazatlan. Mazatlan was the next city over to Urais, so it really wasn’t too big of a move for Ernesto, and in the book it said, ‘The down payment on teh rent was made and Jose went back to Casa Redonda for out things.’. The place that they lived in was only one room, and had a red tile roof, and brick floors.

Then three more letters came from Gustavo, where he wanted to get all the family together, only this time in America. Gustavo and Jose wanted to have all the family together in Sacramento, California because that’s where Jose had to work on the railroad. Ernesto and his mom had to wait in Tucson, before they could continue their journey, so they could get another pass and so money could be obtained. While they were in Tucson Ernesto had a great time with the hotel and the toilet, it says in the book, ‘That night I got up many times to go to the toilet, until i was ordered to go to bed.’.

When they got back on the train for the last time, they finally entered their destination of Sacramento. The book describes them entering Sacramento as, ‘A brake man opened the door at the front of the coach and called, “Sach-men-ah,” by which we knew he meant Sa-cra-men-to, for we had passed a large sign with the name in black and white at teh entrance to the corporation yard. From there, the book setting is in Sacramento, and describes the different things that Ernesto Galarza learns while in school, and while he’s out on the farm.


The main character of the book was Ernesto Galarza (big surprise). In this book, Ernesto Galarza is not very physically developed in the beginning, but towards the end of the book he was on his way to manhood.

Emotionally, Ernesto Galarza is strung everywhere, depending on the time of the book. “Police and firemen swarmed around for a while. We never called the police, they just came.” is one excerpt from the book where he had to be very emotionally strong, because he had to realize the bad neighborhood that he was in, and how his family was taking it. They were doing the best that they could possibly do, and he knew how bad that made them fell.

Another time that Ernesto showed how emotionally impact he was, was when he had to move out of his home town of Jalco, and into different places with his family. Moving is hard on anyone, expecially if you have lived there you’re whole life, the hardship of having to move from city to city in Mexico was really bad for Ernesto Galarza, because this family had to ask other family members if they could stay in their houses, and they had to start from scratch. Which really shows how emotionally strong he was.

Ernesto Galarza had to be mentally strong, to see how bad things really could be. To see your neighbor that’s a child dying, you have to get mentally stronger than the average person. Ernesto Galarza also had to take a place in watching the rituals for those who are really sick, and then had to participate because his family thought that that the more people involved in the ritual, the better the outcome.

Ernesto Galarza was also shaped into a better mentally strong person through this story because he experienced many rascist situation in reverse. In the book, Ernesto Galarza wanted to send a letter to his mother, but he had to make it a telegram because it had to be in english. At the bottom of the telegram, Ernesto Galarza signed it ‘Little Ernie’ but the clerk made him change it to ‘Ernesto’. This made Ernesto Galarza think about everything, and develop himself better and become more strong mentally.

Other than Ernesto, there were a few other main characters which include Gustavo, and his mother. Gustavo wrote his family letters, and money. Gustavo was very physically developed because he had to work very hard labor, such as the railroad tracks. While his mom wasn’t too physically developed because she was a woman, but she always did what she could to help out.

Emotionally Gustavo was very strong, and expressed a lot of concern. Gustave never really expresses a lot of his feelings because he’s pretty quiet. Ernesto’s mom was always wanting to do the best thing for her kids, no matter what. She was willing to take all of her things and move them just for the sake of her children.

Gustavo mentally wanted to get all of his family in one spot, because family was very important to him. Through-out the who book Ernesto keeps getting these letters from Gustavo and Jose explaining what he had to do to find, or reunite with his family, and Gustavo and Jose took care of their family by giving them money to help them out on their journey. Galarza’s mom was very mentally strong to be able to go from place to place, with all the worries that she had on her mind, like the time she stayed up all night before they left.


Barrio Boy, had a lot of Man Vs. Self, and Man Vs. Society.

Man Vs. Self: There were so many times that there was a man vs. himself, but one time specifically was when Ernesto had to learn English. Ernesto just had to concentrate, and believe in himself that he could learn how to read and write English before he actually could. Ernesto’s mom helped him in his work, by his mom calling out the combinations she had written him on tope of the slate.

Man Vs. Society: Like man vs. self, there were a lot of man vs. society too, but one time in particular was when Ernesto ventured out of the alley and down the street, and was chased home by three American boys. This shows how difference societys act towards different people, Ernesto didn’t even understand what the boys were yelling at him, he just understood that it wasn’t very nice.

The book was mainly about how Ernesto had to move from Jalco and to city to city, to try and be with his family. The reason that his family was split up was because of the Mexican Revolution. During the book, Ernesto’s family wanted to be as far away from the revolution that they could be, no matter how many times they had to move.

Gustavo and Jose kept sending Ernesto and his mother money to get from to place in this book, because they wanted to get all of their family in one place. They tried a lot of villages and cities in Mexico, until they finally decided to go to the United States. They choose to migrate to Sacramento, California because Jose was working on the railroad there. The rising action in this book was all the traving Ernesto did. On each train, he was exposed to different experiences and different people.

The main action of this book was when they finally arrived in Sacramento and was reunited with their family, because that’s what the story was talking about through-out. There, was also where the falling action occured, which would be that when he got there, he had to work and help support his family, and watch his little sisters. The resolution would be that he went to school, and made something of himself.


The life lesson that was taught in this book would be that don’t take anything forgranted. In Ernesto’s book, he goes through a lot of conflicts with himself and with the circumstances that he has to live in. The biggest conflict was having to move from place to place trying not to get caught up in the Mexican Revolution. Although Ernesto was in a horrible situation, he always seemed to turn it around for the better, and look towards the more positive out look.

Everyone has a choice on whether or not they want to be in a good mood or not, they decide whether they want something to bother them or not. In this book, it teaches you how to take a more positive approach to everything you do which also reflects how you shouldn’t take anything forgranted. Ernesto never loses his positive approach, and keeps his head up high, which is what everyone should do.


This book, along with everyother book has its ups and its downs. Barrio Boy was a very capturing story about immigration and coming to the United States. The book itself gives you the feeling that you’re hearing the stories told time and time again by your grandparents. Ernesto uses a lot of detail in this book which gives you a clear picture of what he’s talking about. As an autobiography, Ernesto Galarza did a good job. If the reader has a sense of history and knowlege of Mexican-American culture, then they’ll read with ease.

The Barrio Boy book had very interesting subject matter, however the writing itself sometimes is a bore. Ernesto Galarza dwells on facts very insignificant to the purpose of the story and therefor the reader must wade through all of that to pull out the important history he’s retelling. The first 70 pages was pure talk of Ernesto’s family, and how they lived in Jalco. It included some interesting details on what they did, but it was all pretty irrelevant to the story at hand. This alone turns the reader off, and makes them want to put the book down. Another thing that turns the reader off is that you never learn about the rich history of the Mexican-American Herritage in this country. Ernesto could have also used more English terms in this book. Readers don’t like to have to flip to the back of the book, to understand what they are reading exspecially if it’s already drawn out.

If you like to read about culture, especially Mexican-American culture you might find this book to be enjoyable. If you have problems reading books for anything other than pleasure you might want to pick up another book about the Mexican culture in the United States, you might want to try Rain of Gold, by Victor Villasenor.

Cite this page

Barrio Boy by Ernesto Galarza Book Review. (2016, Jun 20). Retrieved from

Barrio Boy by Ernesto Galarza Book Review

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