Barrio Boy

Moving Beyond the Barrio: Engaging Students in Ernesto Galarza's Description

Synopsis / Description:
Barrio Boy is the remarkable story of one boy's journey from a Mexican village so small its main street didn't have a name, to the barrio of Sacramento, California, bustling and thriving in the early decades of the twentieth century. Galarza's saga begins in Jalcocotán, a mountain village just south of where the Gulf of California joins the Pacific. When the turmoil precipitated by the Mexican Revolution begins to escalate, the family leaves their tiny village in search of safety and work in a nearby city. Subsequent moves introduce the boy to the growing turbulence of the Revolution and the uncertainties of city life. He experiences firsthand the difficulties in finding work in a strife-torn nation, securing an education, and keeping a close-knit family intact. When his family finally settles in Sacramento, young Ernesto encounters new experiences and influences that will forever shape his outlook and broaden his horizons The University of Notre Dame Press.

Challenge #1: Engaging Students with the Characters and Action:
Ernesto Galarza's Barrio Boy provides a vivid representation of the Chicano migration after the Mexican Revolution. The author's portrayal is honest and thorough. Although Galarza's description invites readers into the each and every moment within the Jalcocotan pueblo, some readers, particularly high school students, may become overwhelmed by the details about an unfamiliar place and history. They may consider the book to be slow moving. As a teacher, how should I approach the novel, especially the first two parts (In a Mountain Village and Peregrinations) which contain such rich description?

The following strategy could be implemented at the beginning of the unit:
Barrio Boy offers very little dialog. Because of this, students may have a difficult time relating to the characters. I would approach this by pairing students and having them create dialog for the text. They would choose various scenes from the book and build characterization by adding dialog. Then students could volunteer to act out these scenes in front of their peers.

Additionally, the text relates a hard struggle but a very successful ending. Students are to write about a time in their lives when they felt that the cards were stacked against them, but in the end, they were successful. Students may write about a personal sporting event, passing a very hard test, getting a job for which they and many others applied. Any sort of situation where the student was successful will work. These stories should be shared with the class.

The more the students know about Mexico, including life in Mexican villages, and the Mexican revolution, the better. Some students might do research and report to the rest of the class. Class discussion about what the students are learning from the text will be helpful.

Challenge #2: Understanding Spanish language, words, and culture:
Vocabulary could be a challenge for high school students. Establishing the significance of Chicano vocabulary is vital. The vocabulary is a wonderful tool toward understanding the Jalcocotan lifestyle. Students could scan through the glossary in the back of the book relating words that may look familiar. Also, we would address the differences in language at the beginning of the unit and possibly dividing the glossary between groups of students. Students who have some background in Spanish could become resources to the rest of the class.

Additional Resources:
A to Z Teacher Stuff
Promoting Reading Among Mexican American Children by Yvonne Murray - Jose Velazquez
This digest identifies key challenges, recommends classroom strategies, provides literature selection guidelines, and suggests reading lists for various grade levels.

Sarasota County Public Schools
This teacher's guide to Internet resources was developed by Sarasota County Public School teachers to enrich the language arts curriculum and encourage the use of interdisciplinary activities. This guide is designed to supplement the reading selection Barrio Boy.

Promoting Reading among Mexican American Children. ERIC Digest
Literature addresses the universal need for stories. Stories are most meaningful and best able to promote literacy when they speak to a student's world. Good books can help children develop pride in their ethnic identity, provide positive role models, develop knowledge about cultural history, and build self-esteem. However, Mexican American students in the United States often do not experience literature in this way. This Digest identifies key challenges, recommends classroom strategies, provides literature selection guidelines, and suggests reading lists for various grade levels.

Teaching Chicano Literature
An essay by Raymund Paredes of University of California at Los Angeles about the historical significance of Chicano Literature.

Border Crossings in Chicano/a Literature
This WebQuest is part of a six week unit which examines the immigration and migration workforce in America. The novel being used as a vehicle for this unit is Under the Feet of Jesus by Helena Maria Viramontes. Much of these teaching ideas are applicable for Barrio Boy also.

by Peter VanGorp