Pocho Summary & Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 39-page guide for “Pocho” by Jose Antonio Villarreal includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 11 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Identity and Selfhood and Learning and Friendship.
Pocho is a 1959 novel by José Antonio Villarreal. Often considered the first Chicano novel, it was a critical success and an important landmark in American literature. This guide refers to the 1989 Anchor Books edition.
Pocho is a bildungsroman, telling the coming-of-age story of young Richard Rubio. However, the story starts before his birth with the tale of how his father, Juan Manuel Rubio, first came to America. A soldier who fought alongside Pancho Villa in the Mexican Revolution, Juan Rubio was a proud, patriotic man, with an intense sense of masculine honor. He crossed the border after Villa’s assassination; his wife, Consuelo, followed him, and the two set up a home in Santa Clara, California, arriving just in time for the Great Depression.
Richard is their fifth child and first son. Sensitive and thoughtful, he often finds himself at odds with both his Mexican heritage and the American world he grows up in: He hates the hypocrisy he sees in his parents, his school, and his church. The novel’s title, Pocho, sums up its questions about identity and selfhood: A “pocho” is a second-generation Mexican-American, a child of immigrants born in the US. The word, a Mexican term for an only-in-America concept, is Richard’s difficulty in a nutshell.
An intense love of reading makes Richard want to become a writer one day, and he sets about trying to experience as much as he can. He develops a sense of the world’s complexity from a crew of unlikely friends, including Mary, a Protestant girl who both calls him out on his insensitivity and vows that she’ll marry him one day; Joe Pete Manõel, a tormented Portuguese exile who teaches him to think for himself and abuses neighborhood children; Ricky, a brash and conventional kid with his eye on money; and Rooster, the leader of a pachuco gang. He also struggles with his family’s expectations for him: His father and mother alternately encourage his love of learning and throw his books out the window, worried for his future security.
As Richard grows up, he grapples with the difficulties of sex, acculturation, and discrimination. Determined to think for himself and be utterly independent, he slowly finds that life isn’t so simple: Other people’s perspectives on him (and their demands on him) can’t help but have an influence on his life. He’s ravenously delighted to discover masturbation and sex, but he can’t find in them an answer to his deeper questions about how to live a full life. His family can’t help him with these questions: His parents both insist that the full value of a human life is in family and loyalty, an answer that Richard finds unsatisfying. Meanwhile, he’s also struggling with the outside world’s expectations for him: He receives job offers as a sort of Token Exceptional Mexican Immigrant, which he scornfully declines. In a particularly loaded encounter, a policeman questions him for a crime he didn’t commit and ends up suggesting that Richard join the force. Discovering this depth of prejudice appalls Richard: The white world can only see him as either a generic ne’er-do-well or an exception to the rule.
Richard’s family’s difficult adjustment to American life slowly eats away at their certainties and traditions. While Juan Rubio always intends that the family should move back to Mexico, as they become more financially secure and buy a house, they find themselves putting down roots. However, these roots don’t mean stability: Juan Rubio and Consuelo butt heads over the different expectations for marriages in America. The family’s house becomes dirtier and dirtier, and Juan Rubio and Consuelo fight more and more. After a final violent blowout, Juan Rubio leaves the family, and Richard must remain behind to look after his mother and sisters.
Richard gets a factory job and finds himself falling into exactly the workaday life he hoped to avoid. He and his friends find a ticket out of town, but not a comfortable one: World War II separates them. Richard enlists in the Navy, finding a balance between connection (he will still support his mother and sisters) and independence. He’s off to lead his own life. However, he knows that he can never return to what he left behind, and he has learned that this is both an inevitability and a genuine sacrifice.