Ben Bac Sierra's personal story of transformation is a model for anyone looking to surmount life's challenges. Raised by a widowed mother and the San Francisco Mission District streets, Ben lived a harsh 'homeboy' existence until an equally harsh stint in the United States Marine Corps at age seventeen set him on an unlikely trajectory from veteran Gulf War combat veteran to professor and writer.
After his honorable discharge from the Marines, where he participated in front line combat during the first Gulf War, Ben completed his B.A. in English at U.C. Berkeley, earned a teaching credential and an M.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University, and merited a Juris Doctor degree from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. Currently, he is a professor at the City College of San Francisco, a curriculum developer and instructor for HOMEY SF and Gateway National Network, and a community activist throughout the Bay Area. Ben's essays and stories have been published in many publications, including World Literature Today, where he was featured as a prominent emerging author. His 2011 novel Barrio Bushido was presented a Best of the Bay Award and an International Latino Book Award.
"Benjamin Bac Sierra is an American Dostoevsky, and BARRIO BUSHIDO is our CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. Given the conditions of their lives, how can Lobo, Toro, and Santo become honorable, heroic men? Their story is at once a thriller and a big novel."
--Maxine Hong-Kingston, The Woman Warrior
"A Latino Elmore Leonard."
--Earl Shorris, author of The Life and Times of Mexico
Benjamin Bac Sierra moves from lyrical beauty to savage brutality with all the grace of the symbolic matador who haunts his gripping novel of criminal life in a California barrio. Bac Sierra's voice gets inside your head and stays there, binding the reader to the compelling narrative as tightly as the novel's characters are bound to the twisted code of criminal honor that leads to their tragic downfall.
--Karl Marlantes, author of Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War
To find out more about Ben and his writing, please visit http://todobododown.wordpress.com/
Man versus Bull
In Barrio Bushido, Benjamin Bac Sierra introduces three main characters: Lobo, Toro, and Santo. This is a story about three individual quests for human evolution. Toro, which means bull in Spanish, is trapped between the Vida Loca lifestyle, the barrio, and the disgrace he has caused his mother. He joins the Marines as an escape, but ultimately as an opportunity to acquire nobility. Toro, the bull, desired to be an honorable, heroic man. Toro stayed true to his moniker by representing the mythological character of a bull physically, mentally, and instinctually until he has a humanizing encounter with the police officers.
Toro’s physical attributes were identical to a bull. His posturing suggests strong similarities. The speaker describes him as having bull-like features. He says, “His body was a mountain of solid rock. His chest heaved high with every breath and his arms tightened even when he patted a delicate daisy” (BB 74). His outer shell was an illusion which added realism to mythology. He resembled a bull so much the connection could be made without knowledge of his moniker. He was a bull reincarnated as a man. The speaker says, “Lobo and Santo gazed at Toro’s striated arms and morillo muscles protruding out of his white tank top. Toro stood firm, short and stocky, brutal fists balled up on each side. They all simultaneously hooted out deep belly laughter” (BB 2). They all could not believe how much of a bull Toro really was. In another instance Lobo looked at him and thought, “Clean, healthy, brawny baby bull” (BB 182). Toro emulated a bull even in his movements and gestures. Physically, Toro, looked like a bull.
Toro reinforces his mythological character by thinking as a bull. In his mind he’s a bull. After he stabbed someone at the age of sixteen he thought to himself, “Damn, I fucked up. Damn, I’m a crazy ass bull” (BB 85). Human rationalization is absent. The thought of being a bull is embedded in Toro’s psyche. When he finally chose to go to the Marines he said to himself, “As a bull, I had to go forward” (BB 88). He has internalized the concept of being a bull. He does not have the mental capacity to put things in proper perspective. In his Vida Loco, bull-like brain he’s a bull charging through life full speed, disconnected from the chain of human life. He is a bull. He retreats to his safe haven, his mind and he says, “Time to look at the bull right in the mouth. And I’m there. And now you don’t know if you’re the matador or the meat, but I never have that problem because I don’t care if I’m eaten or worn, barbequed or boiled. I rise to the ring. And I don’t ever run away” (BB 141). To him life is a matador and he is the bull. Mentally, Toro’s mythological character is a reality.
Toro’s first instinct is to charge. He reacts to the red cape of life charging full speed ahead. The speaker describes Toro’s instinctual responses as such, “Once the battle cry “Charge”! sounded, his legs were pillars of stone that knew only fast forward. There was no alternative but to rush up with his rock of a body, horns pointed straight for the objective, and hit or be hit, because you must understand, he could not fight backwards; he had never been taught the sweet science of moving side to side and sticking and jabbing. Charging forward like a bull meant life; moving backwards as a pretty boxer meant certain annihilation” (BB 74). His mind does not even have a reverse switch. Under every circumstance his reactions are the same. The speaker says, “All over his world were big bald scars that revealed how he charged at the red cape of life” (BB 73). When he went to the Marines he adjusted by his instincts. Charging was second nature to Toro. He thinks to himself, “Charging the obstacle course or Confidence Course or running my ass off, I was Albert fucking Einstein” (BB 92). Toro charges naturally. The enemy targets wave the red flag which signals his instinct to charge. Everything is red to Toro, the bull.
After returning from Desert Storm Toro, had a humanizing encounter. He wore his uniform proud, camouflaging the bull inside. A police officer saw something else. The speaker explains, “You aint realized it yet, buddy, but you’re gonna see you’re different now,” the rookie added. “You aint on the same level as these punks around here. You think they could’ve done what you’ve done? Discipline and shit? Hell no” The rookie spread his arms around the entire neighborhood. “You’re different and you’re changed, and I don’t even know who you are. You probably don’t even know who you are anymore. You’re the American dream, straight up American champ-een, spick or not. One of us. A good guy.” (BB 131). His mother called him a disgrace. His homeboys saw him as a bull but these police saw a good guy. The words spoken about Toro paint a picture of an honorable heroic human being. Toro, the bull, begins transformation. His human experience makes him think. He says to himself, “That rookie cop was right in a way. It hadn’t hit me yet, but I wasn’t the same anymore…..I sure wasn’t the same old Toro that didn’t think at all anymore” (BB 132). Toro begins to view himself differently. His humanization process is initiated. He has a moment of clarity.
Toro begins to think like a man. He returns to finish out his tour of duty and he discovers something about himself. Toro aided his commanding officer up a mountain. He thought about the most effective way to do it. He thought to himself, “It had to be gentle; it had to be words between gentlemen. One human to another” (BB 136). His inner words prompted what escaped his lips. “Corazon,” I murmur. “Corazon, Sir,” I whisper (BB 136). Toro demonstrates he is humane. Afterwards Toro says to himself, “I learned to love my fellow man, yet I never had to say it, never had to pretend……(BB 137). He is experiencing human emotion. Toro returns back to the barrio. He is enlightened. He was a bull and he always charged forward without hesitation. Now he questioned his existence. He thinks, “What if I don’t know where I’m headed? I’ve got these homeboys on a mission, but maybe I don’t even know the objective. But this really for Chinatown, for the glory of Lobo’s dollar, I guess. Although these thoughts irritated Toro, he grasped that uncertainty was defeat in this atmosphere. They had to keep going even if it was the wrong direction, for there was no time to stand still” (BB 203). Toro was thinking like a man. He chose loyalty because his homeboys saw the bull Toro had always been. Only he knew he had become humanized.
Toro lived up to his name in every aspect. He has a charging bull-like mentality. He could not rationalize as a human being. He showed no signs of emotion. His outlook on life was viewed from the eyes of a bull. His matador philosophy kept him in a fantasy world. In Toro’s quest for human evolution he found himself. He begun to feel love. He questioned life. Toro referred to himself as a human being instead of a bull. He learned to rationalize and conceptualize. He showed humanistic instincts which contradicted his bull mentality. Toro stayed true to his moniker until the rookie policeman’s words caused him to look within. He discovered life is more than being a bull. Names and words are so powerful they have a psychological affect over mankind. His name is Toro, which means bull, but he became a man through his experiences.
Mariana Jordao Guterman
Instructor Benjamin Bac Sierra
November 15th 2012
Analysis of Barrio Bushido
Literature, among others forms of cultural expression such as art and music, often does not have a defined meaning or value. For it is not a scientific process, but a subjective communication path between the author’s and the reader’s judgement, different groups of people will have different opinions on whether a piece of writing is literary or not. Such judgements are made based on one’s diverse background and frame of reference, which might explain why certain texts are considered to be classics among the academics, but would not necessarily have the same meaning for social groups who do not participate in defining the canons of literature. The novel Barrio Bushido, with its brutal exposure of the streets’ culture, could be considered a mere nihilistic thriller if the reader believes that the main characters reject a life purpose and simply attempt to glorify la vida loca. By deconstructing the meaning of this general life purpose and the simplified American Dream, one can truly appreciate the depthness of Lobo’s, Santo’s and Toro’s story. Thought-provoking, Barrio Bushido carries profound messages, showing characters that do not deny the existence of a purpose in life or in morality, but instead choose to question whether the prevailing socially accepted idea of life purpose fits in with their individualities and aspirations.
Lobo, Santo and Toro have many things in common. Their brotherhood and friendship seems to be guided by their ideology on freedom from any social ties that go beyond their varrio. They surprise the unprepared reader with their profound thoughts and understanding, which do not correspond to any homeboy’s stereotype. They are ruthless and live through their own norms, purposefully detaching themselves from a society that does not care about them. Each character dedicates deep thought and effort into this detachment, attempting to understand how their pasts and presents will shape their futures. As Adorno & Horkheimer state in the preface of Dialectic of Enlightenment, “freedom in society is inseparable from enlightenment thinking”(Horkheimer and Adorno, Preface, xvi). By living the freedom of la vida loca, Lobo, Santo and Toro take risks, compromise their futures, and even have God stop loving them, but they achieve unique levels of enlightenment about social norms and about their own lives that seem to justify their lifestyle.
On a first analysis, the character of Lobo seems to have reached the most practical level of enlightenment. In his understanding, society is inherently corrupted, and although there is a level of socially accepted corruption, he proudly remains true to his values and to his own “honest” corruption. However, as much as he seems to despise social norms, Lobo is greedy, believing that money and possessions will bring him power and, consequently, success. He contradicts himself by rejecting a society that would have “suited and booted [him] in Brooks Brothers’ finest” (Bac Sierra, 15) when he rescues from the toilet bowl the “little piece of ivory that gives [him] the illusion of humanity”(17). Lobo appears to want main society’s success, but he aims to get it by his own means, and does so selfishly, at the expense of his homies and his partner Sheila. As the wolf that he represents, Lobo prefers to be surrounded by his pack, and is opportunistic on every and any thing or occasion that could serve as prey. He “prospers on tragedy” (46). His fake teeth experience and his plan of killing Sasquatch in some sick way denote how Lobo is often controlled by his vanity. For him, the honor of the homeboys is the most important value and must be maintained – so it can be shown off – at any cost. Lobo believes in being himself, but a large part of his life purpose if to have other people fear and admire his bold individuality.
Santo’s enlightenment seems to happen less at the material level and more at his soul. Raised on an unstable family environment, this character faced hardships and was held accountable for his family’s well being at a very young age . Perhaps that is why he seems to take every matter in the world to his heart and under his responsibility. From being the best friend one can have, to assisting Toro on a fight, or taking over the Chinatown scheme upon himself, Santo is a God-like character who appears selfless, but who aims to have power and wisdom in every circumstance. His battle against the illusion of beauty can be seen as the consolidation of his upbringing. There was no beauty in his family, and when he saw a spark of it on his Christmas present, it was taken away from him faster than his ability to assimilate its existence. The battle extends to his relationship with Maricela. Santos’ “awareness of smiling faces, for they are the ones that carry knives” (163) makes him understand that Maricela’s beautiful plan of going to Florida was an illusion from which he should get rid of. He does not share her greed, for he believes his varrio and his homies matter more than sacks of money, but he finds true beauty in her sickness. However, even his strong mind gets dominated by illusion when he writes himself a romantic letter pretending it was written by Maricela. His subconscious need for affection twists his understanding, and he misleads himself with illusion to cope with the sadness of no longer being with her.
More than repudiating main society, Santo focuses on his own environment. He does not want to be successful like Lobo, and he believes that his homies “were kings because [they] had each other, and each other was all [they] needed” (148). In their own varrio, they were at the top, and did not need approval from anyone else. His spiritual enlightenment can be further understood through his thoughts and conversations with the voices inside of his head. As if possessing some supernatural power, Santo always knew that his destiny was to sacrifice himself, so he could battle with the Devil and “give [his] people a place to smile, a place they could hold their heads up without being ashamed” (148). His life purpose and fate happen at the extramundane level, justifying his deeper detachment from the main society that bothers his peers so much.
Toro’s enlightenment is perhaps the most effective in showing the reader a clear overview and deconstruction of the social norms that surround the varrio. Growing up in the projects, his mother working as a housekeeper while on welfare, Toro early in life learns about how society outside of the varrio looks down on the immigrant latin population. For a while he feels divided between his mother’s oppressed universe of the American Dream and the freedom of the streets, but even joining the gang does not make him feel passionately about la vida loca as Lobo and Santo do. As much as Toro declares to be moved by action, by charge, instead of by reflection, he seems to be the only homie to think with caution about the consequences of the street life. His macho exit plan was thoughtfully forged to look like a courageous attitude in order to mask its true meanings: a scape and a move forward from the varrio’s corrida de toros. By joining the Marine Corps, Toro manages to put in practice what Duster had taught him earlier in the novel – that playing dumb is the best way to deal with authority figures that, like main society, look down on his lifestyle. Instead of continuing the destructive life of the varrio, Toro becomes lawfully authorized to kill and to cause disorder on other people’s lives through war. As a marine, he continues to be the same varrio homeboy, and does not let the system brainwash him into becoming someone else. He finds it hypocritical that society condemns gangs but stands up to applaud war heroes who essentially (in Toro’s understanding) practice the same activities that the homies did back in their neighborhood. The fighting is appraised if it is done under the American flag with the purpose of defending the nation, but condemned if done among vatos locos. By acknowledging this hypocrisy, Toro manages to take advantage of it. He is no longer seen as a threat by the police; instead, his uniform and war history put him in a position of power, and the police now sees him as one of them. The uniform’s power is comparable to Duster’s strategy of pretending he does not speak English to escape being arrested. Toro becomes a distinct figure on the outside, and feels proud of misleading the police and society while keeping intact a more mature version of his beliefs about the world. He, who was called dumb and stupid all his life, has actually a sharp strategic intelligence that is kept secret for his own advantage.
Lobo, Santo and Toro are representatives of a specific latin community in the United States and can exemplify how the American Dream is not a “one size fits all” social statement. All characters want the upward mobility and the recognition inherent to the Dream, and at the same time they want completely distinct versions of those. Lobo aspires to be wealthy, only to find out that no matter how much money he manages to have, society will still look at him and at his gente as maids and housekeepers. Santo, too conscious of his own fate, dreams too little and thinks too much. At the cheese line, he points out what no one sees – that the American Dream is just another type of panem et circenses, spreaded out for the fake sense of wellness among a very impoverished population. According to society’s main norm, Toro is perhaps the most successful among the three. He achieves upward mobility through his veteran status and starts attending college, but there is no social recognition for his struggles in life, let alone for the ones of his mother. The three homies only seem to move forward when they go meet Animo, that is, las armas, for fighting is such an inherent part of their life purpose and of their personal sick American Dream.
Barrio Bushido presents an overwhelming variety of human feelings and conditions that do are not restricted to the calle of the varrio. It introduces friendship, brotherhood, love, hatred, aspirations and deceptions that are lived by all people regardless of their social status or nationality. It depicts homeboys in a way that most people would rather believe does not exist – intelligent, thoughtful, purposeful vatos, dedicated to what they believe matters most in life. Lobo, Santo and Toro deconstruct piece by piece the cliché of the American Dream, and portray it as it really is – the wallpaper of society’s cage, a lie that prospers in order to mask people’s desperation. As Adorno and Horkheimer have stated, it is ironic that “each human being ha[s] been endowed with a self of his own or her own, different from all others, so that it could all the more surely be made the same” (Horkheimer and Adorno, 9). Perhaps the most important message of Barrio Bushido is to spread in society a new mind openness for questioning reality, unlocking the doors of freedom and living an individual dream, as sick as it may be.
Horkheimer, Max, and Thedor W. Adorno. Dialectic of Enlightenment: philosophical
fragments. Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University, 2002. Preface, xvi. Web.
Bac Sierra, Benjamin. Barrio Bushido. Berkeley: El León Literary Arts, 2011. Print.
Gomez Barajas, Yazmin
Instructor: Benjamin Bac Sierra
November 17, 2011
Is it Easier to Pretend or Shape One’s Identity?
When it comes to deciding who is responsible for determining humans’ identity, most people are likely to say that the circumstances they face influence their identities. People almost never take the time to see that they have the power to shape their identities and rewrite their own destiny. It takes courage and sacrifice to challenge the idea that people cannot choose their identity. In Benjamin Bac Sierra’s book Barrio Bushido, the character Toro faces the same dilemma. He decides to stay true to the mythology of his moniker in order to cope with suffering, which can only be achieved by embracing craziness. However, Toro is humanized when he finds empowerment in love, giving him a vato loco intellectual identity.
Toro chooses to wear a bull’s mask since it prevents him from being scared of his own reality. Toro’s identity is transformed the moment he falls out from his apartment window at the age of five, making him realize that his destiny will be filled with pain and suffering. During the window incident, tiny Toro lands into a scary world unprepared wearing his underwear while he walks in the streets. In this scary world, people slam the door in his face and call him retard whenever he asks for help. Toro knows that he needs more than underwear to face his destiny; he needs to wear a bull’s costume to survive in the varrio. As a brave bull, Toro “[swallows] the fate of his costume… with the serenity of a man who has accepted the bitter medicine of circumstance” (74). This line illustrates that Toro is ready to take this dangerous journey portraying himself as an animal even if this means to sacrifice his own identity. Throughout the book, Toro suffers the consequences of being a bull by joining a gang that embraces craziness as an ideology. Toro believes that charging towards lavida loca will give him respect among homeboys, so he can walk on the streets with no fear and also gain the title of crazy. Toro uses craziness to protect him from showing his insecurities in the varrio, but it does not prevent him from getting stabbed. Nevertheless, Toro deep inside seems to struggle with the fate of his moniker. Consider how Toro expresses himself about his homeboys, he says “I loved yet hated them” (88). This passage represents that Toro’s faithfulness to his homeboys is important, but at the same time he knows that lavida loca leads to either prison or death. Despite Toro’s dilemma, he sticks to his moniker of being a bull to disguise his fears.
Moreover, like a bull Toro rejects critical thinking while in military combat, which helps him find value in craziness. At the age of seventeen, Toro decides to join the Marine Corps in order to escape from the varrio since he will gain respect without being questioned about his homeboy loyalty. But it is not until Toro prays to God to have strength to stay a Marine, when he realizes the true concept of being a Marine, which is “a professional sufferer” (112). This line illustrates that Toro finds out that Marines are like vato locos since they both suffer and fear. However, the only difference is that Marines suffer with class, which means that their suffering is rewarded with glory while vato locos’ suffering is punished with jail. The theory of lunacy plays an important role for Toro during combat since it helps him cope with the dangers of his journey in the Marines. In other words, he believes that rejecting critical thinking will help Marines in times of combat because if they overanalyzed their situation in warfare, they would end up “smelling the red roses and green grass for eternity” (113). Hence, the value of craziness gives Toro the courage to keep moving forward without being scared.
Toro is able to find his intellectual identity by changing his strategy to empower himself through love instead of using verguenza. While growing up, Toro’s mom instills verguenza (shame) in him as a negative reinforcement to take him away from the streets. Even though she calls him desgraciado (shameless)at times, her strategy of using shame does not seem to enable Toro because she is always there to pick him up from jail or give him money to buy a “burrito.” Consider Toro’s attitude towards his mom when he says “she [has] to stop loving me” (90). This passage represents that without his mom’s unconditional love, Toro can find the strength to change. In fact, Toro’s opportunity to change from being a bull to a vato loco intellectual arrives when he decides to motivate a boot lieutenant trying to climb up Mount Fuji while he is in the Marine Corps. As he sees the lieutenant struggling to climb up, Toro identifies himself with the lieutenant’s suffering and pain. When Toro approaches the lieutenant, he decides not to use verguenza to motivate him instead he whispers corazon (heart). In this scene, Toro believes that corazon can inspire the lieutenant by looking at his corazon in moments of despair. As a result, Toro is humanized when he learns to love his fellow man, proving to himself that the power of love motivates people.
Toro’s concept of true love makes him understand the value of his personal truth, which leads him to reach a vato loco intellectual identity. After Toro’s discharge, he decides to go back to the varrio with the medals he received from the Corps. In his old room, Toro describes that the shiny medals are falling down because he does not pin them up right. His homeboy Lobo does not hesitate to suggest that Toro should hang up and straighten up his medals. However, Toro replies “No, Lobo…that’s not how I earned em…they should dangle…always be falling down cause that’s reality” (139). This passage illustrates that Toro wants to keep the medals as the way they are since he did not have to straighten himself up in the Marines in order to receive them. To put it in another way, the medals’ display represents Toro’s reality because the medals are falling down the same way he once fell out the window, yet he accepts and appreciates the beauty in them. Moreover, Lobo suggests again that Toro should sell the medals if he is not going to treasure them. During this complex conversation, Toro tells him “how the fuck would it be if just cause I saw you lying in the gutter I sold you out?” (139), meaning that he tries to teach Lobo that he cannot betray his personal truth. On the contrary, Toro is able to see beyond his shiny medals to connect to his personal truth that is harsh realities filled with pain and suffering. Also, Toro believes that his personal truth gives him intellectual fulfillment. Therefore, Toro’s personal truth empowers him to act and change the outcome of dying as a bull and survive as a human with an intellectual identity.
In conclusion, the window incident plays an important role in Toro’s life since he realizes that he has to choose to be a bull to cope with pain and suffering. Even though Toro is able to disguise his insecurities by using craziness as a shield, he pays the consequences of lavida loca such as getting stabbed. Moreover, Toro transitions from using craziness as a shield to using craziness to empower himself during combat. In the Marine Corps, Toro dismisses critical thinking since he believes that thinking in warfare will kill Marines. Like a bull, Toro embraces action vs. philosophy because those who overanalyze their situation in combat will die. However, Toro is able to challenge his moniker by using the strategy of love, which helps him reach his vato loco intellectual identity. In fact, Toro is humanized when he motivates the lieutenant without using verguenza as well as teaching Lobo that he cannot betray his personal truth.
Professor Bac Sierra
In the fictional novel Barrio Bushido by Benjamin Bac Sierra, the narrative follows the lives of three homeboys, Lobo, Toro and Santo who’s eternal loyalty to each other and to their integrities are defined by maintaining to the code of the barrio and living the fast paced vida loca. The characters charge through their lives faithfully committed to the violence and drug use that satisfies their restless energy and vamped lifestyle needed to survive in the varrio. Bac Sierra illustrates the rebellious and often sabotaging culture of the vida loca and the action and violence that shapes all their experiences. Although the author has undoubtedly created a real piece of entertainment with his fast paced, action packed sequence of events that keep you on the edge of your seat and that brush the edges of reality and magic, the novel is clearly not just an thoughtless nihilistic thriller. Barrio Bushido stirs up thoughts and emotions within the reader which sets it apart from purposeless popular literature out there written solely for pure entertainment. The novel has several deep-rooted purposes that help propel/uncover a/its profound message of empowerment, distinguishing it as a real piece of revolutionary literature and a socially important and intelligent piece of art.
One of the purposes that seem to be underlying the noveland worked in creating such an emotionally moving narrative is the intention of exposing social realities in order to teach the reader about this segment of society that is often ignored and misunderstood. Barrio Bushido is a raw and sober revelation of the social realities of poverty, injustices, and inequalities that plague and oppress communities in the varrio and that consequently foster the drugs and violence that prevail in the streets. The author moves to provide a very honest portrayal of the real world and environment by not holding back one bit. Although the plot and climax followed is centralized on Lobo, Santo, and Toro’s course to carry out their deadly master plan and revenge on Sasquatch, Kwai Chung and the Triads, the setting of the varrio is vividly illustrated in the urban struggle all around them. We get daunting graphic glimpses of the drug use and senseless violence that defines their experience. “I am a little boy. “Mama, can I follow you?” “No, you must stay and take care of your brothers, mijo.” With Papa, Mama stumbled into their bedroom. I took care of my little brothers. We played Hot Wheels and Tonka trucks. Opening my parents’ door later, I took care of them too. I put out her cigarette that was almost igniting the rug, and I pulled the needle out of his arm as he nodded his head up and down and drooled all over himself”(149). In the unsettling images that are revealed in Santo’s chapter, we see heavy concepts such as the destruction of drugs that tears families apart and impossible economic hardships that keep families down. The exposure to this really allows a reader who may not be familiar to this sort of environment or realities, to gain an understanding of the serious problems in the urban neighborhoods and better understand the realities that shape not just the characters but real people in real life.
Another intention that I believe the author had in writing a piece of work such as this is to guide us in understanding the homeboy lifestyle and culture. Rarely are people exposed to this viewpoint without it being stereotyped and portrayed one-sidedly so it becomes a misunderstood mystery to many. Bac Sierra however, has successfully managed to unveil this way of life through the creation of some real three dimensional vatos whose verisimilitude is reinforced in the harsh language and misogyny spread throughout the book. By creating a greater awareness of the unforgiving and harsh realities of life in the varrio, one begins to understand this mentality of vida loca and living for the homeboys without concern of the consequences when you’re already surrounded by unavoidable consequences of reality. Lobo tries to make sense of this philosophy in his revelation, “There was no explanation or theory that could satisfy the lust of La Vida Loca. All I knew is that I was there, and I had to do what I had to do to keep the little piece of planet that was the varrio mine. Reality is what counted, and it is what was strong. The crazy life was reality-as real and genuine as the crazy death” (30). Although a dangerous way to live by the way of violence and drug use, the crazy lifestyle seems to provide a rush, an identity, and freedom from being enslaved seeking to conform to standards and reach the “American Dream” like many in our society. With the complexities of internal identity conflicts that many Latinos and external issues breaks down family structures, it’s no wonder that they find comfort in gaining an identity and family in their homeboys of which they passionately and loyally dedicate themselves to.
With exposure to social realities and informing about the homeboy culture as some of the purposes of the book, I believe the authors final purpose was to transform the readers view and attitudes of the homeboy stereotype as mindless savages/barbarians to actually critically thinking human individuals. Often the homeboy or cholo stereotype is depicted as mindless and barbaric; inhuman for engaging in violence. Bac Sierra successfully develops the homeboys as intellectuals by creating deep thinking characters that evolve and grow throughout the book. A look into Toro’s character reveals his ability to critically assess his surroundings and come to some profound realizations. Critically analyzing his war in the role and how it transformed him into an honorable man in the eyes of society, “Killing is what made us heroes. Half naked starving men surrendering before us in the middle of a smoky desert made us big shots. Violence, force, brutal power made me a symbol of victory. But, damn, wasn’t this the kind of shit I used to do before the Corps? Wasn’t this the same kind of mentality that had genet locked up and getting executed? Sure fucking was” (132). Toro comes back to be greeted differently now, as a hero for his duty, and he recognizes how this success comes from none other the acting in violence. He identifies the hypocrisy in this societal attitude that will glorify and make you a hero for your role in mass violence but will look down upon you and lock you up for doing the same thing on the streets. Although the Toro, Lobo and Santo do act on brutal impulse and get themselves in foolish/troubling situations there’s no denying that each of them has something more to them than their actions. The shifting point of views gives us a look into the minds of each character at different segments in the narrative and the reader is able to witness each individual’s thoughts, their personal evolution/growth as well as their weaknesses. In addition, their experiences with pain, suffering, love and internal conflict reveals a deeper human condition that genuinely humanizes them. By developing his characters and illustrating their deep inner most thoughts in light, the author successfully forms a connection and empathy towards the violent characters. It generates a new appreciation for the homeboy as we see their strengths and potentials in their honor to sticking to their roots, loyalty to their brotherhood, fight against struggles, and power and energy.
With so many complex concepts weaved into this fictional novel it holds a much more powerful purpose than just entertainment. The author managed to communicate his intentions through the use of realism, magic, point of view, intricate characters to expose social realities, analyze the homeboy lifestyle and transform stereotypes to reveal some real homeboy intellectuals. His ambitions are successfully achieved and further they work together in conveying the profound empowerment message underlying the book. The message touches on the potential within every human of enlightenment through two concepts intertwined; suffering and will. Although they are victims of the social realities that have caused them so much suffering they refuse to be kept victimized by continuously charging forward. Suffering alone doesn’t just lead them to transformation and enlightenment, will must exist within each individual. Lobo, Toro and Santo are undoubtedly characterized by dedication and will that is embodied in their vida loca mentality and this ultimately becomes the driving characteristic that compels them to move through the harsh lessons of life and rather than become imprisoned. With this profound message and purposeful story that exposes so many truths without judgment; the narrative becomes an important and relevant piece of work for revolution.
21 April 2011
Santo from Outer Space
Benjamin Bac Sierra is a Latino author from San Francisco. His book is “Barrio Bushido” and is written in a genre of literature called urban fiction. Urban fiction is still not a widely respected form of literature because of its explicit nature written from a dystopic point of view. Bac Sierra’s book, “Barrio Bushido,” roughly translates to “neighborhood code of conduct.” A barrio is a predominately Spanish-speaking neighborhood based in a poor inner city location. Throughout the novel, the reader will see an intentional misspelling of the word barrio, it is instead spelled varrio. The misspelling is common for the time period during which the story takes place. “Barrio Bushido” is about three young Latino men living in an inner city ghetto. The book covers the challenges and stigmas the young men face as they grow up in a violent and confining varrio. The three main characters Santo, Lobo and Toro are capable of deep thought and analysis about their emotions and actions which is opposite of the normal stereotype places on troubled inner city youth. Exploiting the rules of conduct in the barrio is necessary for survival. These rules of the barrio are unspoken and often times tweaked to fit ones needs. The mains of “Barrio Bushido” are homeboys, this is a title and term of endearment which they bestow upon each other. Also, they consider each other familia, which means family. This familia is a surrogate family because they all come from broken homes. Santo means saint in Spanish, and like a saint, he offers guidance to the other main characters in “Barrio Bushido.” The guidance Santo offers can be seen as both positive and negative to the other main characters. This guidance is merely an offering by Santo to facilitate growth in Lobo and Toro. Santo is able to offer guidance because he is the deepest thinker of the three main characters and this allows him to fully embody the homeboy code of conduct and barrioamor.
Santo is the only character who is able to dissect barrioamor and analyze why they do it beyond the necessity for survival. Barrio amor and homeboy lifestyle are one in the other. This love is not love in a traditional sense as a man loves a woman or parents love their children. This love is for survival and for a sense of belonging. Santo feels this love for his street familia. A test of this homeboy love occurs at a critical moment just before an innocent family is going to be jumped by the three mains, Santo tells Toro “…we live the life and we die…we don’t give a fuck…we know we don’t give a fuck” (Bac Sierra, 8). This “life” is the homeboy lifestyle which Santo has taken on. Santo believes the repercussions of jumping the family are negligible because the act of jumping them is a proof of solidarity, of amor to one another no matter the outcome. Santo is aware that the result of living the homeboy life could be death and accepts this role even if it results in hurting guileless people. Santo doesn’t express any regard for the consequences of his actions. Coming from a corrupted utopia, Santo’s reality is that the after-effect as a result of his violent actions is inconsequential. Santo doesn’t care of the aftermath of his violence because exercising barrio amor is necessary for survival and comradeship. Another instance of Santo breaking down amor is when he says “…whatever time or crime—you knew there was love: homeboy love” (Bac Sierra, 148). If delinquency or malevolence is the plight, Santo is available for his homeboys. Santo’s love is always accessible, it is always “there.” Santo’s allegiance is unfaltering for his street family, his fidelity needs no debate. Coming from a broken home, Santo and his cohorts use the word “homeboy” as a title given to the new familia they have adopted. The home in “homeboy” describes the new home he has chosen since his “other” home is broken. Both of Santo’s parents are drug addicts, forcing him to grow up and leave his childhood behind. The boy in “homeboy” is a term given perhaps to regain that lost childhood, or as a sign that all those who choose the lifestyle are equals. The homeboy lifestyle is non-conventional egalitarian society without parents or any authoritative figures that govern the lives of these young people. The practicing of “love” by Santo is not love in the traditional sense because it involves violence, crime, camaraderie
and “familial” support. Rules for this homeboy love are oftentimes manipulated by Santo to accommodate whatever situation arises. The mastery of barrio amor by Santo is for survival and for the love of his homeboys.
Santo is the most selfless character of the story, his actions are never for personal gain. Instead his actions and words urge the other two main characters to grow. Santo offers benevolent advice and this always prompts Lobo and Toro to act. Santo never strategizes his actions to reap benefits from the accomplishments of his familia. After Santo steps in and saves Toro from losing to a rival homeboy, Toro contemplates their friendship and thinks “Santo never asked for or even expected a thank you” (Bac Sierra, 10). Santo does not request gratitude for saving Toro from being beaten. Santo “never” solicits a return for anything he does. He also never waits in anticipation for a return of any favors he’s done. This is not to say that whomever he helped didn’t feel a sense of indebtedness. For this indebtedness is one of the perpetual obligations of barrio amor. The love was reciprocal even if Santo never explicitly asks for it. In the other main characters’s eyes, Santo’s “love” is always available to them and Santo by no means demands any return. Another instance where Santo’s altruistic and “saint-like” disposition is shown is when he is speaking with the voices in his head. The book does not clearly reveal who he is speaking to, but the voices say to him “…you don’t hurt for yourself. You hurt for everyone else…” (Bac Sierra, 161). Santo pleads with this voice to deal with him only and not others in his life. The voice knows his weakness is his benevolence to his familia. This voice calls Santo out and says Santo’s suffering is never out of pure narcissism. In fact, Santo endures this anguish for his familia only. He never considers himself when he dispenses his amor. Santo doesn’t even allow himself the easement that everyone receives in regard to his unselfish actions. This selflessness pushes Santo to evaulate himself further and seek to understand his role in the varrio.
Santo’s mind seeks for meaning in his life, and in his duty for the barrio and his familia. Santo is aware of his ability to deeply think about circumstances and he struggles to find significance of life
in the varrio even though he understands that his own fate is an early death. Santo questions his capacity for profound comprehension is when he thinks “Is it wrong for me to be aware? I cannot believe so, that I suffer in this way only for my sufferings to be incorrect” (Bac Sierra, 163). Santo questions his cognizant ability to look deeper into problems that everyone in the varrio deals with. We can see there is a feeling of guilt for having this gift of insight. Working through these problems is critical for survival in the varrio, yet Santo is the only character who looks deeper into the meaning behind the actions. His questions are a personal inquisition to why he subjects himself to physical and emotional pain. Santo interrogates his mind, questioning if all his actions abiding by the rules of homeboy amor are in fact legitimate. He wonders if his “love” is for the appropriate ideals and principles of barrio amor. Santo doesn’t want to feel that all his strife has been without merit. Santo has an internal struggle here, with what he thinks is righteous for his homeboys and most importantly if he is making correct choices for them. Santo contemplates the significance of his life when he thinks “I missed the lies now that I was confronted with the truth. How dreadful knowledge of the truth can be when there is no comfort in the truth” (Bac Sierra, 173). Santo realizes he is living a life full of “lies.” The “love” that facilitated survival in the barrio were lies used to cover up reality for Santo. When Santo understands the weakness of amor, then actuality of his environment is all that is left. What is left when amor is gone is the “truth”. This truth is the ugly corporeality of the varrio. He is not pleased with what he sees and longs for the deception that barrio amor gave him and his homeboys. That distortion of reality that “homeboy love” gave him was comforting when pandemonium is the substance which the barrio composed of. Being aware of the “truth” is no less of a burden because Santo feels how insular his life and the life of his homeboys are now. This “truth” exposes the fact that Santo’s selfless deeds may have been in vain, and that his dealings were not as advantageous for his homeboys as Santo foresaw them to be. All of this self-reflection brings Santo to a point where he contemplates the ultimate sacrifice, his mortal being.
Santo’s mind unravels as his spirit grows so far beyond the confines of his body that he thinks death is his only option to escape the varrio. Within his constant deep inquiries into his role of homeboy love which complicated the already tortuous reality of the barrio, Santo accepts death as a valid answer to his unanswered questions. Santo believes that his death will bring freedom to his homeboys. His death will improve the fate of his homeboys, and give them a chance to live beyond the confines of the barrio. Carrying out the Chinatown killing and taking all of the blame onto himself would be a final show to the homeboys that the amor is a dead end road, literally. Santo hints at desiring death when he thinks “…I waited, hoping that someone would challenge my misery…” (Bac Sierra, 162). Santo is godforsaken and seeks someone to bring meaning to him. Santo wants someone to confront him and his dispair. He wishes for some one to tell him that he is not so forlorn. Or perhaps, allow Santo to tell his deplorable story. This is the only instance that Santo wishes something for himself. In other situations throughout the book, his duties are for others, he asks for nothing in return. However, Santo feels marooned in his corporeal life, he seeks the assistance of someone, anyone to relieve him from the ugly reality that is barrio amor. Perhaps Santo feels that his continuing to give amor was more hindering instead of benefiting his homeboys. Continuing to give love would perpetuate the vicious cycle of love, using lies to cover lies to cover the truth. The final point where Santo knows it’s time for him to die is when he sees Lobo walk into their hangout with a gun after the Chinatown massacre. Santo looks to Lobo and says “”Santo’s sick,”…He has a disease that only Lobo can cure. One antidote. Ain’t that right, Lobo?” (Bac Sierra, 248). At this moment, Santo sounds like he has lost his mind when he speaks to himself in the third person. His raw conscience which sees the ugly reality of the barrio and his corporeal self which is conditioned for survival are both speaking at the same time. He claims to have a sickness, but in fact this sickness is the barrio amor that has been torturing him throughout the time-line of the novel. The disease is a battle that Santo has had with himself the entire time. This illness is all in his head, and he struggles to make meaning of it throughout
story. Santo is aware of the fact that killing the Chinese gangsters meant certain death for him. Santo is conscious of the fact that the Chinese also operate by the same vicious cycle of amor. So now, Santo is on the receiving end of the rules of barrio amor that the Chinese gangsters live by. He kills homeboys from another gang, and their “love” dictates them to seek revenge. However, upon seeing Lobo with a gun, Santo makes an indirect request for Lobo to relieve him of this illness. Santo is sure that death is his only out which he expresses as “one antidote”. Lobo sends Santo off to remedy the illness by himself, bringing Lil Toon to witness it. Santo’s spirit overwhelms his mortal person and proves to be too much pressure to contain any longer. Santo beheads himself to literally separate his mind from body.
Benjamin Bac Sierra explores inner city life in this fictional novel. This novel exposes a deep thinking side to the lives of young Latino men who would normally be stigmatized as people who carry out violent actions without thought of consequences. “Barrio Bushido” shows the deeper side of potential internal conflicts that homeboys could and would do while living in the barrio. Santo is the character who struggles throughout the entire novel with his role, the lives of his peers and what varrio amor means. Amor, specifically varrio amor is sick, twisted and manipulated throughout the novel to suit Santo’s and the other main characters’s needs. Often times this street love is contradictory, Santo sees these contradictions and how street love limits the already suffocating grip of the barrio. Santo’s character offers the reader a chance to learn selflessness. It offers the reader a take on performing benevolent actions with out any thought of personal benefit. The reader can also see that Santo doesn’t accept things at their most superficial value, he constantly strives for deeper meaning of everything. Santo’s character is shown to offer an extreme interpretation of self-sacrifice. Whereas the reader probably shouldn’t go to those extremes, they can certainly learn to think deeper and do more for others. Bac Sierra’s creation of these rich deep thinking characters shows that the homeboy can be a true intellectual despite adversities within his or her environment. The “Barrio Bushido” homeboy is no
less of deep thinker than the reader. Bac Sierra smashes racial stereotypes and social barriers in writing this raw novel.
Andrea Mendez James
Benjamin Bac Sierra
When I first started to read Barrio Bushido I thought it would be the kind of book where I should take, for a period of time, the position of each character to understand them better. To try to comprehend why they acted the way they did, and trying somehow to relate to their feelings and emotions. Even though this technique did work, Barrio Bushido acted on me like an aspirin. It didn’t immediately have any effect on me until later on, when I finish reading it. That’s when it helped me with my pain. Sure it made me think while I was going through the pages, and sure it made me cry, and to think. It did it always from a third point of view, from a reader’s perspective. I was, sometimes, inside one of the characters, I was one of them. But it was always temporarily, always until they refer to one of their women as a “bitch” or until they thought they wanted to end someone’s life. How could I relate to that? How could I identify myself with any of those actions? And I didn’t. But all I can say is that no longer than a day later, I was in the bathroom, after washing my face, talking to myself in the mirror and all I could think of and tell myself was: “Fuck this shit. This is
nothing. Nothing will bring me down. It takes more than that to kill the bull. I’m a bull too. And I have Corazon. And it’s red as the most red of all the roses. The only thing I’m scared of is myself. Yes, fuck this. Fuck the pity and the pain. I’m not scared and I will move on”. I can truly and honestly say, that that was not I before the book. That was Toro speaking through me. And please note that is not that now I’ll be speaking like a gangster and trying to get in trouble. I got their strength. God, What am I complaining about??
Sure I’m getting divorce, moving out and moving alone, no family around, school, and work, and more work, and bills, and keep moving forward alone. And? So? This book was real. It was real as the man who wrote it. And as anything real it was powerful. It was hard. Hard to read because at first I did not understand. Hard because for those who are a minority in the big States is hard. And I’ m a part of that minority. We dream one day we’ll be able to attend a good university, and sure we also want the big white house with the white fence. But we want not a house but a home, with our family inside, with arroz and frijoles for dinner. But we don’t have a big white house and our home is across the ocean, and it’s ok. It’s fun to dream. Why so much violence in almost every
single page, why the self-destruction? Because it’s hard to grow up as a child of immigrant’s parents in this country and it’s also hard
for those kids to surrender to their reality. A reality is so hard it seems unreal most of the time.
Only a few survive. I felt that Toro, Santo and Lobo were like three fishes taken out of the water. They jumped up and down, and they twist and convolve constantly. And during the contortion and the twisting they messed up, more than a few times. But they always kept going, they always tried to breathe. They just don’t know surrender. Even out of the water and with no air. The street school is hard. The street won’t give you a hug when you need it the most. The streets wont break the silence when you need a spoken word. The pavement and the streetlights won’t comfort you when you’re bitter and sad, and when you don’t understand why nobody understand you. It’s hard to grow up alone. And it’s dangerous.
So they do their best, even if it’s unbelievable to believe. I do think they do. But it’s easy to become weak after you overcome the fact that you are alone and nobody cares for you, it’s easy to surrender to anything that makes you forget you have no where to be at, nobody to give explanations to, and nothing to accomplish because you don’t believe there’s nothing you can do right. So it’s easier to grab a beer smoke a join and let the time of your life to go by.
Nobody fed them neither with courage nor with love. Nobody had the time to inject them with self-confidence and support. The only people that could do that were to busy getting high or scrubbing floors down the street. There was no time for love from their parents.
They needed to earn the money to survive, and feeding love to their children meant to love themselves first. But there was no time for that, and it’s hard to love yourself in a foreign country in another language. Therefore I can’t judge this book and its characters. But I can say I did learn. I learnt strength and courage.
I learnt it’s not easy, and it’s ok. I just won’t surrender. Because it is true it’s easier for some, and much harder for the other ones. But when we all flake to ourselves it’s because of the same reason. For the absence of love, for the absence of support, for the missing dreams. It doesn’t matter, if it’s from the big house with the white fence or from the old cracked building in the mission, we all look forward for the same things. For someone to love and to love us, for someone we can count on, for respect and recognition and for an opportunity to show we can do it or at least the opportunity to try.
There’s violence in this book because its characters are alive and they don’t like where they are at and who they are; and therefore they need to fight. Fight against others against themselves. Fight
until they find peace. One of them found peace at war. Another found a type of peace in love at the end gone. And the Saint found peace in heaven if there’s one. It’s a story about life and life is not always pretty. But it’s real as this book is. And I loved it.
June 29, 2011
As life passes it is certain that one thing is inevitable, change. Through time, we humans have a duty, to evolve, to better ensure our survival. We live our lives either filling roles hands to us by society or striving to reach a role that we find better suited. However, we find ourselves at crucial turning points which have the capacity to alter our future, consistently with each choice we make. Identity in and of itself lies deeply rested in the decisions we conceive. Throughout Barrio Bushido, Toro, a central character, inadvertently evolves out of the mythological persona that is his moniker, exhibiting his progression through his actions and thoughts, this ideological identity of a bull shifts throughout his evolution, over powered with a new anima.
Finding power in the irrational craziness that is “La Vida Loca”, Toro transitions from a young bull with a fast paced, illogical mindset, which is necessary for his path of life, to a wise, critically thinking visionary. Fueled by internal conflict, Toro battles to repress his developing new identity, converting his efforts into motivation, courage and strength, which are essential in confronting his cognitive philosophies. With this newfound mental strength, Toro frees himself of restricting hesitation which bound him from examining his own philosophies. Making the conscious choice to move forward,
Toro begins his transformative journey, an action which leads to the humanization of this once animalistic character.
Bold and illogical, Toro begins his story with an aura of irrationality and senselessness about his life choices, attributes fitting to a young bull which allow him to survive in his environment that is the varrio. Toro demonstrates his irrationality in his youth when he takes on an undaunted persona in order to be noticed and accepted by a gang and to earn the label of a “vato loco”. Toro continues by intervening in an altercation among others in hopes of approval for his illogicality. He charges into extreme situations such as these further imprinting himself with a bull like identity. Through these audacious acts he receives his most desired aspiration, the approval of others in his community, earning him the title of “crazy”. As a result, Toro acquires a sense of insanity which allows him to live his life in the varrio with the security of independence, offering him a fearless life style that he feels is necessary in his existence.
In uncovering the force that illogical senselessness accompanies, Toro begins to face the concept of living with constant pain and suffering which stems from his past actions. Here, he embarks on a course where a changing identity comes as an unintentional objective. Becoming conscious of the imminent consequences for his actions that he will eventually face, Toro conceptualizes a plan to help him confront his fate. With an impending torment upon him, Toro seeks a sort of redemption through the suffering he would endure by enlisting in the Marine Corps, preparing him for his fate. He begins his growth as he battles the uprising of his conscience, a concept not pertaining
to a bull. Though he does not allow himself the courage and strength to profoundly reflect during war, he later reveals that to have allowed himself the luxury of contemplation would mean acknowledging his philosophies, that there were in fact ideas and philosophies in existence, a concept that deters Toro of his bull like persona.
He continues his military experience in accordance to the varrio’s “La Vida Loca” creed, a “theory of lunacy”,not realizing that by consciously recognizing the illogicalness of the theory, he is counteracting the theory in and of itself, setting himself apart from the mythology of his impulsive moniker.
Upon his return from the war, Toro reaches a point of self reflection, confronted with the metamorphosis he has undergone while away from the varrio, he realizes he is not the same young, senseless bull that departed a year before. Musing in regards to how others now view him, Toro is confronted with the reality that his Marine experience has reformed his psychological process. Toro, now aware that he no longer is the same bull that did not think, becomes cognizant that his effort to strengthen himself for the debt he must repay will benefit him in greater ways than planned. During critical thought, Toro decides to incorporate his “new theories” to varrio life, now carefully planning and no longer charging. Upon his return, Toro no longer seeks approval of his homeboys, alternatively he becomes a leader of sorts, he has by then experienced endeavors which gave him the strength and knowledge to direct them to their certain ending.
Moving through the altering of his character, Toro applies the changes within him
which have taken him out of a bull persona and calculates how to appease his death to
those around him. Toro, in his last act of love, now completely dispels his moniker slowly and with great care, composing a letter to his mother, proving that he has changed from an impulsive, aimless boy to a contemplative man with a desire to grow.
Once torn between the desire for significance and acceptance, Toro ultimately achieves both. Making choices based upon necessity he unknowingly submerges himself in an evolutionary road. He grows from a purposeless child, impulsive and thoughtless, to a contemplative man, he eventually sheds his bull skin that he once embodied, revealing a strong willed philosopher. He begins his journey as a devotee of “La Vida Loca” taking on a charge that is crucial to life in the varrio and ends it as an individual, a leader and an intellectual. Learning and growing, Toro becomes the most revolutionized character in Barrio Bushido, proving change can be attained.
B. Bac Sierra
Mi Adorado Santo No Tan Santo
Monikers are seldom unjustified. Mostly they are given either based on someone’s appearance,
or to highlight a specific character trait. El Santo is a very powerful nickname and in
the case of Santo from the book Barrio Bushido, it is one with a profound meaning. Analyzing
Santo is attractive to me since I am interested in saints and religion, but moreover
because he is my favorite character in this book. I like and sympathize with him, and I even
recognize myself in his obscure personality. Already as a child, Santo had to learn what life was
about as he had to be responsible for his whole family. To realize that one cannot even rely on
one’s own parents is a very hard lesson that has an enormous impact on a person’s ability to trust
in life and others. Too young to understand the ways of life, he lost control over his mind and
permitted his inner conflict between divine and evil to take over. Santo’s inability to trust was
probably one of the main causes for his unappeasable appetite for loyalty; but since trust and
loyalty are features more holy than human he was condemned to disappointment by life on this
earth . Arisen from human pain, Santo is indeed an anguished man and a sinful saint at the same
time. He definitely lives up to the mythology of the saints and by all means to his name.
As cruel and wicked as Santo’s laughing human face may seem as holy and divine is his
crying one. El Santo broke more than 110 commandments and he even led others astray. For
example he persuaded Toro to assault the family on the playground on “the day that god stopped
loving them”. He convinced his friends and pretended that their responsibility to keep the title of
being sick was the only reason for that act. I wonder if his true inducement was that he
simply fought against what he loved, what he desired, what he missed because it hurt him to
see a happy family that he never had. Every saint would fear the consequences of such evil
deeds, but he did not which is a hint for his humanity. Another factor of his unholiness is that he
fell in love, which a saint probably would not do since saints only desire the love of god.
Ironically Santo fell in love with a woman that resembled his mother which is a further
indication for the Armageddon in his head. Also his suicide, some would argue, is not saintly or
within the sense of god, nor could such an action be forgiven.
Even though Santo may be a sinful man, he shows a lot of saintly characteristics and
his holy features are numerous. As nobody guided him in his life he developed controversial
thoughts. In other words he became obsessed, be it with his mind or be it even by higher
powers. Both or either are likely tokens of a saint. Santo also used to preach and
trigger guilt in his followers just as most saints and religions do and the Catholic Church in
particular. Another attribute of Santo’s saint-like personality is his worshiping of divine and real
values of life instead of greed and capitalism. I found brutal but simple and thus beautiful
evidence for his battle against illusion of beauty as he bawled out the young girl who was
willing to lazily lie on her back but refused to kneel in front of him. Also his endless love for
Maricela even after she showed him her ugliest face as she shot him and became a drug addict is
further proof of Santo’s saintly intents. As some would judge Santo’s suicide as a capital sin one
could also argue that it was the holy of the holiest acts of his mortal life. Santo sacrificed himself
for his friends so they would not have to commit more sins, but before leaving this world he
would perform a miracle to meet the requirements of the holy code.
When the chips were down, Santo always stayed true and cherished his moniker. El Santo
a “placa” he would not have gotten if he would not have stayed true to his sacrificing rules
to be strong for his people from childhood on. Already at the age of only twelve he was helping
Toro as he got thrashed by the two year older, fat boy. Santo was also the one who did not let his
friend Lobo down, as they went partying in the “Varrio Pueblo”, he even ran back and
endangered himself just to help Lobo as he got “beaten to a pulp”.
Laugh now, cry later in the final analysis, is in my view the expression that best describes
Santo and his crazy life as a sinful saint. Santo was in deed a trueholy “cholo”, he came, always
stayed true and even gave his life for his “vato’s” sake.
Prof. Ben Bac Sierra
Essay English 1A
April 23, 2013
El Santo – The Saint
In the novel Barrio Bushido, Benjamin Bac Sierra takes us on a tumultuous journey on the exploration of life in the varrio, and we are acquainted with three homeboys; Toro, Lobo, and Santo who are connected by “barrio bushido”– the code of honor of the streets. Barrio Bushido is not only a code between brothers that demands unconditional loyalty, acceptance, and love – it is a way of life. Although these characters are connected through this code, they are so very different from each other, and represent mythological qualities that are very similar to the monikers that they each hold. As we experience la vida loca through the eyes of Lobo, Toro, and Santo we witness how close they are to these mythological names, nevertheless, they expose their humanity that is hidden deep within the complexities of their cholo ways. In El Santo, the Saint, we observe evidences that live up to his name; he possesses an unconditional love and acceptance, is all forgiving towards those who transgress against him, and he is self-sacrificial as he accepts punishment for the sins of his friends – but even so, we see the Saint humanized as he is plagued by the guilt of his own transgressions.
Perhaps some would question the authenticity of Santo’s moniker as we are first introduced to the homeboys; after all it is Santo who uses carnalismo, to coerce them into proving their lives as sick cholos, it is Santo that manipulates them into attacking the innocent family playing basketball. Conversely, this same instance can prove how noble his actions really are; ”Santo saw this and realized that these boys could never learn the harsh lessons of the varrio laughing and bullshitting.”(BacSierra 6) Upon witnessing Lobo entertaining the young boys, and making light of their dangerous lifestyles, Santo attempts to show these boys the truth, because what is lecturing to young boys who look up to thugs in a world where the ambition is to be sick? Santo saw an opportunity to show those that wished to follow after them – the ruthless reality of living la vida loca – as he knew that words would be left unheard. In a way, Santo sacrificed the little sense of freedom the homeboys had in the varrio, and led them on their path to destruction in an attempt to save those that would embrace the life of the streets. Yet, we see him humanized in the ruthless and immoral act of causing harm to an innocent family enjoying a game of basketball, for what Saint could do something so evil.
In spite of this event in the park, we get to know Santo as a homeboy with unconditional love for his homeboys; Toro refers to Santo as a homeboy that had always been there for him, as an angel who performed miracles – no questions asked. Santo’s “varrio homeboy amor” (BacSierra 9) is so unconditional that ultimately he sacrifices his own life to restore balance in the world of good versus evil; in his own mind he cannot pay for the sins of his homeboys but he accepts their damnation, and sacrifices his own life as to prepare the way for his brothers of the streets, ”I got to prepare the way for the homeboys, scope out the next scene, and make sure that all’s cool on that next level.”(BacSierra 250) Even before then we witness his forgiving nature; after Santo realizes that Lobo has betrayed the code of honor he chooses to stand with his brothers until the end, he would rather sacrifice his own life, than sin against what he has known as truth his whole life, than to dishonor “barrio bushido” and sin against the code of the streets.
We see these virtues of unconditional love and forgiveness again in his relationship with Maricela. Maricela is a woman that Santo is involved with who betrays him by using him as a pawn in her attempt to rob an armored truck, and even when the plan goes bust and she leaves him for dead – he still loves her. In his injured state, he thinks of her with love, he is glad that she got away and that she could make her dreams come true. Santo knows she is out for herself, yet he has this romanticism about her feelings for him in the same way he has romanticism about who she is as a human being, and as he pens a letter to himself from Mari, we witness his need to believe in the illusion of beauty. In fact, in a world where they hold themselves to a different truth than the rest of humanity; the sick life is majestic, homeboys are kings, and Mari – a homegirl living la vida loca – is the epitome of beauty. Even when he sees her at her worst – the loyal, forgiving, and non-judgmental Saint believes her to be the most beautiful woman he would ever know. This unconditional love and forgiveness shows us an image that is Saint like, however we also see the Saint as a sinner as he battles the demons of his past.
Throughout our journey into Santo’s world we see him plagued by the sins of his cholo lifestyle. He feels immense guilt for the crimes that he has committed, and as a result he is haunted by the voices that some may call conscience. As Santo battles with the imbalance of good versus evil that their lifestyles have caused, he tries to bargain with the demons in his head – however he knows that the only way balance can be restored is if they each pay for their sins. Ultimately he understands that he has to die, and that their evil cannot be redeemed, so he accepts the sacrifice that he has to make. However, even at his end we bear witness to the Saint performing miracles as he saves the life of his carnal, Toro. And as the journey of these homeboys comes to an end, we are shown that no amount of sin could taint the image of Santo in the eyes of the homeboys of the varrio; “ ’This vato had no sins,’ I said holding up the sack with Santo’s head in it. ‘Even though he was bloody, he died clean.’ “(BacSierra 253). Santo was a sinner just as they were, but to them the respect that he had for barrio bushido, their sacred code as homeboys, absolved any amount of evil that he possessed.
Professor Bac Sierra
Barrio Bushido is an urban fiction novel that engages the reader from the first sentence. Chronicling the mentality of three crazy homeboys in their holy habitat, “the Barrio.” It welcomes the reader into a world that has been criticized and mocked as senseless, meaningless, and purposeless. A world where individuals like Lobo, Toro, and Santo appear on the scene and fight to overcome stereotypes and reveal their pursuit of the “loco dream.” The barrio code maybe viewed as dysfunctional and deviant in comparison to the conventional “American Dream”, but I believe this novel depicts that in barrio life there is a purpose to all the madness mentality within the bond of homeboys and homegirls. I see it purposely bringing to light the satisfaction and freedom a homeboy achieves in his loyalty to his own, in displaying to the world his barrio love, and in his goal to be sick and live out la vida loca. As Rita Dove once stated, “The American Dream is a phrase we’ll have to wrestle with all of our lives. It means a lot of things to different people. I think we’re redefining it now”
Barrio bushido is about unprecedented acts of loyalty being displayed by homeboys who say such things as, “I could never trade in my heart. I could never trade in my soul.” (Bac Sierra 14), “but we could never forget who we were or the pact of brotherhood that bonded us.” (Bac Sierra, 131) and …”whatever crime or time- you knew there was love: homeboy love.” (Bac Sierra 148) The barrio bushido characters in this novel show forth a harmonious barrio attitude that affects every decision they make. No matter how crazy or deranged plans get, this novel arrests our attention on how Lobo, Toro, and Santo fuel the code of brotherhood in the barrio life. Is there anything too risky? Too dangerous? In barrio bushido we see a relentless loyalty that has no barriers and in the face of heartbreak, addiction, and violence, the author shows us how deep rooted this code is. It’s more than a notion, or a theoretical idea, it’s what makes these vatos who they are. Provoking the thought of how we construct our identities, and social statuses. Where else would you see this raw manner of loyalty? For being loyal to each other meant being loyal to their own identity. The homeboy’s actions reflect loyalty over fear, and a challenge to the status quo all in the name of brotherhood. This bond between the homeboys gives a sense of fulfillment and brings truth to the adage “a cord of three strands is not quickly broken” always staying true to their mythological identities, each other, and barrio legacy.
Latino barrios are usually seen as dirty, dangerous, and disgusting by outsiders. In this novel we see the insiders reflecting a “mad love” attitude. The character Santo breeds a sense of honor and fulfillment in displaying barrio love and carrying on this barrio legacy to the young runts. Barrio love was an extension of their loyalty to each other. Representing the neighborhood and reliving stories of robberies, drug deals, and even sexual feats gave them the status of Veteranos. This status gave the notion that they stood for something, and also survived the battles fought on this holy ground. Thus Lobo could so proudly boast about being a “survivor of many battles, many tragedies, and experiences that made him unique- solo– different than any other person in the world” (Bac Sierra 15) he called it a “loco dream” describing his allegiance to the barrio life and reinstating his motto in one phrase, “I don’t half ass life with anything. Nada or todo.” (Bac Sierra 16) In the barrio world, Lobo begins to suggest that even though the homeboys aren’t suited in Brooks’ Brothers finest, nor are they conforming to norms from the white man’s society, still it is possible to taste happiness of the sweet watermelons and laugh a loud universal chuckle. This barrio amor purposely shows us that the white man’s dream and the barrio realities don’t differ dramatically. Is your game nicer- is everyone a friendly fool? Is it safer- does nobody die? ….are the bathrooms prettier? (Bac Sierra 14) This statement from Lobo the homeboy strikes a sensitive cord and bears the question, Why do we suggest that we are saving people from barrio life? If the game ultimately is the same, why should we oppress the brown colored face in the barrio? The novel depicts Toro’s character being labeled as the “America Dream” by a rookie cop for serving duty . To me this exposed a thought in our society, once someone starts playing the favorite past time then and only then one is considered a winner. However the homeboy Toro’s mad love for his barrio pride suggested “How wrong could this rookie be?” Sure, he was a Marine now, but he wasn’t just gonna leave them to die, I’d be a vato loco Marine, a solid street soldier” (Bac Sierra 133) Even though Toro recognizes that there was no other way that he would have gotten that respect, “the acceptance in all worlds”, he discovers that the same mentality that made him a hero in the corps made him a criminal in the barrio. He was who he was because of the barrio, and even though the barrio got no love and acceptance, Toro would incorporate his new theories back into the calles that he loved. For he knew that in the barrio…..”crazy meant independence: life, liberty and the pursuit of pain.” (Bac Sierra 223)
They had mad love for each other and for their barrio, but what would distinguish them from all the rest of young runts and wanna-be’s? Santo is a key character in this novel who devoutly upholds the homeboy traditions. He pours out of himself unconditionally and yet requires nothing in return. He sets the standard high, almost as high as the heavens, and in some mythological pattern prepares the way for la vida loca. The novel imparts Santo as having a grace to convey the brutal, and sick like behavior to Lobo and Toro. Santo stirs up the spirits of his barrio brothers and often is recorded in the novel as ‘looking into’/gazing into the heart of Toro/Lobo as he addressed them. He introduces a spiritual and deeper meaning to barrio life, barrio love, and barrio legacy. “We got tradition to uphold, because homeboys before us have been sick with it, They got our name hit up in many worlds – They’re down for the brown. Now its our turn, homes, and we got to pass the torch, entiendes?” (Bac Sierra 7) This is one of my favorite lines from the oracle homeboy. The author relays a sense of – Things are “caught” instead of taught when Santo speaks. And so the story begins… blood, brawls, and beat downs is the barrio bushido. Welcome to la vida loca where rational behavior takes a back seat and the spirit of the brown & proud comes alive. The rush, and adrenaline to be sick flows throughout the novel and through their veins as Toro and Lobo, and Santo take on the role of sick ass homeboys. The author does a great job in showing us how the homeboys would metamorphis into their mythological role, “Toro stepped out on the stage, horns at the objective, chest puffed straight out. Crazy, dumb ass, solid muscle Toro, solo, walked across the street” (Bac Sierra 50) The sick and crazy life that a homeboy aspires to live has no rules, or boundaries. This rush of enthusiasm and danger is what I believe makes them free and what ultimately the novel shares. These vatos aren’t confined to the stereotypes the world puts on them, they live on their own rules and act on instinct all in the name of La Vida Loca. Therefore, getting caught, or doing time, brutal fights, loving a woman, and or anything else that pops up is nothing a sick ass motherfucker can’t handle. Barrio bushido holds nothing back, and unless you want to read about homeboys saying sorry or waving the white flag, you’re in for a high energy chicano rush. “Crazy was the best compliment he could ever hope for. For crazy meant he was sick with it and out of his mind: insane, no brain, one of the few and true.” (Bac Sierra 223)
So you want to make a homeboy a Marine and tell him he’s now a much better person? When in all honesty you’ve just made him a killer of multitudes. Or maybe you want to dress him up in a three piece suit and make him your pawn on Wall Street? Making him a polished mother fucking gangster doing civilized business in honestly filthy places. Or Perhaps to kill all the noise you would prefer to dress him up in a monk’s dress and call it “a good way out.” Having him sing a new song and making him your choir boy? All because of your stereotype conclusions that pertain to the brown skin homeboy. Never taking into consideration his brave warrior spirit that lives within. Homeboys are never ignorant of what they choose to become. “Toro knew crazy had consequences. That’s what made crazy so complete and fulfilling; because it would never get mistaken for a fairy tale.” (Bac Sierra 223) You see the barrio bushido speaks of a different world with different dreams, and which ultimately lead to different satisfactions and purposes” And a crazy homeboy only feared one thing: living too long. And a crazy homeboy would go up and meet the challenge without the security of confidence…..but a crazy homeboy knew that his insanity would never abandon him” (Bac Sierra 224) The American Dream is a phrase we’ll have to wrestle with all of our lives. It means a lot of things to different people. I think we’re redefining it now”
Mr. Bac Seirra
April 15, 2012
Never to be Forgotten
Three young Latino men growing up on the rough streets of the barrio, their mission, to live La Vida Loca regardless of the consequences. This is the setting of novelist Benjamin Bac Sierra’s fictional thriller Barrio Bushido. Traveling deep within the minds of homeboys: Lobo, Toro, and Santo the magically real comes to life and through acts of violence, murder and evil a story of the ultimate friendship comes alive. While each of these homeboys provides a unique perspective on life and love only one character stays entirely true to whom they are, the almighty Santo, a true saint. A young man with nothing to lose but his life navigates his way to redemption from his every action. Those three words, violence, murder, and evil describe Santos struggle in every way, but never define his character. Santos every move he makes revolves around the greater good; a saint that is truly unselfish and willfully pays the ultimate price for his holy nature. Although, Santo is only a mortal being, his moniker remains true, revealing Santo as the only homeboy with both the gift and burden of a halo.
The epitome of Santos character rests on his unparalleled capacity for love. The best example of Santos unwavering love for others became undeniably apparent after he suffered the ultimate betrayal. Santo was manipulated, sucked into the sins of greed and murder by his one true love Maricela. Hooked by the idea of satisfying his loves desires he ended up committing murder for her, only to have Maricela attempt to murder him. Rationale depicts Santo in this moment as truly being humanized. What saint would commit murder? However, magical and holy Santo appears to be, ultimately he is only human and humans make mistakes. Yet, what makes Santo a saint is his intensions behind his actions, not his wrongdoings. Santo did not commit murder because of his own needs or wants it was Maricela who he put first. Unfortunately, Maricela ended up turning a gun on Santo and decided that she wanted him to die. Even though, is seems like an inexcusable act, Santo finds it within himself to forgive Maricela regardless of her disloyalty. Moreover, Santo did not just forgive Maricela’s actions he also continued to love her, even despite seeing her as a drug addicted prostitute. Santo upheld his saintly moniker by displaying his eternal devotion Maricela. Only a true saint could forgive unconditionally and encompass this instinctual love for others regardless their faults.
Although, Santos character portrays an element of violence throughout the novel, it’s not without a reason. While, it may seem ironic that Santos character would exhibit such an “un-saintly” attribute it’s apparent that through his actions his moniker of being a saint remains true. One of the first acts of what appears to be unforgivable and unnecessary violence came when Santo, Lobo, and Toro viciously beat a defenseless family; an act that Santo alone contemplated and forced his homeboys to execute along with him. Even Toro described Santos plan as, “deranged, taboo… (and) beyond the norms of even the most fucked up cholos”(8). Nevertheless, Toro and Lobo’s endless love for Santo paralyzed them from ever disobeying their “saint”. Now how could Santo ever redeem himself from this evil deed? Unfortunately, he never does but Santo’s understood that he would never be forgiven and still sacrificed his soul. The symbolism behind this violent act comes in the form of Santo being the homeboy’s savior. Santos plan derived from the image of watching up and coming homeboys or runts playing in the barrio. Observing these runts Santo started envisioning the difficult lessons that lay before these runts, realizing that the key to their survival rests upon his shoulders. Unselfishly Santo taught these runts the meaning of being a “sick” homeboy in hopes that through
his sins he could save their souls while they are still innocent. Santo knew that harming an undeserving family would lead to dire consequences for himself but he put the lives of others before his own and took this leap of faith in order to save others, a true saint in his own right.
Ultimately Santos becomes a victim of his own holiness, a combination of his magical ability to love and violent tendencies set the perfect storm that tests Santos loyalty. The test begins when paranoia starts to consume Santo, haunting him from the inside. Voices in Santos head start to taunt him with images of his homeboy’s future treachery and in that very moment Lobo asks Santo to help him perform a mass murder and robbery. Even though, holy Santo can feel the manipulation and disloyalty in Lobo’s words, with a forgiving demeanor Santo agrees to help Lobo. The plan involves every element of evil and again Santo feels the pressure on his shoulders to save his homeboys from this evil. Disregarding his own life Santo decides to commit the mass murder alone only to later reap the consequences of his image being plastered on every media outlet leading to a manhunt for his capture. Through this unselfish act Santo becomes Toro and Lobos guardian angel, guiding them away from evil and protecting them from death, a decision Santo knew would leave him six feet under but that would never stop him from making the ultimate sacrifice for his homeboys.
As Santos early death lays in wait, the great saint refuses to die in vain. Staring at his image on the TV he makes the decision to take his own life. Suicide does not typically coincide with a saint but Santo saw his own suicide as a sacrifice to the barrio. Redemption of his sins and the sins of his homeboys, he knew that his death would change the barrio forever and that was his goal. After, Santo took his life the barrio started to dissipate before Lobo and Toro’s eyes. Santo, the saint who could see the future, had to have known this would happen. In the end Santo’s death set Lobo and Toro free of the violence, murder, and evil entangled inside the barrio. Their neighborhood was destroyed and they were left with no other option but to leave. The last hidden message comes engraved on Santos headstone, it reads,” This is takeoff” (262). Normally when a person dies they do not ever have a chance to choose what their headstone will read and this appears to be no exception. Lil Toon makes sense of this hidden message as he describes his last conversation with Lobo. Lobos tell Lil Toon to remember, “we fly even when we fall” (260). Lobo is the one who wrote Santos headstone message. He took all the lessons Santos life taught him and condensed them into those three words. This is takeoff was a message to the homeboys, everyone that knew Santo would visit his grave and read those words, it was Lobos own form of redemption to relay a message of hope through Santos memory, his way of praising the sacrificial saint.
With every struggle that Santo overcame, a different aspect of the saint shown through. Santo found a higher purpose through his every action, even when most would succumb to the fear of the unknown Santo’s faith in the greater good remained intact. He fought to be a savior and loved without regret. Most importantly, Santo remained loyal to his homeboys and his barrio until the end. Through Santos selfless nature he received the gift of being the immortalized homeboy. Never to be forgotten, both Lobo and Toro continued to teach Santos lessons, as best the wolf and bull could. With only Santos decapitated head left, Lobo used Santos flesh and blood to feed the starved barrio, satisfying their hunger and giving the saint eternal life through feasting on his holy body. The true essence of Santo is ultimately captured as, the saint who never acted with impromptu illogical behavior; but through his own methodical thought he always found a divine purpose.