Authors: Raymond Barrio

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist

Identity: Mexican American

Author Works

Long Fiction:

The Plum Plum Pickers, 1969

Carib Blue, 1990

Drama:

The Devil’s Apple Corps: A Trauma in Four Acts, pb. 1976

Nonfiction:

The Big Picture: How to Experiment with Modern Techniques in Art, 1967, revised 1968 (as Experiments in Modern Art)

Art: Seen, 1968

The Prism, 1968

Mexico’s Art and Chicano Artists, 1975

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

The Fisherman’s Dwarf, 1968

Biography

Raymond Barrio’s social protest novel The Plum Plum Pickers is a widely anthologized work of Chicano fiction, and selections from it appear in many high school and college-level textbooks. Barrio, however, is not literally Chicano; his parents immigrated to the United States from Spain in 1920. His father, Saturnino Barrio, who was born in Seville, died after exposure to poisonous fumes in a chemical factory in New Jersey; his mother, Angelita Santos Barrio, was from Algeciras. In unpublished correspondence Barrio explained that he and his brother lived with foster families while their mother pursued her career as a Spanish dancer, giving him a very American Protestant education despite a Catholic birth and upbringing. Barrio met Yolanda Sánchez in Mazatlan, Mexico, and they married in 1957. The couple had five children.{$I[A]Barrio, Raymond}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Barrio, Raymond}{$I[geo]LATINO;Barrio, Raymond}{$I[tim]1921;Barrio, Raymond}

Barrio lived in California from 1936 until his death (excluding time spent in military service in Europe from 1943 to 1946). He held academic degrees from the University of California at Berkeley (B.A., 1947) and the Art Center College of Los Angeles (B.F.A., 1952). Barrio taught a variety of courses (art, creative writing, Chicano studies and literature, and Mexican art) in eight California institutions (San Jose State University; Ventura College; the University of California, Santa Barbara; West Valley College; De Anza College; Skyline College; Foothill College; and Sonoma State University). In 1964 he was awarded the Creative Arts Institute Faculty Grant by the University of California.

Although Barrio has asserted that his vocation was art and his avocation writing, teaching provided his family’s financial security. His early publications focus on art, and many of his works are self-illustrated, with sparse text that includes humor and wordplay. When his novel The Plum Plum Pickers was turned down by every publishing house to which it was offered, Barrios published it himself. In less than two years it had sold more than ten thousand copies, and it quickly became an underground classic.

The Plum Plum Pickers is primarily a study of the exploitation of migrant laborers by Northern California agribusiness. Barrio illustrates the lives of Mexican, Anglo, and Chicano farmworkers, revealing the attitudes of the corrupt, ruthless overseers and exposing a system driven by the growers’ relentless desire for economic power and control. More than an examination of migrant life, The Plum Plum Pickers is an indictment of the economic system that perpetuates the exploitation of the migrants, the Chicanos, and the illegal aliens who are often recruited to do the picking.

Barrio has been praised for his skillful prose and deft use of realistic dialogue to reveal the hypocrisy and rationalizations of the landowners and the company men. Barrio is concerned with such gross inequalities in a capitalist system, and he bases many of his characters on the real lives of people he has known. The Plum Plum Pickers was inspired by Barrio’s friendship with a migrant family he met in Cupertino, California, in the Santa Clara Valley, the setting of the novel. Thus the story provides a personalized, sensitive, and realistic portrayal of many of the exploited characters he creates. Ultimately the novel seeks to stir reader sentiments about the condition of the farmworkers, advocating better wages and a release from this modern feudalism sanctioned by free enterprise. To that end, Barrio uses journalistic techniques, interspersing verses from American and Mexican songs to charge his novel with greater irony.

Critical reception of The Plum Plum Pickers has been favorable but limited; in the development of the Chicano novel, however, the text occupies a pivotal role. It was the first of a series of works that discovered the potential for novelistic development of Chicano social issues via the use of innovative literary techniques, such as the speaking of English with typical Spanish word order and a distinctive satiric style that avoids moroseness.

BibliographyAkers, John C. “Raymond Barrio.” In Chicano Writers, First Series, edited by Francisco A. Lomelí. Vol. 82 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1989. This informative entry provides biographical information, a list of works by Barrio, and a discussion of his major novel, The Plum Plum Pickers. Sources for further study are also included.Gray, Linda. “The Plum Plum Pickers: A Review.” Peninsula Bulletin 11 (December, 1976). This article discusses themes and style of the novel and its social message.Lomelí, Francisco A. “Depraved New World Revisited: Dreams and Dystopia in The Plum Plum Pickers.” Introduction to The Plum Plum Pickers, by Raymond Barrio. Tempe, Ariz.: Bilingual Review Press, 1984. This introduction explores the framework of dreams and nightmare used in the novel and gives examples of the characters who escape the horrors of everyday existence through their dreams.
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