Barrio Bushido

Barrio Bushido is Benjamin Bac Sierra’s first novel, set to be released in 2010.

Barrio Bushido Summary:

Set in the barrio of an unnamed California city in the early 1990’s, Barrio Bushido narrates the story and fate of three adolescent Latinos who join forces to rob organized crime gangsters. Lobo (wolf) hunts, scheming for street stardom, manipulating his homeboys for his Machiavellian goals. Unlike Lobo, Toro (bull), an ex-Marine, does not plot; he charges full-force at the red cape of life. Santo, the saint of the gang, venerates homeboy, not Christian ideals. A genuine cholo, he never admits that paranoia and pressure take him to the brink of madness.

Written in a style that captures street realism and compassion, Barrio Bushido will appeal not only to Latino and other minority audiences but also to readers of literary fiction. With both subtle and explicit savagery, Barrio Bushido also utilizes all facets of the urban landscape: the comedic, dramatic, and tragic.

Critical Praise

I read BARRIO BUSHIDO in short doses, braving the pain and suffering and violent life of its young characters and their/our world. Suspense pulled me onward; I had to know how crimes, wars, hopes come out, but more importantly–Will the author be able to pull off a novel with meaning, or will this be another nihilistic thriller? On the level of world politics, is there homecoming for the Iraqi war vet? Benjamin Bac Sierra has taken upon himself the labor of Dostoevsky writing CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. Is there redemption for those who’ve lost God’s love? The reader feels the joy of murderous combat, and the heartbreak of compassion.

—Maxine Hong Kingston, author of The Fifth Book of Peace

Barrio Bushido tells the story of three young Latino men in the 1990s struggling to live by the homeboy code in a California neighborhood rife with poverty, drugs and violence. Bac Sierra uses a generous narrative voice and surreal absurdities to illuminate harsh realities, creating a world that straddles the line between myth and actuality. Barrio Bushido brings a Latin American literary tradition to American soil, situating Bac Sierra among magical realists such as Mario Vargas Llosa and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

—Shawna Yang Ryan, author of Water Ghosts

“A Latino Elmore Leonard.”

—Earl Shorris, author of The Life and Times of Mexico

As if delivered in a single, sustained breath line, Benjamin Bac Sierra’s Barrio Bushido alternates rhythms of waiting and combat, reverence and mayhem, the sacred and profane. As in vertical time, the end is in the beginning, no spoiler alert sparing us from the weight of its final chord. Irresistibly, we are bound to Lobo, Toro, and Santo; since we cannot save them, we go down with them. Read this: dare to know.

—Sandra Park, author of If You Live in a Small House

Feral and poetic, Barrio Bushido, is a cautionary tale about the dangers that lurk behind brotherhood and honor, love and loyalty. A gritty, relentless, unforgiving portrayal of the equally unforgiving world of the barrio.

—Nami Mun, author of Miles from Nowhere

With energy that explodes on the page Barrio Bushido is rough, raw, uncompromising, and unflinching. Ben Bac Sierra has created three modern day musketeers that define the country we will live in for the next hundred years.

—Alejandro Murguia, author of This War Called Love

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

Ben Bac Sierra sears the pavement with his bleeding-edge account of the barrio and its three most vital inhabitants: Lobo, Toro, and Santo. As rough as asphalt, as true a vision as you can find, Barrio Bushido demands to be read.

—Seth Harwood, author of Jack Wakes Up

“A truly poignant lyrical novel. Ben Bac Sierra gives a steely eyed lesson in barrioology as only a true homeboy can. A must read.”

—Professor Pedro Ramirez, San Joaquin Delta College; California Statewide Puente Leadership Conference

Bac Sierra’s novel about three homeboys living in a California barrio speaks of the wounds of poverty and racism and of the world of crime and heartbreak. Ultimately the novel is about what both bonds and separates us from our friends, families, and homes.

Written in gritty and evocative language, Barrio Bushido resonates with a raw energy that sings off the page.

Louise Nayer, author of Burned: A Memoir



Barrio Bushido Lesson Plans


These questions are designed to stimulate classroom discussion and assist students in engaging with the literature of Barrio Bushido. In no way are they mandatory questions, nor are they in any way a “correct” way to question or respond to the text.


What role does political correctness play in literature? Who defines what constitutes literature?

Do students need an Urban Latino literature?

What is Barrio? What is Bushido? Why are the two words joined together? What do they mean?

Analyze the book’s cover: the blessed brown fist is in the audience’s face. Why is it blessed? Why is it a closed fist?

What is the meaning of the tattooed Pachuco cross on the hand? What tradition does it represent? Is this symbol still used today? Why or why not?


Textual analysis of first line: “It was a soft sunny spring afternoon when God stopped loving them.” Contrast the softness of the day with the hardness of God stopping love. Why would God ever stop loving anyone?

Who is telling the story?

Why do these characters converse about women in a derogatory manner? What does this reveal about them? Discuss the time setting of the novel and the emergence of gangster rap during this era.

What is the purpose of the characters telling these types of violent stories? What kind of lifestyle are they living?

What does it mean to be “sick with it”?

Who is Santo? What kind of person is he?

How does Santo get Toro to join him in attacking the family? How does guilt factor in this culture?

At the end of the chapter are they busted by the police, or how exactly are they busted? Why do they strut even though they know they are busted?


At the beginning of the chapter, what is Lobo imagining as he speaks? What does he think people will accuse him of? To whom is he speaking?

Textual analysis of 15: “What threads would have prevented that? What would you have had me don? Would you have suited and booted me in Brooks Brothers’ finest, had me speak with a smile, and fooled yourself into believing that you put a poor down and out vato in paradise? Or would you have actually rather proved prejudices, delivered justice, and seen me mad dog you caged up in penitentiary blues?”

Why did Lobo choose this life?

Why wasn’t Lobo worried about his debt to Kwai Chung?

Explain Lobo and Kwai’s relationship.

24 How did the family beating change Lobo?

What is a “rainbow loco”?

26 Why did Sheila matter to Lobo? Explain: “She mattered because I saw that she didn’t give a fuck either.”

Why does Lobo want the concept of forever?

What is the name of the city they live in?

How do those who are being robbed think of Lobo?

What is the vida loca/crazy life?

32 When Lobo has to go alone to seek revenge because the others are drugged out, what does this reveal about Lobo’s attitude toward the gang?

Why did Lobo love Sheila? Discuss whether their relationship was based on love?

34 Textual analysis: “Some people might think she was weak for being my angel, but I only wish I had her strength.”

Where does Lobo get the idea that he has to be “sick” with his attack on Sasquatch? Who did he expect Sasquatch to be?

Why does Sasquatch want Lobo to rob the Chinese gangsters in broad daylight?

Discuss the stereotypes that they attach to each other’s race.

What does Lobo mean that he is a cracked egg?

42 What is Lobo’s problem with “revealing secrets”?

43 What did the “Happy Meals” little boy teach Lobo?

44 What is Lobo’s definition of honor?

47 Why does Santo agree with Lobo’s plan?

How does Lobo plan to use the homeboys?

51 What is the difference between Lobo’s and Toro’s perspective about the fight with the Samoans?

Discuss “Cops as saviors of the world.”

53 Textual analysis: “The lust for life is stronger than the despair of death.”

59 Why would Toro follow Lobo?

62 What tactic does Lobo use to convince Toro?

63 Discuss “awareness as evil.”

64 What does Lobo mean that “I look for problems. I search for drama”?

65 How do enemies inspire people to go beyond themselves?

66 Why is “the day of reckoning” supposed to be what life is all about? How is Lobo rebelling against guilt?

67 What is the reference to the four horsemen? In the Bible, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse come to bring the end of the Earth.


68 Textual analysis: “She now reaped the reward of lost desire.”

69 Why does Sheila blame others?

71 What did Lobo mean that he was beyond romance?

72 Why did Sheila chastise herself for wanting a savior?


74 How do we create our identity?

77 Why doesn’t the neighbor boy help Toro?

79 Why does the couple think Toro is retarded?

81 How is Duster Toro’s hero?

83 Why did Toro and Duster act like mojados?

84 What does the mother think about cholos?

What was Toro’s struggle?

What does Toro think the tattooed cross on the hand represents?

86 Why does Toro always charge?

87 What is Toro’s point about pride?

88 Discuss why Toro both loved and hated the homeboys.

89 What kind of person is Toro’s mother?

90 Why does Toro think his mother should stop loving him?

92 How is Toro both stupid and a genius?

95 Why is Toro punished by the drill instructors?

96 Did the D.I’s hate him? Why did they promote him?

97 What is the Transmogrifier?

98 Why does the statement “Either you’re hard or the hill is hard” motivate Toro?


100 Textual analysis: “Moving up, Kwai Chung felt as if he was becoming a real American. Moving down, Sasquatch also felt like he was becoming a real American.”

101 What was Kwai’s immigration status?

How is Kwai powerful?

102 Textual analysis: “More than just to obtain credentials or to have materialistic things, Kwai wanted to experiment with the power of the individual. Could a man, out of sheer cunning and relentless drive, truly invent whatever he wanted out of himself? Was Mickey Mouse a cartoon character or a genius?”

Discuss the concept of capitalism.

103 Why did the Chinese gangsters think Sasquatch could be valuable?


108 World War One style trench warfare was expected.

109 Why did Toro feel guilty about their battles?

112 According to Toro, what is a Marine?

113 How can thinking kill a person?

What does “suffering with class” mean?

116 What happened because of Ramsey’s individualism?

117 What was beautiful about the war’s hellish situation?

119 What does their anger at Ramsey reveal about the Marines?

120 How powerful is faith a factor to Marines? Faith in what?

121 How is the Gulf War a Vietnam War victory?

124 Discuss how the orange leads to the sublime.

126 Why does walking through the formation feel so good? How does it feel to be a hero?

131 Why do the cops like Toro?

133 Why does Toro believe in violence as a solution?

134: Textual analysis: “You aint got to love it; you just got to hack it.”

136 Why wasn’t anyone allowed to help the lieutenant?

136 What does “mission accomplishment” mean?

137 What is Corazon and how did that motivate the lieutenant?

How did Toro prove his love?

139 How complicit is the general public in war?

Why does Toro compare his fallen down medals to true love?

140 Are Marines brainwashed?

142 What is Santo’s honor?

144 Why does Toro join the plan even though he is incapacitated?


147 Textual analysis: “Words endure; the power of memory haunts.”

148 What is Santo’s “battle with the illusion of beauty?”

What is homeboy love?

148 Discuss “Losing balance is the price of our love.”

152 How is Santo a good person?

What is Santo’s gift?

What does Santo mean when he says “take this cup away”; what is this a reference to?

157 What does “great love is great pain” mean?

158 Why does Sky respond angrily? Why did Santo return? What or who are the voices Santo hears?

161 Who is Santo supposed to bow down to?

162 Why do the “shotcallers” give Santo a pass?

Why does Santo say he attacked the family?

163 What does Santo think is happening when he hears Mari’s plan?

165 Why won’t Santo ever wear a mask?

167 Can there be an escape to a good life?

170 Why does Santo think that pity is a trick?

173 Textual analysis: “I missed the lies now that I was confronted with the truth.”

174 Discuss Santo’s letter to himself. What does this reveal about Santo as an emotional person looking for intimacy?

176 Why is it so easy for Mari to be addicted to crack? How could she possibly smoke her own feces? What is the point of this scene? At the end why does Santo call Mari beautiful?


177 What does it mean to be your own God?

178 Why does Sheila pray for Lobo to be free?

179 Discuss the “old terror”.

180 At the end of the chapter, what happens to Sheila?


182 Why does Santo think it is good to be hungry?

183 Fish never blink. Why does Santo admire this?

184 Why does Santo believe that peace can’t be the answer?

What is so cliché about “Only the strong survive.”

185 What is so important about making time and lists? What does Santo mean that only sane men do this?

The free cheese line: compare Lobo v. Toro v. Santo’s version.

188 Why does Santo’s heart break?

192 What does Lobo think about the concept of mercy?

Why does Lobo say that the cop left the varrio?

Why does the cop call Lobo a disgrace?

194 What is Lobo howling? How can howling lead to insight?

197 Why is the concept of forever so attractive?

198 Why does Santo believe he is cursed? What does Santo think he deserves?


202 What are the homeboys pretending they understand?

203 Why does Toro want something greater than himself?

204 Why does Santo care about the way he will be remembered after his death?

205 Why do the holy have a duty?

Where did Santo gain his intelligence?

208 Discuss the tradition of living without fear.

209 What is the will to power? Do they have to have formally studied to know this type of philosophy?

210 Textual analysis: “Commit an act of worship: study.”

211 Why is Animo Santo’s soulmate? How are they different?

212 What is the truth according to Animo? “Truth shivers at imagination.” What does this mean?

What are “real red hearts”?

216 How did the seagull inspire Santo?

Why does Santo believe he must write his story? No history, no identity. How is writing a pact? A pact with whom?

218 Why would people look at Toro’s mother with disgust?

219 What is “an intentional ignorance of discrimination”?

How can welfare money affect a people?

220 Discuss why Toro’s mother believes that shame is mandatory for success.

What used to be considered intelligent for his people? What was their past historical measurement?

221 Why did the mother believe in norms? Why would she tell him to run away from fights?

223 Why is to be called crazy the best compliment a homeboy can receive?

Why do the homeboys have faith in crazy?

During their fight, why didn’t Toro kill Santo? What does this reveal about Toro?

225 Why does Toro show up that night at the park? What does he expect from the homeboys?

226 How had the Chinese created their own America?

230 Why did the Chinese gangsters have to pay tribute in public?

234 Discuss Lobo’s perspective: Hell as another hustle.

236 What does Lobo believe is an American or his America? How does Lobo represent America?

What does Lobo mean by “connoisseurs of existence”?

What does Lobo mean when he says we should live every part of our lives with zest?

What is the meaning of Sheila’s song?

238 What is Lobo’s most severe moment? What will be Lobo’s torture?

At the end of the chapter, what does Lobo want to believe? What is the fallacy in his thinking “Bitches and hos and no fuckin world after”?


239 Preface: What does it mean that one who is independent cannot go back to pity?

240 What does Santo mean that there is no melody in madness?

243 How will the new traditions be based on innovations? How is Little Cartoon the ticket?

244 What happened at the park in Chinatown?

245 Connect Lobo’s chapter one “We got to go” to this chapter’s “We got to go.” How are the statements alike yet different?

246 Why did Santo purposely choose to assassinate the people in Chinatown?

Who is Rey? What did Rey command?

Discuss “Evil can’t be redeemed.”

Discuss how Lobo is like Toro’s mother: Don’t ever be stupid and fight the losing fight.

248 Santo’s sick. What’s the cure? How is the word sick used in contrast with the word sick in the first chapter?

249 Discuss Little Cartoon as a genius. What does Lobo command him to do? Does Little Cartoon know what he is supposed to do? Does Santo know the ultimate outcome of this?

What did Santo do with Toro’s leg? Was this a miracle? Is Santo really a saint?

250 Textual analysis: Santo says: “I got to prepare the way for the homeboys. Scope out the next seen, and make sure all’s cool on the next level. Infiltrate behind enemy lines.”

What kind of saw was Santo looking for in the hardware store? Why?

What did Little Cartoon think was happening? How did he act?

Did Santo fulfill his goal of having the younger generation respect what it means to be sick?

252 Why does Santo shout “No sins”? What does Little Cartoon mean when he says after he hears this he discovered the power of words?

What is the melody of machismo?

Why did Santo chop off his own head? How is this or is this not Bushido?

253 What does Little Cartoon mean when he says Santo died clean?

254 What does Little Cartoon mean that sins do not have to be fatal?

255 What are the reality and the symbolism behind the two heads being served on a cafeteria table at the top of the street?

256 Discuss gentrification in the varrio.

258 Why did Lobo choose Little Cartoon to be the leader of the transformation?

Why does Lobo think that independence is the solution? What does he mean that “average motherfuckers are traitors to this world”? Why is Lobo not worried that Little Cartoon will become a sellout? What does Lobo ultimately want for his people?

260 What does Lobo mean when he says that “revolution won’t work; evolution is what’s needed”? What role does Lobo imagine education will play in his plan? What does he expect from Little Cartoon?

What does Lobo mean when he says “we fly even when we fall”? Is this a positive or negative message?

After Lobo ostracizes Little Cartoon, why does Little Cartoon go to visit Santo at the cemetery?

How did Little Cartoon know what to do with his life once he saw Santo’s tombstone: “This is takeoff”? What does this mean? What is the message behind this? How are they “golden words”?


  1. Throughout Barrio Bushido there are scenes that stretch beyond what seem to be humanly possible. Why use the magical or impossible to represent the real? Discuss how the magically real factors into the novel. Identify scenes of the impossible and show how they symbolize something real in a way that is more real than non-fiction.
  2. Is Barrio Bushido a nihilistic thriller or is there an overall purpose of the book? Discuss whether Barrio Bushido carries a profound message.
  3. Discuss how Barrio Bushido transforms and/or reinforces stereotypes of homeboys/girls. Evaluate to what degree homeboys/girls are portrayed as intelligent human beings.
  4. Do Lobo, Toro, or Santo stay true to the mythology of their monikers? Choose one of these characters to discuss. How does he represent a mythological character, and how is he humanized?

2 thoughts on “Barrio Bushido Lesson Plans”

  1. I heard about uyou through a good friend of mind Jimmy Loeza. I also have a friend that works at city college…. her name is Tessa Henderson-Bronw. My name is Alicia, I work at San Mateo juvenile hall, known as Hillcrest Juvenile Hall. I would love for you to come and speak to my yought. I also run a book club at the hall with group of 8 of my boys. I feel it wouuld be great for my young boys (ages 13 to 16) to read your book. Please contact me. Look forward to speaking with you.













2 thoughts on “Barrio Bushido

  1. This book just blew my mind. It WOW! me all the way through out. I loved it from the beging to the end. This should be a movie and it would go place. The creativity and immagination mixed with reality that was live as hell. i have not read a book this great in a long time. It made me want to read everybook you suggested in class. Loved It. Dellfinia

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