By Jose V. Gonzalez
The recent publication of Barrio Side Hero (2019) showcases the struggles and success that a young Latino teenager experienced on his path to adulthood. The author, Enrique S. Flores, is an accomplished member of our community who grew up in the East Side of San Jose during the 80’s and 90’s and graduated from Santa Clara University with a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology with a focus on Marriage and Family Therapy. He spent the early part of his career helping, guiding, and mentoring at risk and high-risk youth. He continues his work by serving South Bay residents as an educator, mental health specialist, and providing parenting classes at various school districts. The purpose of his book is to be a testimony to those youth experiencing hardships that life can and will improve and also be a testament to the adult reader that no youth is lost because just like Enrique, they can turn their lives around with the support of caring adults.
One of the big lessons that comes from Barrio Side Hero is the importance of mentors and caring individuals in various stages of one’s life. He mentions Jesuit priests who helped him to pull out of the gang life that he and his childhood friends had decided to follow since the upper grades of elementary school. Because of this support, he was able to attend Bellarmine College Preparatory and Santa Clara University. The efforts of these Jesuit priests was not in vain as Enrique, being a grateful individual, returned to Bellarmine to work as a professional and was instrumental in increasing the number of Latino students accepted into this prestigious Bay Area preparatory by 200%.
Enrique writes in simple terms, but engages his readers in deep and complex topics affecting young Latino males. Once you start reading his book, it becomes difficult to let it go because one way or another, you identify with the main character. The opening page sets a tone reminiscent of Magical Realism and establishes the fact that we are reading about a person who has an old soul and therefore, it announces that you will see topics that are serious, dangerous, and uncomfortable. Furthermore, because of the author’s expertise in the field of mental health and therapy, he is able to thoroughly explain how negative situations affect a young man’s developing mind with the day to day traumatic experiences induced by danger and fear brought on by gang life, poverty, challenging neighborhoods, and schools with rampant bullying. In addition, we read about the effect that gang violence has on a family, especially parents who may feel powerless to help their children. He himself exposes his behaviors to help the reader understands why people do what they do when they have experienced trauma.
For those who are San Jose natives, reading this book is twice as interesting because you are able to locate the places that Enrique mentions and takes you on a tour of historically Latino landmarks. In addition to places, the author takes you on a tour of topics that have affected the Latino community for decades like immigration, education, English language, mental health, violence, gangs, religion, traditions, Native roots, incarceration, sexualtiy, HIV, etc. For Latinos who read this book, you will find a wealth of knowledge on the topics mentioned above and how they play a role in the development of a young person struggling to be someone in society.
The book is also full of quotes and reflections that motivates the reader to face difficult circumstances as the protagonist is attempting to do. Since this is an autobiographical novel, Enrique comes across as a “real” person who is able to utilize his experiences to influence others in a positive way. His life is so multifaceted that the reader is able to identify with him and find him or herself trying to make the same decisions that Enrique is making. For this reason, this book would be great to be in the hands of high school students facing difficult circumstances. Other books or novels written on the topic tend to glorify gang life and over sensationalize it, but in Barrio Side Hero, we only read about the challenges that gang life brings and its negative effects and how education can be a catalyst in the break of this cycle. At the end, we find how Enrique is able to make positive impacts on others because of the experiences that he went through.
Enrique is a humble and compassionate soul both in fiction and in real life. His book is a proclamation of love for others and a tool to help at-risk and high-risk youth to find their path to being productive members of society. You can find Barrio Side Hero in Amazon.com from Floricanto Press.