Alberto Ríos was born in 1952 in Nogales, Arizona, on the border with Mexico. His father was born in Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico, and his mother was born in Warrington, Cheshire, England. He lived for the first five years of his life on Rodriguez Street, behind the Catholic church.
Later his family moved to a small, rural suburb north of town, called Valle Verde. Ríos went to Coronado Elementary School, which was later called A.J. Mitchell Elementary School. Later he went to Nogales Junior High School and Nogales High School.
His first job, in the summer after third grade, was on a ranch that raised Black Angus cattle, though his job was to collect eggs from the chickens that were also raised there.
In junior high and high school Ríos was interested in many things, playing the cornet in the school band and joining the drama club and the chorus. During this time he worked as an artist in a frame shop, and later took a job at the local hospital working in the emergency room, a job he kept throughout his next several years of college.
After high school he attended the University of Arizona in Tucson, where he first majored in Political Science, then in literature and creative writing. He got his first degree in 1974. He got a second degree, this time in psychology, in 1975. Then he went to law school for awhile, but decided that