Claudia Barillas, entry# 23–Family really matters


I have a backlog of stories, and I still hope to receive more up until the deadline of March 7th, the 52nd anniversary of the march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge that popped our collective zit on national evening news.  I want to give each entry hang-time, so it may be we can’t determine who the finalists are until the end of April or early May, dependent upon the total number of stories submitted.  Please, again I ask for your patience if you have submitted a story, and it has not yet been posted. All in due time.  And I am pleased (take me at my word here) that responses have been so assertive, even explosive, though it is harsh to be on the receiving end.  But this is about change…  “Myself, I long for love and light, but must it come so cruel, and oh, so bright?” (Leonard Cohen, witnessing the flames consuming Joan of Arc.)  Please feel free to strike another match in the comment sections.


I must confess (actually, I chose to confess) that this brief story I am now posting is the kind thing I was hoping for: tracing the roots of racism in our culture back to, well, its roots.  Where does it come from?  Claudia has this uncanny ability to recall what her thoughts were as a five-year-old.  No agenda here, no moralizing, no preaching, no editorializing.  Just, this is what happened.  Here is her untitled entry # 23

by Claudia Barillas


I grew up watching Family Matters, mostly to laugh at Steven Urkel. Five years old and outgoing, I did not know that glasses, people being annoyed with me, and getting rejected by crushes were all in my future. Try telling kindergarten-me- that Steve Urkel is a relate-able character. Yeah, right.


There was an episode where Laura made the cheer-leading squad. She was the only freshman to do so. The other girls began to bully her for being a freshman. In kindergarten, I did not know what a freshman was. I just assumed it was another word for Black.


Picture that. Five years old, I did not know about the hierarchy of high school, but I did know about racial hierarchy. How did I know this? Did someone in my family explain it to me? Did I watch a Civil Rights movie on TV? Did I get it from Family Matters? I can never say because it was too early in life for me to remember. I don’t remember learning about anti-black racism, but I knew enough about it to ascribe the sentiment to white girls on tv. My Black best friend and my Black kindergarten teacher must not have made it even as far into life as I did before being faced with it, and not just on TV. Learning about racism. What a luxury.

32 thoughts on “Claudia Barillas, entry# 23–Family really matters

  1. Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

    Perhaps the editorializing is hiding within capitalization choices left standing? Some choices may be unconscious, some have an agenda; we might hope that all adjectives are created equal.

    • Chuck says:

      Black should be spelled with a capital B when referring to people of the African diaspora. White isn’t capitalized in the same way because white people in American typically claim heritage from various European countries, while Black people in America were largely robbed of their specific heritages. I’m not Black, but I respect this choice in capitalization the same way I’d expect anyone to respect the use of the word Latino over the word Hispanic when referring to the people of Latin America.

      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

        No–sorry–this is nonsense. And “Latino” is as arbitrary a label as “Hispanic;” the majority of the peoples of Central and South America are of multiple ethnicities, few of them with ancestors originating in Rome.

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

          For most of the peoples of Central and South America, Spanish is an imposed language and not an ancestral one.

          And why would one choose to identify with the slavemasters and pillagers as a primary heritage?

          These sorts of semantic arguments don’t hold up when they are examined with anything other than a political lens. It’s a natural human reaction to say “you made us the lesser ones for too long; we will make you lesser now.” But all prejudice and discrimination are wrong, and we must strive to use our brains no matter how painfully our hearts are burning.

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

          And–regarding “Latino”–if one is rejecting the categorizations of the enslaver, best to reject all of them.

      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

        What the argument you describe is really saying is this: “I am resentful of you because I think you know where your ancestors came from, and I have been deprived of such knowledge about myself, and so I will diminish you in order to create my identity.”

        So how shall we handle, descriptively, people whose ancestors came from anywhere in Asia?

      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

        For many so-called Latin Americans, Spanish, or Portuguese, is a second or even a third language. Why would you steal from those people their actual heritage by imposing a Europe-centric label on them?

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

          No one, it turns out, can be reduced to one descriptor, and sometimes when we carry semantics to an over-fevered state, we forget that human beings do understand nuance and supply missing words when necessary. Not everything must be spelled out. I am happy to include myself in “mankind,” for example, and speakers of a more archaic English understood that the female sex was implicitly part of the ingathering there.

          And for those who insist on seeing our differences, it’s worth noting that Americans are unerringly seen as such when traveling abroad, regardless of their pigmentation.

  2. Lady Pafia Marigold says:

    This story to me explores memories of the author’s age of 5 innocence. Perhaps her innocence is a block of stone awaiting to be rendered into its statue of herself. The chiselling away of innocence is both gentle rubbing discoveries of wonder & harsh chipping strikes of disillusionment. When, where & how does this waiting to meet the world of people, other beings, nature & beliefs both factual & ignorant, loving & prejudicial begin? That is what this story asks & seeks, but offers no conclusion, because her sculpturing will last a lifetime without being completed. Life is a subjective revealing by layer not an objective finality.

  3. Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

    And we must further remember that everywhere a Latin-derived language flourished, it was at the cost of a conquered, destroyed, marginalized or suppressed indigenous culture–even in Europe, which is full of the ghosts of many an extinct language.

  4. Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

    And the ultimate point, which may be getting lost here, is that there are no wholly-innocent nor wholly-guilty cultures; the story of human life on earth is that of voluntary and of forced migration; of natural and of forced assimilation; of a prior ancestry for every perceived current one; in far too many instances, a victimized group may have previously victimized another; and all power eventually corrupts.

  5. Chuck says:

    Cool, Sarah, just dropping buy to say I didn’t read any of that word spam. Thanks for reading my entry but I think you’re just here to argue.

      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

        I’m fairly sure you did. But perhaps you felt you couldn’t offer a reasoned response and thought you’d best retreat to snark, which rather defeats Thorn’s purpose in running this contest, since he was hoping to spark thoughtful discourse and a presentation not only of feelings but of facts.

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

          You’ve got the ability to write well, which means you can think, too, but it’s up to you how you use your gifts.

        • Chuck says:

          I’m not sure why it’s so important for you to insist that I’m lying. I keep coming back to this post to see if anyone else has commented. I’m not sure why you keep coming back. Still haven’t read the other comments though.

  6. Lady Pafia Marigold says:

    Chuck – I revisited your 10/15/13 entry titled, “Endless” which received 49 comments which were intelligent, kind & articulate. The editor in his introduction wrote, “Am I alone among you who have missed Chuck? (aka Claudia Barillas)” He goes on to add: “We missed you, my dear.  Glad this contest has brought you out of a premature retirement.  A lovely story, poignant, and clearly heart-felt when you wrote it.  I suspect your fans will second that devotion.” As my predecessor before me, I am a fan of yours, thanking you for your many stories on AWWYP, including your personalised remembrance of childhood innocence this time. Brava Chuck, brava.

  7. Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

    Sometimes, as writers mature, they find posturing less necessary and engagement more possible, and then their gifts begin to achieve their potential. But bursting out of one’s comfortable but confining skin is never easy and never pain-free.

  8. Lady Pafia Marigold says:

    Chuck, I am reminded of the story of the good natured frog who after repeated pleas from a scorpion for free passage on the frog’s back to the other side of the river allows the scorpion to climb all over it. The scorpion has promised not to sting, but half-way across the river stings. As the frog suffers in pain, too paralysed to swim on, knowing both will drown, it asks the scorpion why it was so cruel. The scorpion replies that it is its nature to be cruel & sting & cause pain no matter what. They both drown for no reason other than the scorpion’s belief in inflicting pain & self-righteous ego. Lesson: Never respond to a scorpion.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

      Propaganda is a deadly effective form of writing, and it’s a tool used by everyone devoted to ideology rather than critical thinking. That’s why a good old-fashioned liberal arts education is so important, and why the concepts it exposes one to are often so uncomfortable. And these days young people don’t want to be uncomfortable, and they don’t want to be forced to think.

      Do you believe you are supporting and encouraging an intelligent young person by urging her to keep those fingers in her ears? Some of us define “support” and “encouragement” differently.

      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

        It is very hard work to become a truly first-class writer. Webzines are full of competent workmanlike stuff; MFA programs are an assembly line for producing that stuff. Anyone with a reasonably good education can write a decent sentence, and we as human beings are programmed to respond to rhythm and cadence and be seduced into believing it’s sometimes more meaningful than an examination of the words will prove.

        If I’ve touched nerves here, it might be worth examining why.

      • Chuck says:

        I wonder how old you think I am. I’ve been on this website for 8 years. I’ve gotten plenty of support and encouragement!

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

          I assume you’re in your late 20s or perhaps just a wee bit older. And you’re a good writer. But closing yourself off from ideas that don’t comport with your worldview won’t help you get better.

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

            …and maybe this is too much of a safe harbor for you, and your art would be best served by swimming into the deep water. I think you can handle it, if you get over the idea that legitimate critiques are something to hide under the covers from…

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