This land is your land…Claudia Barillas, contestant #1

(Please note that the caption is also from 1943. Do you accept its explanation of the riots?)


Our first contest entry is from Claudia Barillas, an occasional author on this site. (Nice to see you back, Claudia!) Claudia writes superb fiction, but chose instead to share with us a simple narrative of growing up here.  The photo is not of an invading army, but of our own servicemen, with the help of the LAPD, bludgeoning Mexican Americans in Los Angeles Zoot Suit Riots of 1943.

While our contest prompt is of a plaque that denigrates African Americans, Claudia makes the point that other minorities have also been brutalized by institutional racism in America.

Here is Claudia’s untitled story:

I went to school in California, which is considered to be a pretty progressive place. I can’t speak for how history is taught in other states, but I have been told my experience with history is not representative of the rest of the nation. We learned about The Trail of Tears and other atrocities committed against our native populations. We spent a lot of time on the enslavement of Black people and how they were deemed subhumans in our very Constitution, segregation after the Civil War, and the subsequent Civil Rights Movement. We covered the Chinese Exclusion Act, halting immigration from China once the backbreaking and often deadly construction of the Transcontinental Railroad was complete. We learned about the Japanese internment, the locking up of US citizens who looked a certain way, despite Germany also being our enemy and German-Americans not being similarly locked up.


In a Latino-majority school, we did not learn about the Zoot Suit Riots, not understanding that the song by Cherry Poppin’ Daddies was referencing an actual event in which sailors antagonized Mexican-Americans, with backing from the LAPD. We did not learn about mass deportations that swept up even American-born citizens, sending people to Mexico even if their families were from other Latin countries. We did not learn that Latinos were victims of lynching, or that they were blocked from schools, not even as a footnote to the lynching and segregation faced by Blacks people. I flipped ahead in my fourth grade history book and saw a section on Cesar Chavez and his fight for migrant worker’s rights, but we never reached that lesson.


When we learned about the Gold Rush, our text books were filled with pictures of white miners even though many were Mexican, Black, or even Native American. The Calico Mine Ride at Knott’s Berry Farm paints a more vivid picture of a diverse California than our history book did, but when we visited the ghost town on a school trip, we merely toured empty buildings. Any mentions of cowboys driving cattle were similarly limited to a white perspective. Though Mexicans helped build the West, they apparently did not exist.


I’m not Mexican, but we learned even less about other Latinos. My mother’s family came to this country to flee a civil war. I did not know for most of my life that the US was involved in this and other Central American conflicts. They made our homes unlivable, then complained when we sought homes elsewhere. Forget that California was once Mexico. My fourth grade teacher once said that if the US had not taken the land, many of our families would not be there. The Mexicans, she argued, were in the US for a reason, and so would not have ended up here. She did not seem to consider that perhaps if the land had not been stolen, things might have played out very differently, and the reasons that those families had come to the US might not have happened.




Do you have a story to tell?  Share your experience and insights by entering our contest here:


8 thoughts on “This land is your land…Claudia Barillas, contestant #1

  1. Chuck says:

    Thanks for posting my entry. I see an error, but fixing it would put me over the work limit so I guess I’ll have to live with it.

    • Thornton Sully says:

      This is an important contest, and I am being flexible with the rules. While in the past, we have been adamant about the word count, it was because we wanted to sharpen people’s writing skills, and having to edit your own work to a specific length is a good exercise. Send me the changes, and I will gladly amend your entry.

  2. Miryam says:

    Well said Claudia… Sad human behavior & much ignored. It feels so much better to touch-up the cruel facts, yet in so doing, our future is more likely to repeat itself.
    Thanks for your insights!

  3. Kyle Katz says:

    The history delivered in truth (not fake news) is finally busting at the seams of a global warfare saturated in lust of power and money. Your truth and sharing of rich history, which I truly treasure, may heal these spiritual wounds many of us over generations have been influenced by. We are more alike…than separate. Now we can start to look at one another with an open heart, as we learn the truth. I enjoyed reading this.

  4. Michael Stang says:

    You have written well, Chuck, concerning the theft of a complete history, most of our next generation will never consider. Every moment that passes into obscurity makes the task of Historians, Anthropologists, Biologists, Research Writers, and Journalists a herculean effort to expose and preserve the truths. Thank you for your perspectives.

  5. Lady Pafia Marigold says:

    Other than thanking you for sharing a long overdue history lesson with us, not often taught in US History, I wanted to add that the US government did debate whether or not to intern German citizens as well during both world conflicts. The only reason they decided not to execute this was that there simply were too many Germanic people to identify & round up. Fear is a contagious poison which if allowed to be believed becomes a paranoid, social panic with cruel consequences no matter when or where in history it arises.

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