Our American Family – Episode 2: The Barreras

Genealogy author and expert Thomas MacEntee reviews Episode 2: The Barreras of the series Our American Family and interviews producer Steve Young

Our American Family – Episode 2: The Barreras on Amazon Prime

Genealogy author and expert Thomas MacEntee reviews Episode 2: The Barreras of the series Our American Family and interviews producer Steve Young

NOTE: This is the second in a series of articles about a new documentary series entitled Our American Family available via Amazon Prime. Our American Family seeks to document our American family heritage, one family at a time, and inspire viewers to capture their own family stories – before those voices are gone. Click HERE to view any or all of the episodes and to get a FREE TRIAL of Amazon Prime.

Overview of Our American Family: The Barreras

Life in the remote company-owned town of Madrid in the 1920s and ’30s was a mixture of hard, dangerous work offset by the joy of baseball and celebrations. Our American Family: The Barreras tell the extraordinary story of a Latino American family with an unwavering commitment to staying together.

Commentary on Our American Family: The Barreras

Can I tell you how much I loved the episode The Barreras? So far, I am only two episodes in to the Our American Family series, but I am hoping every episode carries the same message as this one. It lives up to the byline “Everyday families . . . extraordinary stories” used in the series promotions.

Just like The Youngs, in The Barreras we see a large family with 10 children raised during the Great Depression. In viewing the episode we learn that the family started by first generation Americans Candelario (Lalo) and Angela (Angie) Barreras lived in Madrid, New Mexico.

The town was home to many similar families of Mexican heritage as well as Slavs, Spaniards and Italians . . . all seeking work in the coal mine. Madrid was a “company town” where Lalo started work at age 12. His father was killed in a mine accident, and Lalo himself was injured in 1935. Through interviews, the living children of Lalo and Angie describe life in a small house with no running water and coal dust on everything. After World War II, when demand for coal declined, the family moved to Los Angeles where the descendants now live.

For me, the story of The Barreras embodies everything that you and I think of when we picture family: a family built on love, respect and honesty; a family willing to make sacrifices for each other; a family that endured hardships and only wanted their children to be better off than they were.

I grew up in a similar family of simple means. The quote from one of the Barreras daughters, “I thought everyone lived like we did,” resounded so much with me. My mother made sure her children didn’t think about being poor. We didn’t have exposure to anything else.

And I actually become very emotional at the closing when one of the Barreras sons said, “To be a member of my family was a privilege.” That, my friends, is to me the definition of being part of a family.

Genealogy author and expert Thomas MacEntee interviews Steve Young, producer of Our American Family

Interview with Steve Young, Producer of Our American Family

Note: I had the opportunity to conduct an e-mail interview recently with Steve Young who produces the Our American Family series. Here are the questions and answers related to The Barreras episode and the series in general.

The concept of “sacrifice” is predominant in The Barreras, especially in the story of Lalo and his chance at a Major League baseball career. Is sacrifice a common theme in Our American Family? Is it due to the fact that many episodes take place during the Great Depression? Or do you think that many families since the beginning of time are defined by what they are willing to sacrifice?

Sacrifice is absolutely a major theme among the family stories we have shared. There is no doubt that raising a family during the Great Depression introduced external forces that caused families during that time to make sacrifices. However, to your last question, I think families have made the choice of “family above self,” for as long as there have been families. I think of the choices that all of our ancestors – yours, mine, your readers’ – made to leave everything and everyone they knew behind, and make the journey to America to start a new life. Can we even imagine what that must have been like? That ethos has been forged and passed down for generations, and the baton has now been passed to us.

The Barreras depicts a family of Hispanic heritage set in a New Mexico coal mining town. Do you think the family stories of their neighbors – other immigrants of Slavic, Spanish and Italian descent – were much different?

I don’t. The Barreras heritage is one they celebrate and share with us, yet they would be the first to tell us that all families in Madrid, regardless of ethnic heritage, held similar values and made similar sacrifices.

What was the experience making The Barreras episode of Our American Family? There are several interviews with grandchildren of Lalo and Angie and they’ve taken an interest in the family history. Are you seeing younger and younger family members become keepers of the family stories?

You’ve touched upon an aspect of The Barreras that we love – that their grandchildren are among those who have “taken the baton” and are working to preserve, cherish and pass down their family’s story. A bit of “behind the scenes” for you and your readers – grandson Jaime Castaneda, had a replica of his grandfather’s baseball uniform made, and it is Jaime playing the part of Lalo in this scene describing Lalo’s baseball playing days:

As I said in my commentary, I am only two episodes into the Our American Family series and I can see through this episode, The Barreras, the “power” of family. From all the families you have documented so far in the series, what is that magic formula that enables a family to not just survive, but to thrive like the Barreras family?

I think we’ve touched on the answer throughout the interview. It is the choice to place the family above self. For some families, external factors such as the Great Depression helped forge that belief, and for all families we have featured, the example was clearly set by the parents, whose actions set the standard, rather than their words.

Want to be a part of Our American Family? Submit Your Application

If you are interested in having your family’s story considered for the Our American Family project, please review their requirements and submit an online application HERE.


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About the Author

Thomas MacEntee
Genealogy educator and author Thomas MacEntee has been researching his family history for more than 40 years and is the creator of Abundant Genealogy, Genealogy Bargains, DNA Bargains, The Genealogy Do-Over and numerous other web-based genealogy and family history properties.