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Putting the Family First : Barba Clan of 9 Siblings Credits Academic Successes to Strength Drawn From Close Ties

December 12, 1995|DAVID E. BRADY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VAN NUYS — Proving the old adage, members of the Barba family in Van Nuys have not only prayed together, they've also stayed together--all 10 of them.

Seven of nine siblings attend Cal State Northridge and four of the college students work at Van Nuys Elementary School. The whole family--siblings, spouses, grandchildren and all--gathers each weekend at their mother's Van Nuys home for dinner and good-natured games of poker.

So just how do they all get along?

"We're a very close family," said daughter Lisa Yanez, 28, who recently completed a master's degree in educational administration. "We're always doing things more with family than friends."

In many ways, it is a closeness born of necessity. In 1976, the family emigrated from Jalisco, Mexico, to a two-bedroom apartment on Van Nuys' crime-plagued Blythe Street. Three years later, the children's father, Pedro Barba, died unexpectedly a few weeks before Christmas.

"We used to pray together every single night," recalled Socorro Barba, at 21 the youngest sibling. "For a long time, that's what kept us together."

As Yanez remembers, "We had to get along."

With her husband gone, Eufrocina Barba turned to her two oldest children, Tony and Lupe, for help in raising the family.

"We got the house together, all three of us," said Lupe Avila, 33, of their parenting roles. "I'm sure my dad would be very proud if he were here today."

Under Tony's guidance, the family left Blythe Street for Sun Valley before moving to a modest Van Nuys house in 1984.

Even now, with only four of the children remaining at home, family ties remain strong. Maria Valiton, 31, the first to attend CSUN, said it's largely coincidental that all the college-bound children ended up at the same school, but noted that it's the only affordable university near their mother's home.

"We've always worked," she said, describing years of selling hamburgers, doughnuts, shoes and movie tickets to finance their educations. "None of us ever went with a full scholarship--we never asked."

Of the seven siblings born in Mexico, only two have yet to complete the process to become U.S. citizens.

On campus, their schedules rarely coincide but they admit it's nice bumping into each other between classes.

"For me, it feels like home," Lisa Yanez said of the campus. "Most of my family is there."

Indeed. Like Yanez, sisters Maria Valiton and Rosa Barba, 25, are pursuing master's degrees in educational administration while Denise Barba, 26, is working on a master's degree in business administration.

The family's undergraduates are liberal studies major Vicky Rodriguez, 30; engineering major Peter Barba, 23; and Socorro Barba, 21, who recently switched from engineering to leisure studies.

Socorro sought a bit of independence after her first two years at CSUN and transferred to the University of Wyoming, only to find that while she cherished her freedom, she missed the strength she drew from being close to the family. "You get a different view on things," she said, fighting back tears.

Unable to afford the costs, she left after a year. "Here, she has a home," Avila said.

CSUN Chicano studies professor Raul Ruiz has taught several of the sisters over the years and said the Barbas' success should be an inspiration to all minority families.

"It's a family that has been able to put things together in the right way so that they don't crowd each other, but they're there for each other," he said. "They've had to struggle and they've done very well. They demonstrate that there's great possibility in all of us."

Their mother agrees. "I am very proud of all my children," Eufrocina Barba said in Spanish.

Beginning next fall, a second generation of the Barba family will enter CSUN when Avila's daughter, Monica, enrolls as a psychology student.

Asked to explain the source of the family's strength, they each point to their mother, who taught them at an early age that they could rise above their meager surroundings if they worked hard and stayed together.

"We were very, very happy to leave," Valiton said, recalling the time they left the Blythe Street apartment for the house in Sun Valley.

But while they clung to each other for love and support during the lean years, they admit it was often difficult sharing everything from bedrooms to clothes and scheduling their showers in shifts.

"When I was growing up, I wished I didn't have so many brothers and sisters," Yanez said, remembering the envy she sometimes felt seeing other children with prettier wardrobes and more expensive toys.

But today, hoping to start a family of her own, she said it's an experience she wouldn't trade.

"The best thing that you can give your children is more brothers and sisters."

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