Everyone came over for Thanksgiving.
The Barrios family is big — 27 people big. They all made their way to Carlos Barrios’ house in Los Angeles for one of the most important days of the year.
Carlos ’02 (Business Law) has the means to host such a big group. He’s found success in a short period of time. He was one of the few kids in his South Central Los Angeles neighborhood who didn’t end up in prison — or worse, dead, like his best friend. He is a college graduate and an attorney with his own firm, The Law Offices of Carlos R. Barrios and Associates.
Barrios said he owes his success to a strict upbringing by parents who promoted education and shielded him from the ugliness outside his front door. Second, he offers, without solicitation, credit to CSUN.
After Thanksgiving dinner this year, he offered a giant, sentimental thank you to his parents and alma mater. Barrios pulled out a framed certificate that resembled the diploma he received from CSUN. He explained the certificate’s meaning to his parents — recognition of the Carlos and Sara Barrios Scholarship.
The new scholarship will be awarded to one student bound for CSUN from a group of South Central LA schools.
“My dad was totally speechless. He couldn’t say anything,” Barrios said. “And then, my mom was the exact opposite. She couldn’t say enough.”
Barrios never thought he could do this. Until he just asked.
Journey to Attorney
It was tough growing up in South Central LA in the 1990s, especially in Barrios’ Compton neighborhood. His group of friends was 13 boys strong. He and a couple of others from that group recently did an accounting of the friends’ whereabouts.
“Out of those 13 boys, only three of us have actually gone on to do something significant,” Barrios said. “Half are in jail. Three are dead. And the other few are just doing their best to get through life.”
When he was 9 years old, Barrios saw a man shot and killed in front of a neighborhood pizza parlor. His best friend was shot and killed at 13 years old. Drug dealers, he said, were a common sight. But there was no way his parents were going to allow outside forces to influence him.
“My parents are super-duper crazy strict,” Barrios said. “The lights come on in the streets, you have to be inside. Homework has to be done, and there’s a long list of chores that have to be done. There’s no such thing as allowance. Nothing is free. They provided a strong household and had a firm grasp on education. If I wanted an ice cream, I had to mow the lawn or take the trash out two times a day.”
His parents emigrated from Guatemala. His mother, Sara, was a seamstress and his father, Carlos, was a mechanic.
“I was very strict,” Sara said. “I didn’t allow friends at the house or wasting time. … I kept [my children] busy by giving them chores around the house and by working with their dad or me. My children always knew that I wanted them to achieve and have a better future. They knew there was no other choice than to reach high and achieve.”
The family — husband and wife and five children — lived in a two-bedroom apartment.
Because of his parents, Barrios knew his ticket to a better life was through hard work, dedication and sacrifice. He went to high school in Sherman Oaks — far from the dissonant noise of his home neighborhood.
He chose CSUN because of its reputation, its proximity and because it provided a family feel. Barrios was an engineering major before he switched to business law.
After graduation from CSUN, he went on to Northern Illinois University and earned his law degree. Barrios began practicing law in Chicago, and then he eventually made his way out to Los Angeles. He opened offices in Texas, Oxnard and Los Angeles. After selling his offices in Texas and Oxnard, he has focused on the LA office, where he practices criminal defense and immigration law.
“It sounds cliché, but everything I learned in business school, it actually worked,” Barrios said. “You sit there and listen to people talk about all this business stuff — management, finance and accounting — and I learned a whole bunch. I implement 90 percent of what I learned every day.”
Barrios has donated money to CSUN on a monthly basis since 2011. Recently, he pledged to give more back to his alma mater. He was told that he had the capability to start a scholarship at CSUN.
“I had no idea I could do it,” he said. “I always thought scholarships were for big money, like $500,000 or a million dollars. I didn’t know that I could make enough contributions through the year that enough could be accumulated to provide a student with a substantial scholarship.”
Barrios originally thought about naming the scholarship after himself, but that didn’t sit well with him. Then, he thought of his parents.
Everything happened quickly and by Thanksgiving, Barrios not only had given his parents a gift — but one to future CSUN students as well. His family was touched.
“I have never been one to pour out my feelings, and I don’t like anyone to see me cry,” Sara said. “I thanked God over and over for all the blessings he has given us. The journey we have been on has brought much satisfaction to my family. … Carlos brought me so much joy in knowing that he had such beautiful and strong feelings for helping his community.”
Her son’s joy was evident as well, as he immediately took to social media to show his pride.
“Hopefully, I can get my other friends to jump on board,” he said. “I have friends who also went to Northridge and had no idea they could do that. They saw it on my Facebook, and they were blown away by it. They thought, ‘Maybe I could do it.’ Especially when I said, you only have to donate 150, 200 bucks a month and really help a student out. It’s direct help. That help you always heard about, here it is. You can see the scholarship materialize before your eyes.”