Once Upon a Time & Habia Una Vez



A video of a Syrian dad recently went viral. He’d taught his daughter to laugh when she saw bombs dropping. To some, it sounded ridiculous.

I didn’t doubt it. I have a story I wrote down four weeks ago, one involving Latinos with a different approach to negativity. It didn’t seem as interesting until I saw the Syrian dad with his daughter yesterday in the video.


I was careening around Walmart to distract myself from the malaise of modern living. You know the feeling: one moment you’re happy with life and smiling at babies – and the next, you desperately need to walk around in a cavernous retail warehouse to get incredibly (and incrementally) irritated at other visitors. You know how it is: you enter the market to buy a bathtub plug and 75 ounces of Argentinian fava beans, then realize that something is amiss with the world; namely, that being in a market is both necessary and ridiculous.

As I rounded the aisle near the spices, an older woman jumped backward as two adorable little Latina girls whirled by, both chatting feverishly to one another. “Chicas!” a concerned dad shouted from just out of sight. I could hear the practiced exasperation in his voice.

The older woman hissed toward me, “They’re everywhere. And can’t control their little brats.” The girls suddenly stopped their mutual little dance and looked from me to the older woman. It was apparent they spoke English, as well as understanding the tone of the woman’s voice. I hoped they didn’t think I was with the hateful older woman.

The dad rounded the corner. “I’m so sorry,” he said.

“You shouldn’t be here,” the older woman said. Normally, I don’t get surprised by people. It was obvious she wasn’t referring to being at Walmart.

This story isn’t about anger or prejudice, though.

It’s about me witnessing the response of this amazing dad.

The two girls looked at their dad as he said, “I’m sorry. Please forgive us.” The older lady didn’t acknowledge him at all as he apologized the second time.

“Había una vez, niñas…” Both girls smiled and told their dad they were sorry.

The old woman evidently couldn’t stand the sound of another language in her delicate ears. She whirled her cart around and stomped off, her face frozen in an ugly state.

For those who don’t know, the phrase “Había una vez” translates to “Once upon a time,” and often starts fairy tales and stories in Spanish.

Because of this, I asked the dad what he meant by the fairy tale phrase.

In Spanish, he told me, “It’s game me and the girls play. Don’t let someone having a bad day or life get us down.”

“You’re a genius, sir,” I said, as he laughed at the idea.

“Tell them that,” pointing at his two girls, who once again curtsied and made dance-like steps between the aisles, their encounter already forgotten.


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