Lourdes Trahan – Creole Comes West

I am a multiracial person with a very diverse background. My mother is biracial, she is half black and half white.  My grandmother is white and my grandfather is black. My father is multiracial, which means that my grandmother on my dad’s side is black and my grandfather is Creole, which is a mixture of black and French. Unfortunately, on my dad’s side, it was hard to find a true immigration story that I could share because most African Americans are descendants of slaves. As we know, slaves were not treated as humans, so records were not kept and it becomes difficult to trace ancestry. Of course, on my mother’s side, I was able to find more than enough information.  

My grandmother’s family (on my mother’s side)  immigrated to the United States from Canada in the late 1800’s. They came here for greater opportunity and a better life. In fact, my great- great-great-uncle, James Couzens, came to the United States in 1890 to work as a railroad car checker and soon after he was promoted to a clerk in a coal business. In 1919 he became the Mayor of Detroit, Michigan and in 1922 he represented the state of Michigan as a United States Senator. He was a Senator from 1922-1936. James Couzens went on to work with Henry Ford in the beginning stages of the Ford Motor Company and he invested in other business ventures. He had a passion for philanthropy and was very charitable with his time and money. He was happily married and had six children. James Couzens passed away in 1936, at the age of 64.

For this particular assignment, I wanted to interview my grandfather on my father’s side. At first, I was interested in whether he knew how his family immigrated to the United States. I was hoping that maybe stories were told down from generation to generation to him on how the Trahan’s immigrated to the United States. He could only go back a few generations and my great-great -grandfather is from Louisiana. So, I decided to interview him about how he ended up immigrating to California.

My grandfather’s name is Lourdes Trahan. He is Creole and speaks a form of French. He was born in Cade, Louisiana and he was the oldest of 10 siblings (5 girls and 5 boys). He was the oldest male and was considered like a second father because his father worked a lot and wasn’t home much. He spent his days going to school and helping to raise his younger siblings. He said it was tough because he never just got to be a big brother. Instead, he had to be an enforcer and disciplinarian.  He had to give out punishments and give spankings. He hated this role he was given, but of course he had no choice and that is how it was back then. His family was very poor and he would often go hungry so that his siblings could eat. It was clear when I was interviewing him that he doesn’t really like talking about his childhood. It seemed that his past was painful for him.

My grandfather is a kind and very gentle man. I have never heard him raise his voice or get angry. In fact, my father said the exact same thing about him, that he never yelled or got angry. Perhaps, being the enforcer when he was younger never sat well with him and maybe that wasn’t in his nature. He told me that he came to California in the 1970s and that he came here after his younger sister moved to the State with her husband. She came here for work and absolutely loved it,  and so my grandfather decided to move here and give it a try. I think he felt more independence by being away from his other siblings who continue to live in Louisiana. He felt like he needed a fresh start. He moved here with his wife Laura, and soon after started a family. He had three children, my aunt Tricia, my Uncle Darren and my dad, Dwayne. My grandfather always loved to cook and so he eventually  got a job as a cook at Sequoia Hospital. He worked there for over 40 years and retired a few years ago.

My grandfather continues, to this day, to struggle with returning to Louisiana. I have been to Louisiana several times in my life for family reunions and family vacations and my grandfather has never been at any of them. I love going to Louisiana because I have so many cousins around my age! However, my grandfather has only returned a few times since he left. He’s gone back for the funerals of his mother and father. And, he’s returned for a couple of weddings.

My grandfather has many interests and hobbies. He loves to cook for his family. In fact, he always cooks Sunday Dinner,for anyone who is interested.He loves to bowl and plays in a bowling league. He also likes to play bingo, and he loves baseball, especially the Oakland A’s!

My grandfather’s story is interesting because, as a young man, he just took a leap of faith. He came to California with nothing, which must of been scary, but he was determined to live a better life on his own terms. I believe he accomplished just that and in the end he made the right decision for him.

This interview and story was done by Lourdes’ grandson, Dwayne Trahan, a high school student in Palo Alto, CA.

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