by Alie Jones
mon coeur, a migration story
La plupart de ma cœur
Elle est toujours.
La plupart de ma vie, ma cœur, me
I’m grateful for my grandma Genevieve
A daughter of Louisiana sharecroppers
To tell the story of how my family migrated from Ville Platte, Louisiana to California, I interviewed my mom who was eight years old at the time, and my grandma’s oldest sister Louella. In the process of this family exploration, I realized I would have to go back before my grandparents chose to move–go back to when they drove their family across the country for better opportunities.
Back in 1963, Uncle Walter Guillory came out of the Navy and back to his family in San Francisco with his wife, my great great aunt, Eula. They moved to Westlake, a suburb of Daly City then to East Palo Alto.
My great grandparents Hattie & Milton Holland had twelve children and my aunt, Louella, is the oldest. She & Uncle Black met while working for Slim Harris in Evangeline Parish, Louisiana; he was his driver and she was a housekeeper. Uncle Black was brighter than everyone in my family but the darkest amongst his siblings. So “Black” was the nickname that stuck. Uncle Black and Aunt Louella got married and owned a Juke Joint where they made a little extra money.
After a few months of cuts on her check, Aunt Louella was frustrated and called her aunt, Eula (her mother’s sister), in California. The two did not get along but were family regardless and Aunt Eula told Louella that she and her husband were welcome anytime. Aunt Louella walked into work the next day and Slim was sitting at his kitchen table reading a book with his feet up. He had a party the night before and instructed her to clean and air out the salon. My aunt laughed to herself as she shared, “I told him I didn’t come to work & he drop the book.”
After talking to her aunt and husband, she had decided that she was done being taken advantage of. She couldn’t read and her employer knew that, but he underestimated her ability to count her money. They waited for the bank to open to take out all of their money and then off to California. When they arrived they stayed with Uncle Walter and Aunt Eula for about two weeks before they got their house down the street. Uncle Black got a job in the city with Uncle Walter and Aunt Louella began cleaning houses for Stanford doctors.
She couldn’t read and her employer knew that, but he underestimated her ability to count her money.
Grandma Genevieve and Aunt Louella would write letters giving each other life updates. After a visit with her sister, my grandma decided to leave Louisiana. My grandpa, Poncho Edwards (Born Audrus), supported her decision and made the move with her. My mom shared how she remembered my grandma giving away furniture and appliances like a new washer machine that would wring the clothes out so they were ready to go out onto the clothing line.
As Mom watched Grandma give away the kitchen table and the living room set, she asked, “Why can’t you just leave me?” My mom said she was pouting and crying the whole drive to California.
It was hard for Mom to leave Louisiana because she spent a lot of time with her aunt, Elma, who everyone called “Aunt Ma”. Aunt Ma had daughters that were close in age, and they would take turns spending time at each other’s houses. My mom loved spending weeks with Aunt Ma and Nonk Yen (Aunt Ma’s husband), and they would make homemade ice cream. Her uncle was a potato farmer; so when she was there, she and her cousins would go out into the fields with him to play. Aunt Elma and Grandma Genevieve were the two kids who helped my great-grandmother, Hattie, in the kitchen growing up. My grandma and her sister (Aunt Ma) mastered recipes that fed the whole family while Mamom (Great Grandma Hattie) was pregnant. The other sisters worked in the fields with Great Grandfather Milton. Leaving these family connections behind was hard for my mom, but as a child she had to do what her parents said do.
The Move to California
My family moved to California on September 16th, 1965. It was night time and my mom remembers being amazed by the indoor bathroom. She said, “I turned on the light and couldn’t believe it.”
The house was much smaller than their house in Louisiana, but this two-bedroom house had a bathroom inside. My grandma and grandpa took the spare room; the girls slept on the couch in the living room.
Their house in “The Gardens” was right around the corner from the school and the church house. Aunt Louella taught my grandma how to take the bus from East Palo Alto to downtown Palo Alto. She also connected her with some of the wives of the
Their house in “The Gardens” was right around the corner from the school and the church house. Aunt Louella taught my grandma how to take the bus from East Palo Alto to downtown Palo Alto. She also connected her with some of the wives of the doctors she worked for, and my grandma began cleaning houses five days a week.
Grandpa worked with Uncle Black & Uncle Walter in the city on a custodial team. They would rotate carpooling up to San Francisco at Henry Doelger’s headquarters, located in the Inner Sunset District in San Francisco, California. Henry Doelger built large, low-cost housing tracts in San Francisco and Daly City.
Over time more siblings came to visit and eventually moved west one and two at a time. There was a large community of “French” Creole folks in the Bay area who would get together to play cards, eat, and rent out ballrooms to have dances called Zydeco. My mom remembers visiting back home a few times before college. Both Aunt Ma and Grandma Hattie visited California twice. Great Grandpa Milton came once, and said it was just too far.
I appreciated learning about how we made this trip because this was all I ever knew. I think a lot about my grandparents who left everything they knew for potential. They always said it was because they wanted better for us than what they had.
by Alie Jones
Alie Jones is a self-care advocate, writer, artist, and Creole mermaid. She is Co-founder and Director of Black Freighter Press, a revolutionary press committed to the exploration of liberation, using art to transform consciousness. She is a founder of Bodacious Bombshells, a wellness collective in Oakland. Alie is a yoga instructor passionate about centering our breathwork as sacred and hopes to build a legacy of awareness and expression. Alie graduated with her MFA in Creative Writing and Literature from Mills College. She received her MPA from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and BA in Cinematic Arts & Technology from CSU Monterey Bay and a minor in Creative Writing and Social Action. Alie is the host of the podcast called Chit Chat with Aliecat, she explores self-care practices and journeys of self-love in community.