Posted by: Terri | April 28, 2013

From Opelousas to Spokane

Back in March I was visiting my mother’s birthplace Opelousas, Louisiana and a few weeks later the place I was born, Spokane, Washington. The two cities are about as far apart as you can get, both in terms of distance and culture.  My mother very rarely visited Louisiana after she married.  I hadn’t been back to Spokane since my father’s funeral, nearly 12 years ago.

Although there are no similarities between my birthplace and my mother’s, it’s clear that we both have had our own reasons for being away from the places where we were raised.  I can only speculate about my mother, but I always have had mixed feelings about Spokane. I was a successful student and athlete there, it was a safe place to be a kid in the 1960s and 70s, and it has a natural beauty that is difficult to match.  However, it was a place I had to leave in order to find my path in life, the same way my mother left Louisiana for Los Angeles in the 1950s.  It was there that she met my father, just like I met my future husband at Stanford.

The last time I drove into Spokane I was numb. My father’s sudden heart attack and untimely death had hit me very hard. This time was very different.  I was coming as a successful academic, attending a conference at Gonzaga University.  I found time to visit my old high school, Gonzaga Prep, which has been improved over time, but entering those hallways brought back a flood of memories.  Like any teenager, I couldn’t fully appreciate the support and education I received during that time.  Now as a grown woman with a family of my own, I can better appreciate the start that G-Prep gave me that has led me to become the person I am today.

This week was the 3rd anniversary of my mother’s death.  I can’t help but wonder what she would think of my trips to Opelousas and Spokane.  For me, it provided insight into the life she had led as a young girl in Opelousas and the life I had led as a young girl in Spokane.  I wonder if she could appreciate whatever life lessons she had learned there?  I feel so blessed to have a rich family history that is part of the broader mosaic of a black America that made its way from the South to the West and Northwest.  But in the end, it’s not only where you are from that’s important, it’s where you are going…and I’m sure my path will lead me back to these places, as well as others that will leave an imprint not only on me, but my boys who will some day read these words and hopefully gain a better understanding of what these places meant to me.

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Visiting with my cousin Gertrude (91!) and Aunt Lucille

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At Spokane Falls

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Responses

  1. Great Information, you’re mother was part of the mass exodus of African-Americans to the North and West, “Opelousas” is unique though its centered right in the middle of a Creole culture, The Louisiana- West coast stream , to Oakland,S.F. and Los Angeles,Denver ,Seattle,glad you got to go back to the south and see you’re family’s roots, did you ever travel to Opelousas as a YOUNG ADLUT ON THE TRAIN ?

    • Thanks – this trip was my first visit to Opelousas, so I definitely never went there via train. I’m sure that’s how my mom got from Opelousas to Los Angeles, it must have been quite the adventure!

  2. Superb, i find the Louisiana -California stream the most interesting of all streams, Creole Culture transformed the west coast, its the exact reason why if you visit L.A. or Oakland you can find red beans and rice any where or “Gumbo” native to louisiana, i cant imagine what that moment of departure was like for youre mother to leave all she knew for that strange place called “California” with no guarentee of success… amazing courage… the bayous,swamps and cotton fields of louisiana for the mountains and hills of California , wish you couldve got more info. from youre mother about her journey !

  3. Unfortunately my mom never wanted to talk much about her journey, but I’m trying to put together the pieces and hope to write a memoir someday that touches upon her experiences.

    • Amazing, i guess onceour families got situaited in the cities of the north and west they put the south behind them….. still trying to figure out why that was? imagine all the stories and tall tales from the old country and family histories, did youre mother ever speak louisiana french creole to you ? you should try to gather as much info from youre older relatives as possible in louisiana

      • My mom was embarrassed to speak Louisiana French creole, but I learned French, starting in middle school and spoke a little bit with my grandmother. Even my mother’s cousins and siblings are hesitant to tell the old stories, I got some information when I was in Opelousas, but when I would try to talk to my aunts and cousins in LA, they wouldn’t say much. It’s really too bad, it seems like such a rich history…

      • Seems to be the same old story with most peoples older relatives as if there is something they don’t wanna tell…I don’t why it was embarrassing to speak creole ? that’s a unique part of black history and U.S. history a culture as well… Beyoncé said the same thing her mother didn’t speak it to her b/c it wasn’t “Popular” to speak French creole during that time… there’s nothing like competition to get the older relatives talking, sometimes you have to relate to them and understand the South at that time and take it from there… hopefully they can tell you about life then you can start there by asking “What was Opelousas like when you were growing up”?


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