Katrina Refugees

The most interesting people I met were the Katrina “refugees.” Not so much the adults but the children. They were regular kids just like me, but no one else saw them as normal. To the world, we all were outcasts, me for living homeless, them for being refugees. Every day they woke up remembering everything they lost, including people they cared about. I saw the girls cry. I saw the boys cry.

“It just feels so bad,” Cornell said. He was my age but his physique far bigger. Whatever they fed to those kids down in Louisiana to get them so big, I wanted some. “One minute everything’s fine, the next everything’s gone. They’re calling us refugees like we’re AIDS babies from Africa. Or like were from Pakistan or wherever the Middle East is. I’m American!”

“Yeah, me too,” I said.

“My friends died in those waters, man. I lost everything. I don’t deserve this, bro. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

My Way Home: Growing Up Homeless in America by Michael Gaulden

From the preface:

This memoir covers the latter part of my homeless journey, ranging from age fourteen to seventeen, predominately my high school years. The horror of my homelessness is what I call it. Allow me to take you down my path and to walk in my footsteps along my own hellacious underground railroad. If you are reading this in the midst of your own overwhelmingly challenging journey, it is you for whom I write….It is you whom I urge not to quit. I know your pain and through my pain, I wish to give you strength. For everyone else reading this, please understand my story is only one of millions of other homeless people.

My Immigrant Ancestors: History and Genealogy

Last Sunday I posted the last of my Immigrant Ancestors. Every individual who left their home country to live in the United States has been documented (to the best of my knowledge).

While researching the finer details and filling in gaps of information (to the best of my ability) through Ancestry.com I noticed an interesting trend – my French Canadian/Creole ancestors all left Canada in the late 1800s. Some left with children and babies, which was no small matter during that time. Many settled down in French Canadian/Creole communities with similarly recent French Canadian immigrants, some of whom were blood relation. This made me wonder what, exactly, was happening in Canada during the following years: 1864, 1865, 1869, 1871, 1873. Why were so many people risking everything and moving their entire families into the United States?

A bit of online research led me to resources that clearly differentiate this period from the Great Expulsion that occurred between 1700-1750.

I am a product of the American public school system, which is not known for its lessons in either geography or history (or any other number of topics, depending on where in the USA one might be living). Therefore, I was very surprised to learn that the Great Expulsion occurred at all!

Here are a few details from the history books…

Great Expulsion (1700-1750)

The British wanted to control Canada and the United States. (In the United States this same period of time is known as the French and English war, the Seven Year War, and/or the French and Indian War.) When they managed to secure control of the eastern edge of Canada they proceeded to forcibly remove all French, French-speaking and Acadian people. This mass forced migration adversely affected large numbers of European, Native Canadian (first nations) and Metis/Creole (mixed) people. The following TheCanadianEncyclopedia.ca quote sums up this terrible event:

“Of some 3,100 Acadians deported after the fall of Louisbourg in 1758, an estimated 1,649 died by drowning or disease, a fatality rate of 53 percent.

Between 1755 and 1763, approximately 10,000 Acadians were deported. They were shipped to many points around the Atlantic. Large numbers were landed in the English colonies, others in France or the Caribbean. Thousands died of disease or starvation in the squalid conditions on board ship. To make matters worse, the inhabitants of the English colonies, who had not been informed of the imminent arrival of disease-ridden refugees, were furious. Many Acadians were forced, like the legendary Evangeline of Longfellow’s poem, to wander interminably in search of loved ones or a home.”

As I read about the Great Expulsion, I couldn’t help but compare it to the forced removal of Native Americans from the southern United States. The following History.com quote about the Trail of Tears makes for a sadly (disturbingly) similar story:

“At the beginning of the 1830s, nearly 125,000 Native Americans lived on millions of acres of land in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Florida–land their ancestors had occupied and cultivated for generations. By the end of the decade, very few natives remained anywhere in the southeastern United States. Working on behalf of white settlers who wanted to grow cotton on the Indians’ land, the federal government forced them to leave their homelands and walk thousands of miles to a specially designated “Indian territory” across the Mississippi River. This difficult and sometimes deadly journey is known as the Trail of Tears.”

Economics, Community, and Religion (1850-1900)

As for the late 1800s, the reasons for migration were more complicated. The Metis/Creole,  French-speaking and Catholic communities were not treated well under the British government. The opportunities for securing land, running a farm or business and/or getting a job were limited at best. People left Canada looking for better wages in the United States and settled in this country with full intention of returning to Canada. Many sent money back to families while living here. Most chose to remain after spending a few years in (comparative) financial security.

In other words, they were financial refugees – not unlike the current financial refugees entering the United States from South American countries (and other places around the globe).

Politics of Settlement

Another key historic event is the removal of Native Americans from the Midwest (during the mid-1800s, this was considered ‘the west’). The US government was aggressively recruiting European people to move into the frontier regions, with the full intention of keeping…and continuing to take…lands from their former inhabitants. Light-skinned French-speaking Canadians were considered to be white European, which meant the opportunities for economic security were greater in the USA than in Canada.


Personally, I have taken two key lessons from all of this:

  1. Genealogy makes for an excellent history lesson. Being able to connect historic events to the experiences of your ancestors has a way of turning boring and seemingly irrelevant facts into something very personal and (therefore) interesting.
  2. The more things change, the more they stay the same – and/or those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

Santa’s Goblin War


During the final 12 days before Christmas, I am posting quotes from Santa’s letters – courtesy of JRR Tolkien. It’s a wonderful book and a grand idea. I wish I’d thought of it. 🙂

The following story line occurred during World War II and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was author-Tolkien indulging his own novel-writing habits or father-Tolkien trying to address his children’s fears and anxieties by creating a fictional war both fought and won by Santa himself. It would make a wonderful classroom discussion or term-paper topic.

“Goblins are to us very much what rats are to you, only worse because they are very clever; and only better because there are, in these parts, very few. We thought there were none left. Long ago we had great trouble with them—that was about 1453 I believe—but we got the help of the Gnomes, who are their greatest enemies, and cleared them out.”

“I had to blow my golden trumpet (which I have not done for many years) to summon all my friends. There were several battles—every night they used to attack and set fire in the stores—before we got the upper hand, and I am afraid quite a lot of my dear elves got hurt…They have rescued all my reindeer. We are quite happy and settled again now, and feel much safer. It really will be centuries before we get another goblin-trouble. Thanks to Polar Bear and the gnomes, there can’t be very many left at all”

“I wonder what you will think of my picture. “Penguins don’t live at the North Pole,” you will say. I know they don’t, but we have got some all the same. What you would call “evacuees”, I believe (not a very nice word); except that they did not come here to escape the war, but to find it! They had heard such stories of the happenings up in the North (including a quite untrue story that Polar Bear and all the Polar Cubs had been blown up, and that I had been captured by Goblins) that they swam all the way here to see if they could help me. Nearly 50 arrived.”

Letters From Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien


Refugees and Hope



You really don’t understand a refugee’s heart, do you? These people were desperate. They were trapped between their infections and being rounded up and “treated” by their own government. If you had a loved one, a family member, a child, who was infected, and you thought there was a shred of hope in some other country, wouldn’t you do everything in your power to get there? Wouldn’t you want to believe there was hope?

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

German Refugees and Swedish Furniture



“Maria Helene Francois Izabel von Maltzan…he daughter of a German count who had been raised on a beautiful 18,000-acre estate, had not been surprised by the roundup of Jews in Berlin. In fact, she wasn’t surprised by any of Hitler’s actions against the German Jews. Because she was a count’s daughter and closely related to several Nazi officers she was at first considered above reproach and was able to obtain useful information from elite Nazi social gatherings. But eventually she came under suspicion of assisting the enemies of the Third Reich. When called in for questioning, however, her cool demeanor, her Nazi connections, and her excellent acting skills always led to her release.”

Maria…also smuggled people out of Germany and into Sweden in a system that was called schwedenmöbel (Sweden furniture). Sometimes she would use a vegetable cart to transport refugees out of Berlin and into the woods...When (the train arrived], a group of men, hidden in a different part of the woods, would rush to the train and open one of the boxcars. (The conductor and train workers had been previously bribed with food and money.) Inside the boxcar would be crates of furniture. The men would remove the furniture and replace it with the refugees, seal the box back up, and eventually destroy the furniture. The crates of people would then be loaded onto a freighter and later unloaded in Sweden, where it would finally be safe for the refugees to come out of hiding.”

Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue (Women of Action) by Kathryn J. Atwood

My shoes will take me anywhere



“Holes! Round, bad, horrible holes are in the soles of my shoes. There are pebbles between my toes. There are tears in my eyes.

“Sana, sana, colita de rana,” I say to my shoes. I try to smile at them.

Papa’ cheers me up. “Mario, my strong boy, we want to be with Mama’. We won’t give up,” Papa’ says.

Uno, dos, tres, my shoes and I are almost there. We have made it all the way from El Salvador to here. We can finish, yes we can.”

My Shoes and I, written by Rene’ Colato Lainez and illustrated by Fabricio Vanden Broek

Throughout this book the main character keeps repeating the same sentence to his shoes, whenever there is trouble: Sana, sana, colita de rana. Printed on the very last page of the book, after the story has ended, is the entire nursery rhyme in both Spanish and English. The rhyme is followed by this sentence: “A nursery rhyme Hispanic parents sing to their children when they get hurt.”

A few more links: