Oral History Interview - Louise Rouse

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Oral History Interview - Louise Rouse


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Audio recording of an interview with Lousie Rouse, who moved from St Kitts to England c.1961.



Q. Mrs. Rouse, tell me a little bit about your life in the Caribbean before you came to England.

Louise Rouse (LR). It wasn’t at all bad with my family, but after a certain time when you grow up you have to work, which is usual for almost everyone. After the way open for inc to come to England and get a job. so I decided to come.

Q. What did your parents do for a living?

LR. My parents worked in the fields on an estate, weeding. It was a regular weekly job. My father also worked at the sugar factory, different hours, to try to make a living. There was my father, mom, two brothers and myself. But life was always up and down, especially when the sugar factory was not going. I really never worked back home when I was young. It was my mom and my dad who provided for us tells we I got to the age where I left and came here. But we didn’t experience things as bad as many others, because my dad was working; my mother was working; my grandmother was working, and we didn’t find it too rough, even though things were tough.

Q. Is there any history of military involvement in your family?

LR. Not that I knew of. My mother’s family had practically died off as well as my father’s. I only knew my dad, because the other brothers went to Curacao and Cuba in their young days and they never came back. So I am not really from a very big family. I don’t know them, just some of the cousins who grew up and ‘Auntie’ my mother’s sister. We all grew up and get big and separated a bit from each other.

Q. Is there a particular proverb from the Caribbean, which you remind yourself of, when things go wrong?

LR. As I said when things were tough was when the sugar cane production was off, but when it was on things were good.

Q. What prompted you to come to England, what brought you here?

LR. My husband came over. We were girlfriend and boyfriend back home. He said he was coming to England to try to make life better a year and a half before me. Then afterwards he sent for me. We’ve been here since that time.

Q. How much of a sense of coming to the ‘mother’ country did you have?

LR. I was young so I really wasn’t really thinking of that. I knew that I was coming to him, and that everything would be all right. I got here and heard other people say this was the ‘mother’ country.

Q. What’s your strongest memory of your journey, to England and do you remember the journey?

LR. I came up on a ship. From Antigua to here it took two weeks. I remembered the journey coming up. But I wasn’t memorizing that journey, there was a sense of joy of coming to England.

Q. What kind of expectations did you come with? What were you expecting to find here?

LR. When I came here I expected that everything would be beautiful. That is what I had heard. When I got her it was different to what I expected. Living: working; when you say ‘good morning’ no one answered: when you wanted a place to live — as soon as they saw you they said ‘no room’ was there.

Q. How easy was it to find work?

LR. I didn’t have it hard to find a job because my husband’s family was here, so they got me a job as soon as I came. I couldn’t take the job for a long time because it meant working in water, so I didn’t keep that job for a long time. I often went from job to job.

Q. So you didn’t have trouble moving from job to job. What difficulties did you face in the workplace?

LR. Yes I did. There were often a lot of prejudice, and people telling you have to do things in a certain way. According to people you came here to work.

Q. Do you feel that you were capable of doing better jobs than the ones, which you did?

LR. As I said, I didn’t work back in the West Indies, because our parents supported us. Both father and mother. Coming here, I thought I would have been able to get something better, I didn’t know what I was coming to.

Q. Once you found jobs, how easy was it to get promotion?

LR. That wasn’t there, that wasn’t there. All you got: if you were lucky’ was thanks.

Q. What was the housing situation like for you when you came here?

LR. When I came, there was a roof over my head. There was a place for us to live. But, at certain times the landlord got fed up and then you have to look for another place. I remember once we lived in a place for two weeks, where no friends were allowed. We lived at another place, where because I was ill I couldn’t clean the place and we had to go.

Q. When did you become aware that colour mattered, that colour was important. Was there a particular incident, which really brought it home to you?

LR. When I came to Britain. Many white people looked at you as though you came from nowhere I remember one time when a few of us were corning from work and there were some boys coming towards us. They said “look at those monkeys.”

Q. Who much were you aware of the differences between white people, the Scottish, the Welsh the English?

LR. I never became friends with them. I worked with them.

Q. What prevented you from bringing them home?

LR. I didn’t think that a white person would come to a black person’s home in those days.

Q. So in the early days then, there was little social mixing?

LR. No.

Q. What did you do for entertainment when you weren’t working?

LR. We used to go to the cinema a lot. In those days it was a shilling to go in. You could go and see one film, conic out and go and see another. As family we would get together and enjoy ourselves together and go to each other’s house, just like in the West Indies. Especially Christmas and Bank Holidays.

Q. What brought you to Hackney?

LR. I’ve lived in Hackney practically from the time I came to England. That’s 41 years altogether since I’ve lived in this Borough.

Q. Do you have a sense of coming from a particular part of the Caribbean, a certain island?

LR. I think that we all get along a lot better than in the early days. For those of us who hadn’t travelled a lot in the West Indies. We knew about each other, we knew that we are black and from the West Indies. But when we got here it was a completely different thing altogether.

Q. Are there any differences in the way in which the family operate here than in the Caribbean?

LR. Yes. After a time when you are all here, people often go their separate ways and don’t see each other very often. This would not have happened in the same way in the Caribbean.

Q. What about the attitude to children?

LR. Children change here. In the West Indies you gave to say ‘No sir’ ‘Yes mam’ and you have to do what your parents say. The children here are time mother and the father and the mother and father are like the children.

Q. What about their attitudes to school and work?

LR. There are differences because back home in the West Indies you have to go to school, you have to be tidy. Here in this country you can’t discipline children, because straight away someone get the police, because that is the way they are brought up here.

Q. What about saving schemes such as pardner hand, did you involve yourself in any of these?

LR. We does call it ‘pardner’ other people call it ‘box money’. I think it was routine in the West Indies to make two ends meet and have something. So we come here and still do it so that we did the same thing that our parents did. We needed to do it to move forward in all kinds of ways.

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