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Rachid L. Welder, Marrero, Louisiana 09/12/05

Interviewed by: Melissa Metry and Krissy Mahan

Location: Austin Convention Center

My name is Rachid. I used to live in Marrero, Louisiana. My favorite things to do is drawing and reading magazines and watching the History Channel. I like to go out. I like fast cars. I like cars with big engines.

As for like back home, I been wanting to leave Louisiana for, like, two years—ever since I got older and found out that there’s not so many jobs offered in New Orleans, Louisiana. I just prayed on leaving, but I didn’t know how I was going to leave. And now I found out, you know. Hurricane Katrina brought me out. And so I’m not focusing on going back. I’m just gonna try and move forward and find a good job, because the jobs out here are paying way more than New Orleans.

So I’m just gonna work out here, work hard like I was working hard at home, and feed my family. I’m glad I’m away from the police in New Orleans because the police—it got to a point where I wasn’t scared of people robbing me, I was scared of the police, you know. That’s the point it got to in New Orleans. I’m gonna start all over out here and make my family, make my mother proud. My momma, she still back in Louisiana, so all the things I felt I let her down, I’m gonna just try to make it up to her with moving out here and making money.

I’m a welder. I’m a first-class welder. I had a job back at home working at a shipyard. I was making $16— in New Orleans, $16 was a lot. I think out here they’re paid even more. So I got more reasons to stay here than to leave. It kind of like remind me of that story in the Bible when the whole city of Babylon had been turned to salt, and God said, if you turn back, you’ll be turned into salt. So I look at it like that. I’m not gonna turn back. I’m gonna keep going forward.

Back at home, I seen people doing crime. I never look at it like I don’t know them, because I’m going through the same thing they’re going through. But it was just like—certain things they just didn’t know. A lot of people just didn’t want to take the time out to better themselves.

They would just look at the situation and let themselves be controlled. They [those in control] want people to go back and forth to jail, but I look at stuff like that as a learning opportunity. A lot of people, I look at them, and I feel sorry for them, you know, because I guess they didn’t have the same teachers like the people that taught me. I was blessed—I’m adopted—so I’ve got two mothers.

I got two mothers and both of them, I learned from both of them, but the lady that adopted me, she is wise. She’s real wise. She’s a school teacher. She’s been teaching for like thirty years. She retired, and everything she knows, she teaches me.

Like when I used to be bad, I’d catch a whupping sometimes, but I had to write down all my timetables a lot of times, so I learned fast. I learned how to keep learning. So I’m gonna apply that out here. I know it’s gonna take me far, because I got a good feeling about out here.

But I’m not perfect. I try to be, you know, I try to be perfect and what will keep me from panicking is understanding that I could pray but whatever God want to hand me, He gonna want to hand me. So that would keep me humble.

As far as panicking—when I was in the helicopter coming over here, I saw the high wheels like a tall building, and I was like, How am I gonna get in there? You know. If I look down, I might slip out of that basket. But I closed my eyes, and I just said, Lord, whatever You want to be done, let Your will be done. Just like that, and I felt better after I said that.

They lowered a basket down. Me, my wife and my son, all of us came up in a basket. See, the thing is, we was in the hotel when the actual storm was coming. We were supposed to get the eye of the storm, but they had this lady in the hallway, she was praying, and all of a sudden, the storm turned. We was supposed to get the eye of the storm. I was in New Orleans East where all the damage was. This lady said a prayer, and the storm turned. It actually turned. So that was like everything that happened: it’s a lesson for me to learn to start praying more, and stop looking at earthly things. And stay humble. Everything has been showing me this so far.

The only thing that like really hurts me right now is my adopted momma, she’s back in Louisiana. She didn’t get a chance to evacuate with me. She all right, but she just had a heart attack Saturday, and I wasn’t there. I’m not there to hold her or kiss her. That’s the only thing that hurt me, but other than that, you know, I pray about that and I try to stay positive. I know she gonna be all right. I tell myself that all day.

But the main thing I learned to do: I learned to pray when things are bad and pray when things are good. It’s like when you walk around sad, you’re almost jinxing yourself, because you never know what’s gonna happen. It’s better to be positive all the time, even though you got to lie to yourself. Just be positive. And that’s what kept me out of Katrina. It helped me survive, being positive. Being positive helped me survive Katrina.

At times, I remember one time after the storm was over, there was water everywhere. Somebody set the building on fire, and everybody panicked, and everybody—you got three hundred people in this hotel that had been there for days, and all of a sudden, they’ve got a fire at night. We had no fire extinguishers, nothing, so everybody panicked. My first instinct was to panic, but I said, No: my wife and my son here, you know—that’s gonna look bad. So I just kind of like said a prayer, and all the men went upstairs with the garbage cans and went outside after water and put it out. You know, what came to my mind like us jumping into the water to survive the fire. But I was like, No, that’s not what’s gonna happen. And that’s what I kept saying, and we put it out. It’s just a big old learning experience.

Just like I said at first, I feel like everything that go around come around. I feel that everything that New Orleans been doing, the money they’ve been stealing, or innocent lives that have been lost, all this that came has caught up with them. It caught up with them. That’s the only way I see it. It was just meant to be. You can’t pray for it not to happen. It’s just meant to be, it’s gonna happen. You just gotta live with it.

But so far back, during the storm, it was tough because you had people panicking and you had two groups: people that were panicking, really freaked, and people that just didn’t care no more, doing crazy stuff. And they had people that was just being patient.

But so far, like the rescue—like people coming to rescue us, it was getting hectic, because like I said, the government didn’t come to get us. Private people, volunteers, came and got us. People that we probably looked at every day and didn’t speak to. Older people came and got us.

Well, some people, they was paying their way. They thought they was coming to get everybody, but it turned out to be like, well, you come get my family, I’m gonna give you $400. It was like that. That part, that go back to what go around, come around, because those same people that just want to save their families and paid the men, they wound up at the Convention Center. The boat brought them right to the Convention Center and you’ve heard all the stories that happened at the Convention Center.

We left that hotel and got on the bus and came straight here. We was wondering, should we just pay the man that bring us, and someone was telling me, no, just wait. They brought us straight here, brought us straight to Texas. I’m glad I’m here. I got so much positive energy. See, back at home—I notice you all have parks, you have all kind of stuff children can do. So back in New Orleans, we don’t have them. We don’t have nothing for children to do— just like they want them to do something bad. They were like, provoked, you know.

And like my friend in New Orleans: you grow up, you see your daddy caught up in it, you’re gonna see all your life’s gonna be about is going back and forth to jail. And when you talk to people from New Orleans, back at home, that used to be the conversation. They almost knew jail was in their future. That was the mind-frame back in New Orleans. That’s why a lot of people just do crazy stuff. If you ask somebody why they do it, they probably can’t even tell you. That’s just the mind-frame in New Orleans.

It’s like so far all the criminals that’s doing stuff, now they’re putting it all on the TV. But those were the same people that lived next door to us. We lived next door to the rapists, or next door to the killers, who know? But they didn’t have it on the TV then. They wasn’t trying to help then, but now all of a sudden they’re worrying about criminals. That was just the mind-frame of New Orleans. New Orleans, from what I read in history, has been scandalous, you know. Bourbon Street and the French Quarter, that’s the history of it. It’s been like that.

So it’s almost like it’s in some people’s blood, but some people just bigger than that. Some people they’re just bigger than that, they want things out of life. Not everybody from New Orleans is bad, you know. Some good people come from New Orleans, but it’s just the way they train people in New Orleans, I guess.

This year, schools opened up, they had eight different schools that didn’t even open up this year. Certain children from this side of town are not gonna get along with children from that side of town. You’re gonna close all these schools and then you’re gonna blame it on all these students. You know they don’t get along—you know something’s gonna happen. It got to the point where they say, “We’re gonna let them kill each other.” I’m not gonna say I’m glad this happened, but it could be a good thing. I’m just glad I’m out of there.

I have a wife named Ina, and I have a son named Requine. We’re down here with her mother, her mother’s boyfriend, and I think she has an uncle that’s staying in Austin. So I’m with them. We’re in a hotel right now and we’re looking for some nice apartments or somewhere to stay. It depends on whether we’re going back home.

AIT: How many generations of the family were in New Orleans?

RACHID: I think it go all the way back. You know something? My grandmother, she did voodoo. My grandmother did voodoo. My grandmother was—I hate to say evil, but she was close to it, close to it.

AIT: Was she born in New Orleans?

RACHID: Yeah, yeah. Her momma was. That’s pretty much that’s how it is. Every person from New Orleans, their family has been there.

AIT: Unlike Austin. You won’t have to be feel new, because everybody’s new in Austin.

RACHID: I might even be new to you, because back home, I get tired of seeing the same old faces and the same stories. It’s like when you see them, you already know what they’re about to say. Back at home, everybody is asking for money. There’s poverty everywhere. There’s just poverty. Say, like you go to a store, you’re gonna pass up five people asking you for some type of money, any time you go to the store in New Orleans.

AIT: They feel bad about asking?

RACHID: But you know what, a lot of them, a lot of people take advantage of that. I know when I was in Houston, I used to see a lot of people holding up signs and stuff. I don’t know, everybody’s different, but some people take advantage of that. But not me. When I was back home, I always used to give, give, give.

I remember when I was working at Pizza Hut, at the end of the night, I used to feed the homeless men under the bridge, because they [Pizza Hut] used to throw the pizzas away. So me and my girlfriend, (she was the manager, that’s how we met) we would get all the pizza they were not gonna eat, and I’d pass them out under Claiborne Bridge to feed all the homeless people. I used to feel good. It would put a smile on my face to do it.

AIT: That’s awesome.

RACHID: I know I haven’t come this far for nothing. I’m just gonna be positive and just be patient. Like I say about my momma: my momma she taught me everything I need to know. My real mother, the woman that gave me birth, when I was small they put something in her drink. It was the kind of stuff that goes on in New Orleans. She went out with her own kin people and when they brought her back home later, she just wasn’t talking right. Come to find out, somebody had put something in her drink. There was six of us in the house. I was the only boy—I had five sisters.

In the house, there barely was eating. I can remember eating, that’s how much I ate. I can remember eating this candy this or candy that, but Social Service or Child Protection, they came and got us. I remember I was running around, there was a lot of police, and the police asked me if I wanted to come home with them. I winded up…I was in homes and stuff. I was in a group home, for a long time. But then the lady who adopted me, that’s when I met her. There was a lot of people asking me if I wanted to come home with them, if I wanted to come live with them, but it was just a certain light I had got about her. I felt comfortable around her. She let me come live with her and stuff.

But it’s like the evilness in New Orleans, it go all the way back. This was a foster lady I was staying with, she never did feed me. I remember when I first got there, the social worker introduced me to her, and I’m like, Wow, I got a family, you know. As soon as the social worker left, I told the lady, I said, “I’m hungry.” And the lady just fixed me a bowl of white rice, with nothing else. I asked, “Where’s the chicken?”

She just whupped me every day. These were real old people, you expect somebody like that would be nice. But that was like the average person you run across in New Orleans. There’s something about it. Maybe the new New Orleans will be better, but I doubt it. I mean, they were stealing money from the system. They were stealing for medication and stuff. Every time you look at the news, they’ve got some kind of deficit or something. It’s that something not right. And now they’re gonna have to pay that money and some to rebuild the city, so they’ll wind up having to spend all that money that they were stealing.

For the most part, they’re gonna show all the riots and stuff to kind of keep the heat off them. But, you know, people were just trying to eat. Did they want us to die? Just drop dead? This man was telling me the other day, “A homeless man is an angry man.”

You’re not gonna think about if you’ve got a family and they’re hungry, you’re not gonna think about, Well, this is evil, I shouldn’t do it. Only thing that’s in your head is your child eating and being full, and making it. You don’t do anything and you’re not gonna worry about what you have to do. You’re just gonna do it.

They don’t understand that, because they’re sitting back in the White House, probably have room service or maids. We don’t have none of that, we have none of that. And they ain’t lost everything, so the government shouldn’t mind me taking this. I don’t have my house no more. They had some people taking TVs and I guess, TVs and stuff, but everybody’s different—for the most part, people was trying to survive. I mean, if they’re worried about a TV, I don’t know.

But I’m just glad I’m here.

AIT: All right. That’s great. Thank you so much. Do you have anything else you want to say?

RACHID: I just want to say, “Hello, Austin.” You all might see a lot of people with dreadlocks in their hair. You don’t have to be scared. After awhile in New Orleans, it kind of like became a religion, you know. Like certain things, I know when I came to Austin, a lot of people wore cowboy hats. In New Orleans, that became a religion, so ya’ll don’t have be scared when you see long hair.

(Interview ends) 

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