Howard Louis (IH 1931-’32)

Yvonne and Howard Louis

Howard Louis grew up in San Luis Obispo, California, one of eight children who lived upstairs from the general merchandise store that his father, Ah Louis, established in 1874. The senior Louis was a pioneer of the West who brought Chinese brick-making skills to California and contracted for thousands of Chinese laborers to work on the railroads.

Howard came to International House in 1931, just a year after the House had opened and earned his bachelor’s degree in economics from Cal. He enjoyed his experiences at I-House and was particularly grateful to be living in a safe and tolerant environment given the often virulent anti-Asian sentiment prevalent in California at that time.

At age 92, Howard runs the historic Ah Louis store in San Luis Obispo with his wife of 55 years, Yvonne. He keeps the store open on a limited basis to greet old friends and new visitors who seek out this California State Historical Landmark. Over his long career, he has also been a movie projectionist, a prop man, rare coin collector, and even taught flower arranging. “Just one of my many facets,” he laughs.

“Louis is a energetic man whose quick wit and sharp memory belie his years,” notes Executive Director Joe Lurie who enjoyed a visit with Howard in the Ah Louis store. The store is full of Chinese art, curios, figurines, fine jade carvings and tapestries.

In 1942, Howard was drafted into the U.S. Army. An officer looked him over and said, “Oh, Chinese. Can you cook?” Howard told him that he couldn’t even boil water. When officers learned that he had spent a year in China on a trip with his father back to his home village, he was sent to Stanford for a crash course in Chinese in preparation for counter-intelligence work. He also served under General George Patton.

After the war ended, Howard returned to San Luis Obispo to run the family store and become the family historian. Today, he enjoys fishing and traveling with his wife and is involved in Chinese community activities and civic projects.

“I still very much keep my Chinese culture and traditions. I still get invited to many cultural events. I was asked to speak at the Art Museum on Chinese Cultural Arts about my family in San Luis Obispo. I also talked to many students at Cal Poly.”

“I don’t remember ever being discriminated against in school even though San Luis Obispo is an almost all-white community. I was a track star and won many awards and medals. In high school, I became the captain of the football team. While in high school, I got a summer job at an auto supply store. The boss treated me no differently from his other employees. Yet, many of the customers were angry with him because there was a Chinese student was working in the store. They complained and my boss had no other choice but to discharge me.”

“I do whatever I can to bring all our Chinese community together. Just recently, a Chinese mural was installed. It has a very symbolic meaning. It represents the duality of our experience- love for the land of their birth and joy for their hopes in a new land.”

“I am grateful for having lived such a full life. My wife and I have so many friends. We really enjoy life and that keeps us going.”

Special thanks to San Luis Obispo’s This Month and Telegram-Tribune as well as Cal Poly’s Osiyo from which some of this information was obtained.