I was born in the early nineties. It was on a summer day in Paris. I think that it is the best period to come into this world in France, as the capital streets are empty of souls. People generally prefer to escape their kettle tiny flats where they suffocate to invade the west coast and the south beaches instead. They left space for me.
My parents had been married for two years and I was their first child. They decided to call me Julie, the female version of my father’s first name Julien. I also have a middle name, Gilberte. I was keeping it secret for a long time during my childhood as it sounds really old school. But it is my grandma’s first name, even though we always call her by her last name. First names matter in my family because we chose them, in comparison to the last names coming from a random selection by the French government at the end of slavery.
I grew up in a home full of love and care (love alone is not enough). My father had a video camera that he brought for any family events or occasions. I was mostly the main character of his records. I have my own childhood movie. I know why it was so important to him to archive my first steps in life, as my parents come from a poor background and could not afford to be photographed. My mother has none pictures of herself as a child, while my father has only one. It is a full-length portrait when he was around four years old. He is standing on a stool, wearing two ponytail hairstyles braids, a white t-shirt, shorts, and socks. All of this contrasts with his tiny and shiny black shoes and his skin. The pimples on his legs are certainly mosquito bites. His right hand is in his pocket as if the photographer wanted him to have a cool attitude during the photo session, although his placid facial expression clearly expresses the contrary.
I grew up in the Parisian suburbs. Unlike the United States, the suburbs are not synonymous with a rich neighborhood. However, I did have a rich childhood despite the fact that we used to live in a HLM housing*. I was constantly surrounded by people, whether at home with my uncles and aunties where I could always be the center of attention as in my dad’s videos, or when my parents sent me to neighbors because people used to help each other this way at that time. My nanny, Béatrice, was a tall white woman from Brittany. The janitor Sylvain came also from this French region and he had a daughter, Gwenaëlle, who was my age. I spent many mornings with them when they took me to school. Later I was at Christopher’s grandma’s house. Christopher was older than me and I considered him to be my older brother. I was always glad when I could see him sitting in the bleachers for my basketball games. I was terrible in this sport, but at least I had one supporter.
All of this to say that it was something normal to discover people’s homes and thus lives.
I grew up lucky because in the suburbs, that media love to portray as a ghetto and delinquent place, I met and lived with people from different backgrounds and cultures, from Brittany to Vietnam and Laos, or to Senegal in particular. School was also my favorite playground and the few white people were open-minded, teachers included. I am sure that it was not perfect but for my child’s eyes, it was paradise.
* a form of low-income housing. HLM stand for Habitation à Loyer Modéré (lit. ‘housing at moderate rent’)