Black lives matter:
"I can't breathe." - Eric Garner, New York City, July 17, 2014
"I can't breathe." - George Floyd, Minneapolis, May 25, 2020
I can't breathe. Neither can I.
The memories come back.
A bond forged at 16 years of pure friendship: the meeting of my friend of heart, Meryanne Loum-Martin, the sister I dreamed of, present but not clinging, lively and sensitive, ambitious and loving, energetic and ethical. We live in different countries now, caught up in our lives. But if one has a happiness or a sorrow, it is with the other that she shares it. My sister at heart is Franco-Senegalese, American by marriage.
My first lover, Mono, marvelous, a student like me in Aix en Provence in 1975, was from a large Moroccan family, and the way he was treated at the prefecture when he had his papers done, revolted me. He was smiling, but I was not.
My Haitian friend, Muriel, also a student, was as beautiful as she was fragile, and racist jokes, around a meeting in the lecture hall, were more than uncomfortable. Short of breath, unable to breathe, we ranted together
Some time later, a dinner at the home of "so good" and violently anti-Semitic people, which I ruined, by getting up and explaining to them that I was at least "honorary Jew". Like Christ, by the way!
In Marseille, a year later, we were walking in the city on a sunny spring day, I was 23 years old. With another friend, Marie G., her three-year-old son was running in front of us, full of joy, adorable. Two ladies exclaimed: "And to think that this charming negrillon is going to become an ugly black boy". I don't breathe anymore. His mother and I were stunned.
This was a reality in France in the 1980s.
Then the angles were rounded, the derogatory remarks shocked, became almost inaudible, our lives evolved, together. At least I thought so.
I don't see problems anymore. Living in a caring, educated, international environment, I didn't want to see them.
Why am I telling you this, today, I who am white, born in France? In whose name?
You see, my family and my loved ones, they are the ones who are no longer breathing today!
I spent a long time in the United States, around the year 2000, working for IBM, a company in which the tradition of equal opportunities and non-discrimination was not an empty word (Letter J.Watson 1953). Structured and quantifiable diversity policy, especially with regard to women, but also for all types of belonging: "races", cultures, sexual orientations.
And despite all this, I still had long discussions in NYC with my high level black executive friends about the comparative importance of being a woman and being black, the hierarchy of belonging in the land of the American dream. I heard it, without fully grasping the subtleties of the debate, but I'm becoming more aware of it in the age of the Black lives matter movement.
Finally, you tell me again, my legitimacy to stand up and carry my voice? It comes from afar. It was a long time ago.
It's a family story, ambiguous, like all families.
It goes back to a Jean Baptiste La Fonta, a Royal Councillor in 1746 who had, I believe, nine children: one: Philibert left for the United States and resided in Louisiana, Jean Hilaire left for Martinique, perhaps Cuba, and died there in 1854. And finally two other brothers, Jean and Jean Baptiste, emigrated to Saint Domingue.
These two brothers, born in the southwest of France, left to cultivate land in Santo Domingo. They founded families there, died and were buried there. And their children, and their descendants continued to bear the name of La Fonta which became Lafonta
At some point, my ancestors, my cousins left Santo Domingo. By complicated ways, they disembarked, in particular in Louisiana, in New Orleans, where they immigrated definitively, taking on all the jobs available and difficult for coming American citizens: the LaFonta of New Orleans, among others.
We are in the 1930's - 40's, we can imagine that it was not easy to be a black American, a recent immigrant, and to be called LaFonta in a country where the abolition of slavery dated from December 18, 1865. In Louisiana, where the plantations stand as witnesses to this painful history.
In my family in France, we are a bit curious, but not too much about this branch of the family.
You can imagine in the landscape of the time, the great wars, the decolonization.
All the more prudent since these trips to the islands and the New World are often linked in certain families of the southwest to triangular and other trades, and that, moreover, in our same family, the past may have been heavy to bear. And complicated to reveal.
My father, born at the beginning of the XXth century, wanted to know, anyway! He loved jazz, but still preferred his daughter to marry a white man. With his certainty, he wrote a letter to the consul in New Orleans on his manual typewriter, to know how to contact these unknown Lafonta. He never got an answer and was annoyed. Years later, I would learn that his letter had been read, but that the American Lafontas were not, at that time, too enthusiastic about reconnecting with the white la Fonta family
And yet these lands in Cuba and Santo Domingo lulled my childhood with lost dreams.
Then, around the year 2000, the world became accessible to everyone, thanks to the Internet. No more family secrets! Or almost.
Thus arrived in France in 2013, at home in Paris, my cousin Juan LaFonta and his sister Dana.
And as I opened the door to my home to welcome them, these people I knew nothing about, I knew instantly that I had just completed my family.
In an instant, to feel that we are so close, without knowing anything about each other, with so many differences, but also a natural and deep intimacy that we don't need to say anything to each other, and also want to spend hours together sharing everything and exchanging a thousand stories and a thousand details. Dazzled by happiness.
So here's my answer, my family is black and white.
Juan LaFonta, his family, his father George LaFonta, are my family.
Juan is younger than me. He is a trial lawyer in New Orleans. He was elected to the State House of Representatives in 2005. Among other things. Like me, he loves people, partying, meeting others, helping others, sharing.
Juan, this could be George Floyd. And he's one of mine, like him. George Floyd is one of his, and one of mine. Inevitably
If George is not breathing, Juan is not breathing, my family is not breathing, I am not breathing. If George doesn't breathe, our whole family doesn't breathe.
When I am sick, Juan comes from the United States to Paris, immediately.
In 2015, when I became a paraplegic after a surgical accident, Juancame to spend a few days in Paris, just to celebrate my birthday.
When I was able to stand in the spring of 2017, with my husband and one of our daughters, we flew to New Orleans. Which we discovered with Juan.
I met her parents, her mother Joanna and her father George.
And in George's arms, I felt the love that unites us, across centuries, "races" and continents.
George had a letter for me, one that my father had written 20 years earlier to the consul in New Orleans, which George had received, but did not wish to follow up on, then. He had passed it on to his son, who then found me in 2013.
Walking with Juan in Nola is an incredible experience. Already, at the airport, we discovered his face on huge billboards: next to his picture, was written his phone number to reach him, especially for any racial or community problem. Lawyer in the United States, a very American and committed profession.
And in the streetcar or on the street, Juan, who is recognized in his community by commercial video clips that have toured America - until the Ellen de Generes show - Juan is celebrated, contacted, praised, admired. And he loves people so much. It chats, exchanges and lives. Warmly.
So when I regularly see on the news all this succession of exactions towards black citizens, Americans or of other nationalities, or even of French nationality, I am the one who is always being attacked and even more so, from now on. Black and white lives matter.
As for my childhood and teenage friends.
Exactly with them. Meryanne, Muriel, Marie, Mono, sadly gone.
And Juan's grief is mine, his rage too! Today, in our family, no one is breathing.
And George Floyd's shattered life fills me with tears. This could be my George LaFonta, or Juan or Dana.
A week ago Juan called me, sad and hurt. He wanted my opinion on some video messages he is working on for his community, but also for all American citizens who are fighting for the Black lives matter movement, regardless of their "race", their gender, or their beliefs.
To say loud and clear: we are here to make sure that this does not happen again and to build together a fairer world. A world where, with or without family, everyone can breathe freely. Black lives matter - All lives matter
We are a family.
We are one.
Nadalette La Fonta
This article is illustrated by the beautiful work of my friend Laetitia de Gaulle
Nadalette La Fonta:
TEDx: Nothing happens to us by chance https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8S8mie3bwtw
Black voices New Orleans https://youtu.be/d4r4kLTlG9Ywww . BlackVoicesNewOrleans.com
Juan LaFonta ft. Big Freedia - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0Wgz7auLAk
Meryanne Loum Martin, Jnane Tasma. Tribute to Leila Alaoui, photographer and video artist https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnCLDmm3vgI
Laetitia de Gaulle: