A family and personal chronology
François, a protestant settler, arrives in Guadeloupe with his wife Isabelle, an indigenous native of Brazil. They are one of the earliest founding couples of my family.
Another François, born in La Rochelle, France, in 1682, marries Charlotte in the church he has built in what is still our family’s hometown. He is the first man in my father’s direct paternal line to set foot in Guadeloupe.
Our neighbors to the North gain their independence and become the United States of America.
Marie-Thérèse, a free woman of color and already the fourth generation of free people of color in her family, marries André a free Black man. Together, they found the Bourguignon family line of Guadeloupe.
The French Revolution rages.
Slavery is abolished in Guadeloupe… but only for a few years. When it is reinstated, the people of color in my family have to prove they were already free to avoid being put in bondage. From then until as late as the 1960s the elders in the family insist that we must always keep the papers because it could all come back.
Grégoire Antonin Cyrille André Bourguignon (grandson of André and Marie-Thérèse) is born. As a man, he marries 3 times and has about 20 children. He is responsible for keeping the Bourguignon family name alive by fighting for it in court — the name is new; the family has some power but not much and prejudice against people of color is strong. Before he dies, he makes sure that ALL his children, sons and daughters alike, get to own a piece of land so they keep their independence no matter what and stay close to each other. Our family still lives on these lands today. To thank him for his dedication to his family and the well-being of his children, I have decided to pay homage to him by naming the brand after him.
Remember François from La Rochelle? His great-grand-son Bernard is in an illicit relationship with la demoiselle Sencée, a woman of color and his slave. They have 3 children and she is pregnant with their fourth. He frees them that year and gives them lands. Later, they have a fifth child he names after his mother. He still looks after his children but marries someone else, with a status closer to his own, and dies a few years later. La demoiselle Sencée never marries someone else and her first name becomes our family name.
Slavery is abolished… for good this time. All the people in my mother’s lineage are now free. Those who were kept together and those who have managed to find each other again come together as a family to receive their patronymic name.
World War I begins and a few of Grégoire Antonin’s grandchildren lose their lives for France.
Both my grandmothers are born.
World War II hits and my grandmother’s brother Solange is injured.
Marie-Clotilde’s water breaks as she is selling on the market with her mother Modestine. She gets up and walks home on her own, about 7.5km, to deliver a healthy baby boy, my father.
My mother is 2 years old, playing on the ground, her little brother is in my grandmother’s arms. These are my great-grand-mother’s youngest grand-kids. She marvels at them, points to my baby uncle with melancholy and says “I won’t see this one walk”. And indeed, she passes away a few months later.
I am born. From as early as I can remember, I spend every Saturday with my mom Michelle, my grandma Méranie and my siblings on my mom’s family lands. These moments are dedicated to picking up wild medicinal plants, herbs and fruits. At that point, I am not aware of it but we are following in the footsteps of my great-grand-mother Alphonsine and her own mother Hermance who lived and died on those lands, nestled in the woods. In my young mind, teas, herbal baths and the use of fruits or vegetables to heal the body are just things people do — a normal part of life. I do not realize that even on the island, everyone doesn’t do it, let alone the rest of the Western world. Unknowingly, I am an apprentice in the art of healing.
I move to Los Angeles to study psychology and literature. I get completely disconnected from nature. Instead, I’m all about discovering a whole new world and life in a big city. The internet is getting in people’s homes but we are still at the point where we have to unplug the phone to use the modem. Remember the sound it made?
It’s been almost a year since 9/11 but my mother is not comfortable. She wants me out of the US. Besides, I don’t get a student loan and can’t afford UCLA so I move to Paris and land at the amazing Sorbonne. Paris is lovely but apart from occasional escapades in the forest for some fresh air, I am still disconnected from nature. Even worse, I am unlearning what I knew.
Time to reconnect. I give up relaxers and get back to my curly, frizzy hair. That leads me to pay closer attention to what I put in my hair and on my skin. A new me is born. As I start the journey back, I also read and study to move forward because I want to build upon our traditions with the science of today. The concept of Antonin .B is born. I start actively working on the brand about 2 years later.
On June 1st, I launch Antonin .B with just 2 products, the Desert Serum and Honey Butter. It is scary. I feel like a fraud. I have a ridiculously small budget and no actual network. It must all be built from scratch. But miraculously, I do not end the year in the red. The reviews come in and they are so positive. Awards follow. I’ve actually built something and it is still growing.