Name: Joelle Fontaine
Birth place: Port-Au-Prince, Haiti
Current Residency: Boston, MA
Occupation: Fashion Designer/ Entrepreneur
I became a mother when I was 20 years old. My son was breech and I had low amniotic fluid, so I had to have a c-section. I went in one morning see my doctor and set an appointment for the c-section five days later, and then that same evening- I went into labor. The experience was interesting. I gave birth at a teaching hospital, so I was surrounded by students on the operating table. I couldn’t see the operation (of course). I probably would have gone into shock to see a baby being removed from my body. But, I could feel everything. I was awake. My ex-husband was taping the whole experience and was fascinated, telling me when the doctors were taking out my uterus and what it looked like. I felt pulling and tugging- no pain (I had been given the epidural) but lots of pressure. The room was bright (too bright) and it felt somewhat impersonal to have all of these students at the front row of such a personal, private moment in my life. But, once I heard my son cry, nothing really mattered. Everything was Perfect!... Isaiah Gabriel Jean-Fontaine was born at 12:01 a.m. on April 27th, 2001, and my whole world was transformed.
Through motherhood, I have learned that I am enough. I think we often think we have to be perfect- especially in our culture. There are so many stigmas as to who you “should” be-- how you “should” raise your children. As a young mom, I was really afraid that I would fail. I thought of myself as such an irresponsible human being and now I was gifted with this child. What if I messed his whole world up? What if I couldn’t handle it? I knew nothing about taking care of a baby. Hell, I was a baby… I remember the 1st time he got sick with a cold and I placed Vick’s vapor rub on his chest. He immediately turned bright red and started screaming on top of his lungs. We were alone and I had no idea what to do. I started to rub it off his chest but he continued to wail and then I began to cry right along with him. He was maybe 3 months old. When it was said and done, he was left with a rash all over his chest that then turned into a scar. I was devastated.
Today, at 16, there is no scar on his chest. So many things that I thought were major mistakes on my part, he has no idea ever happened- no recollection. But, what he does remember is me loving him, listening to him, speaking to him like a human being- treating him like a friend, and teaching him about God. It’s all the simple things that have shaped him and made all the difference in our world. He never needed me to be supermom (those are societal views we unconsciously adopt). Me simply being there and loving him was more than enough.
My hope for my son is that he lives a life where he is blissfully happy. That sounds like a simple thing, but think to yourself how many people you know that are truly living out their purpose in life, making a good living doing so and being used by God to the fullest. We are all here for a reason- all a part of the bigger picture. My hope is that he finds his purpose quickly and spends his life fulfilling it. That is happiness.
My son taught me to let things go and to love unconditionally- not only others, but most importantly- he taught me how to love myself.
I honestly don’t think I can describe this in words what it means to be Haitian. It’s not exactly something you read and/or write. It’s something you feel. It’s coconut juice running down your chin, or picking sugar cane fibers from your teeth, or the smell of salty water mixed with fried fish and bannan. It’s that feeling you get on the inside when a Kompa song is playing and that funny sounding instrument comes on and your fingers motion like you’re playing the guitar. It’s that moment when you’re tired as hell at 3am but you stay up til 6am to finish your paper because “good” is never good enough. “Best” is the only option. It’s when everything seems to be going wrong and all of the elders (and now you and your friends) gather up for jeune and bring it all to God. It’s a father working 20-30 years as a taxi driver to put his kids through school and to provide a good home for his wife (because education, ownership, legacy is everything). It’s resilience at the face of adversity- community above all.
I am a Haitian woman living in America, because I am highly influenced by Haitian culture to the core. It’s a really interesting dynamic actually because both cultures have shaped me, but I had somewhat of an identity crisis on my hands trying to define and figure out where I belong in the spectrum. I have never felt at home in America, but when I go to Haiti, even though I was born there- I am a foreigner- diaspora. They call me “Ti fi blanc”, which means “white girl”. So, for a while, I never felt like I belonged anywhere-- that is until I realized that “home” is within. So I am influenced by both Haiti and America. I am Haitian born, have lived in America for almost 30 years, but til’ this day I am still a permanent resident- not a citizen- also known as an “alien”. So, that is what I identify myself as- an alien.
I think Haitian women/ mothers are regal. I am reminded of the older Haitian women back home I’d see on their way to the market early in the morning with their baskets on their heads- no hands- back straight- beautifully patterned garments. The clothes may be torn, but they are always clean. That’s what I think of Haitian women-- hard-working beings that do what they got to do, and even when everything is not peachy, they still hold their heads up high like the queens they are.
My mom has taught me many things, but without ever saying a word- she has taught me to be a virtuous woman and a great mom. With her sacrifices and resilience, she has been such an awesome example of strength and character. Most importantly- my mom has allowed me to be myself. That is the greatest gift that any parent can give to their children-- acceptance and room for them to truly be who they are and to flourish into who they are destined to be.
My hope for Haiti is that more of the diaspora returns home to build-- to work with the youth to change the mindset that has permeated our culture since the beginning of time. Colonialism has taught us to resent ourselves (maybe not out right, but there’s an underlying complex) Haitians are not taught to acquire education and return home to contribute to development, economic growth, urban planning in the ways that other foreign groups (such as Asians or Indians) do with their countries. In Haiti, we go to the US, Paris, Canada, get our education and stay there to build someone else’s territory. We have a beautiful country, with many resources and the potential for success. Everyone else sees that but us. Foreigners are building businesses in Haiti and taking over, while we are sleeping. There have been talks of Haiti becoming an American territory. How devastating that would be!! To be the first liberated black republic only to give up that legacy to American rule? My hope for Haiti is reconstruction of not only the land itself but of the values of the people.
My style is honest. I dress how I feel. Sometimes it’s simple and quiet and other times it’s bold and damn right obnoxious. It just depends on how I feel that day. But, I believe that my style is always rooted with vintage inspiration from my upbringing- the women I saw growing up, going to church with large hats and lace gloves, bold colors and patterns, heels with full a-line skirts. I have partnered that with my love of Asian cultural elements and masculine androgynous touches to create a style that fits ME. I love lace dresses and combat boots (Yes. Together) and men’s jackets with heels, wide brim bowler hats with fitted dresses. I believe that I am an oxymoron by nature and my style is a reflection of my being.
Though I have always loved and admired fashion, I did not out seek to have a career in this industry. For most of my youth, I was in love with architecture. I thought I was going to be a major architect building stucco homes in Cap Haitien, Italy and South of France :) Fashion chose me. I started to sew simply as means to express my creativity and just stay sane when I was home with my son in his early years. It turned out to be my gift. Fashion is great as a means of expression, but what attracts me the most to the industry is the possibility for forward advancement and economic growth through garment production and artistry. I always saw my work as a way for me to one day be able to go back to Haiti and contribute to the economic development of women.
I Am Kreyol is a high fashion label that utilizes fashion as a means for social impact. Our goal is to utilize beautiful design and garment production as a catalyst for change for disenfranchised women in the US, Haiti and abroad. We aim to teach production skills to impoverished women so that are equipped with the means for sustainable living through art. We are a small company, but growing quickly. Most recently we were featured as one of the top Haitian designers to know by Teen Vogue (http://www.teenvogue.com/gallery/haitian-designers-to-know-about) and named “Best of Boston” in fashion by the Improper Bostoninan (http://www.improper.com/bostons-best/2016/fashion/clothing-designer/joelle-jean-fontaine/).