I grew up in the Paris banlieue of Créteil, in a small neighborhood called Kennedy. As a kid, I didn’t understand what people meant by the word banlieue [a word meaning “suburb,” now often synonymous with troubled low-income housing projects]. I was just growing up like everyone else. I would meet up with my friends in front of my apartment building. It was my playground. On weekends, I was allowed to stay out until 10pm, but if I didn’t make it home by my curfew, my mother would bellow out my name from the kitchen window. You could hear her voice all the way to the street. It made me cringe. So I rarely missed that maternal curfew. I was still just a child. Later, when I was older, I understood that there were other things to discover, beyond my playground, something larger, something on the “other side,” yet still so far away. In 2005, riots broke out in the French banlieues. That was when I discovered a new vocabulary that described my world. For the first time, I heard the word racaille [“riffraff”] and expressions that surprised me: “The danger of the banlieues”; “the thugs who cut themselves off and won’t amount to anything in their lives.” I felt like they were labeling me, refusing to let me have any ambition. I had a head full of dreams and everywhere I went I kept hearing that it would be really hard to achieve them; that I would have to work harder than anyone else. I had friends, I hung around outside, we did dumb kid stuff, nothing serious. And we didn’t feel like we were “thugs.” But even my mother got into the act. After hearing all these words on TV and seeing what the “thugs” could do, she got it into her head to send me to a private middle school so that I didn’t “turn out bad.” She must have been right.
In hindsight, I now see that that feeling of exclusion, that impression of never fully fitting in, of being in the right place, and hearing, day after day, “Eddy, it’s going to be harder for us,” shaped me and toughened me up. I spent many nights at my bedroom window watching the searchlight of the Eiffel Tower sweep across the sky, over the top of the other buildings that blocked my view. I had a head full of dreams. I wanted to live in Paris. I promised myself I would. Several times a day and even more often at night. People kept telling me that it was another world. I convinced myself that I would achieve my goal. No matter what it cost. Me, the boy from the other side. The one born on the wrong side of the périphérique. Everything is possible. It doesn’t matter where you start from. Whether you come from the banlieue, from Paris or from the provinces. Despite the prejudice and the rejections. Despite the fact that I didn’t really feel I was “someone” or “something.” Today, I have reached the gates of Paris.