How much do you know about Guadeloupe? Admittedly, I had limited knowledge about the Caribbean island nestled between Montserrat and Dominica. Known for its idyllic deserted beaches and throng of beach towns, the images alone are enough to make me wish I was there right now – and for Laïny Jernidier, she had the pleasure of being born and raised in the butterfly-shaped island.
“Growing up in Guadeloupe was amazing,” recalls Laïny. “I was surrounded by Black people and I had strong Black women as my role models. I never felt like I was an outsider in society. It was so good and I hope my future kids will know something like that because I never questioned my identity.”
To grow up in an atmosphere where you are the majority and not the minority sounds like a dream come true for most. But while racism wasn’t an issue commonly faced on the island, another issue still remained.
“There’s a lot of colourism in Guadeloupe – if you’re light skin it’s seen as better,” says Laïny. “But my parents would always tell me I’m good the way I am and not to let anyone tell me otherwise.”
This level of confidence and self-love was instilled early on for Laïny by her parents and family members. “My parents are divorced, but they get along really well. When I was younger, I lived with my mum but my aunts and godmother would always come over to the house.
“I was also really close with my grandparents because we don’t really hire babysitters,” she says. “My grandparents babysat me all the time and you could always count on family growing up.”
Like many Caribbean islands, Guadeloupe has a colourful yet dark history. The island, which was initially inhabited by native Arawaks, began its colonial history after Christopher Columbus set foot on the island in November 1493. This began an onslaught of tragedy and terror which included the slaughter of native Caribs after the French gained power and claimed Guadeloupe a colony in 1635 and the first African slaves arriving in 1650.
Laïny was fortunate to learn about this history while studying in Guadeloupe – something that may not have happened had she lived in France at the time. “Learning the true history of Guadeloupe really depends on your teacher,” she says. “You could have a really good teacher who is really into Caribbean history, slave history and wants to teach you that. But we have French books so it’s about Napoleon doing this and that.”
“I had the chance to have teachers who really knew the history and really wanted us to know the truth about African slaves and the people on the land before us – but if I went to school in Paris I would’ve never learned that.”
Years later, Laïny’s studies took her to France and she moved to Paris at the age of 18 – an experience and culture shock that resonated with her deeply.
“The first time I moved to Paris, I never knew racism before and I never knew what it felt like to be alone,” she recalls. “I lived alone in Paris and it was very different. I realised that I wasn’t going to be surrounded only by black people and that I’m not the majority here.”
This experience opened her up to not only racism but the different ways in which it can be presented. “I saw racism when I couldn’t rent an apartment easily and people were skeptical for no reason.”
“I also experienced it while studying theatre in Paris and someone asked me ‘oh, how did you get here, do you have airports?’ and they’d ask ‘Do you speak French?’ and I’m like Guadeloupe is a French island and my passport is French. Sometimes I have to explain where I’m from, and sometimes I give up because Google exists and they can go and Google it.”
While studying theatre in Paris, Laïny was uncertain of what career path she wanted to go down and embarked on a new journey. “While studying theatre, we had a class on communication for arts. I was really interested in that class and in communications but I still wasn’t sure. So I went to live abroad for six months in San Francisco.”
At the age of 19, going on 20, Laïny set off on another adventure to The Bay Area, residing in Berkeley.
“Moving to San Francisco was one of the best experiences of my life. I first went for two months and then I fell in love and I went back and stayed a little longer.”
“I was so happy. I had less money of course, and I was living in a YMCA but I was discovering new people, I wasn’t alone and I saw Black people not afraid to say they were Black and in Paris, it’s a little bit different,” she reveals. “Now it’s better, but at first, I saw Black people in Paris trying to conform.”
While in San Francisco, Laïny’s interest in communications developed further after meeting people who worked for major tech companies like Instagram and Snapchat. “I realised that this is what I want to do so I came back to France and I started to study at a communications school.”
While her trip to San Francisco provided clarity on her desired career path, it also saw her develop a passion for wine.
“I went to Napa Valley with my friends that I met in San Francisco and that really began my interest in wine. I just liked it when they would say you will taste strawberries and smell it and I really got into it.
“When I came back to Paris, I stopped going to cafes and drinking bad wine. I was researching where my wine was from, which region I got it from and I started to study it by myself.”
The wine enthusiast started to create videos on Instagram sharing recommendations for friends. “I used to do videos on my Instagram stories all the time but I started to do more videos in September 2019 and I’m doing them more often,” she says.
After growing up in Guadeloupe and experiencing life in both France and America, Laïny is settled in the city of love – with her love.
“I’m in a relationship. I live with my boyfriend who is French and Italian. I consider myself as a queer person and I’m happy because at first I was scared to date a white person because I was scared of fetishism.”
During her single years in Paris, fetishism was something she had experienced. “White boys would tell me ‘oh, I’ve always dreamed of having sex with a black woman’ and I’m just ‘like oh my god’. But I’m with someone who has deconstructed their whiteness and privilege and I’m really happy in my relationship.”
To find out more about Laïny visit her Instagram: @lainyjrd.wine