• Travel Ace Kiratiana Freelon Shares Culture and the Black experience in Paris

     Kiratiana Freelon is author of Kiratiana’s Travel Guide to Black Paris: Get Lost and Get Found.

    Ytasha:  How did you come up with the idea to do a travel guide for Black Paris?

    Kiratiana:  I came up with the idea in spring 2002 when Harvard awarded me this travel scholarship. I wanted to come up with travel guides that would focus on the African diaspora to convince people who usually don’t travel, to travel. I wanted to make travel interesting. I didn’t want to travel all over the world and do nothing with it. That seemed so selfish. So in 2003, I wrote a first draft of it. It wasn’t until 2005 -06 when I lived in Paris again, that I wrote a draft I was satisfied with and geared up to actually publish it.

    Ytasha: Tell me about the book.

    Kiratiana:  It is a travel guide. It is a practical guide that helps you to not only discover typical, idyllic Paris, but it also helps you explore and discover locations and communities with people of African descent. With it being a travel guide, it provides itineraries. It lists places you can stay in Paris. It has a night life section with clubs. But the thing that makes it unique is that it includes an extension section that connects you to sites and the history of Paris; of blacks and African Americans in Paris.

    Ytasha: What’s the history of African Americans in Paris?

    Kiratiana: The African American presence in Paris is directly related to WWI and WWII. Thousands of African American soldiers had the opportunity to go to Paris during the war. The French didn’t treat them the way white Americans did. Imagine being an African American during the war in the 40s and a white Frenchman invites you into their home. They were amazed. [The African American] experience was so atypical. In addition to having travelling regiments, you also had this touring band with the military that [introduced] jazz music to France. The French people loved jazz music so much, that some blacks stayed in France to play. The only people who could play it at the time were African Americans. Combined with these black soldiers coming back from France [to America] saying they’re so nice, and you had more French people who wanted to hear jazz – it just led to a host of African American artists going to Paris and taking root there.

    Ytasha: What’s the influence of African American culture on France today?

    Kiratiana: You can almost say that black American culture exists in Paris through hip-hop and on television, but there is not a significant expat community there anymore. That community disappeared by the 70s. As that was happening, millions of African and Caribbean people were immigrating to Paris. So if you go to Paris right now, when you see black people in the streets, they will be of Caribbean and African descent.  You can tell who’s from Senegal, Mali, Cameroon etc.  So right now, they have very few large, significant communities. You have the Malian community, the Senegalese, etc., but this concept of looking at yourself as part of the black community is very foreign to France.

    Ytasha: What do you attribute this to?

    Kiratiana: In France, they want everyone to be French. In France, they feel like they have successfully integrated you if you are totally French and if you have no remnants of your other culture.  [Blacks in France] are just now starting to see themselves as part of this black community. The children of the Senegalese, the Malian – they grow up with a more complicated identity. They have the identity of their Senegalese parents, but they are raised in France.

    Ytasha: How are readers responding?

    Kiratiana: In general, people are amazed at the depth of information in the book. There is a very in-depth time line that goes through the presence of blacks in the late 19th century to now. Also, the book is 260 pages. I don’t think they thought they’d see such an in-depth book on a small topic.

    Ytasha: What are your Paris top picks?

    Kiratiana: If you were short on time and you wanted to explore black Paris – let’s say you have four days- you should do one of two things. Take an organized black Paris tour – those are listed in the book. Eat at a Senegalese restaurant or have Caribbean food. Chez Lucie, one of my favorite Caribbean restaurants, is right around the corner from the Eiffel Tower.  There’s a neighborhood called la Goutte  d’Or. When I first lived in Paris for a month, I went to a tourism place and said, ‘where can I find black people in Paris?’ [The tourism agent] pulled out this map and pointed to this neighborhood on a map, and said ‘if you want to find black people, go here’.  It’s also called Chateau Rouge. The first thing I see coming up the stairs was a KFC and a beauty supply shop. There are more things to offer than that, but it’s a really good place to see Paris’ diversity. 

    Musee du quai Branly -this is a museum of indigenous culture.  I love this museum because it basically shows art work – all the stuff the colonist took when they were colonizing – cultural markers from West Africa, North Africa and a lot from south East Asia. The places where they are stronger are where France was colonized. It’s a great museum, despite the way they came to collect these things. They always have great exhibitions. They have a great exhibit on the Dogon culture from Mali. They have great music and concerts. It’s also right around the corner from the Eiffel Tower.

    For more information go to http://www.kiratianatravels.com


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  1. March 4, 2012 at 5:27 AM

    I really enjoyed Kiratiana’s “Black Girl in Paris” blog. Way to go, Homegirl!

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