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Sebastien Fargeat and Vanessa Snowden

Oral history interview conducted by Charis Shafer

April 11, 2012

Call number: 2011.019.026

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CHARIS SHAFER: Um, this is Charis Shafer, and I'm here with Vanessa Snowden and Sebastien Fargeat, and we are doing an interview for the Brooklyn Historical Society. And, Vanessa, I'll start with you.


CHARIS SHAFER: If you could tell me a little bit about where you were born, and what your childhood was like. Who your parents were.

VANESSA SNOWDEN: So, I was born in Caracas, Venezuela. Um, and I moved to the States, uh, pretty soon thereafter. I was only about a year old. Um, my dad is American. Uh, he was in Caracas because he got a job playing French horn in the orchestra there, and my mom happened to be his Spanish teacher. Uh, he didn't speak any Spanish at all when he went. And, uh, so, they met in class, and, um, my mom asked my dad out, because my dad's the shy one. And, uh, you know, they fell in love, and then I suddenly came along, unexpectedly, and so (laughter) 1:00then they got married. And ended up moving to the States, uh, because they thought that I would have, sort of, better opportunities over there. Um, we moved to Buffalo, because that's where my grandparents lived, and that's where my dad grew up. And that's pretty much where I spent most of my childhood. Um, it's funny because -- w-- uh, this interview's all about, sort of, cross-cultural families, and I grew up like that myself. Um, my -- like I said before, my dad's American, my mom's Venezuelan, so our household was always kind of a mix of different cultures, and, you know, Spanish and English were always flying back and forth. Um, I, I kind of -- I feel like it was a good thing for me, like, I learned a lot, and especially, like, learning the language. Like, having two languages in the household was really useful to me. But I also missed out on so many, like, typical cultural American things, because my dad is kind of classical music slash computer nerd, and, like, my mom's Venezuelan, so 2:00I grew up either listening to, like, Tchaikovsky or salsa music. So, like, I didn't know who the Beatles were, or, like, the Rolling Stones, or, like, any of these, uh, like, really famous musical groups until, you know, high school if not college. So I, I feel like I'm -- I was very much enriched by my childhood experience, but at the same time it's just funny, like, the gaps in knowledge that I have. Um, because of who my parents are, and what they valued, um, and still value.

CHARIS SHAFER: Do you remember the point at which you realized that you had different cultural references than your peers?

VANESSA SNOWDEN: Super-early on. Like, my friends, like, in elementary school, they would call my house and they wouldn't understand my mom on the phone, 'cause of her accent. So -- and I grew up in a town -- I, I mean, my high school had -- I was the only, like, half-Hispanic kid. There was one half-Jew. Like, no black people. Like, no -- no, there was one Asian kid. And then 3:00everyone else is, like, just plain-old white bread, um, families. So, for them, I was always kind of an anomaly. I also really liked that, um, difference. Like, I don't know, I, I insisted -- well, OK, so when I was in second grade, for some reason I insisted on singing "La Bamba" to every classroom in the elementary school. Like, I convinced my teacher to let me do this. I just went around and sang "La Bamba" to every class. I remember, like, all these kids just looking at me like I was some strange creature, but I just loved it. I was like, "I'm so different from you. Like, listen to my fun song in Spanish." (laughter) It was really -- it was kind of funny. But, I mean, that was very early on. I always knew that I was different from the other kids. And for the mo-- uh, it was always a good thing. It became more difficult in high school, when it came to applying to college, because, um, when I -- like, when I got 4:00into Princeton, um, suddenly everyone who thought it was cool that I was from Venezuela attributed the fact that I got in there to, uh, the fact that I was Hispanic. And so that became, uh, really difficult for me, because, you know, I thought I had earned it, and suddenly, like, all these kind of weird feelings start coming up around my heritage, um, because, you know, I only got where I was getting to because of this, according to my peers. So that was -- that was the only time that I felt a little bit weird about, about, um, being sort of half-American and half-Venezuelan. Because I didn't know which one counted more. And I always felt weird, like, having to check off that box, and be like, "Yeah, sure, I'm Hispanic." I mean, I did it because I knew it would give me an advantage. Um, but at the same time, I grew up in the States. I didn't really know my family in Venezuela that much. Um, so, I didn't really feel that 5:00Hispanic, like -- but I also didn't feel American. So, it was really -- that was always really hard for me, to identify myself in one way or another. And I think now they have, like, the "Other" box, where you can check that off and write something, but at the time it was like, you have to pick whether you're white or Hispanic, and so making that decision was, um, was a little difficult. Um, yeah.

CHARIS SHAFER: Were you close to your grandparents on your father's side?

VANESSA SNOWDEN: Yeah, definitely. I grew up with them, so-- I was really with my grandmother. I'm the oldest grandchild that she has, so she sort of had a special attachment to me as well. Um, my grandpa was always a little more -- or, is a little more distant. So I didn't know him as well. Uh, but I'm definitely really close with my grandma.

CHARIS SHAFER: Was there any -- ever any discussion about the fact that your father had gone to Venezuela and met someone and brought her back?


CHARIS SHAFER: And what happened?

VANESSA SNOWDEN: Well, it's funny, because my other uncle also randomly married a Venezuelan (laughter) woman. Which is, like -- it's weird, because in my 6:00family -- my dad's side of the family -- there's, like, no one else who has married outside of, like, typical American cultural, uh, milieu. And, uh, all of the sudden you have, like, my dad and his younger brother who both married Venezuelan women. So my dad was the first one, uh, to kind of go off and, uh, get some exotic woman. But when, when he brought -- when my mom came to the States with him, with me, they actually moved in with my grandparents. Uh, and my mom didn't speak English at all. And she wou-- she said that she would basically just stay in their room upstairs all day with me, because she was too afraid to, like, go downstairs and, uh, you know, talk to my dad's family. Because they, they can be difficult too, like they're -- they can be -- they're wonderful, but they didn't really know how to deal with my mom, and my mom was really shy, and also just didn't really know what to do, and didn't really have the self-confidence to, um, sort of put herself out there. I mean, she came 7:00from like a tiny town in Venezuela, and now, all of the sudden, she is -- like, she had never seen snow before. She had never been in weather below, like, 70 degrees. And it was just a huge culture shock for her. And it was really, really hard for her, which is why she was so protective of me when I, like, up and went to France without speaking the language, and without anything. Um, for her, she was -- and she was also really nervous about me marrying Seb, because she had a really different experience with that. She felt like, um, she was completely powerless when she came to the States, that she didn't have anything, that she couldn't take care of herself. And so she didn't want that for me. But the way that -- I saw it very differently. Like, first of all, I was -- she -- you know, she didn't have a college degree or anything, like-- And, you know, I had already gotten my education. Like, I was going of my own accord. I didn't have kids, like-- I was going to learn the language. It was a really different set of circumstances. I felt like I was on, like, the same sort of 8:00level as Seb, whereas my mom always felt like she needed my father at the beginning, um, just because she was so helpless in the States without him. Um, and this was the first time she had traveled, and I had traveled before. So it was kind of -- it was always a weird dynamic, because my mom wanted to protect me from what -- the cultural shock that she had gone through. But it was always just a very different situation for me.

CHARIS SHAFER: Do you remember any stories that she told you about, that sort of exemplifies that cultural shock?

VANESSA SNOWDEN: Well, I mean, I think ba-- the main thing was just her spending just days and days on end, just in the room with me. And just having no -- just no contact, with no one to talk to. You know, her family was so far away that, like, at the time -- you know, you -- now we don't really have long-distance calls that are expensive, but at the time, like, you know, she didn't have -- we didn't have money to, um, to call Venezuela. She felt very, very, very isolated. And also, we were in the suburbs of Buffalo. It's not like there's a 9:00real Hispanic population there to speak of. Um, so it took her a long time, like, before she even really made any friends. It was -- I mean, her first friend was, um, was Anna -- you know Anna -- who's awesome. She actually married a Jewish guy from Chicago. Um, at first -- it was mostly, at first, a story of, like, get her paperwork in the States. She's from Costa Rica. Um, but they have -- they've been together forever. But, um, she met her -- my mom, at -- we had already moved into our house on, um, Linwood, which is the first house that my parents had on their own. It was a -- they rented it. And, uh, it was where I w-- I lived until I was probably like five or six. And, um, my mom had gone to the grocery store. And apparently the way they met was, I had, um, just, like, stolen a cookie or something (laughter). Like, so she had in the 10:00cart, and I reached over -- there was, like, a -- I don't know -- like a baker -- a bakery area of the supermarket with, like, cookies out, and so I just, like, stole a cookie and was munching on it. And Anna thought it was like the funniest thing. So she came over and started speaking to me in Spanish, and my mom was like, "What? You speak Spanish?" And she was, like, so psyched, because she had been starved for anyone who, who spoke her language. And so they became friends, and have really been really, um, almost like sisters, uh, ever since. But, um -- but yeah, it was, uh -- for my mom, it's really -- it's -- that's always been a struggle for her. Is, is coming here to the States. It was, um, at -- she -- a lot of times, she says that she almost regrets it, um, because she felt like I didn't really get to be brought up, like, with that true Hispanic, um, sort of culture that she calls her own. But at the same time, I wasn't -- I wouldn't have been afforded the same opportunities over there. Um, and also, now, with the -- the way things are with Chavez and everything. I mean, she's obviously happy to be here. But, um, she definitely sometimes 11:00regrets that.

CHARIS SHAFER: And did you spend any time in Venezuela?

VANESSA SNOWDEN: We -- yeah, not much though. Especially at the beginning. I mean, my family just was, like, very poor. Because my mom -- like, she didn't have a job. She was a housewife. And my dad was playing in the Buffalo Philharmonic, and, uh, you know, working a second job as well. So, we couldn't really afford to spend a thousand dollars per person, um, to get out there. But we would -- we would go from time to time. It was only when I was older, like, probably the first time I went back I was probably, like, seven or eight. And then we went every few years after that. Um, but I always felt, um -- I was always really scared when we would go back. Because I felt like I wasn't Hispanic enough, and, like -- that I should speak Spanish better, and not with an accent, because I speak with an accent. And so, going there was always, um, 12:00definitely, uh, anxiety provoking for me, 'cause my mom was like a totally different person. She was, like, totally into it, and the -- you know, they'd want me to salsa dance, and I didn't want to dance. Like, I was such an -- I, I was such an awkward kid. And, uh, you know, they'd be there, and they'd be like, "Here, come dance with your cousin Bruno!" And I'd be like, "Oh, I really don't want to dance in front of you, and I don't know how to dance. (laughter) Especially not salsa." Um, so, it was, uh -- it was -- I always kind of felt apart. Um, like I didn't really fit in, in either place.

CHARIS SHAFER: Are you -- did you ever make any friends with your relatives in Venezuela, or--?

VANESSA SNOWDEN: Not really. Like, my mom would force me to, like, go spend the night with, like, a second cousin. And I would just be, like, traumatized. (laughter) Because I'd be, like, afraid to ask to go to the bathroom, and, like, I would just, like -- I, I felt totally out of my element. Um, now I'm, I'm very different. Like, I think having those experiences early on made me 13:00more confident in new situations later. But man, at the beginning, like, I just never really felt comfortable. So I didn't really -- I also didn't, like, have a lot of -- there weren't a lot of people my age, um, kind of around. Um, so, I think that made a difference too.

CHARIS SHAFER: Yeah. So you talked about, um, going to Princeton. And do you want to talk about -- through the lead-up to meeting Seb? (laughter)

VANESSA SNOWDEN: Sure. Um, well, all right. So at Princeton, uh, my senior thesis was about all of these different, um, sort of French theorists and philosophers. But I didn't speak French at all. And I didn't read it. I didn't ever take a French class. And when I graduated, I had -- I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I was -- you know, like an angsty college kid who was like, "Oh, I don't want to make money, and all these Princeton kids, all they want to do is go to Wall Street and make money. And I don't want to be person." And, whatever. So, I basically had no clue what I 14:00was going to do at all. Um, and so, my friend Lani -- and my roommate -- um, she had found this opportunity to, um, go be an au pair for, um, an alum who lived in Lyon. And I was, actually, at the time interviewing to, um, be an intern -- well, kind of like an assistant to a professor who was doing, um, oral histories in Caracas. Um, which was really cool. And so I was kind of -- I was gonna do that, and then this other opportunity came up, and, uh, I said, "Yeah, I don't know what do." And I just -- on a total whim, just decided to go to Lyon. Um, and, so, uh, off I went. And, um, I got in contact -- well, OK, so through the family and through the previous au pair, uh, I got in contact with our friend Mel. Well, Seb's friend Mel, at the time. Um, she was kind of, um, the previous au pair's, uh, friend there. She's -- I guess -- I mean, she's 15:00Jamaican, but she grew up going to French school -- is that what it was?


VANESSA SNOWDEN: And then she was going to school in Lyon.


VANESSA SNOWDEN: In Switz-- in Switzerland? Why was she in Lyon?

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Well, she was --

VANESSA SNOWDEN: Oh, 'cause she was dating W-- no--

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: You know, when she was a kid she went to school in Switzerland, because her dad worked for the U.N.


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: That's why she speaks French. And that's why she went to Lyon --


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: -- for school.



VANESSA SNOWDEN: So she was there, and, um -- but she speaks, like, English and French total-- like, totally perfectly. Like, her French -- she speaks with, like, no accent at all. And, um, so I met up with her, and then she's like, "Oh, well, I'll introduce you to, like, the French guys that I know. And, like, all the -- you know, all the people that I know." Because basically, like, Seb and his crew of friends were -- like, hung out with all of the au pairs for this family. Like, through Mel. Uh, like, there were how many -- there were two or three that you knew before me? Two before me?



VANESSA SNOWDEN: Right. So then --







SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: One was a (inaudible).

VANESSA SNOWDEN: Right. Yeah. Um, so anyway, I was, like, the next in line, so -- you know, we went out, and I met them all, and I was like, "Oh, OK, whatever, they're cool." And, uh, so Seb was one of the -- one of the people with whom I went out with on that first momentous night. And, um, I was really not interested (laughter) in a relationship with him at first. Like, I was just, like, oh, he was super nice, and we hung out, and everything. Um, but apparently Seb had a crush on me.


VANESSA SNOWDEN: Apparently. (laughter)

CHARIS SHAFER: (laughter)

VANESSA SNOWDEN: Um, and, uh, I, I was just like, "No, I think we should just be friends, and na-na-na." And he was -- he was quite -- he was quite persistent. Um, and, uh, it just ended up kind of happening like that. But we were really -- we were very, uh, good friends for, um, I guess it was, like -- I mean, three 17:00or four months really, before anything happened romantically.


VANESSA SNOWDEN: But yeah -- so that's -- that's kind of how that went.

CHARIS SHAFER: That's good. Um, maybe we want to shift gears? Seb, do you want to tell me about where you grew up -- your early life? What your parents were like?

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Sure. So, um, I was born in Lyon. Um, my dad is, uh -- he's an electrician. He works for the, um, equivalent of Con Edison here. And, uh, my mom -- she is, um -- I don't how to say that -- she's a buyer. She buys fabrics for this --

VANESSA SNOWDEN: A lingerie company.

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: A lingerie company. So I was born in Lyon. Then when I was, uh, two or three years old, we moved to, uh, the suburbs. Like, 30 -- 30 miles 18:00away from Lyon, in a house, because, uh, uh, my sister was born. So, you know, my parents moved there. Uh, so, until I was, um, 10 or 11, we moved there. Then my parents got divorced, and my mom moved back to Lyon, to be closer to her parents. And, uh, yeah -- so I al-- I always lived in the same area -- or -- either in Lyon or just outside of Lyon.

CHARIS SHAFER: Did you live in the suburb, or did you live in Lyon, or did you switch off?

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Uh, we switched -- so, yeah, so until I was ten years old, um, uh, I was living a suburb of, like, really a -- like, almost the countryside, it was. And then, uh, moved back to Lyon, um, 'til I was, uh, in middle school. But then we moved back to -- in the suburbs, but, really, uh, just outside Lyon, so it was still the city. Until I was, uh, 18, and then we 19:00moved back to, um -- in the city center.


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: When I started, uh, university.

CHARIS SHAFER: And what was your childhood like? Who did you play with, or grow up around?

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Um, so -- I mo-- most remember -- it was in Saint-Priest -- it's, uh, where I went to middle school, where I, I met most of my friends that I am still friends with now. So Saint-Priest -- like, the suburb is not -- it's not poor, but it's not rich. So it's really a mix. Like, it was a lot of -- not like Vanessa, when she was the only white Hispanic kid. Me, I was not the only white, but there -- it was, like, really mixed, like, uh -- I mean, I had, like, black kids, Arabs, Asians -- it was -- that was really diverse. And, um, my friends, uh, were, uh --


VANESSA SNOWDEN: The class clowns.

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: (laughter) The class clowns. Yeah. I was one of the class clowns too.


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: So, I was in (laughter). Yeah. I was, uh, really serious at school, but I wasn't mean or anything, but (inaudible).

CHARIS SHAFER: Like, what kind of things would you do?

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: What kind of things would I do?

VANESSA SNOWDEN: (inaudible)

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: (laughter) Uh, yeah, so example, uh, my -- the teacher would talk to, uh, one of the kids, and she would -- left the keys on my desk. And I moved all of them out of the -- out the window.

CHARIS SHAFER: (laughter)

VANESSA SNOWDEN: No, but tell them about the competition.

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Yeah. (laughter)

CHARIS SHAFER: (laughter)

VANESSA SNOWDEN: 'Cause that -- that was part of, like, the whole competition you guys had.

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Yeah, so, uh, in France, uh, they give you, like, this, um, book. It's, uh, like the way the teacher talks to your parents. They would put notes on them -- when is the next, uh, parents-teacher conference, or, uh--

VANESSA SNOWDEN: When your kid threw my keys out the window--

CHARIS SHAFER: (laughter)

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: So, right -- that was called the, uh, "observations." So if 21:00you get three observations, then you get, um -- (inaudible) -- that's when you have to stay after school?




SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: So when you get three of them -- so every time you get one, you have to have it signed. So it could be, uh, "Sébastien threw my keys out of the window." That -- and I had to have that signed -- to my mom. So I said, "Yeah, I threw the keys." You know-- And, uh --

CHARIS SHAFER: What was the reaction of your mother?

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Uh, she was -- she was pissed, but -- like, she would take PlayStation away for a week, or stuff like that. But there wasn't -- nev-- it was never really bad stuff, like, uh, so -- she -- she was mad, but never too mad. Maybe not enough? I don't know. 'Cause -- so we had this competition, where it was the (laughter) -- we had to get the most observations in a year. And I came in second.


VANESSA SNOWDEN: But the keys were like, the last -- your last hurrah, right? Like, wasn't it --


VANESSA SNOWDEN: -- real-- like, at the very end, you guys were just, like, doing whatever.

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Yeah. Yeah. That was, like, the last week, and, uh, I lost. I, I lost, because this kid, uh -- he just started to sing in the class. (inaudible) On the desk -- on his desk.

CHARIS SHAFER: (laughter)

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Just stand up on his desk, so-- So that was middle school. Then high school, I started to get more serious. I was, uh, better at school. And I stopped the competition. And, uh, well -- I still, uh, did some stuff like that in Spanish class, which I regret now.


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Because I can't speak Spanish. (laughter) And, uh, if I had --

VANESSA SNOWDEN: What did you do to that Spanish teacher?

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Uh, yeah, I would just sing in the class, or--

VANESSA SNOWDEN: Wasn't that -- didn't Ben come in and pretend to be a student? Wasn't that the teacher?

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Yeah, I had, um, had a, uh, friend who took German, but he would come in Spanish class and -- the teacher was kind of out of it. She wouldn't -- she would come and she'd say, "Oh, there's one more than usual." 23:00And I would tell her, "It's better than -- one more than one less." She say, "Oh, yeah, of course. (inaudible) Most definitely." (laughter)

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: But -- but I was more serious in high school. And, uh, yeah, I had friends that -- where (inaudible). Not mean, but, you know, not really serious either.

CHARIS SHAFER: And so, for college you got more serious --


CHARIS SHAFER: -- in high school. And you were looking to college. Do you remember making that decision about where --


CHARIS SHAFER: What to do and where to go?

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Yeah, I'd -- the last year of high school I didn't know what to do. And, um, I just chose the same thing as my friends. It was, like, economy stuff. Like, uh, management. So, I said, yeah, why not, I had, like, good grades in economy, and-- But I didn't like it, so, uh, first -- I spent two years at the university, then I dropped out. Then I did, uh, another thing 24:00-- I was, um, called a vocational diplomat. I took, like, um, a correspondence (inaudible) --

VANESSA SNOWDEN: Like, in -- by a -- like, um, mail -- kind of like a -- well, it would be like the internet today.



CHARIS SHAFER: A correspondence course.



SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Customed to us. So I did that.


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Uh, I got the diploma.

VANESSA SNOWDEN: But didn't you not to anything 'til, like, the night before?

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Yeah, I didn't really study. I was just (laughter).

VANESSA SNOWDEN: Just screwing around?

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Screwing around with the au pairs... (laughter) I'm kidding. (laughter)

VANESSA SNOWDEN: What (inaudible) before my time!

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Yeah. This is before your time. I'd go out every night, like I didn't have to go to school. But I was still -- I still did that, uh, correspondence thing. Uh, I don't know how, but I got the diploma, which I was really proud, because only, like, three or four percent of the kids who, who do the corres-- like, like the correspondence course will get the diploma. So, uh, 25:00I got that, and then I went back to, um, university. I studied, like, this, uh, security thing, because I wanted to work for an NGO, like, (inaudible). In, like, NGO management, so, uh, I did that. I got my diploma at this time. And wanted to -- I was more serious, though, with Spanish this time. And she was in New York.

VANESSA SNOWDEN: So at this time all of these au pairs that you -- your particular friend group would hang out with?

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Yeah, I was -- I --

VANESSA SNOWDEN: These were all in Lyon?

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Yeah, in, uh -- so, Ben -- uh, my -- the friend we talked -- like, who, who would come in the Spanish classes -- him -- he -- when he moved to, uh -- it was back to New Caledonia, and then he came back to Lyon, and, uh, he lived in this, um -- in this, uh, student, uh, residence. And, uh, he met 26:00the first au pair. Uh, so she was, uh, American -- a Canadian girl that liked to go out a lot, so--

VANESSA SNOWDEN: She was crazy.


VANESSA SNOWDEN: She was basically an alcoholic.

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Yes. Yes. Uh, so, uh, I went out a lot this year. So I -- and then, uh, when he -- he left with her in Canada, but I still, um, uh, still kept contact with the family that she was au pair with. So I met the other au pair and, uh, then when I was in university, most of my friends in university were, um, Erasmus students. That's the, uh --

VANESSA SNOWDEN: Study abroad.

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Ex-- exchange program, between, uh, European universities. So, I had a lot of English-speaking friends. And, uh -- when I was in university.


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: And, uh -- when, uh, Vanessa arrived, she was the last au pair.




CHARIS SHAFER: (laughter)


VANESSA SNOWDEN: I wasn't the last, because there was, uh, what's-her-face afterwards. What was her name?



SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: That's the one -- that's the one I didn't like. That was --

VANESSA SNOWDEN: Right. Nobody liked her.

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: That was the fourth one.


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Yeah, because Vanessa stayed two years. She stay-- she stayed for one year as an au pair, and one year as a English teacher assistant. So, we both knew the -- the --

VANESSA SNOWDEN: The next au pair.

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: -- the next au pair.


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Yeah. And, uh -- yeah, so I had a lot of, um, foreign students friends, and that's how I --


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: -- started to -- Vincente, yeah. (laughter)

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: That's how I started to learn, uh, to speak English, for real. Because, in school, as I said, I wasn't really the most, uh --


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: -- serious student. But-- And, uh, yeah. And then, uh, Vanessa, after two years she wanted to, um --

CHARIS SHAFER: Wait, wait, wait. Do you remember when you met Vanessa? Do you remember the day you met Vanessa?

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Yeah, I do. I do. It was, uh -- so it was through Mel. Um, she -- she said, "Yeah, we should go out tonight." It was Vanessa's -- it was 28:00probably your first weekend?


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: And, uh, so, Mel told me, "Yeah, she's really cute, and you'll like her." So I thought, "Oh, sure, why not? We'll go out." (laughter)

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: So, I met her at the same student residence --


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: -- uh, that my, uh, friend lived in, because all the au pairs -- the family would rent them an apartment at this, uh, residence. And, um -- yeah, I remember I had a car and, uh --

VANESSA SNOWDEN: Yeah, they call it "Seb's Service." Because he was the only one who had a car.

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Yeah. (laughter)

VANESSA SNOWDEN: He would just drive everyone everywhere.


VANESSA SNOWDEN: He had this beat up Clio. (laughter) Ah, that was really funny.

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: And, uh, yeah -- I remember --


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: -- she was -- she wasn't -- she didn't speak French at all.

VANESSA SNOWDEN: Yeah, I didn't speak French at all.

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: So I -- I spoke a lit-- a little English, so -- I ask-- I asked her dumb questions, and she was like, "Oh, do you like to go out?" Stuff like that. (laughter)

VANESSA SNOWDEN: (laughter) "Oui."

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: (laughter) Yeah. OK.

CHARIS SHAFER: (laughter)

VANESSA SNOWDEN: And then they'd, like, chatter off on the side. I'd be like, 29:00"Mel, what are they saying?"

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Yeah, 'cause, uh -- yeah, we went out with my, uh, friends. My bar -- the bar is, you know, it's, uh --

VANESSA SNOWDEN: Davide and Olivier?

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: And Jean-Christian.

VANESSA SNOWDEN: And Jean-Christian -- all right, it was --

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: And they all pushed me -- (inaudible). (laughter) Right? And, uh, yeah, I was pretty shy, so-- But they put a lot of pressure on me.

VANESSA SNOWDEN: They did? (inaudible)

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: And I thought she was -- she was so -- we were at the table, there was Mel, me, and, um, maybe Jean-Christian, Olivier, and Davide. And like Vanessa said, she was kind of lost, and --


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: We were speaking French really fast, and with some (inaudible).

VANESSA SNOWDEN: It wouldn't have mattered if you guys were speaking slowly.


VANESSA SNOWDEN: I still wouldn't have understood. (laughter)

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Um, yeah, and then, uh, um -- we went out more and more, because we had, like, mutual friends. Uh, there was -- there were those Mexicans brothers that were -- that lived in the same residence for three or four years. So I was really friend with them, and Mel was friend with them as 30:00well. And Vanessa was a good friend, so, uh--


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Yeah, we'd all go out together, and-- Um, yeah, and so we finally started to-- (inaudible)

CHARIS SHAFER: But do you remember the moment when you knew you guys were going to be dating? (laughter)

VANESSA SNOWDEN: (laughter) I mean, well, we made out, so-- (laughter)


VANESSA SNOWDEN: I guess that was, uh--

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: I think it was the night -- Ben -- we went out --

VANESSA SNOWDEN: We went out when Ben was being a brat. Remember? Ben was all in a bad mood. I don't -- we don't know -- I don't remember why.


VANESSA SNOWDEN: He was in a bad mood, so then we went --

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Well, I stayed overnight at your place.


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: 'Cause I think I was probably too drunk to drive back to -- the (inaudible) was five minutes away. So you said, "Yeah, you can stay for the night." And then --

VANESSA SNOWDEN: One thing led to another. (laughter)

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: One thing led to another.

VANESSA SNOWDEN: I don't know if our grandkids want to hear about this. (laughter)




SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: But I wanted to for a long time, but she wasn't really interested. But I was persistent.


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: (inaudible) Yeah, that was the --

VANESSA SNOWDEN: I remember, um, in the morning, before you left, you asked, uh -- he was like, "Oh, so the next time I see you, uh, are we gonna kiss like this?" And then you did -- he did, like, the bees on each cheek. And he said, "Or are we going to kiss like this?" Then he gave me a kiss on the lips. And then I was like, "Oh my gosh." I was like, "Well, I guess like this." And I kissed him back on the lips, and that was -- that kind of sealed the deal. (laughter)


CHARIS SHAFER: Did you guys ever have a discussion about, "Are we together?"

VANESSA SNOWDEN: No, I think that was pretty much it.


VANESSA SNOWDEN: Because, like, the thing is, we were so -- we were spending so much time together already, that when it kind of crossed over into dating, like, we couldn't be casual about it, you know? Like, we were already really, really close, spending all this time together, and then it was like, all right, well, when we made that move, we weren't going to start seeing each other less. So it 32:00became very serious very quickly.

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Yeah. And she had her own apartment, and I was spending, uh, kind of a lot of time there.


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: So-- So, yeah, it did become very serious--

VANESSA SNOWDEN: And then the second year we moved in together.


VANESSA SNOWDEN: The (inaudible). So we started dating in January. And then the school year ended, and I went back to the States over the summer. Um, and then you came and visited me.

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Then I came, yeah.

VANESSA SNOWDEN: Right. And then I went back for the second, sort of, scholastic year that I was there, and then we moved in together. Um--

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: First (inaudible) -- we, uh, lived at my mom's for --



VANESSA SNOWDEN: Until -- right, until we could move into Cecile's place.

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Because I had a friend that was moving to Marseilles, and she had, like, this nice apartment. Uh, it was kind of --

VANESSA SNOWDEN: It was a government-subsidized apartment.

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Yeah, so she was paying, like, 200 euros a month.

VANESSA SNOWDEN: No, but there were months we would pay, like, 80 euros, for a one-bedroom apartment.


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: And there was, like, a huge --


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: -- waiting list to get those. And she had one, and she was moving with her boyfriend, but she didn't know it was -- it's gon-- it was gonna last, so she didn't want to --

VANESSA SNOWDEN: Give up her --

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: -- give up her apartment.


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: So she, um, she, she sublet it to, to us --


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: -- because we, we were looking for something not too expensive, because --

VANESSA SNOWDEN: I was only working part time.

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Yeah, and I, I was going -- I was part time too.

VANESSA SNOWDEN: You were part time. You were working at (inaudible).

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Yeah. And -- but I was going to school, there, right? I think.

VANESSA SNOWDEN: I don't remember.

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Yeah, it was must last year, and so I was working. Like, I had a student job, and she had a student job as well. So-- So, in the meantime, bef-- and she was moving in the end of October, around my birthday, I think--


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: So, for the first two months, we lived at my mom's place. For -- that was -- that was not like with your mom, because --

VANESSA SNOWDEN: No, not at all.

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: -- by that time, she could speak French, and, uh --


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: And my mom is pretty cool, so--


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: We had no problem.

CHARIS SHAFER: Yeah, so, how long did it take you to be up to a level of, of 34:00conversational French?

VANESSA SNOWDEN: I don't know.


VANESSA SNOWDEN: That's probably a better question for Seb to answer.


VANESSA SNOWDEN: Because I kind of felt uncomfortable for a long time, but I progressed pretty quickly, because I didn't really have a choice. But, I don't really know when I started speaking, like --

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Yeah, it was, uh, really fast. And she was -- she was really good at languages. I was really impressed, and like, in only three months -- three or four months -- she could, like, follow a conversation and, uh-- Yeah, 'cause she had, like, [Janqui] --


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: -- was our best friend. She is a Scottish, and, uh, she was in France for more -- more than you --


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: -- and, uh, so I could evaluate, like, how hard --

VANESSA SNOWDEN: Based on Janqui?



SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Based on Janqui (inaudible).

VANESSA SNOWDEN: Well, it helped, too, that I grew up speaking -- like, with Spanish.


VANESSA SNOWDEN: As -- because it was another romance language, so it, it helped a lot. And really -- it, um -- I studied, like, a textbook. There is a -- my 35:00mom has, um, a friend who's Belgian, who taught with her. Because my mom's -- ended up being a -- she eventually became a Spanish -- a high school Spanish teacher. So another -- uh, the French teacher at the school -- she, she became good friends with. And so, she gave me -- she kind of tutored me over the summer, and so I learned stuff, like, in a textbook. Um, which was, uh, funny, because I, I -- you know, I learned some stuff, but obviously, like, not really how to speak. But, um, once I was immersed in it, and I had to know how to speak it, um, to sort of get along, um, I picked it up pretty -- pretty quickly. Uh, but it was -- it was hard at the beginning! You just tune out. Um, it takes so much energy to just follow a conversation. So sometimes they'd be yapping away, and I'd, like, tune out, and when people laughed, I would laugh. And say like, "Yeah, I just -- I sort of am pretending to follow the conversation." (laughter)

VANESSA SNOWDEN: But it was definitely -- it was definitely really tiring. Doing all the paperwork that I had to do for my visa? Because, forget it -- you go to the (inaudible) -- like, the -- I guess the -- I don't know, like the City 36:00Hall, or -- well, not really, no.


VANESSA SNOWDEN: Not the same thing, but-- To go take care of, like, my visa stuff, and they'd -- they don't care that you don't speak French. Like, I was -- I was there for, like, a couple of weeks, and I would go. I would be like, "I need a [temble]." And they'd be like, "What? We don't understand you." And I'd be like, "Oh, I hate you." (laughter) "Make an effort!" Um, but that was -- that was, uh, definitely hard. But, those guys were always so nice. And Seb spoke English pretty well, so, uh, I would always be able to sort of switch over if I needed to. Which was nice because -- I mean, my d-- I guess my dad spoke Spanish too, so my mom could sort of do that. But I just felt like, in, in French I always felt like I couldn't express myself intellectually as well as I can in English. Like, so I know I'm a smart person, but in French, I felt like my IQ dropped, like, so much. And so when I would speak in French, it would be frustrating me, because I'd want to express an idea, and I wouldn't be able to at the same level that I could in English. But a lot of times with Seb, if I 37:00just -- I could just switch over. And, um, so I didn't, like, necessarily feel that way with him. Yeah, um -- it's telling -- and telling stories -- I -- you know, when I -- I -- when I knew that I could speak French was when I could actually tell a story to someone else. Instead of just having, like, a present-tense conversation, like, "Yes, I like (inaudible). I would like to order the shrimp. And can I have a beer?" Like, the moment when I knew I could speak it was when I could recount something from my -- you know, from when I lived in the States, or from the week before, or something. And actually, um, present it in such a way that it was compelling and interesting, like a good story. Um, that was always the hardest thing. It's still hard.

CHARIS SHAFER: Do you guys want to take a break now? And then we could eat --


CHARIS SHAFER: -- and come back to your life in Brooklyn.

VANESSA SNOWDEN: Sounds good. Sure.

CHARIS SHAFER: All right. So we're continuing the interview. Vanessa and Seb. 38:00And you guys were talking about how you met in Lyon, and then you started living together the second year. You came back, Vanessa. You guys want to take it from there?

VANESSA SNOWDEN: Sure. OK. I can go.

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: You can go? Cool.

VANESSA SNOWDEN: Did you have a good story to tell?

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Uh, yeah, I can tell, uh, about when we decided to, uh, get married.


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: So, um, Vanessa was finishing her second year as an English teacher assistant. Um, that was also, uh, basically the end of her visa, so she --


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: -- had to, uh, go back to the U.S. And so we didn't -- we had -- yeah, at this point it was either, uh, she would stay in France or I would move to the U.S. And, um, we didn't really know how to do -- to do that. 39:00She -- I know she wanted to, uh, come back here, and, uh --

VANESSA SNOWDEN: At the time, I wanted to go back and get my Master's.

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Yeah, she wanted to come back and get her Master's. So, it was -- it was your birthday, right?


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: We went to a Japanese, uh, restaurant, and, uh, we were talking about that -- what, what were we going to do? We don't want to split up obviously, and, uh -- and, um --


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: -- she said, "Why don't we just get married?" And I started laughing. (laughter) (inaudible)

VANESSA SNOWDEN: He's like, "Uh, that was funny." (laughter) I was like, "Not."

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Because we were dating, like, for six months, right?


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: So, uh -- and, um, three more than that, but --


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: 'Cause January and November I (inaudible).

VANESSA SNOWDEN: Right. Right, right.

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Seven -- seven (inaudible). And, uh, um -- then I saw that she wasn't kidding, and I said, "All right, OK. So let's just get married." And, uh --


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Let's do it. Yeah. And later on, we met -- was it --



SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: -- the same night we met my, uh, friends, at a bar. And I told them, "Yeah, we're gonna get married." So Vanessa is like, "Just like that?" Um --

VANESSA SNOWDEN: Telling your mom was a different story.

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Yeah. (laughter)


SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: So, um, at this point, we, we thought that we would get married in France. I'd get my paperwork here, and then we would move to the U.S. That was the full plan.

VANESSA SNOWDEN: Right. Like, we weren't gonna have a whole-day ceremony. It was just going to be like, "We'll just go to City Hall and do it." Because, really, neither of us come to the idea of marriage with, like, a very traditional family structure. His parents got divorced. My parents were, uh, separated on-again, off-again, in, like, pretty much my entire, uh, life growing up. So, neither of us were very big into the traditional notion of marriage. For us, it was, like, "Well, we want to stay together. And this is pretty much the only way to do it." So we weren't really big into, like, holding a ceremony. And, like, a white dress. Like, I never dreamed about any of that crap. And, I mean, Seb, I know, was -- really wanted to get the, the white 41:00wedding dress. (laughter)

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Uh-huh. (laughter)

VANESSA SNOWDEN: I told him it was my day, so--

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Yeah. (laughter)

VANESSA SNOWDEN: Um, so anyway, I, I called my mom, and I was like, "Hey Ma, um, Seb and I are getting married. We're just gonna go to City Hall." And mom's like, "The hell you are." So, Mom is -- you -- you know, like a spicy Hispanic lady, um, who is really -- and just really wanted to, like, do the whole big wedding thing. And this is, again, like, kind of a projection of, like, her relationship with my dad, because they went to City Hall and got married. So they never had the big wedding. So, when her first-born daughter said that she's gonna do the same thing, it was just, like, in that same narrative that my mom, like, felt that I was repeating, of hers. Um, and so she was like, "No, no, no, you have to have the whole -- like, we have to have a real wedding, and you have to have a dress, and, like, we're doing it in Buffalo." I was like, "Oh, OK." I was like, "Well, why don't we just do it in France, and make it easy?" She's like, "No, no, it will -- like, you're the bride. We're doing it 42:00in Buffalo, and, like, there's no way we're going to France." So, I was like, "Oh, OK." So I told Seb, and so it came time that we had to, like, tell his mom. (laughter) Which was a little nerve-wracking --


VANESSA SNOWDEN: -- for me. Because he had lived with his mom -- like, when we started dating, he was still living, like, at home. Because in France -- well, really, in Europe in general -- people will kind of live at home a lot longer. So, first I took her son and, like, had him move in with me. And then I was going to have him get married in the States, and move to the States. Uh, so it was kind of like, oh, I was a little nervous (laughter) about telling your mom.

SEBASTIEN FARGEAT: Yeah. So we invi 43:00 44:00 45:00 46:00 47:00 48:00 49:00 50:00 51:00 52:00 53:00 54:00 55:00 56:00 57:00 58:00 59:00 60:00 61:00 62:00 63:00 64:00 65:00 66:00 67:00 68:00 69:00 70:00 71:00 72:00 73:00 74:00 75:00 76:00 77:00 78:00 79:00 80:00 81:00 82:00 83:00 84:00 85:00 86:00 87:00 88:00 89:00 90:00 91:00 92:00 93:00 94:00 95:00 96:00 97:00 98:00 99:00 100:00 101:00

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0:03 - Introduction and Snowden's early childhood

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5:46 - Snowden family's move to Buffalo, New York

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13:21 - Snowden traveling to France and meeting Fargeat

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17:16 - Fargeat's childhood in Lyon and meeting Snowden

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30:58 - Courtship and cohabitation in France

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37:57 - Marriage and move to the United States

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52:32 - Moving to Williamsburg and Bushwick, Brooklyn

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56:02 - Social life in New York City

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67:56 - Snowden teaching in New York City public schools

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83:34 - Snowden's disciplinary strategies in the classroom

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94:33 - Current apartment and conclusion

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Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Sebastien Fargeat and Vanessa Snowden

Vanessa and Seb are both in their late twenties and early thirties. Vanessa's mother hails from Venezuela and her father grew up in the US. Seb is from Lyon, France originally. They met when Vanessa was an au pair in France. She is currently a teacher in the New York City Schools; he leads sightseeing expeditions for French tourists. Her experiences in education, especially the differences between the schools she taught in when working with Teaching Fellows and the institution where she currently teaches, figures prominently in the interview. Also, cross-cultural differences, struggles with immigration issues, and family acceptance of the relationship also are discussed.

In this interview, the Narrators discuss their growing up in Buffalo, NY and Lyon, France. Issues of assimilation for Vanessa figure prominently as her mother's heritage made her a bit different from the kids growing up in her suburban Buffalo hometown. Her parents had a dynamic relationship moving back and forth from Florida several times.

Seb also discusses his growing up in France and his prankster tendencies. Vanessa and Seb describe their meeting and falling for each other and their struggles upon moving back to the US. They relate stories about how their wedding - which they wanted to be a small affair - escalated into several ceremonies.

Vanessa then discusses her experiences working in New York City schools and the many cross-cultural experiences she has had there.


Fargeat, Sebastien | Snowden, Vanessa, Oral history interview conducted by Charis Shafer, April 11, 2012, Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations oral history collection, 2011.019.026; Brooklyn Historical Society.


  • Fargeat, Sebastien
  • Snowden, Vanessa


  • French
  • Racially mixed families
  • Racism in education
  • Teachers
  • Venezuelans


  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Lyon (France)
  • United States
  • Venezuela
  • Williamsburg (New York, N.Y.)


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Finding Aid

Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations oral history collection