The Curious World of Micronations...
When I set out in this curious world of micronations, I honestly thought it was going to be a hobby. Sort of like model trains, working out, or shopping. But over the weeks and months, I came to actually love what I do. Breathe new life into it every day. And find a new way to actually make a difference with this project. Since then, I’ve come to see my little micronation of Legialle as a force for change – supporting projects and programs that foster positive relationships in communities. As the micronation evolves, so too does the one who leads it. But what would my subjects call me?
In the nineteenth century, Britain was the leader of the world. Nearly a quarter of the Earth’s land mass was claimed under British territory. With red painted across every continent, it was the second empire to proclaim ‘on which the Sun never set.’ Imperialism at this time was symbolized by their queen. Imagined as the elderly stateswoman – the grandmama of the world or, as one man put it, the ‘Great White Goddess’ – her reign was synonymous with socioeconomic progress. Not to mention the emerging fashion houses and the world’s first couturier, Frederick Charles Worth. The age of virtues and values, the nineteenth century is embodied in the person of Alexandrina Victoria who, at the age of 18, desired to use Victoria as her regnal name. Regnal names are chosen by monarchs at the start of their reigns. Some choose to use their first - of many - given names, or adopt an entirely different one. Elizabeth II used her given name (Elizabeth Alexandra Mary) in 1952. Meanwhile, in 1800s Sweden, the Bonapartist general Jean Bernadotte adopted the name Charles XIV & III John. Despite his French origins, the king decided to adopt Swedish names as to show the Monarchy's continuity. The concept goes back to a time where names were not symbolic, but even magical - the adoption of a predecessor's name equated to invoking their essence and divine right to rule. Names are quite powerful things.
Names should never be taken for granted. Names are bestowed or chosen in honor of those who helped guide us. Those who are a connection to our ancestry. Those who made us laugh. Or those who emboldened us to never give up on our dreams. But when our names don’t fit who we are, like a glove, we have the choice to change it.
It has been surprising to believe it has been only a year since I embarked on my new journey. Things have certainly changed. My skin has a little glow. My breasts have grown a little. And I find myself crying at the most inconvenient times. Out of all that, I have reconnected and re-established new relationships with old family members. Aunts and uncles, cousins I have not seen in over a decade. Even my grandfather - whom I always thought of as a conservateur of the Haitian vanguard - embraced my transitioning! It's been an amazing breakthrough this past year. And I don’t take offense to when they use my birthname. After all, home is where the heart is. The name is the purest symbol of my mother’s Haitian roots. It was as much a celebration of her ancestry as it was in honor of the beloved Haitian-American designer. He represented the Haitian American Dream. Coming from one of the poorest countries in the world, he rose above all odds to become the darling of the jet-set’s most glamorous women. Already at birth, my name allowed me to stand out among the rest. And within reason! From kindergarten to present, every step I took was always against the norm.
Three decades later, I never thought I would have a new name – among other things. In the early summer of 2017, I legally changed my name to Ortensia Èstelle de Loren. It reflected the start of a new era in my life. The beginning of the next journey in my transitioning. Truth be told, it was the only name I knew over the past three years. Even before the first hormone injection, I was accustomed in the LGBT community to being addressed as Ortensia ‘Tenzy’ de Loren. Not to say that I had forgotten my birth name, but it was one I had effectively abandoned. The name was with me as I ventured into the world. It traveled with me and earned a reputation – good and bad. It gave me my hopes and dreams. And the name has been with me at every step, through tried and true times. But after a year of living in my truth, and half of that year of giving a name to the said truth, the time has come to redefine my journey and, with it, give it a new name. Two things are certain. First, I want my name to remain unique as I am. And, secondly, I want my name to have a deeper connection with my family’s roots.
Spending several months on- and offline, I chose three names that have significant meaning to me as a queen, but also as a daughter, cousin, sister, and person. Each one with a unique story. Each story that resonates with me. A Princess. An Empress. And a Lady.
Marie-Louise Pierrot was married to my great-great-great grandfather, Nord Pierre Alexis. Gregarious, intelligent, stubborn and a bit of a snob, Marie-Louise served briefly as First Lady of Haiti in the early years of the twentieth century. Her husband’s tenure initiated the U.S. Occupation of the island-nation which, directly, lasted until the 1950s – though its indirect rule continued on well into the latter parts of the twentieth century.
While her husband was forced to play puppet to the new occupiers, Marie-Louise was played hostess to the Americans. When the white officers and commanders attempted to shame the country, she was quick to remind them that some of Haiti’s Founding Fathers helped the Americans fight their own war against tyranny. When they snickered at Haiti’s poverty, it was Madame Alexis who reminded the officers of the poverty – and overt racism – in their American South. And when they doubted the architectural inferiority of the country, she replied that Haitians worked with what they had. She also showed them the Citadelle Laferrière, built by command of King Henri I, which was and remains a symbol of Haiti’s independence.
Marie-Louise was a proud countrywoman. And for good reason. She was the daughter of Cécile Fatiman. A former slave, Fatiman was a key member in initiating Haiti’s Revolution. Legend places Fatiman as the figure who performed the Vodou rites which inspired Toussaint, Henri, Jean-Jacques and others to lead the world’s first successful slave rebellion. Among the men and women who took up arms was Cécile's future husband, Jean-Louis Pierrot. The two were later part of the regime of Henri Christophe. Crowned Henri I in 1811, he was married to Cécile’s sister Marie-Louise. Her relationship with her sister, as well as Jean-Louis’s role in the Revolution, earned them the the rank of Prince and Princess at Court. Decades after the fall of the Haitian Monarchy, Prince Jean-Louis himself took up the reins of power as President of Haiti. The blood of Haitian leaders, and the history of her country, gave Princesse Marie-Louise an extraordinary sense of duty to represent the best and brightest of her country. She died on 10 November 1908, less than a month before her husband – an illegitimate grandson of the late King – was ousted from office.
Born Elisabeth Anne Justine, she came into the world the same year as the downfall of its first Kingdom in 1820. In 1847, the 27-year-old married the 65-year-old Faustin-Èlie Soulouque. The brown sugar daddy was President of Haiti at the time of their marriage. Two years later, he proclaimed himself Emperor of Haiti. Adopting the name Adélina, the Empress Consort maintained an imperial household akin to the likes of her European counterparts. The coronation seemed to have humbled the young empress, who took on her responsibilities with great seriousness. Like her royal predecessor Marie-Louise – who, at this time, was living the last years of her life in a European exile – Empress Adélina was granted her own court of ladies-in-waiting and performed duties such as receiving in-state and giving audiences on Tuesdays. Unlike Queen Marie-Louise, Empress Adélina was very much a politically-minded woman and was one of her husband's trusted advisers.
Regal to the very end, Adélina was immortalized in images throughout the following decades. Whereas some papers exaggerated her lips and noses, her late husband’s commission of imperial Haitian life are glamorous. It presents a royal consort worthy of her noble name, a woman of dignity and beauty. The same is shown in the image of Adélina’s daughter Geneviève Olive, who bore a similar personality and appearance to the Empress and was one of the most well-educated women of color at the time. It is these images and stories that have not only stirred my imagination but caused me to be even more proud of my background. I can also thank my grandmother for that!
What better way to celebrate the life of my grandmother? She was caring, daring, charming, witty, and could hold a grudge like no other. Though not a princess or an empress, she had the name and bearing of a queen. She certainly lived like one in the early 60s, when her husband Austin worked for the United Nations in the newly-independent Democratic Republic of Congo. The coup in ’64 forced them to flee to Belgium; desiring not to return to Haiti, now under the brutal dictatorial Duvalier regime, my grandparents settled in the United States with my mother. They would go on to have three more children before their separation and, later, divorce. My grandmother did not live the glamorous life here in the States, but that never stopped her from living her life. And whether she worked as a housemaid or a bus driver, her regal dignity never dulled out.
As the first of many grandchildren, my relationship with her was a very special one. As a child, I was with her almost daily; as a teenager, I would see her on the weekends; as an adult, we talked over the phone weekly. One of the last times I spoke with her was on my 27th birthday. I had missed her first call, so she sang ‘Happy Birthday’ on the voicemail. I called her right back and spent almost an hour on the phone with her. Her voicemail was one of the only keepsakes I had before her untimely passing a week later. While she did not live to see the woman I have become, knowing she loved me unconditionally even then – the same way my grandfather has come to accept and love me – is a sign that she would have endeared me even close to her heart today. There's no better way to celebrate the life and love of this woman than to adopt her name as my own.
Almost a year ago, I closed one chapter and started anew. There have been great moments of happiness in the past year, but also one of great sadness. Betrayals. Lies. Defeats. But no matter what, I have always gotten back up. Always dusted myself off. And never given up on my goals and dreams.
Marie-Adélina Louise Elisabeth de la Ferrière. I adopt the names of women who boldly held their heads of up when so many expected them to hang low. Women who presented themselves to the world with class, dignity, charm and wit. And I take on the surname after one of the greatest architectural achievements made by black hands. My name is more than honoring the Haitian blood which runs through my veins - it symbols the indomitable spirit of Haiti and her people.
May this new chapter and journey I embark on - The Adélinian Age - be one of strength, wisdom, and valor.