I was born in New York City but I’ve always felt like an immigrant in the United States.
My mom is French and my dad is Puerto Rican.
My ancestors are from Ireland and Lebanon.
When I was 3 years old my family and I moved to Paris, France.
There I learned French, made lots of friends, and was enjoying life. And then, when I was 7, I got the news we were moving back to the states.
Specifically, Connecticut. For my dad’s job.
I was bummed.
But off we went.
I still remember my first day of school. It was 2nd grade. My teacher, who wasn’t aware I didn’t speak English, motioned me to introduce myself in front of the class. Terror sparked inside of me. As the kids sat on the floor looking up at me with a mix of confusion and curiosity, I stood and mustered the courage to stutter my name (in French), “Matthieu.” They laughed. I sat down, dejected. I became more motivated than ever to become American.
So I toughened up. I learned the language in ESL class, stood to the pledge of allegiance every morning and worked hard to ingratiate myself.
But no matter how hard I tried, it never felt like home. Being French in the U.S, especially when France didn’t join the U.S in the Iraq War, became a reason for ridicule. I was ashamed of not being fully American. I was bombarded with jokes of ‘Freedom Fries.’ Freaking freedom fries. I constantly felt on edge and different.
I’d go to France every summer to visit family and there I felt safe. I felt understood. Accepted. Being an American in France is way better than being French in America. The French treated me like I was freaking Michael Jordan.
But every time I’d come back to the states I’d get that overwhelming feeling of hypervigilance. Despite having some great friends, there was this underlying unease that sat in my mind constantly, “You don’t belong here.” I felt less-than. I felt alone in my difference.
I often look back at the motives of why we started Yes Theory. For me, more than chasing adventure and achieving dreams, it was about building community. I wanted to create a safe place for any human who’s ever felt like me. A haven where you’d be greeted and accepted no matter your ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or past. In a world that felt - and still feels - increasingly hostile, I became obsessed with the idea of home.
Home was a feeling not a place. Home felt like warmth. Like uncontrollable laughter. It felt like the freedom to express your wildest ideas. Home felt like the opposite of loneliness. I found home with Ammar, Thomas, Derin, my brother and the whole Yes Theory team. I found home in the strangers we met and the subscribers we took on trips.
And after a few years, this concept of home was beginning to take on a life of its own.
Soon enough, you began to take home into your own hands. You brought it to life through your own self organized Yes Fam groups, meetups and FiYestas.
It blew me away.
These past six months have been really helpful for me. I’ve stepped away from the camera to reflect on who I am, where I come from and where I want to go. I’ve spent far more time talking with members of our community and learning about what’s happening there.
And as I look back at these last five years since Yes Theory began, and the community it’s grown into, it makes me cry.
Had Yes Theory existed when I was younger, there’s no doubt I would’ve gravitated to the Yes Fam.
I say this not out of pride although I am biased...The Yes Fam is changing the world.
We now live in an age where it’s increasingly difficult for people to pinpoint ‘home’. Where too many are made to feel alone and different. So, they look to communities like this one...communities where you are accepted unquestionably with open arms.
I am French, Puerto Rican, Lebanese, Irish and yes, I’m American. But more than all of these I am a Yes Fam member.
So, ultimately, this is a thank you.
Thank you for taking the Yes Theory values of love, openness, discomfort and positivity and running with them.
Thank you for building this community to heights we could have never imagined.
Thank you for making each other feel safe, heard, and understood.
And most of all, thank you for changing the world.
Let’s keep going.
PS - Remember when I asked you to submit that form to potentially be connected with a stranger? Well, a few weeks ago I connected 20 strangers with each other. It was great but it bugged me because there are too many amazing people in this community.
SO that’s why I joined up with brilliant members of the Yes Fam Discord to launch The Buddy Project. Through the Buddy Project you’ll be immediately matched with one stranger in the Yes Fam and each of you will be given a set of questions to ask each other to start the conversation. It's seriously amazing. So click this link and join the party! What's the worst that could happen? You talk to somebody for two minutes? But more importantly, what's the best that could happen?? You may just make a friend for life :)