French community pays tribute

“Je suis Charlie:" French massacre victims remembered in Houston at poignant ceremony

French massacre victims remembered in Houston at poignant ceremony

Rally in support of France at Sam Houston Park
Several hundred members of the local French community gathered at Sam Houston Park to pay tribute to their fallen countrymen in France. Photo by Veronique Lhemann
Rally in support of France at Sam Houston Park
Those who attended said they felt it was important to pay tribute to the values of democracy, freedom and liberty, but most of all, to those who died, who stood for those values. Photo by Veronique Lhemann
Rally in support of France at Sam Houston Park
Marie and Alain LeNotre were among those with who displayed signs with the "Je Suis Charlie" cri de coeur. Photo by Veronique Lhemann
Rally in support of France at Sam Houston Park
Kimberly Wagner held up a large sign reading “Je n’ai pas peur” (“I am not afraid.”) Photo by Veronique Lhemann
Sujiro Seam, Consul General of France, speaks to crowd at rally at Sam Houston Park
Sujiro Seam, consul general of France in Houston, (right in photo) spoke in both French and English of the tragic events in France last week. Photo by Veronique Lhemann
Rally in support of France at Sam Houston Park
Several hundred members of the local French community gathered at Sam Houston Park to pay tribute to their fallen countrymen in France. Photo by Veronique Lhemann
Rally in support of France at Sam Houston Park
Many in the crowd held signs that read, "Je Suis Charlie." Photo by Veronique Lhemann
Rally in support of France at Sam Houston Park
Rally in support of France at Sam Houston Park
Rally in support of France at Sam Houston Park
Rally in support of France at Sam Houston Park
Sujiro Seam, Consul General of France, speaks to crowd at rally at Sam Houston Park
Rally in support of France at Sam Houston Park
Rally in support of France at Sam Houston Park

A powerful sense of liberté, égalité  and fraternité prevailed Sunday night at Sam Houston Park downtown as several hundred members of the local French community paid tribute to their fallen countrymen in France, the victims of a series of terrorist attacks starting with the assault on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris.

Standing in a picturesque gazebo, Sujiro Seam, consul general of France in Houston, spoke in both French and English of the tragic events in France last week. Seam expressed his feelings of sadness over the loss of life of French citizens, saying he felt there was a need to come together to share a moment of silence for the victims and show support for their families. Seam said he was also angry over the attack on his fellow citizens and their values, commenting that it was the values of France that were attacked.

 Following the moment of silence, the crowd burst into applause, then began to sing “La Marseillaise,” the national anthem of France. 

But he said he was also hopeful because of what was emerging from the tragedy and felt proud that the security forces in France had done their job. Seam focused on the theme of tolerance and the importance of avoiding generalization based on the attackers’ characteristics.

“Finally, I feel gratitude” to all the “friends of friends” who supported the French and stood with them to show their solidarity Sunday, Seam said, noting that not only France, but America has had its share of tragedies.

Following the moment of silence, the crowd burst into applause, then began to sing “La Marseillaise,” the national anthem of France.

Jean-Francois Bonnete, chairman of the French-American Chamber of Commerce in Houston, told CultureMap that he and his wife Nathalie attended the event because they felt it was important for the French community to pay tribute to the values of democracy, freedom and liberty, but most of all, to those who died, who stood for those values. Bonnete voiced the hope of sending a message of unity, recognizing that the values of the people of France reflected the beliefs of its citizens regardless of race, color, religion or cultural differences.   

Many in the crowd held signs reading “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie), as at the mass march in Paris. Kimberly Wagner held up a large sign reading “Je n’ai pas peur” (“I am not afraid.”) Her husband Rodolphe said he and his wife came to the event because they wanted to show solidarity, and the fact that they were not afraid in spite of the terrorist attacks in France. He said they wanted to voice the importance of freedom of speech, observing that the United States was founded on the principle of freedom.

Alain LeNotre, owner of Culinary Institute LeNotre, noted that he was born in Normandy, not far from the beaches where thousands of Americans had died as they fought to free Europe in World War II. He and his wife Marie said they wanted to show fraternity and their support for their fallen countrymen as well as respect for freedom of religion, for freedom of the press, and for all freedoms. Marie LeNotre underscored the necessity of standing up for freedom: “This is primordial,” she said emphatically.

Jamil Zaari, who previously resided in Eyguieres in the south of France, said he and his wife Marian had been watching the huge march in Paris all day Sunday on television, and regarded that day as “fantastic.” Zaari said after the terrorist attacks in France, he had spoken over the phone to some French people who initially felt afraid to go out on the streets because of the horrors. On Sunday, Zaari was thrilled at the televised sight of over a million people taking to the streets of Paris in order to affirm the values of France, he said.

How did they get past their fear? he was asked. “They listened to their hearts,” Zaari responded, smiling.

Charlotte Esnou expressed her happiness that the people of France had responded to the violence of the attacks with the peaceful demonstration in Paris on Sunday, adding that freedom of speech “is not negotiable in any way.” Her friend, Lauriane Blendel, said she appeared at the event to say “we stand together for peace and freedom of speech and thinking,” while Lucile Alexandre commented that she felt it was beautiful to see that France had become a symbol of free speech.

Parisian-born Odile Legeay said she came to the event to show support and solidarity with the people in France. “I hope something good comes out of this,” she commented – then happily observed that something good already had, referring to the mass march in Paris earlier Sunday, followed by the Houston event she was attending that evening.