French-American students, faculty reflect on Paris attacks


Jacob Maguire

From left: French-American students Diana Raterron, Marcel Desvaux, and Coralie Wilcox


As North Kingstown – and much of the world – watched the terrorist attacks in Paris unfold in real time on Nov. 13, several members of the NKHS community, including three students and a teacher, feared for the lives of their relatives in France.

One of junior Diana Raterron’s friends, a Parisian teen named Jade Leleu, suffered injuries in the massacre at the Bataclan theatre, and one of senior Coralie Wilcox’s second cousins got trapped in a bar beside one of the restaurants that was attacked. Also, Wilcox’s older sister, Gabriella, was landing in a plane in Paris at the time of the attacks. Similarly, senior Marcel Desvaux and Ms. Cecile Jones, a foreign language teacher at NKHS, agonized over the safety of their Parisian friends and relatives during the attacks.

Unlike Raterron, Wilcox, Desvaux, and Jones did not know any victims in the terrorist attacks personally. Raterron’s friend Leleu has since recovered.

The attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 killed a total of 130 people, including 89 at the Bataclan theatre. Hundreds of others, including Leleu, got injured. Collectively, the attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 claimed more lives than any other assault on French soil since World War II, and were deadlier than any other attacks in western Europe since the 2004 train bombings in Madrid.

Desvaux, Jones, Raterron, and Wilcox, all of whom are fluent in French, are among some 11.8 million Americans with French or French-Canadian ancestry. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Americans of French and French-Canadian descent comprise about 3.8 percent of the total U.S. population.

Both Jones and Raterron were born in France, whereas Desvaux and Wilcox were born and raised in the U.S. Even so, Desvaux and Wilcox have numerous relatives and friends in the country.

The attacks especially shocked Raterron, who immigrated to the U.S. from France this past January. “When I heard about the attacks, I was devastated,” she said. “I didn’t know if my family and friends were OK on that terrible Friday night.”

Raterron, who now resides in Jamestown, grew up in Lille, a city on the Deûle River near France’s northern border with Belgium. Raterron’s paternal relatives, including her paternal grandparents and cousins, live in France, while her maternal family members reside in the U.S.

Similarly to Raterron, Jones, who teaches Spanish and French at NKHS, hails from France. Jones grew up in Roscoff, a community in the nation’s northwestern region of Brittany. She first came to the U.S. in her late teens, and she returns to France frequently to visit her family.

One of Jones’ nieces resides in Paris, and Jones called her frantically during the attacks. Although her niece was safe, Jones fears that ISIS will strike again in Paris or elsewhere in Europe or the U.S.

“[This attack] was scary because it’s probably not the end of [violence from ISIS],” Jones said. “There’s no profiling among [members of ISIS]… They could attack anyone.”

Despite the omnipresent threat of future terrorist attacks, Jones, Desvaux, Wilcox, and Raterron all agree that Syrian refugees should be admitted to the U.S. as long as they undergo a screening process to ensure that they are not affiliated with extremist groups like ISIS.

The four French-Americans also agree that, because their relatives reside in France, the attacks will not deter them from returning to the country in the future. They refuse to let terrorism disrupt their lives.

“I would go back to Paris to visit my family in a heartbeat,” Desvaux said. “As my grandfather has said, ‘we can’t let these attacks reshape our lives because that’s what terrorists want.’”

Desvaux’s paternal grandparents reside in Paris, and his father lived in the city as a child. However, Desvaux’s grandparents were on a cruise at the time of the attacks, and his father now lives in Saint Martin, a French island in the Caribbean.

Like Desvaux, Wilcox has no reservations about traveling back to France. All of Wilcox’s maternal relatives reside in the country, including her grandmother.

“Whenever something like [the attacks] happens in a place, I think that everyone is always somewhat fearful [of traveling there] afterwards,” she said. “However, these events could happen anywhere, so I will not let them stop me.”

Although Jones feels that the events in Paris were “cruel and horrible,” she sees a silver lining in the attacks. “The only good thing [about the attacks] was that they caused lots of solidarity across the globe,” Jones said. “They really brought people together.”

Raterron feels grateful for the support that she received from the NKHS community in the aftermath of the attacks. “Lots of teachers and students came up to me and were very supportive,” she said. “I am thankful that I go to school here.”