Areas of Isla Vista were filled with candlelight on Sat., Nov. 14 as students of the University of California, Santa Barbara walked down Del Playa Drive to show their solidarity and support for France. The event was organized by international French students in response to the recent terrorist attacks in France.
On Fri., Nov. 13, France declared a national state of emergency after at least 129 people were killed at the hands of the extremist terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The attackers shot at and bombed six different sites in Paris including the Bataclan Concert Hall, the sports stadium Stade de France, two cafes, one restaurant and one bar. Well over 300 people were wounded in the process.
As the attacks unfolded, international students from France attending UCSB couldn’t help but feel powerless.
“We watched the news together and we felt so unpowerful and we needed to express ourselves. We decided to organize some sort of memorial,” French international student, political science major and event organizer Candice Farel said. “We didn’t realize that so many people were interested in it. We said, ‘Why not go for a walk altogether on [Del Playa]?’ This is just because we wanted to do something.”
Starting at 7 PM, students slowly started trickling into the patio of 6599 Del Playa Drive. Many students who arrived were greeted with hugs and exchanged words of condolences.
Each person who attended the vigil got the chance to write a message on a large handpainted French flag. The flag and its messages are going to be sent to Paris as a symbol of solidarity.
For many students who attended, the vigil provided a sense of relief, comfort, strength and solidarity.
“We want to wash the pain away and we don’t know how to do it because the pain is still here,” Farel said. “It’s kind of a relief. And if you’re not French, you’re still touched by this. It happened in so many places. We just want to show that this is just not about France, for now. It’s for the whole world. Showing solidarity for the whole world for peace and for love.”
“We miss them [friends and family], but with what happened, we miss them much more,” French international student and gender studies major Mayalen Etcheverry said. “We were so worried about them. It’s more difficult to be away.”
“We miss being in our country,” French international student and political science major Alice Perrault said. “We never felt so proud of being French since we arrived here. When you’re far away from home, you just feel being what French means, in a way. We just, need to feel as if we’re home.”
By 7:30 PM, the group of 50 students filled the street and began walking down Del Playa Drive away from campus. Each student held a candle as they marched forth. At the front of the group were students holding the French flag. Others wrapped the flag around themselves as they walked.
As the students walked along Del Playa Drive, many stopped and stared from their houses. One house turned down their music and stood up to show respect as the students passed.
“It’s beautiful because when we see this kind of thing [terrorist attacks] happening, we kind of don’t believe in anything anymore,” Perrault said. “But when we see that people actually care … when American people actually care about this, it gives you a little bit of hope. There’s still love, there’s still support, there’s still hope, there’s still a feeling of community.”
The world showed its support and solidarity for France; many monuments from different nations were lit up in in the colors of the French flag: blue, white and red. Illuminated monuments included the Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; the CT Tower in Toronto, Canada; the Kuala Lumpur Tower in Malaysia; the Oriental Pearl tower in Shanghai, China; the Angel de la Independencia monument in Mexico City; and the Sydney Opera House in Australia.
“It’s a shame that things like this happen around the world, but we’re with them,” second year economics and accounting major Andy Hwang said. “We’re all in this together.”
“We’re together in this and we’re proud to be French,” French international student and communication major Lou Addler said.
At 7:50 PM, the group of students reached the end of Del Playa Drive and walked onto the bluffs next to the end of the 6800 block. There, everybody stood in a circle in silence. Two students lit a lantern and let it go over the ocean.
“Take a look at the lantern: it’s our thoughts, it’s our support, it’s our solidarity that goes to the sky across the ocean,” said a student speaker in his native French while a translator repeated the words in English for others to understand. “Right now, I’d like to thank everybody. All the Americans, all the international students for coming down. I don’t know if you feel the same as me, but as a French person in Santa Barbara right now, I find it very difficult to be here in Santa Barbara while this is happening so far away from friends.”
After a moment of silence, the speaker continued.
“I’d just like to finish right now with a message to those who did this: We’re still standing,” he said. “We’re not afraid. We’re together today with the students of the world, the students of Santa Barbara. Everybody take hands to prove to them they have not won. They’re not men, they’re animals. One must deserve the status of being a human. It’s by these actions here today that we prove that we are united and not afraid.”
Another wave of silence came across the circle as students held hands. Finally, the circle broke as students began to hug and comfort one another. Slowly the crowd made its way back to 6599 Del Playa Drive. There, the crowd dispersed while exchanging final words and hugs.
“We want to thank everyone who showed their support,” Farel said. “Every little things that we see on social media, it’s important for me to see everyone standing up for it. Even with the UCSB community. It’s so important to us. Thank you so much.”
As a few French students put it, “Liberté, égalité, fraternité. Viva la France.”