Raymond Bernard Zoomed into French teacher Caroline Dolan’s French Seminar class to speak about his experience growing up during the Algerian Revolution, a war which ultimately led to the nation’s independence from France. Bernard is a “Pied-Noir,” a term which refers to a person of European origin who was born in Algeria during the period of French colonization.
During yesterday’s C-period discussion, the students took turns asking Bernard about his childhood, his political beliefs, and his life in France today. The event took place entirely in French.
In an attempt to create a more welcoming space, Bernard asked that students refer to him by his first name and address him using tutoiement, the informal French tense, Dolan wrote in an email. “He says it makes things more comfortable from the jump and he doesn’t care for the hierarchy imposed by vouvoiement.”
Bernard’s visit was timely — the class has been studying Algerian history for some time, Rachel Zhu (12) said. To prepare for his visit, students watched “La Bataille D’Alger,” or “The Battle of the Algiers,” a movie based on the Algerian rebels fighting against France in Algeria’s war for independence.
The movie provided context for the event, but Bernard’s experiences centered around a different part of the narrative of this history, Zhu said. A lot of the movie focused on the perspective of the Algerian soldiers fighting for liberation, so the class was able to understand this perspective before the meeting. “What we didn’t get to see as much was the perspective of the Pied-Noirs who were often depicted in the movie as those with power,” Zhu said.
In addition to watching the movie, the class also read a book titled “Kiffe Kiffe Demain,” which is about a family of Algerian immigrants living in France. “[The book] doesn’t really focus specifically on the Algerian War, but you can feel the racial tension that happens between survivors of the Algerian War — especially French soldiers who were fighting in Algeria — and people of color in France,” Zhu said. “That war has left a stain of racism in the country and tension that still exists, even after everything has ended.”
Although the movie and book were important in understanding the facts of the Algerian war, Pascale Zissu (12) was excited to hear a firsthand experience of the history. “We can learn about the emotions behind this [history], because I think sometimes that gets lost.”
The visit added a more complex layer to the understanding that students already had of this historical event, Dolan wrote. “This speaker visit hopefully allows students to add yet another dimension to a complex historical moment and the invaluable experience of exchanging with someone who lived through the event.”
Zissu asked Bernard about his strongest memories from the war. Bernard cannot remember the military aspects of the war itself, but he remembers the police officers and protests that took place in the town where he was growing up, he said.
Although the event was held entirely in French, its purpose was not necessarily to aid students with the learning of the language, Zhu said. “We have been learning the language for so long — most of us have gone through the AP in French Sem — so this will be a really good chance to learn more about the culture.”
After the success of Thursday’s event, Bernard agreed to join the class for another discussion on Friday, Dolan wrote.