"Like the delayed rays of a star": Photographs of Eurasian women “repatriated” to France (1947-2020)
During the French colonial period in Indochina, tens of thousands of mixed-race children were born out of sexual relations between foreign men (settlers, officials, soldiers, etc.) and native Vietnamese women. Over the course of decolonization, between the 1940s and the 1960s, some 5000 Eurasian children, including 2000 girls, were separated from their mothers and sent to France. The goal of this forced migration was to assimilate these children into metropolitan French society. The following exhibit focuses on the key role photographs played in the event of separation—which was a rupture of the mother/daughter relationship—and in how Eurasian women constructed themselves as subjects. Here, these photographs, which were taken in Indochina and in France, are combined with the oral testimonies of women who today (in 2020) are between 60 and 85 years old, and who only now are speaking about their experiences as children. From these photos and from these stories, we can get a sense of these women’s narrative identity as children, young girls, and adults, and we can begin to understand something about the little girls or adolescents they were when they were sent to France (fig. 1), and the women they have become (fig. 2).
Sincerest thanks to all those who agreed to share the stories of their lives.
We are deeply grateful for the trust placed in us by those who have shared these personal and intimate photographs, and we would also like to extend our gratitude to the organization Amicale des Eurasiennes and to the FOEFI Association.
- Yves Denéchère, “Expériences intimes et subjectivité juvénile des Eurasiennes envoyées en France à la fin de la guerre d’Indochine,” Outre-Mers. Revue d’Histoire, 2020, n°406-407, pp. 227-247.
- Yves Denéchère, “Le projet postcolonial de la Fédération des Œuvres de l’Enfance Française d’Indochine (FOEFI 1949-1983),” in Y. Denéchère, ed., Enjeux postcoloniaux de l’enfance et de la jeunesse. Espace francophone (1945-1980) (Berne: Peter Lang), pp. 121-130.
- Yves Denéchère, “Les ‘rapatriements’ d’enfants eurasiens en France à la fin de la guerre d’Indochine. Pratiques, débats, mémoires,” Revue d’Histoire de l’Enfance Irrégulière, 14, 2012, pp. 123-139.
- Christina Elizabeth Firpo, The Uprooted: Race, Children, and Imperialism in French Indochina, 1890-1980 (University of Hawai'i Press, 2016).
- Han Victor Lu, “Migration, métissage et transmission,” Le Coq-héron, 3/230, 2017, p-. 58-79.
- David M. Pomfret, Youth and Empire. Trans-colonial Childhoods in British and French Asia (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2016).
- Paola Revue, Marion Feldman and Marie-Rose Moro, “Travail sur des descendants de rapatriés d’Indochine: transmission et vécu identitaire,” L'Autre, 3/vol. 15, 2014, pp. 356-364.
- Dominique Rolland, De sang mêlé. Chronique du métissage en Indochine (Elytis: 2006).
- Dominique Rolland, “Métis d’Indochine, l’inconfort d'un entre-deux,” L'Autre, 2/vol 8, 2007, pp. 199-212.
- Liesbeth Rosen Jacobson, "The Eurasian Question": The colonial position and postcolonial options of colonial mixed-ancestry groups from British India, Dutch East Indies and French Indochina compared (Uitgeverij Verloren: 2018).
- Emmanuelle Saada, Les enfants de la colonie. Les métis de l’Empire français entre sujétion et citoyenneté (Paris: La Découverte, 2007).
- Philippe Rostan, Inconnu présumé français, France, 90 min., 2009
- Frédérique Pollet-Rouyer, Né sous Z., France-Belgium, 75 min., 2010.
- Arlette Pacquit, Héritiers du Vietnam, France, 84 min, 2015.
- “Le déracinement silencieux,” photography exhibit by Sophie Hochart (2017), with 39 portraits and testimonies (34 men and 5 women), which was the basis for a book published by AB Numeric in 2018.
- “Fédération de l'œuvre de l'Enfance Française d'Indochine,” special issue and exhibit by the Archives Nationales d’Outre-Mer: http://www.archivesnationales.culture.gouv.fr/anom/fr/Action-culturelle/Dossiers-du-mois/1904-FOEFI/Contexte.html
Eurasian: refers to mixed-race children of European and Asian descent. Here, the children of Indochinese mothers and foreign fathers.
Repatriation: the organized return of people to their homeland. A term improperly used for Eurasian children who were born in Indochina and sent to France without their mothers—a more accurate term would be forced displacement.
Biopolitics: the exercise of power over the lives of individuals and populations. This power over life (biopower) was exerted in particular on mixed-race children during certain decolonization processes.
Subjective construction: the process by which a person constructs him- or herself as a subject with social characteristics.
Social assimilation: the process by which a group of immigrants blends into the structure of the host society.