Miranda Jiang Humanities and Social Science
Mixed-Race People in the French Empire: Memoir and Colonial Administration
In 1918, French officials reported a population of French-Indochinese mixed-race children living in the Saint-Médard region of France. These métis were the children of Indochinese workers and French women. Alarmed at the presence of interracial couples but resigned to their inevitability, the government allowed them to marry, expressing hope that the French women would exert their “assimilatory” power on their foreign husbands and children. These were a few among many métis in the French empire: throughout the 20th century, thousands of mixed-race children from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia passed through government institutions meant to “Frenchify” them.
During the same period, the French government propagated a nationwide colonial culture. Made pervasive through popular media such as literature and colonial exhibitions, this culture announced France’s intentions to simultaneously assimilate foreign subjects and assert their exoticism. To this administration, métis were an uncomfortable complication. Drawing from archival sources, published memoirs by métis, and existing historiography, I seek to analyze how the French government regulated and portrayed métis in relation to how métis illustrated their experience in their own writings. By studying cultural and literary documents in their historical context, this research helps illuminate how people seen by the dominant culture as a social menace lived and interpreted themselves.