“Victims of Decolonization”: The 1955 Franco-Vietnamese Convention on Citizenship and the Removal of Mixed-Race Children in the Post-Colonial Era, 1956–75

Saturday, January 4, 2014: 3:30 PM
Columbia Hall 4 (Washington Hilton)
Christina Firpo, California Polytechnic State University
From 1956-1975, after the French colonial government relinquished its colonial claims to Vietnam, a state-supported French organization called the Fédération des Oeuvres de l’Enfance  Francais d’Indochine  (FOEFI) continued a colonial-era practice of removing Franco-Vietnamese mixed-race children (métis) from the indigenous milieu and integrating them into French culture and the nation state.  Although France no longer had legal jurisdiction over its former colony, the FOEFI manipulated the terms of the 1955 Franco-Vietnamese convention on citizenship to justify continuing the removal process. FOEFI agents searched the South Vietnamese countryside for métis children of French fathers, grandfathers, or great-grandfathers, removed them from the Vietnamese milieu, and sent them to France--often without maternal consent. 

In France, the FOEFI raised wards in specialized métis-only orphanages. While many of the children have positive memories of their childhood in FOEFI orphanages, a striking number of them committed suicide or died from questionable causes--something that was not lost on some French bureaucrats.  Except a small handful, FOEFI wards would have to wait until the 1990s to return to Vietnam to look for their families; many returned to find that their mothers had since passed away. 

This paper uses information gleaned from multiple archives and libraries in Vietnam and France-- including documents of the French government, the Republic of Vietnam, and the FOEFI files; Vietnamese and French language newspapers; as well as memoirs by and oral history interviews with former FOEFI wards—to explore the motivations behind the post-colonial métis removal policy and the contentious debates over métis belonging in both the French and South Vietnamese nation.

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