This is my English translation of this French article.
War and Race Mixing: "I was born from a Vietnamese mother and a Senegalese father."
by Florence Lame
The war began in the 1940s, following the Japanese invasion of Lang Son, a border town between Vietnam and China. It was the beginning of what's commonly called the "Indochina War", referring to a large peninsula which at the time consisted of Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, a part of Malaysia, and Vietnam. Seeing their sovereignty (dating from colonialism) threatened by Japanese attacks, the French army decided to call in servicemen from Africa as reinforcements for the army already there, they were the "Senegalese colonial infantrymen". With nationalist movements following WWII in 1945, the fighting lasted until 1954. At the end of this war, the servicemen who survived left Vietnam by boat, with some of them bringing along women and children: "My father took us all in his arms and we crossed the Pacific Ocean for months in boats that were constantly in danger of capsizing", recalls Jean Nguyen, son of a Vietnamese mother and Senegalese father. For most Vietnamese, Chinese, and Laotian women who had affairs with African servicemen, such escape was the only hope of surviving a massacre. Thus appeared in Africa a melting pot lineage: Senegalese-Vietnamese, Ivorian-Vietnamese, Morroccan-Vietnamese, etc.
Since their arrival in Senegal, very few Asian women returned to their homeland. Some lost everything and saw no reason to come back, others simply couldn't afford it. Today they're largely recognized and respected for having protected their families during the war, and having adapted to a world and customs that were previously completely unknown to them. They perfectly mastered the language, the cuisine, and the customs of their host country. But the integration of children from these unions was no easy task. "At first, our relationship with the Senegalese population was somewhat difficult. In the street, at school, we got called 'chinks'. There were many fights in the schoolyard because of that!" recalls Jean. But the Viet-Senegalese who live in Senegal today are considered to be Senegalese themselves.
Vietnam is known for being very conservative and it's sometimes hard for mixed-race people to make a life for themselves there. Nicole Hoang, a young woman of Senegalese and Vietnamese descent who speaks Vietnamese fluently, tells us about one of her visits to Vietnam: "It's harder for 'Black' mixed people. When they saw me speaking Vietnamese, having never seen Blacks, they couldn't fathom it. Yet the people who fought in the Indochina War were much nicer!" This racial mixing is for some an openness to the world, a rich culture, while for others it's the opposite: it's a disgrace. "I am the symbol high treason with the enemy, of a forbidden collaboration," confided Kim Lefèbvre, a Eurasian who grew up in Vietnam, in an interview for Eurasie.net.
Over time, most children of this generation migrated all over the world. Some have chosen to come settle in France, where notably they set up an organization for mixed-race Senegalese-Vietnamese people, The Lai-Den ("mixed race" in Vietnamese) in Paris. The same thing exists in the United States, such as the father of famous golfer Tiger Woods, for example, who fought in the Vietnam War, during which he married a Thai woman. This racial mixing, which was seen before as something incomprehensible, has thus become a distinguishing trait of African/Asian mixed people, but most of all, an identity in it's own right.