Monday, December 05, 2011

The year of mixed-race TV stars

Half of the posts I've written so far this year are lists of multiracial actors and actresses on TV shows. But four decades before any of those shows hit the airwaves, one mixed actress and one mixed actor made history in 1966.

The first mixed-race person to star in a TV show was Marlo Thomas, who played the title role in the series That Girl, which first aired on September 8, 1966 on ABC. (1966 is pretty early, I assume I'm correct in saying she was the first, but correct me if you know an earlier person).

She is mixed Arab and European. Her dad was the son of Christian immigrants from Lebanon (I mention they were Christian because everybody assumes all Arabs are Muslim, and I love to challenge stereotypes), and her mom was Italian-American.
That's Marlo with her dad, and her with the whole family (she's the oldest kid).

After the debut of That Girl, ABC premiered a show with a mixed-race male in one of the lead roles—on the very next day after That Girl debuted. As though they wanted to prevent anyone from saying they're sexist against mixed guys.

That series was The Green Hornet on September 9, 1966. One of the main characters was played by Bruce Lee. He wasn't the main star, but decades later the DVD release said he was (above), as if ABC regretted not giving the lead to a mixed actor, like they did to a mixed actress.

Most people have heard of him, but very few know he was mixed race. His dad was Chinese and his mom was biracial Chinese/German.
In both photos, he's in the middle and his biracial mother is on the left.

As if they were addicted to being pioneers, Marlo and Bruce went further and became the first mixed woman and man on the cover of the biggest TV magazine, in the same year their two programs premiered.

It's like the TV industry was proclaiming the arrival of multiracials.

(Correct me if you know an earlier mixed person who was on TV Guide's cover)

Thursday, December 01, 2011

French colonial Vietnamese-Africans

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 bloody war in Indochina caused more than 500,000 deaths, 15,000 of which were African servicemen. The surviving servicemen fled Vietnam along with their women and children. What followed was a melting pot lineage, which today still retains the features of a love that transcended time and war.

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

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.