Am I not a métis as well?

Although I am not born a child of miscegenation, I do think that I share many characteristics of métissage that Ann Stoler has discussed in her essay, with Nguyen van Thinh dit Lucien as a case in point.

I justify this claim by elucidating my state of ‘Englishness’ vis-à-vis the French government’s assessment of Lucien’s Frenchness – examining “cultural identity” and the “display of […] cultural competence”.

Despite not having an Anglicized name per se, I am nevertheless almost always identified through ‘a’ name in English. I use the indefinite article here as a deliberate attempt to parody myself as having a ‘double name’, for my ancestors would surely not have any of this in that language.  That aside, the necessity for me to dress in a western suit so as to be taken seriously in any social setting only serves to illustrate how ‘exterior qualities’ reflect that imposed ‘interior attribute’ of Englishness in me.

And while I am certainly not “ignorant” of my mother tongue as Lucien is to French, I am always encouraged not to speak in Cantonese but English. Indeed, I have become far more competent in the latter to the extent of not being able to construct and communicate complex ideas without code-switching to English.

While Ann Stoler offers a critical conclusion to the trial of this French-Vietnam métis, the sentiments she invokes in me far exceed the ‘transgression’ of (already) Eurocentric boundaries of race and culture. For me, her discussion only accentuates the hypocrisy of the colonial project, wherein the colonized is deemed unfit even as a subject — let alone being regarded as an ‘enlightened’ citizen — whether s/he be the second generation or otherwise.

Metissage and the fear of contamination

Ann Stoler’s article was a very interesting read as it revealed the double standards that exist in trying to incorporate some metis into the European social contract while denying others because true French blood did not flow in their veins (517). It just seems ludicrous to me that this determination of French-ness is done through the evaluation of a child’s “physical features or race by a medico-legal expert.” So arbitrary factors like skin color, height, the hollow of the cheek etc. of a child, is compared to an ideal French type, and one person determines whether or not he or she is French enough? This doesn’t really make it any different from Alfred Russell Wallace’s scrutiny of the Dyaks and judging them based on a European standard. It is just shocking that scientific racism still exists in this way, even today. And Stoler rightly comes out to say that this urge to keep Manichean boundaries of ruler vs. ruled is really a reflection of a fear of contamination of the basal native milieu and I think that this is still very evident in popular fiction today.

This anxiety surfaces in the Twilight series. In Breaking Dawn, Bella carries Edward’s child, and because the child is a half-human, half-vampire, it is portrayed as uncontrollable (Bella has an unnatural accelerated pregnancy) and outlawed by the Volturi (which is kind of like the Vampire royalty that governs and polices) and the Volturi sets out to destroy the child. It is only when a 150-year-old human-vampire cross breed, Nahuel comes out and proves that his species is no threat to the secret existence of the vampires that the child is spared. I think that both Stoler’s article and Breaking Dawn both show the fundamental fear that the dominant culture have over this seemingly subversive intermixing of races that threaten their position of power. Thankfully, reality (for once) seems pretty hopeful as Singapore is becoming more open towards the idea of interracial marriages. Statistically speaking, the number is increasing. And because I am an eternal optimist, I would like to think that we are embracing difference, embracing the idea of a cosmopolitan Singapore and becoming a melting pot where different races and cultures meet.