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  • Invisible Exodus:The Cultural Effacement of Antillean Migration
  • Madeleine Dobie (bio)

In the closing piece of the 1995 essay collection Penser la créolité [Thinking Creoleness], the Guadeloupean novelist Maryse Condé, also one of the volume's editors, offers her thoughts on the revival of Creole language and culture advocated by the Martinican writers Patrick Chamoiseau and Raphael Confiant and the linguist Jean Bernabé in their 1989 manifesto, Éloge de la créolité [In Praise of Creoleness]. In her commentary Condé articulates in measured terms her view that, as a cultural movement, créolité remains trapped in an outdated opposition between France and the Caribbean, metropolitan center and tropical margin.1 Among the main points that she makes in this regard is that although since the 1960s there has been mass migration from the départements d'outre-mer (overseas departments, or DOM) of the French Caribbean to metropolitan France, "la littérature de notre fin de vingtième siècle ne tient aucun compte de ces bouleversements, de ces mutations et de ces redéfinitions d'identité [our late twentieth-century literature takes no account of these ruptures, these mutations, these redefinitions of identity]" (Condé, "Chercher" 308).2 Whether or not one agrees with Condé's assessment of créolité, which has given rise to some debate, her observation that migration and the experience of "Antilleans" in metropolitan France have not been a source of inspiration for French Caribbean writers is well founded.3 Her claim can in fact be extended to encompass writers, filmmakers, and scholars from non-Antillean backgrounds, who have also devoted surprisingly little attention to this sizeable migrant population. Similarly, with the exception of a small handful of studies specifically devoted to Antillean migration (including two published since 2004), these internal migrants have largely passed under the radar of sociologists and anthropologists who study race and immigration in contemporary France.4 In the words of Martinican demographer Claude-Valentin Marie, the forty years of mass migration to the metropole have represented "Quarante [End Page 149] ans où il a été difficile de se compter, quarante ans à avoir eu le sentiment qu'on ne comptait pas [Forty years during which it has been hard to count ourselves, forty years of feeling that we haven't counted]" ("Les Antillais" 102). Though literature and film do not always correlate with social trends, this invisibility—which, as Marie suggests, extends beyond the sphere of cultural representations—is intriguing. That French Caribbean writers have produced a remarkable body of writing that explores the history, geography, and culture of their native islands gives further pause for thought. Given the major impact of migration on both sides of the Atlantic, this emphasis can, on one level, be viewed as a pattern of insularization, a compression anchored in the perception that the Caribbean is the only setting in which the unique Creole mix of African, French, and Asian influences can be rendered palpable.

The deficit of accounts of migration and migrants from the Antilles has, for the most part, gone unnoticed by scholars of literature and film. Since we are more accustomed to analyzing how social issues are projected through these media than to diagnosing why they are not, literary-based scholarship on French multiculturalism has been pre-dominantly concerned with stories by and about immigrants from the Maghreb (in French parlance, the former colonies of Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco) and their French-born descendants, often referred to as beurs, a corpus of representations that has become increasingly abundant since the mid 1980s.5 People from other non-European backgrounds—West Africans, Asians, Antilleans—sometimes figure in novels and films about beurs, particularly when these depict life in the underprivileged suburbs that encircle France's major cities, but they are generally secondary characters. In recent years, as immigration from Sub-Saharan Africa has accelerated, there has been greater representation of immigrants from the former colonies of West and Central Africa, both by members of this population and (as discussed below) by journalists and sociologists concerned with the social effects of the clampdown on both legal and illegal immigration initiated in 1993.6 By contrast, though today more Antilleans than Sub-Saharan Africans reside...


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pp. 149-183
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