- Naming the Subject:Recovering "Euro-Asian" History
The historic election of Barack Obama as America's first biracial president has drawn attention once again to a phenomenon that has been gathering momentum since the 1990s: that is, the movement among so-called "multiracial" or "mixed-race" people for recognition, both political and cultural. Although the American media has mostly focused on the multiracial movement in the US, this push for recognition actually has global dimensions. Kumari Jayawardena's Erasure of the Euro-Asian: Recovering Early Radicalism and Feminism in South Asia is among the latest in a spate of books published in Asia that seeks to restore those of Asian/European ancestry to the historical record, including Michael Roberts, et al., People Inbetween: The Burghers and the Middle Class in the Transformation within Sri Lanka (1989), Myrna Braga-Blake's Singapore Eurasians -- Memories and Hopes (1992), and Vicki Lee's Being Eurasian: Memories across Racial Divides (2004).1 In fact, if Paul Spickard identified a "biracial biography boom" in the US during the 1990s, we seem to be currently in the midst of a "Eurasian publishing boom" that spans the globe from Asia, to Australia, Europe, and the US.2 This publishing trend includes not only academic books like Jayawardena's, but also memoirs, family biographies/genealogies, dictionaries, musical CDs, and even cookbooks.3 It further includes projects such as the Anglo Indian Heritage Books series, which reprints classic works such as H.A. Stark's Hostages to India (1926) and Cedric Dover's Cimmerii?: or Eurasians and Their Future (1929).4
What does Jayawardena's book add to the mix? Although South Asian studies is beyond my own field, I can say that I found much in this richly documented monograph to inspire my current work on Chinese and Chinese American representations of Eurasian interracialism. The book certainly speaks to a wider audience, to those who are interested in multiracial identity, and in women's history more generally.
The main aim of the book is to counter the erasure of so-called "Euro-Asians" (the author's own term) from the historical record, and to demonstrate their contributions to social movements in South Asia during the colonial era. The book is divided into three main sections: the first provides background on the historical formation of "mixed-race" communities in South Asia under Portuguese, Dutch, and British colonial rule; the second discusses Euro-Asian radicals and modernism; the third, the role of women and gender. Jayawardena argues that Euro-Asians were not "marginalmen" [End Page 257] in colonial society, but actually played central roles in the struggles for worker and peasant rights, women's rights, democracy, secularism, and protonationalism. Focusing on public intellectuals, she crafts a portrait of what she calls "the utopian vision of Euro-Asians," a vision that extended beyond their own communal group to the nation. The book highlights the important contributions of figures like John Ricketts, Henry Derozio, Charles Lorenz, Frederick Nell, A.E. Buultjens, Eleanor Lorenz, Winifred Nell, and Agnes de Silva.
Much of this ground has been covered elsewhere, but Jayawardena makes a significant contribution in her discussion of pioneering women, as well as in her intersectional analysis of gender and ethnicity. She demonstrates that in contrast to their stereotypical image as "exotic creoles," Euro-Asian women were often highly educated, and were among the earliest women professionals in South Asia, especially in the fields of education and medicine. The Euro-Asian "new woman" broke new ground on numerous fronts, and served in the vanguard of feminist and other radical movements. The fascinating stories of many women are collected here, some rescued from the dustbin of history. As such, Jayawardena goes far beyond the writers of earlier generations, who often rendered the Euro-Asian woman doubly invisible.
A second important contribution of the book is seemingly simpler, but potentially more far-reaching: that lies in the name that Jayawardena invents to describe the subjects of her study.
"What's in a Name?"
As early as the 1920s, Eurasian "race man" Cedric Dover urged "mixedrace" populations throughout Asia to give serious consideration to this issue. The question of nomenclature had plagued...