In the post-war era, and following departmentalization in 1947, huge waves of migrants from Guadeloupe and Martinique arrived in metropolitan France to strengthen the work force and rebuild infrastructure which had been damaged during World War Two. From 1962 to 1983, 160,000 people migrated through the BUMIDOM (Bureau pour le développement des migrations dans les départements d’outre-mer) in search of employment. The French government actively encouraged Antillean migration by providing Guadeloupeans and Martinicans with one-way plane tickets and finding them underpaid, low-skilled jobs that the metropolitan population simply refused to do, in health care, transportation, and the domestic service sector. Women in particular were targeted, as it was hoped that they would learn more ‘modern’ family values in the metropole and pass them onto their children once they eventually returned to the Caribbean.
This paper traces the representation of the BUMIDOM in a range of contemporary cultural items produced in France and the French Caribbean, such as novels, films, and bandes dessinées. What do they tell us about who was encouraged to migrate through this scheme and why? What are the different media and methods used by cultural figures to represent and question the BUMIDOM, and what do these generic forms reveal about the intersection between gender, work, and migration in the Caribbean context? Why has there been a sudden surge of interest in the BUMIDOM since 2010? This paper seeks to investigate how French-language cultural production has incorporated post-war Caribbean labour migration into France’s national history.
Dr Antonia Wimbush is a Leverhulme Postdoc at the University of Liverpool. Her doctoral research analysed themes of exile and migration by women writers from across the Francophone Postcolonial World, and she is currently revising her thesis for publication with Liverpool University Press. Her latest article examines the Second World War in Gisèle Pineau’s writing and is published in the Journal of Romance Studies.
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