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French diaspora

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French diaspora

The French diaspora designates the diaspora of emigrants from France and their descendants. While France has long seen itself as primarily a country of inward migration, there have been several waves of French nationals moving abroad in modern times. Countries with significant numbers of members of the French diaspora include the United States, Canada, Australia and several countries of Latin America. As of 2009, it is estimated that the diaspora includes over 30 million people, or a vastly higher number than that of French nationals living abroad, which number around 2 million.


While population movements from what is now the territory of France has existed in all times, arguably the first emigration wave that is salient in the collective memory of France and other countries is that of Huguenots, starting in the 16th century and dramatically increased following the 1685 revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

Other waves of emigration were associated with early steps of French colonization, especially in the Americas in the late 17th and 18th centuries. At the end of the 18th century, émigrés fled the French revolution, mostly to neighboring European countries.

Later emigration was often associated with harsh economic conditions in specific French regions. From 1847 to 1857, almost 200,000 French people emigrated abroad.[1] In 1857, 18,800 Frenchmen left the country, out of whom 1,937 were from Basses-Pyrénées, 1,863 were from the Seine department, 1,458 from Bouches-du-Rhône, 1,287 from Hautes-Pyrénées, 1,107 from Haut-Rhin, 915 from Pyrénées-Orientales, 936 from Haute-Garonne, 870 from Bas-Rhin, 694 from Gironde and 488 from Aude.

From 1821 to 1920, around 121,000 Basques and Bearnese people from Basses-Pyrénées emigrated to America—more than 108,000 from 1835 to 1901.[2]

A more recent wave of emigration has been associated with the lack of dynamism of the French economy, and the quest for economic opportunity by French nationals frustrated by the trappings of a closed society at home. Many such migrants have kept their French nationality. French communities that are representative of this recent diaspora include those in London, New York, Silicon Valley, and Eastern Asia.

Distribution in the Western Hemisphere

Between 1848 and 1939 alone, 1 million people with French passports emigrated to other countries.[3] In the Western Hemisphere, the main communities of French ancestry are found in the United States, Canada and Argentina while sizeable groups are also found in Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Australia.


From the beginning of the 19th century, to the middle of the 20th century, Argentina received the second largest group of French immigrants after the United States. According to official figures 239,000 Frenchmen immigrated to Argentina from 1857 to 1946 but the numbers are higher as immigration started in the 1820s (they formed the largest group of immigrants to the country until 1854)[4] and lasted until the end of the 1960s. Unlike the United States where the immigration from France was more diverse, half of French immigrants to Argentina were from the Southwestern part of the country. It is now estimated that more than 6 million Argentines have some degree of French ancestry (17% of the total population).[5]


Canada has the second largest community of people of French descent in the world. 8.5 million Canadians claim French heritage. The French-speaking province of Quebec has the highest concentration of people with French ancestry in the world: 90% of Québécois have French roots.[6] They are also found in large numbers in the province of New Brunswick where a third of the population can trace their roots back to France and in Ontario which is home to the second largest community of French Canadians in the country.

French immigration to Canada dates back to the 16th century, with the foundation of Charlesbourg-Royal in 1541. Tadoussac, the oldest surviving French settlement in the Americas, was established in 1599. From 1627 to 1663, the French population in Canada rose from 100 to 2,500 inhabitants. Within this period, it is estimated that around 1,250 French people immigrated to Canada, most of them coming from the provinces of Normandy, Aunis, Perche, Île-de-France, Poitou, Maine and Saintonge. Between 1665 and 1673, 900 Filles du Roy, half of them coming from Île-de-France, were sent to Canada to get married to farmers and soldiers. In 1760, the colony had a population of 60,000 inhabitants. It is estimated that from 1633 to 1760, an average of 56 Frenchmen emigrated to Canada each year. Between 1608, date of the foundation of Quebec, and 1756, only 10,000 French people emigrated to Canada, most of modern-day French Canadians can trace their roots back to them.

French first settled in Acadia in 1604. In 1667, when the colony went back to France, 441 inhabitants were registered. In 1713, as France ceded the territory to the British Crown, the population had risen to 2,500 Acadians. In 1755, out of a population of 14,000, 7,000 to 8,000 Acadians were deported. Around 1,800 of them fled to Louisiana where their descendants are known as Cajuns.

At the end of the 19th century, French Canadians started to settle in Northeastern and Eastern Ontario, creating the modern-day Franco-Ontarian communities, and in the Prairies. At the same time, immigration from France was encouraged and the country received over 144,000 French immigrants between 1881 and 1980.[7]


The French came to Chile in the 18th century, arriving at Concepción as merchants, and in the mid-19th century, to cultivate vines in the haciendas of the Central Valley, the homebase of Chilean wine. The Araucanía Region also has an important number of people of French ancestry, as the area hosted settlers arrived by the second half of the 19th century, as farmers and shopkeepers. With akin Latin culture, the French immigrants quickly assimilated into mainstream Chilean society.

From 1880 to 1930, around 25,000 Frenchmen immigrated to Chile. 80% of them were coming from Southwestern France, especially from Basses-Pyrénées (Basque country and Béarn), Gironde, Charente-Inférieure and Charente and regions situated between Gers and Dordogne.[8]

Most of French immigrants settled in the country between 1875 and 1895. Between October 1882 and December 1897, 8,413 Frenchmen settled in Chile. At the end of the 19th century, they were almost 30,000.[9]

In World War II, a group of 10,000 to 20,000 Chileans of French descent joined the Free French Forces and fought the Nazi occupation of France.

Today it is estimated that 450,000 Chileans are of French descent.[10] Former president Michelle Bachelet is of French origin, as was the former dictator Augusto Pinochet. A large percentage of politicians, businessmen and professionals in the country are of French ancestry.


In Mexico, a sizeable population can trace its ancestry to France, which was the second largest European contributor, after Spain. The bulk of French immigrants arrived in Mexico during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

From 1814 to 1955, inhabitants of Barcelonnette and the surrounding Ubaye Valley emigrated to Mexico by the dozens. Many established textile businesses between Mexico and France. Around the start of the 20th century, there were 5,000 French from the Barcelonnette region registered with the French Consulate in Mexico. While 90% stayed in Mexico, some returned, and from 1880 to 1930, built grand mansions called Maisons Mexicaines and left a mark upon the city. Today, there are 60,000 descendants of the French "Barcelonnettes".[11]

In the 1860s, during the Second Mexican Empire ruled by Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico—which was part of Napoleon III's scheme to create a Latin empire in the New World (indeed responsible for coining the term or Amérique latine, or 'Latin America')-- many French soldiers, merchants, and families set foot upon Mexican soil. Emperor Maximilian's consort, Carlota of Mexico, a Belgian princess, was a granddaughter of Louis-Philippe of France.

Many Mexicans of French descent live in cities such as San Luis Potosí, Puebla, Guadalajara, and the capital, Mexico D.F., where French surnames such as Derbez, Pierres, Betancourt, Alaniz, Blanc, Jurado (Jure), Colo (Coleau), Caire, Dumas, Tresmontrels, and Moussier can be found.


During the first half of the 19th century, Uruguay received most French immigrants to South America. It constituted back then the second receptor of French immigrants in the New World after the United States. Thus, while the United States received 195,971 French immigrants between 1820 and 1855, 13,922 Frenchmen, most of them from the Basque Country and Béarn, left for Uruguay between 1833 and 1842.[12]

The majority of immigrants were coming from the Basque Country, Béarn and Bigorre. Today, there are an estimated at 300,000 French descendants in Uruguay.[13]

United States

The United States is home to the largest community of people of French descent outside of France. According to the last census of 2010, more than 11.5 million Americans claim French ancestry (French and French Canadian combined), i.e. 4% of the total population. French Americans make up more than 10% of the population in New England, through the emigration from Quebec between 1840 and 1930, and in Louisiana, through the French colonization of the region, the relocalization of deported Acadians and later immigration from Saint-Domingue and from continental France. French is the fourth most spoken language in the United States, after English, Spanish and Chinese with over 2 million speakers.

The French American community is made up of several distinct groups, including Huguenot refugees in the Thirteen British Colonies, French settlers in Louisiana, Acadian exiles, French colonists fleeing Saint-Domingue following the Haitian Revolution, and French Canadian immigrants between the 1840s and the 1930s, as well as a steady immigration from continental France since the American Revolution. Around 2 million French people immigrated to the United States, both from France and from the former French colonies in North America.

From 1830 to 1986, 772,000 Frenchmen immigrated to the United States.[14]

Between the 1840s and the 1930s, around 900,000 French Canadians emigrated to the United States, especially in New England. Half of them eventually returned home. Their descendants number 2.1 million people.


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