September 13, 2011

America's forgotten children

Amerasians - mixed-race children fathered by US soldiers – struggle with discrimination in Asian societies.

The term Amerasians refers specifically to the children of American military servicemen and Asian mothers. These children can be found in countries including the Philippines, Vietnam, South Korea, Japan – all Asian countries that have had a US military presence.

In the Philippines, following the 1992 closure of the US Naval base in Subic Bay, more than 50,000 children were left to grow up without their fathers. As mixed race children, they face high levels of discrimination and identity-related problems.

During tours of duty in various Asian countries, a considerable number of US soldiers carried on relationships with local women, many of whom moved near bases to work as housekeepers or in bars and clubs as sex workers.

The U.S. government issues special visas to children fathered by American troops and employees during the Vietnam War. However, these visas do not apply for children of Filipino or Japanese descent.

Only those born between December 1950 and October 1982 in Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Kampuchea, or Thailand who can prove US paternity are entitled to the special visa.

Despite good US relations with the Philippines and Japan, the Amerasian law excludes children fathered there because neither country was a direct victim of war.

Vietnamese Amerasians face a high level of discrimination from peers and adults. Considered “children of the enemy,” their faces constantly remind those around them of the war that ravaged their country. Sons and daughters of black soldiers face greater discrimination, often times barred from jobs for being “dirty” and “bad for business.”

After American troops left Vietnam, many Vietnamese mothers destroyed letters and pictures from their American partners fearing punishment by communist militias for enemy relationships. Without evidence of their American fathers, children of these women lost the needed proof for their US visa application.

Indeed, the United States made some strides in bringing Amerasians home since the Amerasian visa was created in 1987. Nearly 30,000 children and 80,000 family members have been resettled in America. However, the process has slowed with a mere 23 visas granted in the last year, and hundreds of backlogged claims.

Accounts of human trafficking and corruption within the application process have led to tighter eligibility requirements. Evidence of mixed-race facial features is no longer enough proof, now applicants need documents, letter, photos, or DNA testing. For Amerasians who do not have the time, funding or means to track down their father and prove paternity, obtaining a visa is difficult without the help charity organisations and Amerasian connection websites.

Today, numerous websites assist the now adult population of Amerasians looking for their fathers. Sites like Amerasian Family Finder and FatherFounded allow fathers, children and mothers to post searchable profiles to reunite lost relatives. Amerasian Family Finder allows individuals to search for one another but does not provide any further services. Initial contact, DNA testing, and visa applications are left to the two parties.

Joining us to discuss this topic is filmmaker Emma Rossi Landi, co-director of Left by the Ship, a documentary which focuses on Amerasian lives in the Philippines.

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