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Here is an essay I wrote in the fall of 1999 (sophomore year) on the identity of Vietnamese Amerasians. The essay mainly covered the personal experiences and ( or non-) acceptances of being Ameriasians in Vietnam and then in United States. I concluded...well, you got to read it to find out!. (Oh, did I tell you? Yeah, it's a long one! Get ready to read them. Nope, not boring at all. :) Finish reading and judge for yourself.) And do not hesitate to send me your comments.


Vietnamese-Amerasians: Where Do They Belong?

(December 16, 1999 by Thanh Tran)
 
 
 
 

My Life
My life is a half-breed one with sad souvenirs
That nobody could understand…
Day by Day, I wander around
Searching for people like me
But I still find myself alone
A body of mixed race, but a soul that is not 
My life of two bloodstreams led nowhere
Days went by so quick
I try to look back on my memories
Singing songs to people
That echo in my mind during the night
Songs I composed to sing to myself.
--Nia Nguyen (Bock, 8)

             I can't imagine growing up without knowing who my father is or what he was. Without my father, my life can not be completed. I am very fortunate that I have the best of two worlds and that I have a chance to be loved by both my mother and my father.

           Most Vietnamese Amerasians do not have this life opportunity to be loved by both parents. Their lives will never be complete because they are the "children of the dust". This term is used to describe the wandering life of Amerasian children. Their lives are described as "dust" because they are ever flowing with the wind dust, which has neither beginning nor ending. (I will use the terms Vietnamese-Amerasians and Amerasians interchangeably. Although Amerasians is a board term that can include Korean and Philippines, in this paper Amerasians only denote Vietnamese-Amerasians.) In the case of Vietnamese Amerasians, the children wander and their lives flow freely in their own country. In Vietnam, they search for a place that they can belong to. In America, they continue to do the same thing--searching for a place that they can call their own after being deserted in Vietnam.

(Minh Ha, left, and Anh Dung in Utica New York. Two Amerasians's lives traced in Thomas Bass's Vietnamerica book.)

 After watching the documentary video, "From Hollywood to Hanoi", produced by Tiana Nguyen, a Californian Vietnamese-American, I was mesmerized by the fact that there were so many Vietnamese-Amerasians still in Vietnam. My question was, why this is so and what is behind on all this? What race and country do the Vietnamese-Amerasians belong to? Is the Vietnamese or is the American society their true home? Or is there a society that exists for them to fit in?
  In addition to my questions, I came to a realization that there might be a possible scrutiny in both the political decisions of the Vietnamese and the United States government on Vietnamese-Amerasians issues. This realization carried another set of questions for me. Who are the Vietnamese-Amerasians really? Are they really Vietnamese? 

 Or are they fully Americans? How do they identify themselves? How do both the Vietnamese and American societies see them? In this paper, first, I will trace the experiences of the Amerasians in Vietnam, their trip to America and finally their difficulties and problems adjusting to mainstream society.

           There were many factors that could influence the changes in relations between the United States and Vietnam after the Vietnam War. In the beginning, the U.S. showed their insensitivity toward the Amerasians through the Operation Baby Lift. However, after much public criticism of the U.S. government, they eventually became more responsible regarding there past military services. They implemented programs like the Orderly Departure Program and the Amerasians Act in attempting to bring their "forgotten" son and daughters back home.

           These new immigration laws opened pathways between Vietnam and America, and allowed Amerasians to come to America. But once they arrived in this country, they encountered many unwanted realities that broke their American dreams. They dreamt that they would find their fathers and that their fathers would accept them with wide-open arms. They dreamt that there would be less discrimination and more acceptances in both the mainstream America and Vietnamese communities in America. Instead of believing in their American dreams, they woke up after learning that their fathers do not want them to be part of their lives. And when their Vietnamese family cast aside from them when they lost their value as "tickets" to America. They became, once more, a marginalized group in what was supposed to be their second home.

           In America, the Vietnamese-Amerasians do not feel better than they felt in Vietnam. They had no identity. Actually, they never had the chance to identity themselves with a specific race. They did not blend in mainstream America because of the minimal education they received in Vietnam and the Philippines. In Vietnam, they were Amerasians, but in America, they were Vietnamese. The same way as in Vietnam, Amerasians have no place to go in this world.

         The 1960s intervention of the United States in Vietnam did not just prove to the whole world that the U.S. foreign policy was ineffective but also that it was a failure. Along with this failure, they brought home with them an embarrassed case of moral. During the Vietnam War, United States servicemen from all military branches, such as the Army, the Marine, and the Navy, failed their promise at helping to defend and contain the spread of communism in Vietnam. Also, they failed in keeping their military duty professional. In rare cases, they fell in love. In most cases, they lusted for the enemy's women. They fathered many children. And eventually, as their duty came to a close, they abandoned both their "lovers" and children upon returning to the United States. The servicemen were cruel and insensitive lovers. They took no responsibility as a father. To make things sadder, the United States government never admitted that it was their "men's" faults. Rather they indirectly tolerated these actions and figured that their "men" could enjoy some leisure activities while on duty.

          Of what had happened, there was a question of love and lust for most U.S. servicemen. And it was a question of tradition and betrayal for the Vietnamese women. The War gave many Vietnamese women the chance to break away and liberate themselves. For the first time, they took on employment opportunity outside their family and home. In fact, most women traveled many miles to get out of their rural farming home to the city military base, like Vung Tau, to take on service jobs as "cashiers, waitresses, and maids" (Bass, 14). In some unusual case, some women took on jobs as "bar girls and prostitutes" (Lipman, 17). The latter broke up the traditional Vietnamese women in them. Later, this also made it difficult for Amerasians because of the mothers' "betrayal of nationalism and traditional feminine chastity" (Lipman, 11).

           Most of the American servicemen left Vietnam gradually before the fall of Saigon in April 1975. When they left, they left alone. Because of this, most of the pregnant Vietnamese girls later became single mothers. They, too, were alone. Their family disowned almost all of them because they disappointed the family. The family trusted in them when they were sent to the city to get higher paying jobs to help ease the family economic burden. Instead of bringing back income to help, the girls brought with them an undesired individual that needed to be fed while the family did not have enough to eat.

           Most of these Vietnamese mothers grew depressed because of this rejection from, first, their foreign lovers when they had to return to United States and, second, from their family not accepting them and their child (ren). As a result, a lot of Vietnamese mothers did everything to hide their foreign children's identity in order to be more accepted into their community. For example, the women would "darkening the children's skin [or lightening it if it was in a case of Afro-Amerasians], pushing their noses down, and dying their hair black" (Lipman, 22). The women would do anything to their child (ren) to be more accepted into her own cultural society. Yet, this situation was a light treatment on their children because at least the mothers were with their children.

           In some extreme situation, the mothers would abandon their children because they "saw Amerasians as social liabilities or resented them as ever-present memories of the war" (Lipman, 21). No longer could they handle the stress and the dubious depiction of them from the Vietnamese community. In doing this, they would leave their children with their relatives, baby-sitters, and even strangers on the street! For Amerasians, their mothers did not want to have any ties with the past and with the country's enemy child. This abandonment in Vietnam was just a beginning of their wandering life as the "children of dust".

            The relations between the United States and the Vietnamese government were complex politically and economically. The complexities brought both countries into greater confusion and mistrust during the War. By April 1975, this confusion and mistrust ended when the United States military withdrew completely out of Vietnam. The withdrawal left Vietnam to fall under communism. It left the United States with a permanent scar of embarrassment regarding the status of their half-blooded, Amerasians, children and another failure in their foreign policy.

             The first attempt ever taken from the United States government to show their "fatherly" role to bring home their children was through "Operation Babylift" (Bass, 33). In the final days after the fall of Saigon, the United States wanted to pay its due by carrying a full load of mostly Vietnamese orphans, many were Amerasians, and flying them all directly to America. However, despite all good intentions, the C-140 cargo plan crashed few minutes after take off. The sudden crash killed more than 200 children and a good number of occupying adults (Lipman, 27). In the opinion of the Vietnamese government, they did not believe that this act was unintentional, as the U.S. had claimed that it was. They concluded that this so-called "crash" was another covert crime on the part of the U.S. against Vietnam and the innocent children. The action from the United States and the response from the Hanoi government concerning "Operation Babylift" foreshadowed the future dark and hostile feelings and relations between the two countries.

           The crash of "Operation Babylift" quieted the issues regarding the Amerasians between the Vietnamese and the United States government for a time until early 1980s. The questions of who were Amerasians and where they really should be emerged again after the U.S. passed one important immigration law that benefited most war-torn citizens in South East Asia. The new law, called Orderly Departure Program or ODP, was created on May 31, 1979 by both the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (Rutledge, 64). From that time on, ODP had played a large role of helping to bring back the United States' humanitarian and powerful image.

           This new law included three major elements that required those who were interested to come to America to fulfill. The first category would allow all Vietnamese nationals who have close family ties with anyone in the United States to go to America. The second category stated that any former U.S. government employee with at least one-year employment or any individuals who have closely associated with U.S. policies and programs in Vietnam to enter America. And the third category was for anyone that wasn't included in category one and two. This included those who had deep relations with a citizen of the United States (Rutledge, 65-66). Amerasians, then belonging in this third category, began to enter America because they were half-blood Americans.

            In the ODP protocols, the Amerasians were not required to give any documents or proof that they had American heritage. All the Amerasians had to do was to be observed by resettlement officers for any related physical features to a Caucasian or a Black American (Rutledge, 66). As a result from protocol, the first Amerasian arrived in the United States in 1982 as a full citizen (Tien, 17). Nevertheless, because the ODP mainly focused on the war torn Vietnamese refugees emigrating to America, they could only secure relatively amount of space for Amerasians on the passage to America (Rutledge, 133). And, because there was a frequent delay during the process of "registering and approving applicants" in Vietnam and the United States, Amerasians arrived at a very late age in the United States (GAO, 31). The average age of arrival for Amerasians was between 18-24 (GAO, 41). This gave many Amerasians difficulty at adjusting to the mainstream society because of the frustration from learning to speak English with their hard native tongue.

           The returning proposal of "forgotten" American sons and daughters prompted Senator Stewart B. McKinney to give his supportive speech in 1980 to the Senate sub-Committee. He spoke of Amerasians issue as a "national embarrassment" and defined American for full responsibility "toward American children as patriotic duty" (Lipman, 54-55). Senator McKinney's call on America's patriotic duty was an effective strategy in increasing the pace to bring more "forgotten" sons and daughters to America. In an article from USA Today, columnist Margaret Usdansky explained the results of when American citizens take full patriotic responsibility of their past actions as servicemen. She wrote:

The [Amerasians] Homecoming Act acknowledged American responsibility for Amerasians by encouraging them to come here and arranging their passage. In the process, it created one of the country's [United States] newest and most unusual immigrants groups (Usdansky, 7A).
It was surely unusual because these so-called "immigrants" were the children of America. They possessed half of what Senator McKinney would refer to as "patriotic bloods".

         Like any other U.S. policy, there was a delay in the Homecoming Act. The Act was written in 1987, twelve years after the fall of Saigon, and it was not implemented until March 1989. After the passing of this Act, it served as a "passport". For Amerasians to leave Vietnam, it only required of them, once again, to prove American's physical features such "blue eyes or black skin" (Mydans, 7A). Also, under this law, Amerasians were permitted to:

bring immediate family members. [Unlike the ODP where most Amerasians had to traveled alone to a country who they could not identify with.] It provided a small cash allotment for the first six moths here and, through the cluster sites, help with the language, job training, health care and the usually futile search for a father (Mydans, 7A).
 This new law granted Vietnamese-Amerasians the opportunity to be "human" again because they had been living a wandering life for the longest time in Vietnam. In fact, it was an overnight success for most Amerasians because they went from the "children of the dust" to the "children of gold" (Bass, 19). All Vietnamese were now depending on Amerasians, that they had before neglected, enslaved, and even abused, and using them as inexpensive "tickets" to America.

      Due to the passage of Homecoming Act in 1987, the Amerasians went from rejection in Vietnamese society to "increasingly scarce sought-after commodities in Vietnam" (Branigin, A1). Once more, Amerasians became the center part of an overnight scheme,

in which thousands of Vietnamese have taken advantage of the children's eligibility for quick resettlement in the United States with their "accompanying members." These Vietnamese often pay gold to "buy" an Amerasian, who then claims them as genuine relatives or foster families (Branigin, A1).

Overall, the Homecoming did change an Amerasian's life. But the changes were soon flourishing along with the wind dust because Amerasians were taken advantage of through this new Act.

 They were considered as a foreigner's children by the Vietnamese that can help them easily escape the new government regime after 1975.

        For most Amerasians, they had lived a wandering life in Vietnam. This wandering life resulted from the lack of family support and education. It also made them clueless on when distinguishing who and what was real or not. They were naïve and gullible in their own way. They agreed to claim other Vietnamese as their "families" because they needed love that they could never have from their mothers and fathers. The Amerasians did not know that they were just an important "commodity" until after the resettlement program, like that in the Philippines and the United States. They soon found out that their "family" did not love them for who they are, but for their ability to help the "family" to go to America.

         While in the Philippines, the Amerasians, along with other immigrants such as the Vietnamese themselves, enrolled in "cultural orientations" that were intended to prepare them to live a new life in America. Even after the average six months, the Amerasians later felt that the resettlement program insufficiently prepared them for arrival in America. In most resettlement studies, it was apparent that the camp did not prepare them well based on several reasons. First, most Filipinos could not speak English "accurately" because of their "national" accents. This problem gave Amerasians difficulty in comphrending the "true" American accent when they settled in United States. Second, the "cultural orientation" class did not provide the best technical and survival skills in the United States to the Amerasians. And third, the Amerasians had to study in very "poor environmental conditions" (Tien, 23). One cluster site worker recognized this lack of preparation in his students; his and comment on the resettlement programs in the Philippines:

Philippines Refugee Processing Center (PRPC) has proven camp to a point of congestion on the trip across the Pacific and it is questionable as to how much help the refugees receive while in residence (Rutledge, 134).
Eventually, this poor preparation for the Amerasians made them more vulnerable than they were. The "disadvantaged" immigrants, like the Vietnamese, took Amerasians' slow understanding and little education at bribing them to stay with the family longer until they arrived in the U.S. because the family would provide them security through love and financial support. For a wandering life, this is what an Amerasian ever wanted, dreamed of, and cared for and would listen to.

       The Homecoming Act of 1987 permitted those Amerasians fathered by U.S. "military servicemen and born in Vietnam after January 1, 1962 and before January 1, 1976" to come to America (Tien, 16). These years were crucial for the United States because it was the high point of U.S. involvement and intervention in the Vietnam War. As part of the Homecoming Act, Amerasians received "refugee privileges and benefits" such as health care and government aids (Tien, 17). 

        However, these aids did not last long for Amerasians or the immigrants themselves. After a 30-day period, the U.S. government would cut the number of Amerasians receiving aids. The U.S. urged self-sufficiency rather than continuing to support and nurture them to assimilate into mainstream society, (GAO, 40). It was hard for the Amerasians to accept this self-sufficiency advice because some of them were too old when they arrived in the States to receive ample education. By the time that Amerasians were approved to go through all the required processes for arrival to the United States, the youngest age of arrival was 18 (GAO, 41). One Amerasian in the Tacoma, Washington cluster wished that she could go back in time:

My English is not good. I can't get a job with my English. My welfare check stops soon. I don't have good English to go to school or to get job. I wish I come to America when I was younger so I have more time in school to learn English (Tien, 27).
Her fearful expression showed one impact from the error on both sides. It was a result from the United States slow policy decision-making concerning Amerasians. And the Vietnamese early lack of interests on the condition of the Amerasians.
 

       Between September 1982 and July 1989, there were approximately 8,000 Amerasians out of total 16,000 South East Asian families that entered the United States (Tien, 17). Because of this sudden high pool of arrivals who lacked technical and survival skills, the United States established a "secondary host culture that Amerasians need" in cluster sites (Rutledge, 135). Despite all good intentions, most of these cluster sites failed its promise in making the lives of Amerasians easy in America. Holly Lockwood, the program coordinator for Indochinese Service at Boston explained the effect from the lack of U.S. governmental resources and funds on Amerasians' hopes and dreams. She said,

We don't have the services to take advantage of the optimism and the energy. The second victimization is arriving here and realizing all [Amerasians'] dreams are dashed and there are tremendous barriers to achieving your dream (Sege, 1).
The main goal of the cluster sites was to "instill a sense of community through orientation to American culture, recreational activities, and Vietnamese festival parties" (GAO, 72). However, it was impossible for the cluster site workers to place their full attention on improving the Amerasians' lives when most of their salaries were low and there was uncertainty in contract signings (GAO, 70). Because of this, the Amerasians once again lost out on life itself.

        The short term help from the government in cluster sites was not a major obstacle for what Amerasians had to face after their arrival in America. When they were in Vietnam, living the wandering life as "children of the dust", one of their dreams was that they would succeed at finding their father. Or that their fathers would find; love; and cherish them. And also, their fathers would help to them to go to school and support them financially.
Unfortunately, for these children of the dust, the "real" country of America is not made up of the same images that they have in their mind. Like any other immigrants to America, Amerasians shared the set-image of America as the land of,

great material wealth and personal freedom. The material prosperity of the United States was confirmed by the abundance of food and other goods at stores, a finding that initially delighted my informants. But this initial elation soon dwindled (Kibria, 73).
The Amerasians were caught in the middle once again on the issue of rich and poor, hungry and fulfilling, warm and cold, literate and illiterate, or being loved or not being loved at all.Their first thought of being "in heaven", referring to America, was twisted by many social and economical factors (Tien, 24). Their American images gradually died out as they lost their faith and belief in receiving a better life in their second country.

        In March 1994, the United States General Accounting Office, studied 100 Amerasians at two highly populated cluster sites, one in Washington D.C. and another in Philadelphia. Out of the 100 Amerasians, the GAO concluded that 37% expected to find vocational jobs; 36% to receive English training; 8% to attend college and professional education; and 18% to see no opportunity in America.

(Amerasians day laborer in Ho Chi Minh City, 1992)

           However, 93% believed that America would give them a better life (Lipman 94). The GAO surveyed these 100 Amerasians, they did it right after the arrival of the Amerasians while most of them still had heavenly images of America. This explained the high rates of expectations. Amerasians had forgotten that in order to get a better life they needed to work hard in job seeking and school learning. Before their arrival, They did not know the fact that America was a melting pot. That everyone would need to work hard in order to make it to the top. And to make it to the top, Amerasians would have to learn to overcome the struggles, obstacles, and barriers that they would encounter along the way.

          One Amerasian wished that he knew this matter before considering to go through the long (Vietnamese and American) bureaucratic progress in coming to America. He questioned the reason why no one was there to tell him the true life of a "foreigner" in America. He asked, "…why don't they [Americans] tell us [Amerasians] what it's like?" (Tien, 27). This question showed the common misunderstanding, over excitement, and high expectation of Amerasians. They thought of themselves as special because of their half-blooded American. No one is special if they lack education and technical and survival skills in the melting pot of America. For Amerasians, they needed to work twice as hard because first they were seen as "foreigners" in a foreign land, and second they were considered as just another minority.

          Along with the hardships, Amerasians also experienced isolation and rejection from both the American and the Vietnamese in their second country. In the Vietnamese-American community, most Amerasians lost their "original values" as the "children of gold" because the Amerasians were no longer needed (Tien, 27). After the safe arrival that the Amerasians helped them with, most Vietnamese families isolated themselves from the "fake" Amerasians "children". Because most Vietnamese family received more education in Vietnam than most Amerasians, Vietnamese did not want to carry extra the burden on their shoulders in their new society. They did not want to affiliate with anything Amerasian because they recognized Amerasians' struggles to be accepted into the mainstream society. Once more, the Amerasians were left alone on the search to find a community.

         After most of their "Vietnamese" family abandoned them, Amerasians decided to look for their fathers. Most of their searches stopped in gang groups. In these groups, Amerasians found that they were accepted, loved and appreciated by their big brothers and sisters (Bass, 145 and 225). However, the gang was not the first place they searched for acceptance and identity.

         For most Amerasians, they came to America with very little information about their fathers. When they were in Vietnam they were either abandoned by their mothers or their mothers burned all information and documents that contained their fathers' information (Blake, 1). The mothers felt what they did was right for that moment. After the fall of Saigon, many Vietnamese women with foreign children did not want to get into trouble and questioned by the Communist on their relations with the enemy. Hence, this lack of information of their fathers "created a romantic situation where they [Amerasians] hoped to find love and their own identities" (Lipman, 78). With this romantic creation, Amerasians decided to go on the search for their fathers soon after they arrived in America.

           Instead of finding love and acceptance from their fathers, the Amerasians, again, were rejected by society. The following is a result from the GAO surveying 10 out of total 55 total nation-wide cluster sites and asking Amerasians how often they think of their fathers. The studies indicated that 19% of Amerasians "always" think of their fathers. While another 21% showed up in the "frequently" category, 23% "sometimes" think of their fathers (GAO, 72). However, this study proved nothing to the former U.S. servicemen. When 244 Amerasians approached the Red Cross in requesting help with their father search, the non-profit organization could only locate 21 fathers. And from those 21 fathers, about 15 "asked not to have their addresses given to their Amerasians offspring" (Marcus, A1). The following was not an unusual response when non-profit organizations, like the Red Cross or Catholic Charities, called up former U.S. military servicemen about the presence of their Amerasians children in America.

Never, and I mean never, will you call any member of my family concerning any item involving or in reference to events in my past. You will not ask questions or pressure anyone to accept responsibility for my past life (Marcus, A1).
To their fathers, Amerasians were a past item, an object that they did not to want remember or get involved again.

         Although, some Amerasians were well aware of their unwanted presence or knew about their fathers' current life, still they wanted to see their fathers. They felt that their life would be incomplete if they could not get to see their fathers. An Amerasian form the Utica cluster site pleaded for her father's face:

I am not going to get mad at him. I just want to see my father's face. I'd like to live with him if he wants me to, but if he doesn't, I'll just go away after seeing him (Bass, 201).
Like this girl , most Amerasians had no bitter feeling for their fathers. They well understood that their fathers could have been remarried and have other children. However, all the Amerasians ever wanted from their father was a glimpse of him. They wanted to know how their other half looks like. They did not ask much from their father but a glimpse to complete a part of their chapter of their lives.
 
 

(Huynh Thi Huong holding a picture of Dad and his grandson
Ho Chi Minh City, 1992)

 Along completing a chapter of their life, Amerasians faced identity crisis and felt a sense of loss in America. After isolation from the Vietnamese "family" and rejection from their fathers, many Amerasians felt an "extreme sense of loneliness and alienation" (Lipman, 128). No matter how bad the Vietnamese-Americans treated them, they tended to identify themselves with the Vietnamese more than the mainstream American community. The Amerasians felt closer to them because all their lives, especially in Vietnam, they were surrounded by Vietnamese traditional cultures and customs (Lipman, 104).

    From the beginning of their arrival, Amerasians felt more comfortable settling in cluster site or later moving to community that had a large population of Vietnamese. Similar to other Vietnamese immigrants and refugees, the Amerasians liked: 

to live in the big city in America because we [both Amerasians and Vietnamese immigrants] meet [other] Vietnamese people. We can easily buy oriental food; we also have met some people whom we knew in Vietnam. We talk to one another on the telephone, exchange information about what is happening in Vietnam (Freeman, 361).
However, as much as the Amerasians wanted to relate to them by settling in areas of high Vietnamese-American population, most of them did not welcome the Amerasian into their new society. One study showed that 33% of Amerasians experienced discrimination from the Vietnamese-American community because their lack of education could portray a "bad image to the American public" (GAO, 76). The following described the hostile feeling from most Vietnamese:
Many Vietnamese people do not consider Amerasians as "legitimate" Vietnamese, and are upset at their lack of traditional Vietnamese cultural values even though many Amerasians are culturally tied to Vietnam by language and find adjustment [also like the Vietnamese immigrants and refugees] to America quite difficult (Rutledge, 135).
Similarly to Vietnam, before their arrival to America, most Amerasians ended up finding them selves again isolated from both worlds.

        Based on various studies, the GAO found that half of Amerasians that have arrived in the United States did define themselves as neither a Vietnamese nor an American. On one of their studies, the GAO surveyed about 100 Amerasians on how they "think of [them selves]" (GAO, 75). The GAO wondered if Amerasians see them selves as Vietnamese, American, or other? As a result, 44% think that they are Vietnamese; 5% American; and 50% "other" (GAO, 75). This "other" showed that half of Amerasians population in the United States knew that they belong to no where. They could not identify with their blood, half-Vietnamese and half-American instead they saw their race as non-existent.
 

        To get an explicit differentiation of races, for most of white Amerasians, they do not have many difficulties or face extreme racial discrimination as black Amerasians do. Because black Amerasians had tri-identities-"culturally Vietnamese, politically American and physically black", they could not fit in as a full Vietnamese, American, or African-American (Gonzalez, 1B). It was more difficult for them to adjust and be accepted in mainstream society because of their obvious skin color compared to white Amerasians. Most "black" Amerasians they defined themselves as Vietnamese because they experience a closer culture to the Vietnamese community. However, in the Vietnamese community, they saw black Amerasians differently from white Amerasians. They recognized "black" as "a handicap and a reason for scorn" (Rutledge, 134). One black Amerasian blamed himself for the misfortune,

I feel ashamed that my mother was with a black man, and now I have to carry at. I wish I were a white Amerasian (Gonzalez, 1B).
But would being white Amerasian better their non-existence identity and situation as an overall foreigner's child both in Vietnam and then in the United States? A college student at Oklahoma University saw the difference in treatment between white Amerasians and black Amerasians at his school just like the "white" skin preference over "black" skin color in mainstream society. He said:
Amerasians have had a difficult time being accepted into the Vietnamese-American communities. If they have black heritage, the bias in often not subtle; if they have white heritage, it is more passive (Rutledge, 135).
This showed that all societies (including Vietnamese and American), no matter how many policies its government passed to help the "minority" race, the mentality in the people will never change based on lighter skin supremacy over darker skin subordination.

       Together, Amerasians face many hardships when assimilating to their second country. They experienced difficulty in adjusting to a society that they do not know and a language they can not speak. In addition to that, their confusion over their identity defined their pace at adjusting them selves to the new society. The director of Springfield, Massachusetts, Amerasians resettlement project gave a typical rationalization of the Amerasians' slow progress. Joanne DeCarlo spoke,

In Vietnam, they were told they were Americans and in America they are told they are Vietnamese. There are a lot of adjustment problems beyond what the average immigrants has to face (Blake, 1).
These adjustment problems affected from early family fragmentation and lack of English speaking skills.

        Even if the United States government provide first 3 months free health care to Amerasians, the "lack of information, English language skills, and transportation" mad its inaccessible to them (GAO, 68). As a result from social immobility, many Amerasians had to accept low-paying jobs nearby their home or within walking distances. Some of these low pay and entry level jobs were assembly line work in factories, housekeeping, hotel industry, and dishwashing in restaurants (GAO, 55). And because most of the Amerasians were very under-paid, many of them could not afford comfortable housing after the government stopped their aids to the Amerasians. Most Amerasians ended up living in "poor neighborhoods" and sharing "apartments with other families" (GAO, 19). 

        Previous to their arrival in the United States, many Amerasians had no previous knowledge of the social, economical and racial structure of the United States. Considering as Vietnamese by many Americans, Amerasians in the American environment constantly were being "pulled in opposite directions as they struggled to balance their race, ethnicity, and nationality in a heterogeneous American world" (Lipman, 117). Amerasians were caught between worlds that they do not wish to dislocate themselves from and became once again the "children of the dust" in a different homeland. With some similarity yet many differences to the immigrants, cultural shock and isolation did overwhelm both Amerasians and immigrants. One Vietnamese immigrant expressed her frustration:

The main problem that I have in America is that I don't know how to speak English. Second, if I wanted to go to somewhere, I can not. I would have to use a car, but I can not drive. If I use the bus, I am afraid that I will become lost (Freeman, 371).
With this in mind, the lack of English language and low survival skills were the causes for low social mobility for many Amerasians.
 

        Continuously, the Amerasians would always be the strangers in a strange land. Their half-blood made it difficult for them to fit in mainstream America because many mainstream Americans said that "they are Vietnamese" historically and culturally (Cano, 3B). 
 Although the United States implemented the entire program in Vietnam to bring their "forgotten" sons and daughters home, most Americans felt far-distance from their "children". And to certain Americans, they would not recognize Amerasians as their own blood, their children. These servicemen actually just referred to Amerasians as "item (s) of the past" and would not deal with them because the past should be long forgotten.

     A song from Joe Strammer's "Straight from Hell" explained the American view concerning the identity of their "forgotten" sons and daughters. It went:

(Kids at the Amerasian transit center Ho Chi Minh City, 1992)

Y'wanna join in a chorus
Of the Amerasians blues…
Let me tell y' bout your blood, Bamboo kid
It ain't Coca-Cola [American], it's rice [Asian] (Bass, 61).

This pop culture song influenced Americans in defining whom their "forgotten" children really are. Because of this constant confusing most Amerasians denied their American heritage to avoid "problem". In the case of a black Amerasian in Utica, New York cluster, Anh Dung, changed his name so that he could fit into American society easily. He described how it feels to be a triple minority in America: black, Amerasian, and foreign-born.

 
I feel more accepted by the Vietnamese than the blacks. The blacks don't know who I am. First, they called me wetback. When they figured out that wasn't right, they started calling me chink. Anyone with 'flat' eyes, a flat nose, and yellow skin is called chink. Chink eat dogs and worms (Bass, 157).
Also, some Amerasians went into deep depression while considering and questioning their identity. As part of the depression, many Amerasians would self-mutilate and chop off their fingers or commit suicide (Lipman, 43 and 45). They did this because they thought that it was their fault for not belonging to anywhere, and that destroying and killing themselves was the way out. However, some of them do identify themselves with gang groups. Amerasians joined the gang because in the gangs at least there is a "home". It was the last resort they could turn to for shelter. In the gangs, Amerasians were accepted and welcomed by their tough ghetto brothers and sisters.
 

          At the end of the Vietnam War, South Vietnam lost to the Northern Communists. The American troops completely withdrew from Vietnam. The troops took home everything that had American "possession". Yet, they forgot one important thing. They left their blood, the Amerasian, an embarrassing legacy for the years to come. 

(Amerasian rock star and actress Phuong Thao from Ho Chi Minh City, 1992)


However, the U.S. government and the servicemen did not come to this realization till almost twelve-years after the War. The U.S. government finally decided to include Amerasians, children of half-blood American and half-blood Vietnamese, in their immigrant laws for war torn South East Asians like in the Orderly Departure Program and later the Homecoming Act in 1987.

        Despite all this effort from both the Vietnamese and American sides, both still point fingers to who is responsibility for this embarrassment. Was it the Vietnamese girl who traveled from her rural countryside for the city to where most military bases were to make an extra dollar to support aging parents?

Or was it the United States military, which could not control themselves when they were sexually aroused by the sight of the beautiful, innocent, and "exotic" Vietnamese girls?

         The following clearly showed that the life of an Amerasian would forever catch in the middle of the two worlds because of these questions remaining unanswered. Lipman wrote:

Vietnamese believed that the United States had a moral responsibility to these [Amerasians] children, and it refused to be held accountable for their welfare. Essentially, the United States considered America to be Vietnamese, and Vietnamese considered Amerasians to be Americans (Lipman, 56).
An Amerasian girl wished that both countries would stop throwing her identity around and she rationalized her true identity:
Two bloods. Vietnamese blood and American blood. So, just two blood in my body. That's all. But I just think that we are the same thing, even though we two blood, Amerasian, Vietnamese or everything, but you know, we just are human beings too, you know (Lipman, 114).
However, her bi-cultural identity was more complicated then it seemed in both Vietnam and America's society. Not everyone knew and recognized that Amerasians are too, human beings.
 

        Marianne Blank, executive director of St. Anselm's Cross-Cultural Community Center, defined the half-blood American and half-blood Vietnamese, Amerasians in one word. And that word was "unwanted". The Amerasians were unwanted in Vietnam and now they are unwanted in America. They will remain in their identity of the wandering life, "children of the dust". A song, "My Life", that they might sing frequently at bedtime stays with them. There are no audiences to appreciate their sad composition. Their beautiful lyrics will not echo beyond their lonely wandering life as the "children of the dust".
 

         As part of my research to write this paper, I interviewed three college students, two are "Vietnamese-Amerasians" and one is a Vietnamese American. In my email interview, I asked specific questions of these students based on their "race". Although, all are first generation in America, the answer to the question, "where does an Amerasian belong?" and "what is their identity?" remain unchanged. That Amerasians have no identity. They do not see themselves as Vietnamese or Americans. They, however, believe that they have individuality without a race.
 

       Even as first generation Americans with the nationality of "Vietnamese-Amerasians", many still feel that they are the outcast in both communities in America. A first-generation American Vietnamese still sees the differences between him and an Amerasian. He says:

Skin color, but even then that's not a good indicator…Yes, I think we would experience more of our Vietnamese culture than do Amerasians. Plus I think Amerasians would go through more of a personal identity crisis than full Vietnamese (Le, email).
Instead of belonging to a specific race the "Vietnamese-Amerasians" sense their racial difference depending on the circumstances they are in.
 

A senior at Mount Holyoke College, Valerie Nguyen Hooper shows the typical mixed feelings from first generation America as a "Amerasian". She expresses:

My feelings of Vietnameseness [sic] and Americaness [sic] are very transient. It depends on what I am doing. For instance, while one might think that being at a TET celebration would make me feel "more Vietnamese" it doesn't. It makes me feel half-white. It makes me feel like everyone knows that the only white man in the room is my father. It makes me feel like a pretend Vietnamese. On the other hand, when I am in a regularly mixed group of people, I feel very different from everyone. I feel like there is no on that I really have any sort of commonality with regards to race (Hooper, email).
From this, we can see that it does not matter where Amerasians were born or how long they have either lived in Vietnam or America, there is no real place where they belong.
Similar to other Amerasians' stories in my paper, first generation "Amerasians" born in America, do experience a wandering life in this country although both of their parents live with them. They do feel the middle ground when they are in Vietnamese or mainstream American society. A first year "Amerasian" student at Yale University, Andrew Martin Nguyen, tells me his experiences:
Most of the hurtful things said are from Asian-Americans. These things are unintentional, but still. Very often I hear, "are you really half Vietnamese? You don't look it at all.", "I never would have guessed! Are you lying?" Things like that I find hurtful simply because it makes me think that people think of me as not truly Asian and therefore, a lot of times, I feel I don't truly belong places, because the white people I know all regard me as Asian because I'm not 100% white (Nguyen, email).
Again, Valerie shares with me her experience from high school, another place where most Amerasians see their racial differences because they are "mixed" children. She says:

        I found, at least in high school, that I was generally regarded as a woman of color when I was among mainly white people. I had a friend who was black who would relate other minority/color/prejudice issues to me when we were among mainly white. But whenever I was with a group of minorities with her, suddenly she would begin to refer to me as white. I think part of being biracial is people get picky deciding what part of you they want to identify and when. It's the same way with all racial groups (Hooper, email).

         I do agree with Valerie that this type of preference is the same in all "racial groups". However, I believe that "Amerasians" have more difficulty in dealing with this because of their so-called tri-characteristic. They can be seen as white/black Amerasians, American, or Vietnamese. In Valerie's case, she is regarded also as a "woman of color", another type of a minority. Her situation made it more difficult to fit in or identify with anyone because she is a female Amerasian minority living in a racial country, America.
 

        Despite all the discrimination from both the communities in America, Andrew envisions positive relations between the Vietnamese and Americans. When both communities learn to accept "Amerasians" as they are, a half-blood race, Andrew predicts:

I think if Amerasians were more accepted, they could theoretically act as a bridge between American culture and the more isolated Vietnamese-American community at large. If the Vietnamese-American community were linked to American culture less tenuously, it would expand American culture so much and would have an effect of bringing Americans closer to closing that gulf that exists between the two communities. It would also give Vietnamese-American communities, not more into the mainstream, but more normalized and therefore, more able to fully reap the benefits America has to offer (Nguyen, email).
Certainly, this "bridge" that can connect both worlds must have a clear architectural and structural blueprint. That is, in mainstream society, both Vietnamese and Americans need to recognize and appreciate the half-blood song of the Amerasians.
 
 

Work Cited

Bass, Thomas A., Vietnamerica: The War Come Home. New York: Soho Press, Inc., 1996.

Blake Andrew, "Amerasians reach for opportunity; GI offspring face challenge in US", The Boston Glob. July 8, 1991, p. 1.

Bock, Paula, "Children of the Dust", The Seattle Times. October 27, 1991, p. 8.

Branigin, William, "Vietnamese try to buy American Dream; Families fake relationship to children of GIs, obtain Visas", The Washington Post. February 19, 1993, p. A1.

Cano, Debra, "Orange Country Focus: Garden Grove; Program addresses needs of Amerasians", Los Angeles Times. January 29, 1994, p. B3.

Freeman, James M., Hearts of Sorrow, California: Stanford University Press, 1989.

Gonzalez, David, "For Afro-Ameriasians, Tangled Emotions", The New York Times. November 16, 1992, p. B1.

Hooper, Valeria Nguyen. Email interview. Mount Holyoke College, MA. December 8, 1999.

Kibria, Nazli, Family Tightrope. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1993.

Le, Minh. Email interview. West Chester University, PA. December 5, 1999.

Lipman, Jana K., Mixed Voices, Mixed Policy. Rhode Island: Wayland Press, 1997.

Marcus, Erin, "In America, Amerasian Odyssey", The Washington Post. March 8, 1992, p. A1.

Mydans, Seth, "Amerasians finding it difficult to adjust to new life in America", The Houston Chronicle. July 9, 1995, p. 7A.

Nguyen, Andrew Martin. Email interview. Yale University, CT. December 4, 1999.

Rutledge, Paul J., The Vietnamese Experiences in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.

Sege, Irene, "US no haven to Amerasians, survey finds", The Boston Globe. February 14, 1990, p. 1.

Tien, Liang, and Denny Hunthausen, "The Vietnamese Amerasians Resettlement Experience: From Initial Application to the First Six Months in the United States". SouthEast Asian-American Communities. Maryland: Vietnam Generation, 1990.

The United States General Accounting Office (GAO), Vietnamese Amerasian Resettlement. Washington, D.C.: March 31, 1994.

Usdansky, Margaret, L., "Amerasians: caught between cultures", USA Today. May 18, 1993, p. 7A.

Pictures are courtesy of http://ww.vietnamerica.com/images


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