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by Emma Rossi Landi and Alberto Vendemmiati
In 2007, my partner -- now husband -- Alberto Vendemmiati and I set off to the Philippine Islands, to better understand a topic that had touched us personally. It was the beginning of a journey that turned out to take three years as we were moved to create a documentary to tell the story of the injustice suffered by Filipino “Amerasians,” children of US GIs who were left behind and are in a no win legal limbo. The term “Amerasian” was coined by author Pearl S. Buck, to describe children born to Asian women and US servicemen stationed in the East.
The US had, until 1992, very large military installations in the Philippines. The Subic Bay Naval Base there was the largest American military base outside of the US mainland. For decades, thousands of young military men passed through these bases each year. And, as so often happens around a military installation, thousands of young Filipino women, in order to escape their impoverished provinces, came to work in or around the bases. Most of these young women wound employment in the bars of the red-light district nearby that provided “Rest and Recreation” – a euphemism for sex work, whether formal or informal -- to the US servicemen.
Many of these women had long-term relationships with the Americans soldiers or sailors. Some couples got married; many had children.
But by the end of the Cold war -- and after the fall of the Marcos regime-- the Philippines Senate voted against allowing the continued presence of the US bases on Philippine soil. The American bases closed; the soldiers left. But this situation also meant that thousands of children, now fatherless, were left behind in the Philippines.
The Pearl S. Buck foundation – which has helped these children through sponsorships for more than 20 years -- estimates that there are more than 52,000 Amerasians living in the Philippines today.
In 1982, the 97th US Congress passed a law, known as the “Amerasian Act,” that provided access to US citizenship to Amerasians -- many of them children of former GIs -- from Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and Kampuchea. But surprisingly, though the Philippines had been an actual colony of the US, and has been an American ally for more than a century, the children of GIs in the Phillipines, that is, Filipino Amerasians, were excluded from the “Amerasian
These half-American children, who are now young adults, grew up with no hope of attaining US citizenship, and in very difficult socio-economic situations. They suffer racial discrimination: many people assume, by looking at them, that their mothers were prostitutes and that their fathers have left them behind. The Amerasian children of African- American soldiers are particularly subject to discrimination because for some people in the Philippines, as in many Asian cultures, fairer skin is perceived as being more desirable.
These young Filipino Amerasians grew up with their mothers, who are also often victims of social stigma due to their past. Without paternal support, these women endure serious poverty. Rarely do Filipino Amerasians get the chance to complete their studies, and they often have difficulties in finding jobs because of discrimination against their physical features.
Above all, these children have grown up with a profound sense of loss and a very low sense of self-esteem. Their sense of self-worth has been damaged by the neglect and ostracism they have experienced throughout their lives. They carry these emotional scars and have no way to escape them. Their most basic birth-rights have been denied: both US and Philippines authorities ignore their very existence.
In 1992, after the Bases closed, NGOS active in the ex-Base area brought a class action suit against the US. But the US dismissed the case due to “lack of jurisdiction”. The reason? Because these children were mostly conceived through the illegal act of prostitution! The hypocrisy of this position – since the US authorities tolerated the establishment of sex workers around the base for “recreational” reasons when it suited US policy – is self-evident.
Some time after the class action suit, a small amount of compensation was given to some families through US AID. But that did not solve the problem for the great majority of the children who were left behind. Existing law left it up to the individual US servicemen who were their fathers to claim their children. Sadly, for the most part, this does not happen. These fathers were, for the majority, young men with families or girlfriends back home, who had been brought to the Philippines while in the Military were unprepared to assume this kind of responsibility.
But even when Filipino Amerasians have been acknowledged by their fathers, and their fathers are doing everything they can to bring their children to the USA, US law still makes it very difficult. This is particularly true if the child has not been “claimed” by his or her father before the age of 18.
It seems that the United States has not only abandoned its children, but is making it unnecessarily difficult for these children to reunite with their fathers now that they are grown.
There is no clear reason why the Filipino Amerasians were excluded from the 1982 “Amerasian Act” that included so many other children of former servicemen in coming to the USA. Why did we help out the country that was then considered the "enemy" and ignore our ally? Throughout the 6 months we spent living with our Amerasian friends in the Philippines, we found that their lives would improve greatly if the Governments that are essentially responsible for their existence would only acknowledge them, and give them the birth rights they deserve.
An ex-serviceman who has been trying for years to bring his daughter to the USA, with no success, has set up a petition to president Obama that can be signed here.
You can see clips from our documentary, “Left By The Ship”, that follows three of these young people on their journey, here.
More info here: leftbytheship.com
If you want to help amend the law so that these children can be reunited with their fathers, who served thief country when they were called to do so, please sign the pledge. We will report their progress on DailyCloudt.com.
Emma is an Italian American filmmaker who grew up between the US and Italy and her work often focuses on cultural clashes between Global North and South and on the stories of those who are outcasts, or who live between cultures.