On Sunday -- Father's Day, I accompanied two Amerasian orphans to visit the Vietnam Memorial Wall and Arlington Cemetary. They made a promise that they would try to visit the Vietnam Memorial at every Father's Day. Because they don't know who their fathers may be, there is a chance that a few fathers of some 30,000 Amerasian orphans could have their names on that Memorial Wall. So they came to pay respect to their unknown fathers.
We left a few copies of the attached letter and a bouquet of flowers at each location. It's a small gesture, but brought a lot of comfort to them. It rained, ust like it rained on a previous Father's Day when a larger group of Amerasian orphans came to pay respect to their fathers at the same locations. (We were hoping to beat the clock to submit the letters to the newspapers, but couldn't. So we brought a revised version of the letter and we were able to put it at the Vietnam Memorial. Hopefully the letter reached a relative of one of those orphans. Then that would fulfill his/her wish.)
We were mostly alone at the Memorial, because we arrived early and it was raining. Seeing them treating the occasion with such reverence gave me an understanding of how much an orphan would see his/her parent -- a greatest gift from God. Ordinary people sometimes or often take their parents for granted, but never an orphan!
Father’s Day, 2011
I am writing you a letter for the first time, a letter that I have wanted to write for forty years, for my entire life. You don’t know who I am, because you probably don’t know of my existence. But I have been thinking about you each and every day since I was able to think, since I began to register a name that people around me have been calling me: American Half-breed. You know, Dad, from the day that I understood the term half-breed, I realized that I am your son.
People told me that I came from an orphanage, but somehow I ended up living with a “foster family” when I was small. I remember that I once lived with many other children, and that we went to church and did a lot of singing. I think the orphanage was closed when the new government took over
. I don’t know my actual birthday, but I have an identification paper, which says that my parents have no names and that I am a non-citizen of South Vietnam . I often imagine what my mother looks like, and what you looked like. But somehow I prefer thinking about you more than about my mother. It’s because in my mind, Dad, you’re always a hero. Vietnam
When I was small, I was always hungry. I often followed strangers on the street to beg for morsels of food. The family I lived with did not mind my wandering outside of their house. They probably did not care what I did, as long as I completed all the chores that they gave me. I had a lot of chores, and never seemed to finish them. When I begged for food, people usually ignored or avoided me. They wanted to get away from my stench. But there were occasions when people stopped and threw a merciful glance at me, or gave me a broken piece of rice cake, or a piece of half-eaten pork bone. It seemed that every time they paid attention to me, or every time they took pity on me, I heard them talking about my resemblance to you. American Half-breed, they called me. So Dad, because my eyes were grey and my hair was curly, because I looked like you, I got someone’s pity and a piece of bread crumb. You are a hero for getting me food, Dad.
One time when I around ten years old, I accidentally broke a bowl while doing the dishes. My foster mother pulled my hair and called me a lot of things. My foster father slapped me and kicked me until I passed out. I only opened my eyes when I heard someone calling me: “Half-breed, Half-breed!” Someone was saying something crude about you, about my going to die and follow you. Just hearing any mention of you woke me up, Dad. I wiped away the blood from my nose and forgot the pain in my stomach. You see, Dad, you’re a hero for saving me.
Did I tell you that I washed the dishes for as long as I could remember, Dad? Yes, I did dishes, among all the other chores to serve my foster family. Doing dishes and washing clothes were probably my favorite things to do. I squatted next to a large container of clothes, filled up with cold water. I scrubbed each item with my hands, watching the soap bubbles that formed and then popped at every movement of my palms. Inside those bubbles, sometimes I saw you, Dad. Your head was moving back and forth and your hair was thick and very curly like mine. You wore a military uniform, just like the photos in the newspaper and the books sold in the stores. Sometimes you smiled at me. Other times, you frowned, especially when I was feeling sad. Most of the time, Dad, you frowned, because I often cried when I thought of you. Inside the soap bubbles, I always saw your image, and every time I saw your image, I cried. My tears fell down on the bubbles, breaking your image into a dozen pieces.
I remember on one day I went to the communal fountain in my neighborhood to carry water. I was in a hurry because I had to carry enough water to fill two large containers for my foster family before sunrise; otherwise I would get a good beating. I pushed a woman out of my way, and she pushed back and called me a stupid, uneducated bastard. Then the crowd joined in and called me American Half-breed. When I cursed back at them, they told me that if I was so good, then why I didn’t return to
with you? They said some very mean things, Dad. They said that my mother was a prostitute, and that you had abandoned me. America
When I heard those words, the world seemed to collapse around me. I felt so dizzy, with so much pain in my heart. I just ran, and dropped much of the water that I had carried. That day, my foster brother beat me badly and I was not given any food. But I did not care. I crouched in the corner of the pig’s pen and cried myself to sleep. In the middle of the night I woke up because I was so hungry. But all I could think about was you and my mother. Dad, Mom, where are you, and why did you bring me to this world? Dad, Dad, did you really abandon me?
When I was twelve or thirteen, I found out that I was not the only half-breed in my neighborhood. There was a girl that everyone also called American Half-breed. Although this girl seemed a lot younger than me, she must have been at least as tough as me, Dad. One time I saw her chase after a stray dog, after he stole a piece of corn on the cob that she had just dropped on the ground. When she couldn’t catch the dog, she stopped and picked up a few large pebbles and threw at him, hitting him on the head or something; he yelled out and therefore dropped the corn, then ran away as she was near. The girl then quickly picked up the corn and continued eating, as if nothing happened. You should have seen it, Dad. She was cool. Ugly-looking, but cool!
My foster family kicked me out of their house when I was sixteen or so. I remember that day: I was climbing on the roof to clean out the gutters. The roof was made of metal or something that turned hot in the sun. I accidentally stepped on something sharp and lost my control, slipped and fell down to the ground. Unlucky for me, one of my foster sisters was standing in the yard nearby, and I fell on her. After screaming out of panic, she looked at me, and for the first time, she stared at me for more than a few seconds. I was shirtless as usual, and therefore exposing the curly hair on my chest. (Years later, I found out that no Vietnamese men around me had chest hair, so this must be something I got from you, Dad.) In any case, that day, my foster parents told me that they didn’t want me in their house anymore, and they gave me no reason.
From that time on, I drifted from place to place, and did all kinds of things to survive. I carried cargoes at bus and train stations, I shined shoes, I dumpster-dived to look for food and recyclable item, I begged, I sold lottery tickets, I even picked pockets a couple of times. At night, I slept under bridges, behind stalls in the market, or simply on someone’s front porch. I almost never slept alone. I always thought of you, Dad, and imagined that you were there next to me, seeing what I did, knowing how I felt. Sometimes I even imagined that you and I were watching TV together. Wouldn’t it be something, Dad? I’d be curling up beside you, watching something on a color TV!!!
At the landfills, I met many Amerasians like myself, Dad. We’re children of all sizes. Most of us had much lighter or darker skin than the average Vietnamese. Our hair was curly, we were always dirty, and our manner was despicable. We fought over any and all items made of glass or plastic. You should be proud of me, Dad, because I tried never to fight with anyone smaller than myself. You see, I tried to be like you, because you’re a hero.
Sometimes I searched among other kids to see if anyone might be my brother or sister, anyone who might look just like me. Oh, Dad, I wish I had someone I can call “family.” The more I looked, the more I thought that other kids are just like me. I think our biggest similarity was our eyes. We had round eyes, compared to other Vietnamese children. When any Amerasian kid looked at me, I saw an intensity of anguish, sadness, and hunger – hunger for everything. Often I saw myself in them, and so I thought, they were all my brothers and sisters!!! That thought somehow saddened me so much, Dad. Isn’t that funny: I sought out to find a family member, but when I found so many brothers and sisters, I did not feel happy but very, very sad.
Sometimes I ran into people who were mean to me. I was stoned, beaten, and ridiculed so many times that I no longer remembered to count, and didn’t care to know the reason for the abuse. One thing was for sure – I got better and better at escaping because I always ran away very fast. Except for one time, when a policeman repeatedly hit me with a baton while calling me “American Son!” At first I stood there and stared at him. I yelled at him, “So what if my Dad is American?” But then he threw a barrage of insults at me, which made my ears burn. He said that you were an enemy of the people, and that you killed people and murdered children. I was so angry; I just stared at him, letting my tears flow and flow. In my heart, I heard my own voice shouting: “No, my Dad is a hero, and I’m a son of a hero.”
Many strangers were very kind to me. One old widow let me sleep in her hut for a few months, until she had a new husband, who made me sell marijuana to some neighborhood kids for him. I was taken to prison because of that, but they released me after deciding they didn’t want to feed me even a meager half-bowl of porridge and salt a day.
I also had three very good friends that I met at two different times in my life. They’re homeless orphans like me. One of them was a girl, another American half-breed. People called her Black American Girl. I met her when I lived under a bridge. She shared her food with me, and patched my wound with her rag when I was bitten by a dog. I think she was crazy, because she always sang and laughed. She said that she used to live with someone who raped her every day. One day, she just disappeared.
The other two friends of mine were brother and sister. The older brother was another American half-breed. He looked a lot like me, with curly, light brown eyes, except that he had very fair skin. His sister was totally Vietnamese. They had no parents. The boy was a construction helper like me, and the girl sold sugar cane on the street. We shared almost everything we had when we lived together in the market place. One day, they heard that the U.S. Consulate was giving out tickets to
, and they went to apply. They sold everything they had to make the trip to the consulate. I even gave them my only pair of shoes to send them off. Months later, I ran into another half-breed guy who told me that my friend and his sister were rejected by the consulate because he couldn’t prove his identity as the son of an American. Leaving the consulate, when they were walking back to the village, my friend threw himself in front of a running truck, which killed him instantly. I never saw his sister again. America
Dad, do you go to church? Sometimes I go to churches or temples, mostly to watch a crowd or to find something to eat, especially when there is a funeral at a temple. One day, when I was resting in the courtyard of a church, I inadvertently listened to a sermon during a service. The priest told a story about the parents of Jesus, who had forgotten about him when they were walking home from a pilgrimage somewhere. After discovering that Jesus was missing, they both walked back to the temple, despite already left there by more than a day’s walk. I thought about my plight when I heard that sermon. I wish someone would come for me, as those parents of Jesus did. I wondered what it would be like if you were to return here to me, Dad.
I imagined that I would see you coming out of the church. I searched and searched among all the people that were leaving the service that day. It was a Sunday, and somewhere on the other side of this globe you were probably going to church with your family. In the sermon, the priest said that Jesus’ parents were so worried about him, although they knew that he was the son of God. Although I never knew who God might be, something struck me that, possibly, I, too, am a son of God. Did you also hear the Bible reading about a boy named Jesus, whose parents came back for him after a day’s search? Did you know, Dad, that at this very moment, you had a lost son who is waiting for you to come back for him?
Sometimes I wonder what you do, Dad. Are you a lawyer, an engineer, a farmer, a teacher, a construction worker, a politician, or a soldier? I guess you’re too old to be a soldier now. Do you have a large family? Are your parents still alive? They would be my Grandpa and Grandma, right, Dad? I imagine my Grandpa as very authoritative, very stern, but so kind. My Grandma has silvery white hair, and she cooks very good food. If you have brothers and sisters, then I would have uncles and aunts, too. Do I have brothers and sisters, cousins and all? Are they happy, Dad? Are any of them lonely like me? If they are lonely, then they should not be. After all, I’m thinking of them every day. I also pray that you’re not lonely, too, Dad. You know I think of you and talk to you every day. I love you, Dad, even though you don’t know who I am.