In January 2011, I visited the former US military bases in the Philippines: Subic Naval Base and Clark Air Base. In 1992, the United States military left the Philippines. I thought they took everything with them. But they left behind 50,000 Amerasian children whose fathers were American sailors and their mothers were assumed to be prostitutes. These Amerasians are America’s forgotten children.
Meet Mark Gilbore. He’s 6’4”. He’s black and he would not be out-of-place in Chicago. However, Mark has never been in Chicago. In fact, he’s never been in the US. He doesn’t even know his father. He grew up with his mother in Angeles City, near Clark Air Force Base. He speaks fluent Tagalog and the local dialect, Kapampangan. I never heard him speak English.
I had dinner with Mark. Before we ate, he rolled up his pant leg and put his leg up in the wooden stool. He ate with his hands, Filipino style. He likes to eat rice, a lot of rice. At that moment, I knew Mark was more Filipino than I was. However, Mark does not ‘look’ Filipino. He looks like he belongs in Chicago.
The children of African-American soldiers are especially singled out and ridiculed. Mark confided in me that he suffered a lot of discrimination growing up. They called him names. But most of all, he grew up with the social stigma of being an illegitimate child and unable to elude prejudice because it shows in his physical features.
Many Amerasian children are labeled Iniwan ng Barko (left by the ship). I met some of them during my visit there. They were eagerly planning a celebration for ‘Amerasian Day’ , one of the rare occasions where Amerasians are acknowledged officially. A local organization, WeDpro, Inc. is giving them support in their upcoming plans. Each one of them shared with me their tragic stories of discrimination and prejudice.
In 1982, the United States Congress voted to grant U.S. citizenship to Amerasians from Vietnam, Korea, Thailand, and other Asian countries, in what was known as the Amerasian Homecoming Act. Although the Philippines has been a United States ally for more than a century, Filipino (and Japanese) offspring of soldiers were not included: they must be claimed by their former American G.I. fathers if they wish to claim their U.S. citizenship.
I asked Mark if he was also looking for his father in the US. He said no; he’s at peace not finding him. I asked him what made him such a strong person despite growing up in the midst of discrimination and prejudice. “My mother. He raised up me to be proud of who I am,” Mark said.
What does the future hold for these forgotten children of the post-war world? What moral obligation does the US have to America’s forgotten children? Do they have to find their fathers in the US to find peace? Will their fathers and their families accept their Amerasian offspring? Will these Amerasians even adjust to life in the US after living in the Philippines all their lives? Or does the local Filipino society have to accept these forgotten children and not discriminate against them?