The Peoples of the World Foundation
Education for and about Indigenous Peoples
Story and photographs by Ray Waddington
Think of Amerasians and one of your first thoughts might be of children born during the American war in Vietnam to US military personnel, and whose mother was a Vietnamese prostitute. Western popular culture, such as the stage musical, Miss Saigon, re-inforce this stereotype. The reality, explains Bob Ballenger, founder of Amerasians — The Forsaken Ones, is that Amerasians are to be found all over Southeast Asia; they are rarely the product of a "one-night-stand" with a prostitute (in fact, Bob states, less than 10% result from any kind of unplanned pregnancy); and are more numerous in the Philippines than any other country in Asia. Here the Amerasian population trying to locate their American father numbers around 300, 000. As Bob explains, the history of US military presence here goes back a hundred years — longer than in any other country in the region. With that historical perspective, it is perhaps less surprising to learn that popular culture is both imbalanced and misleading in its coverage of Amerasians.
It is from the Philippines that Bob and his wife Lani run this organization which re-unites American men with their former Filipina partner and Amerasian children. He was born in Omaha, NE, but has moved around a lot both within and outside the US. He has lived in the Philippines for the past eight years. The organization got started in response to a request from his own Amerasian daughter, when some of her friends were trying to locate their own father. From that grew the only organization of its kind in the world, which has helped over a thousand people so far. It is a non-profit organization, with Bob providing about 95% of the funding himself. He also performs most of the research when it comes to trying to locate people, although, through his military contacts, he also has people in the US who are able to do some of the groundwork. Not that all the efforts to locate people are conducted in the US. About half of the people who contact Bob's organization are American men seeking to locate and be re-united with their former partner and/or children in the Philippines.
When they are re-united with their family, or are informed that their children have been located, the reaction is almost always a positive one: Bob told me he knew of only a handful of cases where the father did not want to have further contact. Similarly, it is very rare that the man was unaware of the child's or children's birth. So how did they get separated to begin with? To understand this one has to realize that the ease of communication we take for granted these days using tools such as the Internet is a very recent development. For many of the men who fathered these children keeping in touch with people in countries like the Philippines has always been challenging — even more so for men who are frequently relocated like those serving in the military.
Amerasians, no matter where in the world they live, face many issues as a result of sterotyping. In the Philippines, explains Bob, there is an interesting contradiction of attitudes: Because of both their physical characteristics and the potential they have to flee to a (perceived) better lifestyle, they are envied. In stark contrast they are looked-down on due to ingrained negative perceptions of interracial union. He told me how common it was, and still is, in Olongapo (a 4-hour bus ride north of Manila) to see Amerasians walking with their head bowed! His own daughter, he told me, dyed her hair black because she got tired of the stares she received due to her brown hair!
The following is excerpted from a posting on Bob's website guestbook and, I hope, says something about the void that can be filled by his work.
"I am an Amerasian. I took my color as a challenge to make a difference. So far, I've been successful on my every endeavor, thanks to Pearl S. Buck Foundation and its sponsors who sent me to school. It's tough to be Amerasian especially if you're colored but somehow [I] have proven that nothing is impossible with hardwork and prayers.
"I want to take this chance to inquire if somebody knows my father... Any information will be greatly appreciated so I can thank him personally for the life he gave me."
Photography copyright © 1999 -
Ray Waddington. All rights reserved.
Text copyright © 1999 - 2017, The Peoples of the World Foundation. All rights reserved.
To cite this article, for example in a term paper or school project, using the American Psychological Association citation style, copy and paste the following:Waddington, R., (2004) Amerasians. The Peoples of the World Foundation. Retrieved March 28, 2017, from The Peoples of the World Foundation.