Pearl S. Buck, Nobel Prize Winner and the Creation of an Amerasian Identity Category
Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973) is remembered for her many international literary prizes as well as her activism.
Her given Chinese name is: 賽珍珠; pinyin: Sài Zhēnzhū). She is the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature (1932). She was born in Virginia, but at three months old, her parents moved them to China, where they were missionaries. She lived in Nanjing and Suzhou (Soochow) while she lived in China, teaching at Nanjing University.
When the Nanjing incident began to foretell the Asia-Pacific War and the Cold War, she feared for her life and escaped to Shanghai, then eventually to the United States. She returned briefly to China, where she felt was home, over her lifetime but was barred from visiting China during the Cultural Revolution, being labelled the “American Cultural Imperialist.” She was heartbroken.
In 1949, Buck established the Welcome House, the first international adoption agency that cared for mixed race children. The Pearl S. Buck Foundation was established in 1964, then in 1965 opening the Opportunity Center and Orphanage which was built in South Korea. Later these centers were also established in Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam. She wrote extensively for women’s rights and transracial and transnational adoption, anti-war stances and human rights in a period when these issues were unpopular. Today there are still more Pearl S. Buck centers, as the issue is still alive due to the presence of U.S. military bases in the Pacific, as well as civilian workers who work around the Pacific. Many Japanese men, especially, mimic the desires of their “former” colonizer (the U.S.) in their desire for Southeast Asian and Pacific women while they are away from their homeland.
I, myself, know of several people who have been adopted into loving families through the Pearl S. Buck Foundation. They are mixed race as a result of relations of various types between U.S. servicemen and Asian women throughout the Pacific. There are various reasons why there are approximately two million (2,000,000) Amerasian children in the Pacific alone, not including those like myself, who are living alone or adopted in nations outside of the Pacific region.
In Post-World War II, it is known and recorded that the commanding officers and administrators of the U.S. military “discouraged” their servicemen from forming or stabilizing relations with Asian women. Earlier on this blog, I posted one example of a flyer that was passed out to American servicemen which basically spoke of Asian women as deceitful and not able to be trusted. Prostitution houses provided many hungry families in Okinawa and Japan, as well as the Philippines and South Korea, ways for women to provide for their families through sex work while being degraded by the US and Asian societies in which they lived.
Also, when a U.S. serviceman was known to be going with an Asian woman, the officers would send their soldiers to Europe or back to the U.S., while the U.S. laws forbade the immigration of those Asian women. Even when some soldiers protested and married through Shinto Priests, those marriages went unrecognized and the soldiers shipped away, then upon returning, were barred from the cities in which their wives or girlfriends lived. My own father spent years looking for a U.S. church that would marry him and my own mother. While this was going on, the women would often become discouraged and distrustful and sad because far more women never saw their American boyfriends and husbands again.
The more well-known reason that is dominantly circulated, other than marriage, was a reality of many Asian women becoming either sex workers, or women that were temporary relief and companionship for the U.S. servicemen. Often, women would convince themselves to befriend servicemen so that they could help their families survive in a devastated and regime-changing Japan during the Occupation. U.S. servicemen were known to be generous and affectionate with the Japanese women and this was an opportunity for many families. This, of course, created resentment by many Japanese women, against both the women and the U.S. servicemen, creating further fissures and conflicts in so-called “Japanese culture.”
So the women and the children were left with relief, guilt, or refused gladly. These children were the ones that became street children and those placed in orphanages, often killed by family members or their own mothers. Many of the street children were exploited for human trafficking in sex work or as entertainers if they were talented. Some became athletes. In Japan alone, over 200,000 were left in Japan between 1945 and 1960, according to the official records, although I think this estimate is low and only accounts for the ones seen and known. I know of quite a few who were hidden away in underground rooms and other areas, away from even the others in the neighborhood. Indeed, the violence that is normalized regarding the Amerasian as child or adult, was seen by Pearl Buck. She felt that these children were the responsibility of the U.S. if not the local governments.
Pearl Buck was the first to use the term “Amerasian” to circulate outside of the U.S. State Department memos, reports, and meetings, therefore circulating in the general public in the U.S. From the early 20th Century to the present day, the Amerasian issue is as strong as ever, as globalization and Western colonization of the Pacific cannot be undone, because Pacific elites must lead nations that are included in the international family of nations. Without inclusion, the trade of food and goods and oil, etc. would stop. This would mean death. Militarism is essential for nation-states. Sex and the birth of children are an eternal power of life. However, the persecution and neglect of Amerasian human rights issues have not changed since its beginnings, except for slightly.
The coining of the term “Amerasian” opens the door for transracial adoption and transnational configurations of who would desire and who could care for, in a socio-economic sense, a child of mixed-heritage from the Pacific. The adoption agencies and various people who want children, vary in their desire and ethics. Some do it to receive the money from the agency or from the governments.
For the nations who continue to not accept, and who are not willing to look at the dominant notions of entitling the abuse of mixed-race people in their own cultures, transnational adoption plays a role in legitimizing ethnic cleansing. To ethnically cleanse our nation of “those” unwanted and being sorry for being prejudice and apologizing for “being this way,” then sending out their mixed race children in this way, is definitely helpful for the mixed-race children themselves, this is not the issue. What the issue is is that the dominant continues to “purify” itself as dominance. Nation-states such as Japan and South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines, etc, continue to ignore their own practices and structures of domination and abuse, normalizing it, and “taking care of the issue” by making it a “problem” and shipping it out and away, making it none of their concern. Cleansing itself of the unwanted other.
The issue of the abuse of local women for falling in love or having sexual relations with Americans and others, is also a way in which patriarchy and sexism go unabated, and linked with the issue of race, nation and gender. What is this dominant morality that is violent? Certainly everyone in Asia does not think of this, but the laws and policies and attitudes are largely condescending.
Another factor is that in many ways, when children are taken into orphanages, there is a conscious or semi/subconscious feeling of relief, as if the child is now safer than if they are on the streets and are taken care of. How this myth is protected also points to modes of propaganda at the expense of the victims of abuse and neglect. In 1948, Daniel Berrigan wrote a sensational article in the Saturday Evening Post Berrigan Darrell. “Japan’s Occupation Babies,” (Saturday Evening Post, June 19, 1948, p. 24.) that spoke of two orphanage directors in postwar Japan being arrested for starving orphans at orphanages housing primarily mixed-race Japanese children of American servicemen. He was deported promptly out of Japan and his other articles and exposure in the media were blocked.
For Pearl Buck’s “Amerasian” concept, it is a dual-edge sword, like any other identity. That identity was meant to point to U.S. responsibility, because the U.S. government continues to ignore this issue in most ways, although a few laws have been passed. These laws are band-aids on this huge issue of military power and national dominances in the Pacific. European nations looked at the birth of their own mixed race children in Asia in Post World War II periods and immediately sought to bring them to their nations and take care of them. This was NOT the case for the Americans.
When the Amerasian Acts were passed in the U.S., why was Japan and Okinawa, for instance, not included? An Amerasian School in Okinawa opened in 1998. This is both good for the children in an immediate and temporary way to protect them from the social violence and stigma. However, for Okinawa, I view this as a disaster. Nowdays, most of the children who attend the Amerasian school, are also mixed-race children of non-Okinawan Asian races. Filipino women have been recruited into Japan as well as Chinese and Southeast Asian women, for entertainment and sex work. The birthing of and prejudice against mixed-race children continues. It is part of the structure of globalization and militarism. But why is this called “Amerasian” school when most of the children are not. And additionally, there are the children born of Americans, Europeans and other Asians who may sometimes need to escape the invisiblizing and prejudice of mainstream schools, and Okinawa still, as does Japan, need to look squarely at their normalized racisms instead of participating in further forms of ethnic cleansing.
Pearl Buck has left a concept that is political and her efforts were to care for children neglected and abandoned by both their Asian homeland and the U.S. government and military. But we must look at her position in relation to whiteness, to the U.S. position in relation to the Asian countries, and most importantly–perhaps–to how race and identity is created within multiple trajectories of violence and purity in varying and contradictory ways and times.
How can we open up dialogue for new ways that shift the dynamics of how nation-states and citizens interact? What is the role of nation? What is the role of privilege? Who decides and how? Who can say this is not important?
How do people of any nation, see themselves in a certain way in relation to identity, ethnicity, race and soci0-economic class and caste? A single race nation? For any nation-state to espouse such identities, there needs to be much forgetting. For nations such as the U.S., which sees itself as multiracial and immigrant-built, how does this create a certain set of entitlements to speak, to set up boundaries? In the U.S. configuration of itself as nation, how does religion play a role, as does Europe’s. Missionaries are a large aspect of proliferating an understanding of western metaphysics in Asia, sometimes religious, sometimes racial/national. How does this impact thinking about the world today?
It is not in the media in the U.S. because of a few geostrategic concerns that are culturally practiced. How can we change this? Is there even any care or concern? How? Will we only care to give them hugs and clothing and education and food and water? How do we see ourselves and live in societies–either as an orphaned Amerasian, an Amerasian who now sees themselves only as “American” or “German” or “British” and has assimilated, or to another mixed-race orphan from another land who is treated similarly in different histories, or one of an assimilated dominant who can live without caring about it much?
Accountability would be a great reality to look at and struggle for.