Controlling Amerasian Body-Minds: The American and French-Fathered Mixed-Race Children in Japan, Korea and Vietnam

Photo of Vietnamese Amerasians by Linda Davidson/Washington Post



For infants and children born to local mothers in Japan and Korea, fathered by U.S. military and civilian personnel during the U.S. occupation of these countries, their lives were not in their own or their mothers’ control. During U.S. occupations in Asia and the Pacific which began earlier—Hawaii, the Philippines, Guam, the Mariana Islands, and the Solomon Islands—the same issues became prevalent, real, a struggle, continuing today.  It continues today because these places are still “occupied.” And then in the latest full-out colonial Cold War played out in Southeast Asia, the same for the children and their mothers. But let us not forget that before the U.S. arrived in Southeast Asia, the French colonized Indochina. They had state policies on how to control the issue of the Metís, as they were called by the French, which differed from the United Statians.

Transnational adoption industries for Korean mixed-race children became strong after the Korean War, in a more organized way than in Japan, earlier, when missionaries and private citizens had to take care of the mixed-race children. Photo from Jet Magazine.

In Southeast Asia today, many children often save their money and work, and often pay money to traffickers, to get to America to find their fathers. Often, it is a cruel unfolding of events and scorned expectations and solutions. Many of these children came to America as boat people, or were forced onto the planes by their mothers and family members during the last days of the fall of Saigon, so as to be able to live “better lives” in the United States—which as many know, turns out not to be the dream that they sought in the United States. The gnawing loneliness and longing to know their American fathers is made intense by the fact that in Southeast Asia, especially Vietnam, these children, along with their mothers, are still scorned and discriminated against, after all this time, so many decades after the war. It is not only about racial prejudice. It is also about the war and who the reminders are, of colonizers and enemies.

The way the United States military and government handled this issue in Vietnam, in line with earlier wars and Occupations in Hawaii, Guam, the Mariana Islands, the Philippines, Japan and Korea, was to basically ignore the issue, and to skirt responsibility. The young men and boys, who came to fight in the jungles and cities and villages of Southeast Asia, against an enemy they only knew through the propaganda they were fed by American commanders, strategy books, television shows and comic books about “gooks,” released their sexual needs in many ways now, during and after the war, with girls and women who wanted or didn’t want, American men. While “Boys will be boys” was (and still is) a common phrase that excuses sexist patriarchal violence and heterosexism into communities and cultures everywhere they go, the military leaders were struggling with each other the whole time, continuously, with different opinions as to what to do about the issue of all of these “illegitimate” babies, the “half-breed gooks,” the “hybrids.” This, mixed with the needing to hide the nights with prostitutes or with girlfriends they went clubbing with in the cities, intensified along the lines of American puritan monogamism. What was left was sort of a pushing away of responsibility toward a “privatized” path, where Christian missionaries became the institutions that were to care for the babies. This way, they would be Christianized, made to forsake their own cultures, and to learn “western” ways and the boys’ government responsible for the children and the violence the mothers would endure—from honor killings to racist abuse to suicides and eternal poverty, leave no paper trails to their fathers or the institution that birthed them (the American military and government). It is a very convenient strategy.

French colonial policies toward the mixed-race children were in this document and others. Their policies were to take as many as possible and to assimilate.

In France, hetero-monogamism was not a huge issue. The sexual morals in France were not so measured with concerns for hiding sexual play with others. But the issue of France “looking bad” and not presented well in international relations, coupled with their own notions of dominion and French territorial powers outside of France. The French did not want to be viewed as failures, even though the battles at Dien Bien Phu and battles leading up to it, meant that France could not hold their own anymore, against the onslaught of diverse Vietnamese armies vying for control of their own lands against the French and often against each other. With the white French soldiers, conscripted African soldiers came to Southeast Asia with the French. There were, then, thousands of Black and White mixed-Lao, mixed-Thai, mixed-Cambodian, and mixed-Vietnamese babies, as well as babies born to black tribal women in certain villages where the French visited.  But it was a bit different from the Americans, as far as the policies toward the mixed-race babies born of French biological fathering.

While the U.S. left the care of Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Pacific Islander, Aborigine and Southeast Asian babies biologically fathered by the American personnel to local authorities and Christian missionaries, attempting to absolve American “boys” or government from responsibility, the French did the opposite.

Their policy was to comb the villages and towns and cities, taking the babies from their families, and to force them into assimilation schools where they were taught “civilized” ways as the French would teach, forbidding them from speaking their language or practicing almost all aspects of their culture.

In stories told by Cambodian and Vietnamese mothers, as well as the adult sons and daughters during this period, most were about being forcibly taken while the mothers and relatives cried and screamed, while others were filled with gratitude that the French were taking them, although they were sad and tearful. In any case, they were not to be who they were, but to become French.

For the U.S., it turns out that these children and their mothers were nothing but objects and that they were responsible for “their own lives” even though the U.S. was in their lands and had devastated their ecology, ways of living, and places to live. Nothing was done for them. Last ditch efforts through the Operation Babylift, which brought many of them to the United States, was a crude and limited way, as there was a limit. Excrutiatingly painful is to watch some of the film footage of those last days in the fall of Saigon.  Some of the families had walked by foot for days, to reach where the U.S. would take off with helicopters and planes, and the mothers and aunties wanted desperately to get their mixed-race babies out of Vietnam because they knew that the children may not be able to live great lives in a land that would despise them.

Assimilation schools for the Indochinese mixed-race children were set up all around Indochina during the French colonial period. Photo courtesy of Cambodian Government archive.

The French took the children away from families forcibly. They were enrolled in assimilation schools with strict discipline. Their families did have limited contact in many cases. Today, there are may older mixed-race French adults who have come back to Southeast Asia to look for their mothers. While many of them were transported as babies and children to France, less than half or so, were able to know their fathers and they had to be adopted out.

In the United States, most mixed-race children had to learn to fend for themselves. Although there were organizations available, because they could not read or speak English, they could not know of these organizations.  They struggled hard to find jobs.  Of course they were menial. And as per their home countries, most mainstream Vietnamese people treated them with scorn and abuse in the United States. Their being labelled “Vietnamese” did not speak to the realities of their ostracization. In many cases, however, they did find other mixed-Viets as well as open-minded Vietnamese to befriend them and help along the path. I myself know a few and they have often endured humiliating treatment from Vietnamese shop owners so they could pay the rent for a rat-infested apartment in any-city USA.

In both the French and USA cases, we can see that no matter the policy, one thing was clear: The mixed-race children and their future—set up as vulnerable bodies, were in the hands of the victor, the occupier, the colonizer. In all of these lands, the mixed-race Asian is constructed as invisible, or merely as an object of national military power politics. In the case of the French, the children are to be made into what the nation’s dominant leaders think they are. In the U.S., people make themselves (so why should we care for them).  What good are nations? Who do they benefit?

We must remember that in each place, there were Americans who did not want the policies and views that became dominant. But they, too, had to follow orders and keep their jobs. In other ways, many of them opened spaces of their own, to help out those they felt were suffering—the mothers, the children, or both. Still others struggled hard to change the policies of their respective nations, but mostly to no avail.

Several policies, especially in the United States, have been passed to regulate mixed-race people from entering from occupied lands and U.S. territories. Often certain policies benefit certain nations but not others. The strategies and power struggles of nations, continue to impact those of people and especially the vulnerable.  In the case of mixed-race Americans, the lack of accountability looms large. These issues continue today, and are not passed. As you may know, at least from my previous posts, the Americans are in hundreds of locations around the globe. Military bases and military installations developed around these places to accomodate the Americans and their need to live. Prostitution and drinking establishments thrive alongside music stores and shopping. So do the crimes of the military upon the locals. And so do the sexual relations continue. So are the birthing of babies. Some are romantic and there are marriages and families formed. For most others, this is not the case. Military power and the control of women and children are linked.

I, myself, grew up as Amerasian, but whose nuclear family was in tact (which in itself is “good” but presents its own problems). Even then, it was hard enough because of racializing factors and racism. For those that I speak about above, whose lives have not been so privileged as mine, I think there needs to be alot done about it. I think that European and American mainstream people, especially mixed-race folks, might begin to think about their own privileges in relation to those who have had to struggle to live because of our own privileges handed to us and that we must be accountable to who we are in history.

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