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May 3, 2007

What Happened to These Children of War?

two men carrying child
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In the spring of 1975, U.S. forces withdrew from Vietnam, leaving behind an estimated 50,000 children they'd fathered with Vietnamese women. In the following years, these Amerasians bore the brunt of Vietnamese hatred toward America. Today, thousands of half-American women are stranded in a country that doesn't want them. Life has not been kind to the bui doi, or "children of the dust." Bi Thi Loan, 39, was rejected by her own family.

I am the child of a black American soldier, Ali, and a Vietnamese woman. My mother was already married when she met Ali. Her husband was a soldier in the South Vietnamese army. He left on operations a lot, so my mother had to make a living. She worked in a bar - that's where she met my father. About a year after she met him, I was born. Two months later, my mother gave me to my grandmother in Minh Hai province to raise me, because her husband disliked me so much.

In Minh Hai, I was sent to work in the rice paddies at age 12. I had to do the hardest work - pulling the plow - myself, because we were too poor to buy an ox. My uncle, a Viet Cong veteran, hated me so much, he beat me on the head with a stick every time I failed to pull the plow. I still suffer from headaches today. When I was 15, I went home to see my mother. I begged her to take me back, to let me live with her. But my stepfather wouldn't allow it. So I returned to the rice paddies.

At age 26, I married my husband, Pham Van Thang. We moved to Saigon, where he sold dried red peppers for a living. Today he works transporting goods in a cart he attaches to a tricycle. He earns about $1.25 a day. I do not have a job right now; without formal training, I can only do manual work. I am going back to school, though. I have completed fifth grade, so I can read and write. Meanwhile, I raise our four children.

We live in a little house inside a cemetery. We have no beds - we sleep on the floor. Our monthly income is $38, which must feed 10 people (my mother-in-law, my brother-in-law and his wife and baby all live with us). Every day, we go to restaurants and look for leftover food that is thrown away. We wash it and cook it again in order to have something to eat.

Who will help us get out of this misery? I don't know. I really want to find my father, Ali. If I ever meet him, I will surely cry and tell him how I have suffered through the years. I would like to go to America. My children hate going to school here, because they get picked on for looking black.

In Vietnam, people are of two minds about Americans. Most think they are not bad - they have done much to help the poor people in Vietnam. But others still dislike Americans. They see Amerasians as children of the enemy - and for that, we are treated badly.

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