A History of Restoring Family Links: Amerasian Tracing

Story by Patricia Hadley, San Francisco, CA

I am new to volunteering with the Restoring Family Links program at the American Red Cross and have been digitizing old paper files from the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1990’s. I see many thank you notes, pictures and hand-written messages in hundreds of foreign languages and many different beautiful scripts. I have been so moved by some of the cases and amazed by the global work of the Red Cross network, and wanted to share these stories.

This is an amazing story of a father and son searching for each other. In 1991, the father was in the United States looking for the son he left behind in the Philippines when his military unit was shipped back to the US in 1979. The son, now 17 years old, was still in Manila and in touch with the local Red Cross in hopes that they might help him find his father. The father had been trying to bring his son and his son’s mother to the US ever since he left the Philippines following his tour of duty as a Marine in Vietnam. Before he left, paperwork was started to establish his son’s US citizenship. In the Restoring Family Links file there was an undated letter from the father to the mother of his son anticipating their reunion in the US and expressing his frustration with the US Embassy’s slow progress with his request, but then they seemed to lose contact with each other.

In 1991, at age 17, the son had contacted the Red Cross in Manila for help. The Golden Gate Chapter of the Red Cross received a letter from Manila with pictures and other documents including a birth certificate, the aforementioned letter, and a picture of a handsome boy. The father’s address proved very difficult to find and American Red Cross workers in three states checked out various addresses found at the DMV, Veterans Administration, and the Marine Corp with no luck. Eventually in 1993 they decided to start all over again and had much better luck with the Veterans Administration.

When they found the father he was with his son and had been for a year! The father’s search had paid off first, but the outcome was wonderful for all involved. Eventually the father had contacted a friend in Manila and asked for help finding his son. This proved successful and a passport and citizenship papers were obtained. The son arrived in the US in October of 1992.The Red Cross worker and the father compared notes about their searches and the father offered to help the Red Cross in the future.

Although this file was marked as an Amerasian case it was not typical. The Red Cross spearheaded efforts to reunite soldier fathers with their children left behind after the Vietnam War. The government was supportive of this effort and in 1982 the Amerasian Immigration Act was signed giving immigration preference status to these children and their mothers. This situation was not new and the term “Amerasian,” coined by Nobel prize winning author and activist Pearl Buck, came into use during World War II and the Korean War.

The problem with this case was that the Philippines was not included in the Amerasian Immigration Act despite the fact that the father had served in Vietnam and then the Philippines where the large US military bases were located and played a huge part in the conflict. Attempts have been made to include the Philippines in the Amerasian Immigration Act, but have not been successful. There is a very large Amerasian population in the Philippines that started growing back in 1898 when the US annexed the Philippines from Spain and this population continues to be marginalized to this day. Amerasians and particularly black Amerasians in the Philippines disproportionately suffer from underemployment, poverty, domestic violence, and sexual abuse.[i]

While the Amerasian Tracing program at the American Red Cross came to a close in the 1990s, its Restoring Family Links program continues to reconnect loved ones separated by conflict, disaster, migration and other humanitarian emergencies. This story also illustrates the Red Cross’s emphasis on self reliance and exploring all avenues. Clients are always considered partners and encouraged to pursue their own individual search in conjunction with the Red Cross efforts.

[i] Lapinig, Christopher M. “The Forgotten Amerasians”, N.Y.Times.com, 27 May 2013.