Tuesday, February 3, 2009

a letter

And so I went out to meet them – the Amerasians - mirror images of

myself – if not in appearance, then most definitely in origins, all of

us tied by fate to almost similar situations in life.

There is no place to hide when you are an Amerasian. The evidence of

your origins is immediately recognizable from the vast sea of brown

faces all around them in this country. And you see them everywhere –

not really so different from everybody else in how they lead their

lives, the way they speak, the way they dress.

But their eyes reflect the colors of the sea or the earth—blue, green,

or dark brown , while everybody else's are pools of black. Their skin

also reflects the alien origin of the blood that flows in their veins.

Their sizes and shapes also vary from the norm. In a world of squares,

as it were,  they are shaped like triangles, circles, and cubes –

their difference from everybody else is immediately apparent and

speaks volumes about who and what they are.

Because that is no secret. Not here, of all places. In this city, they

are living reminders of a not so distant past, which is now dead and

lives only in the memory. And yet still has the power to shape their


In their heart of hearts – I know there inside is a secret burden. A

weight that we all share. Something that erects a wall between a

native Filipino and the Amerasian, something that, though smiles

frequently pass over their faces, is also the source of copious tears

and anguish in their lives.

You only had to look, it is impossible to hide anyway. Impossible. But

there it was – for all to see – though one still hopes that it was not

so. And that the pain they carry will not let their hearts crack. So

much that is unspeakable is locked up inside.

Unless you meet another, just like you, and no words need be said –

yet all is understood.

Roaming the streets of Olongapo – years after the bases left, I am

moved by what I see.  It has only shaken off the vestiges of its past.

But just barely.. Everywhere you look you  could still see what it

once was – a place where human nature at its worst found expression –

and if you look closer you'll realize that though the faces may have

changed, these women are retracing the steps of those who now only

exist in pictures, movies, or memories of the men who enjoyed the  '

good old days. ' here.

The bars are still here, though not as numerous as when I was still a

child – they are no longer as loud, gaudy, and nasty-- - as before.

Their appearances have also changed – as the people who now spend

hours inside these smoky rooms no longer come from America's shores –

their facades reflect the signs of the times.

It was a source of constant amusement to me as a child to see the

Americans and their ' ladies' prowling the night, hopping from one bar

to the next, with the entire city exuding a fiesta-like atmosphere.

They all looked so happy then. So much cheer in their voices, their

faces brimming over with joy – or so it seemed to me. Amazing how much

time – and a little thought could change the feeling that went with

those memories now.

For a long while, many here thought that this was the best of all

possible worlds – that they were living in the best corner of the

country. Once here, a lot of them probably thought,  they were only a

step away from the promised land – America.

So many people ruined their lives chasing that mirage.

This place was supposed to bring them closer to the realization of

their dreams, I heard these ladies say. But in the end, after they

poured all their youthful innocence, their hopes and dreams, it

splintered their spirit into a million little pieces and crushed their

soul under the neon glow of the bars that lit up the streets of this


In this city, for these people,  all roads led to dead ends. After

losing everything, they found their  backs against the wall. And there

was no way out – for them and for their children.

Do you remember it? A sort of lethargy would creep in when the ships

left – and people would only come back to life again when the ships

came back. This was the cycle of life, the rhythm by which all

creatures of the night lived their lives.

Today, I wonder what it would be like – if my son saw the same things

I did. Although I would do everything in my power to spare him the

worst of what I – and other Amerasians have gone through – I want him

to know what happened here, and what it meant for the rest of us.

Growing up, I now realize, though I experienced most of the hurts that

every Amerasian feels in his heart, I also know that I have been truly

lucky. Because I was spared from the worst of it. I was surrounded by

people who cared for me, by those who would not let me be touched by

the worst of all the terrible things in life that existed.

More than that, my mother, who was an educator by training – showed me

that knowledge is the most powerful thing in the world. And she worked

to give me as much of it  as she could, as much as her capacity would


She was aided in this by others – specifically the Pearl S. Buck

Foundation – an organization founded by an American writer, a woman

who spent the most formative years of her life in Asia, amongst simple

people, the poor and the downtrodden.

The conditions she found in China inspired Pearl to write her best

novels. In time, she would also found an organization that would touch

so many children's lives for the better – including my own.

I imagine that many of the Amerasians I grew up with are now leading

their own lives – as grown ups – hopefully, they have outrun the

demons that hounded the younger versions of themselves.

But there is much you can learn about people when you catch them in

the right moment in time. We all had to pass through here – these

moments that make the sum of our lives , moments where we make the

decisions that often define our destinies. Because we live in the

stream of consequences that inevitably follows every choice that we

make .

So I went to see how younger Amerasians are doing. They are still at

the crossroads of their lives , the most interesting – and important

points – of our entire existence. What happens later – and what they

become later – can be traced back to the choices they made in these


And so I searched for and found them – and in all of them I saw parts

of my own self.

It's amazing how one thing leads to another. If it is true that,

according to a theory in physics, that the flutter of a butterfly's

wings can trigger a tsunami somewhere half way around the world – a

concept that attempts to illustrate how small actions can turn into

colossal events down the river of time – then the decision to begin

the search could conceivably alter a few Amerasians' futures.

So I asked every Amerasian I interviewed if they still wanted to find

their father after all these years. There was not single one of them

who said no. That , I believe, is a testimony not only to their desire

to find their father s – but to their hope that they will find what

they are looking for.

When I met Ollie I asked her if she could do this for the Amerasians

in Olongapo. She said yes without hesitation.

And she did arrive in Olongapo one day, with Jennifer in tow. I

invited all the Amerasians I had interviewed to join us at an internet

café and began our  search. But first every Amerasian – including

myself - had to get all the information we could to trace our

biological parents' whereabouts.

In my case, asking my mother would have been the easiest way to obtain

 this important information.

But that would be  a difficult conversation.  Over the years I had

only picked up little bits and pieces of information about my father,

or the time that they spent together – and I learned all I new about

that from my relatives. I can remember the few times when my mother

volunteered information on her own about the subject. But those times

were rare.

And I never thought to ask her – or insist on knowing. Some things you

just feel are to difficult to talk about in the open. Often, those are

also the most important things in life.  . But here I was, doing it

for the first time. I went to see her about you – not knowing what

she'd tell me. Or how I would feel about it.

One good thing came out of the attempt, I guess. We found JR's father.

And it got me thinking, why shouldn't I give you a call?

There were a few numbers that came up. And then, I tried the most

likely candidate. But I could not get through.

Nothing new in that, I guess. Ever since, I could not get through to

you. Why should my luck change now?

It really felt strange doing that. For a long time I thought of you in

the past tense – like you died. During hard times, I honestly wished

that you were – because I blamed you for everything that's happened to

my mother and I. Now I wish that you were still alive, that I could

talk to you – if only for a moment.

I guess for me, if it came to it, I would choose to know than not to

know what would happen if we met.

And so I am writing you this letter, even though you are a  complete

stranger to me. I don't even know what I'll do when I do find you. But

out of the millions of strangers in the world, you are different- to


Because, no matter the reality, in my heart of hearts I believe that I

do know you – because some part of you lives within me. All I have to

do is look at myself in the mirror to see that it's true. All I have

to do is look at my son – to know that whatever there is of you that

is in me – also lives in him.

And we are not strangers at all.

Now that I have children of my own -- a son and a daughter – I realize

that fully.

Everytime I look at them, I see you – whenever I look at myself in the

mirror, somewhere there, if I look closely enough, you're there .

And I wonder…If you feel the same about me.

Even if we have never met – even if perhaps we never will

Even so, now I only wish you happiness – wherever you are. May these

words find you well. And yes, I ought to thank you – because, all

told, I consider my life to be a gift and I would not have had it

without you.

This boy that I am holding – my son – will know what it means to have

a father. He will not grow up without me, or feel any of the loss that

I felt – that I still feel. His days will be filled with memories of

me, his life will contain my presence – and I wont ever leave him. And

that will be all because of you.

And if we met, maybe then you'll hear me saying these words – in a

voice like your own -  ringing in your ears, so like mine..

Thank you…


I wish you joy – and I wish you well.

1 comment:

Shana said...

Well said. It is such a crime for those fathers to leave their own flesh and blood behind. The least they could do is provide some sort of support for those they left. The american laws regarding child support should have been extended to those citizens unfortunate enough to be stuck in such an inpoverished state. Those children want and need to connect to their families here. I wish I could do something but I don't know where to start or begin.