July 28, 2013 @ 3:00 am
In May 2013, the US Senate Judiciary Committee approved an Immigration Reform bill that would gradually make citizenship possible for as many as 11 million undocumented immigrants. While described as sweeping in scope, it leaves the plight of another group of would-be Americans unaddressed, that is Amerasians in the Philippines.
There is an estimated 52,000 Amerasians in the Philippines fathered by American military servicemen, a number substantially larger than those living in neighboring countries. This is explained by the presence of the US military in the Philippines for 94 years from the Spanish American War in 1898 to the closure of Clark Air Force Base and Subic Naval Base in 1992, the two largest American overseas bases at the time. Despite these closures, the U.S. continues military activities through a Visiting Forces Agreement and last year announced plans to restore a significant presence in the Philippines, to include rotations of US Marines initially designated for relocation to Guam in the 2006 military buildup plan.
When these bases closed 21 years ago, many Amerasian children were left behind. Although the U.S. Congress passed the Amerasian Immigration Act of 1982, which gave preferential immigration status to Amerasian children born in Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos during the Vietnam War, it does not include those born in the Philippines. Filipino Amerasians can become a US citizen only if the American father claims the child before age 18.
This episode examines the Amerasian experience in the Philippines and in Guam. The first segment features three interviews conducted in March 2013 in Olongapo City, just outside the former Subic Naval Base (now the Subic Bay Freeport Zone). We begin with Alma Bulawan, founder and president of the Buklod Center, a drop in center established in 1987 that advocates for the rights of girls and women, especially those in the prostitution industry.
This is followed by interviews with two Amerasian women, Frigel (‘Fri’) Kupia and Brenda Moreno, both daughters of African-American servicemen and Filipino ‘bar girls’. These interviews were conducted two weeks after the celebration of Amerasian Day in Olongapo City on March 4. Fri was abandoned by her mother, escaped from an orphanage, and lived on the streets from age 13 to 17. With assistance from the Buklod Center, she now works full-time at the Preda Foundation, a non-profit organization that rescues children from abuse, prison and exploitation. Brenda, age 45, is a mother and grandmother, a former bar girl and since 2007, an outreach worker and organizer for the Buklod Center.
Following these accounts is an interview conducted in Guam on January 26, 2013 with Nhoriel Reyes, a third generation Amerasian and native of Olongapo City who has been a resident of Guam for six years. He was raised by his mother who took on various jobs in the city to support him and his two younger siblings. She eventually married a merchant marine in the U.S. military sealift command. Reyes came to Guam in 1997 at the age of eighteen, and immediately enlisted in the Navy. His seven years of service as a Corpsman included assignments at Guam Naval Hospital, South Carolina, and Iraq in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
This episode includes excerpts from the documentary film “Left by the Ship” (2010, in English and Tagalog, with English subtitles) by Emma Rossi-Landi and Alberto Vendemmiati (see http://www.leftbytheship.com/film.html and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gk0j6e3D3xk). This film explores the experience of being Amerasian in the Philippines from the perspective of journalist Robert Ianne Gonzaga, who narrates the film, and three young Amerasians in Olongapo City who were filmed with the assistance of the Buklod Center. “Left by the Ship” premiered in Guam last August at the 2012 Guam International Film Festival but has yet to be screened publicly in Olongapo City where the documentary was filmed.