Sunday, May 4, 2014

Bui Doi, The Dust of Life

The term Bui Doi refers to a child born sometime during the Vietnam War, whose father was an American soldier, and whose mother was Vietnamese (Amerasians). Literally translated, Bui Doi means "dust of life". These children, along with their mothers were the outcasts of the Vietnamese society, and were discriminated against by all. In 1975, approximately 50,000 children of mixed races were left behind in Vietnam. This was a massive problem. Obviously, each of those 50,000 kids was going to have to fight for their lives everyday, and many of them would die prematurely. During my visits to Vietnam I met many of these children and young adults. Each day they congregated in a park called "Amerasian Park" not far from the former Independence Palace in Saigon. Most of those that I met lived on the streets. The lucky ones lived with grandparents and a few lived with their mothers. They all dreamed, they told me, of coming to the United States. They were, after all, American citizens by birth but without the ability to prove it -- other than with their complexion and features. When they heard that visiting Americans were leaving Saigon, the usually gathered outside the hotel where the visitors were staying and watched them leave -- some waving, many crying, all of them hoping not to be forgotten. Seeing them, leaving them, was one of the most heartbreaking experiences imaginable.

In the Boat People camps of Hong Kong I also located many Amerasian children and helped, with the essential assistance of the International Red Cross and other organizations staffing the camps, to put them in touch with organizations that might help them come to America. I interviewed many of these children with the help of my translator Tran Thi My Ngoc. Some of the interviews are included after the photographs below. The Bui Doi are remembered also in one of the touching songs from "Miss Saigon," -- Bui Doi, the Dust of Life.

“I Have Seen So Many Bad Things in My Life”

My name is Huong, but people call me Lily. I am seventeen. I don’t know who my father is. I need to go to America. I don’t go to school here. I went to school in Vietnam only three years. Then I went to work.

Every day people say to me on the street, “Hello, American.” People see my face. They know I have an American father. When I went to school some children they don’t like me. They said, “Amerasian no good.” I’m sad when I hear that.

I listen to people who come here and who speak English and so now I can speak English. I work for tourists when they come here. I translate for them and show them the city. I want to go to America and I want to go to school, and then I want to become a painter. I cannot paint now because I must work all the time. My father in America is a Christian and my mother is a Buddhist. I want to paint religious pictures because it gives me something good to think about and I have seen so many bad things in my life. I have suffered so much, so I don’t want to think about that.

I like American music. I listen to it and I learn English.

I know something about the war. I’ve read about it. But I don’t want anybody to think bad of my father, though, because of the war. Now I want a picture of my father so I can see what he looks like. I don’t want to live with him. I just want to see what he looks like so I can know. I don’t know anything about him right now.

In the future I might want to have some children. But I want to do it in a way so that my children will not suffer the same fate that I suffered. Not without a father.

I would want to share my life experiences with my children so they will understand how hard life can be and they can be better people and so they will never be in a situation like I am in. I am not happy. I smile and I laugh because I am talking to you. But there is nothing here to be happy about.

I listen to the song “We Are the World.” And I get very happy. People from many countries without problems singing. I want people to be like that. I don’t want to see anything like war. Just happy people singing.

Nguyen Diep Doan Trang
“It is Different for Me Here”

I am 19 years old. I know nothing about my father. He was an American. I have no information on him but I have a picture of my father’s friend. My father’s friend was a go-between for my mother and my father.

I finished my high school education last year. Now I help my mother in her job as a midwife. My mother makes my clothes for me and makes them like American clothes.

I want to go to the US because I look different from the people here and I think I look more like Americans, so it would be better for me to live in America. I feel self conscious because I am taller than my friends. I feel different and it is difficult for me to live here.

I know American through the picture of my father’s friend and through visitors. I have learned through magazines also. I want to go to the US and go to the university there and become a chemist.

I don’t know anything about the war. Nothing.

I think was father is a big, tall guy because of my own size. If he knew that I was here I know he would love me. My mother told me in the past that my father really loved her. But they lost contact.

I want some day to tell my children about my life and about how I came to the United States of America.

Some day I want to get married and have two children. But first I want to go with me mother and my two half-sisters to America.

My Linh
“It’s a Hard Life

My father’s name was Isaac. My mother showed me pictures of him. I have a Vietnamese husband now. I am going to have a baby so Isaac will be a grandfather. I wish I could tell him that.

I went to school until the sixth grade. Then I stayed home and helped my mother sell things on the street in Ho Chi Minh City. I want to go to America because my father is over there and I want to learn to be a dressmaker. My father writes to me in English and he tells me about America.

It’s a hard life here.

I have no religion. What is that?

I hope I can go to America this year. I have been trying to leave for the United States since 1981. But they won’t let me go.

“Half Breed”

I have no other name. Just Minh. I am sixteen. I lived in Tay Ninh. I was looking after the cattle for my family. I was with those people since I was very small. I called them Aunt and Uncle. I moved to Saigon and now I work in a coffee shop.

Somebody brought me to Saigon. I don’t know who it was. I live with a family that runs a coffee shop and I live and eat there. I have never gone to school I cannot read words.

When I lived in the countryside they did not treat me well. Here people call me names because I am half American. They call me “Half Breed.” But I am treated well in the coffee shop.

I know nothing about my father. I have no idea who my parents are. I have nevere known them. I think I love my parents even thought I don’t know who they are or where they are. That, I think, is what love is, what I feel inside myself about my parents.

I want to go to the United States to find my father now. I have seen other people leaving for the US and I want to go now. I don’t know anything about America. Only what I hear people say about America.

I don’t know anything about the war.

When I get to America I will do what I can do for work. I don’t have any religion. I don’t even know what that is.

I am an American. People here say I am an American. So I am an American.

Vo Thi Quan Yen
“I Know I Am an American”

I am fifteen. In the beginning I thought I was a Vietnamese. Then my father contacted me. Now I know I am an American. I don’t know my father’s name. I never knew him until now. I went to school until the seventh grade and then stopped. Then I started selling bananas on the street. Now I live with my aunt and uncle. They raised me. My mother is in contact with me also. But I feel no bond to my mother because she deserted me when I was six years old.

My father wants me to be in America now so I want to be there. I want to go to school again. Here life is hard. I want to become a doctor like my father, some day. He was a resident doctor in the Grall Hospital here. The French hospital. He left here in 1973.

I don’t know anything about the war. I watched movies and now I think the American government did not treat the Vietnamese people right. They did terrible things to the Vietnamese.

Up to six years of age I had a normal childhood and did things that children do. But now I live with my aunt and uncle and they are poor. So now I work. I am a Buddhist because my aunt and uncle are Buddhists. My father is a Christian so when I go to America I will be a Christian. I could not imagine my father’s face for a long time, but then I got his picture and now I think I look like my father.

I work every day. What I like to do is to play ball or swim, but I cannot do these things because I have to go to work. Now I am looking forward to seeing my father and I hope that life will be better then.

I want to go, but I feel bad because I have to leave my aunt and uncle behind and I will miss my half sister. But I don’t care what happens to my mother here. When I get to America I will bring my aunt and uncle and half sister to America, too.

Nguyen Ngoc Linh
“Life Will Be Better”

My parents abandoned me when I was a baby. Then they came back to get me in 1972. But I didn’t want to leave then. My dad’s name is John Small.

My parents were in contact with me and then Saigon fell and they got in touch with me after that again. I was in school until the sixth grade. Then I stopped going because I didn’t like it any more. Now I don’t do anything. I stay home. My parents in America send me some money. I don’t speak any English. I’ll learn English in the US when I get there. I don’t now what I want to be when I get to America. I think maybe I want to become a soccer player.

I don’t know anything about the war.

I want to go to America because my parents and brothers and sisters are there and if I go there life will be better.


tim ritter said...

i found out today that i may have a half brother or sister in Vietnam. my father passed in 2012. his name was Ronald Edward Ritter. a sergeant with the 82nd airborne.we never opened his footlocker because he always told us not to our whole lives. when we found this out, we opened it and found pictures. we don't know who the woman is, what her name is, anything. except they were in Saigon. i found out today she was 7 months pregnant when my father was wounded in 1968. we would very much like to find this person and welcome them into the family, if they are interested. i wouldn't blame them if they were not as what my dad did was unforgivable, but blood is thicker than water and we want to be there for our brother or sister, or at least talk to them. my email is here is a photo of the lady and my dad. we couldn't help but notice the wedding ring and have no idea what it means. we don't know if he married her. thank you for any help.

Char Edson said...

Hi Tim, I suggest two avenues to attempt to connect.
You can do DNA testing with big sites like Ancestry and 23andme which will match you to DNA relatives, and also try contacting these folks whom will know whom to reach out to: