Thursday, August 12, 2010

Search for Amerasians from Vietnam War extends worldwide, led by Brian Hjort in Sweden


Brian Hjort didn't plan on going to Vietnam in 1992,
but the trip changed the Danish man's life.§ion#global

In a chance meeting with an Amerasian

he met in Ho Chi Minh City, an idea -- and a personal

mission -- was born: helping to bring Amerasian people from all over

Asia in touch with their American fathers or other relatives.


Internet outreach and a dedicated website,, coupled

with frequent trips

to Vietnam, Hjort has become a kind of accidental angel helping to

bring peace of mind to the adult children of American fathers who

fought or served in the military in Southeast Asia and Japan.

"Amerasian" is a word coined by Pearl S. Buck, the American

novelist, who first used the word in 1964 when talking about children

fathered (and often abandonned) by American soldiers in South Korea

during the Korean War in the 1950s. The term today refers to some two

million mixed-race

children and adults born in such countries as Vietnam, South Korea,

Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and other Asian nations, including

Laos, Cambodia and Thailand, according to Hjort.

During the prolonged Vietnam

War, unofficial figures note that from 40,000 to 100,000 Amerasian children

were sired and often left to fend for themselves in a post-war Vietnam that

did not take kindly to these "childen of the enemy" kids, Hjort said.

Taiwan has a small population of Amerasian adults -- mostly invisible

and blending in with the nation's 23 million people -- whose mothers

were Taiwanese and

whose fathers served with the U.S. military in Taiwan during the 1960s

and 1970s. Hjort would like to visit Taipei and see if he can help

Amerasians here.

Lam Goc Mai is an Amerasian woman from Vietnam, in her early 40s now,

who came to Taiwan ten years ago to marry a middle-aged Taiwanese bachelor. In

Chiayi City, where she lives and works in a popular hot pot restaurant

near the central train station, the lanky, now-divorced Lam cuts a

singular figure with her blond locks and fair-skinned, freckled features.

She speaks pidgin English with a Vietnamese accent and has, of

course, learned to speak Chinese and

Taiwanese here while raising a daughter, now seven.

When a reporter asked Lam if she ever knew her American father, a U.S.

soldier during the Vietnam War, she explains that he went back to his

native land before she was born and has never contacted the family


"I have never even seen his photograph," she says. "My mother

destroyed all his photos after he left her, so I have no idea who he

was or where he lives today, or even if he is alive. Sure, I would

love to find out someday who my father is. My life is okay, but there

is one part still missing. I am afraid I will never find it."

Although Hjort has not yet visited Taiwan, he is aware of Amerasian

adults like Ms. Lam in Taiwan, and has been in contact with a few of

them by email, he said. A website he runs,,

solicits queries and questions from around the world.

His mission began

without a real plan over 15 years ago, he says, and now Hjort -- who is not an

American and was only four years old when the Vietnam War ended in

1975 -- hopes keep his non-profit mission alive for the rest of

his life.

When asked how many Vienamese Amerasians there are, Hjort said he was

not sure of the exact number, "since no official records or figures

exist, no one has ever accounted for ths exact figures." Unofficial

estimates, however, range from 40,000 to 100,000, according to


In addition, a study by the U.S. Office of Refugee Settlement found

that contrary

to many media stereotypes of Vietnamese Amerasians

being the children of bargirls and prostitutes, most mothers were poor

women who worked on or near U.S. army bases to earn money to help

support their families. When they became pregnant and had a baby,

these mothers tried to set up support groups on the base with the

fathers, but the soldiers were often transferred to other bases or

back home to America and all contact was then lost, the study said.

In daily life in Vietnam after the war, many Amerasian children were

referred to as

"con cua ke thu," or children of the enemy, and the epithet stung.

They were said to children of the "bu doi" (the dust of life), and were

looked down upon by relatives and classmates.

Hjort is the most unlikely of independent international aid workers.

He studied to be a blacksmith in Denmark as a teenager, but an

accident that later damaged his eyes made that line of work impossible

to take on. His current day job is in a furniture factory in Sweden,

painting chairs and tables, and the salary allows him to

provide for his wife and daughter while also keeping his dream of

reaching out to Amerasians alive.

When asked what drew him to work first with Amerasians in Vietnam,

Hjort explained that he knew very little about the Vietnam War or the

U.S. role in it since he was born in Denmark just four years before

the war ended in 1975. But on a backpacking trip through Thailand in

the early 1990s, Hjort decided to visit Ho Chi Minh City.

"I met a lot of Amerasians right away in Vietnam then, but one guy I

met, an Amerasian with an American passport, started me off on my

mission, in an indirect way," he said. "His name is Doan

Thanh Vu, or Arnold Doan, and I first met by chance outside the

Amerasian Transit Center in Ho Chi Minh City. He became my friend and

helped me navigate the side streets of old Saigon.

When asked what keeps him going in his outreach work, a religious

faith or a personal philosophy, Hjort said the inspiration

comes from his parents.

"For me, all this is about a love for mankind, a caring for those who

have very little and got a rotten start in life, and a feeling that

one can change things from bad to good," he said. "So

instead of getting angry at all the

sadness and injustice I saw in Vietnam in 1992, all around me, I

decided then and there to try to change things for the better, and I

found that even as just one person, I could make a difference. I found

out what I could do as one person."

"Amerasians need to know their fathers, need to try to find their

fathers, and that's where I felt I could try to help, fill in the gaps

somewhat. I can't save the world, but maybe I can help work with a

small part of it and do my bit, and that's what my mission and

outreach is all about. I hope I can help make the world

at least at little bit better of a place to live in," he said.

"I'm just a rather normal person, I grew up in Denmark, and am living

now in Sweden, married to a Peruvian woman and we have one

daughter," he says. "I treat the Amerasians that I help like family and

friends, and I try to listen to their life stories without judging them."

"I'm Danish, but I've lived outside Denmark for a long time, so I

don't think my being Danish has much to do with my work

with Amerasians," he said. "But I believe I got this attitude,

this philosophy of trying to make the world

a better place, from my parents. When I was a kid in Denmark, they

were always helping out those less fortunate than us, so they were

always my main inspiration."

"My work is to help Amerasians, especially those from

Vietnam to try to track down their American fathers in the United

States, and sometimes it works out and the father and the son or


can reconnect, if both parties wish to, of course. When am in Vietnam,

I meet with Amerasians in Ho Chi Minh City and conduct

information-gathering interviews with them, trying to find all the

information I can about their fathers, including photographs."

When asked how his website works, and how Amerasians can use it,

including those in Taiwan, Hjort

said: "I run the website by myself and when I need a translator for an

email from someone in

Vietnam, for example, I use some online translations programs

online, or one of my Vietnamese friends or acquiantances

will help me with translations."

"Any day of the week, I get anywhere from five to

twenty hits on my website, sometimes more, sometimes less, it all

depends," Hjort said, explaining that he started the website around

ten years ago. "Most of the hits come from America

and Vietnam, and the Philippines, Canada, Germany and Britain as well.

While the number of people who access my site and find their fathers

this way is small, and they really need luck on their side, of course,

many of the cases on my site are wild cards and one never knows what


happen. It's mostly hit and miss. The website itself, just by being up

and out there, serves a

purpose that way."

Hjort estimates that he has been in communication through his website

and visits to Vietnam with around 700 Amerasians since 1995, but that

only 20 Amerasians have met their fathers through the project so far.

But sometimes Hjort and his team get lucky, he said.


recently, I was able to help an Amerasian woman of Vietnamese

heritage, now living in Arizona, locate her father who, it turns out,

lives in Oregon," he said. "One of my assistants who lives in Florida,

Joseph Skalamera,

called the father to make sure it

was okay to initiate the contact, and the father took the call and

cried like a baby when he heard his daughter was searching for him."

"The two now plan to have

a face to face meeting soon, and I can't wait to see the photographs

and post them on my website," Hjort said. "Skalamera is a Vietnam vet,

and he's also trying to locate his brother Anthony's son,

who is an Amerasian Vietnamese, but they can't find him yet. The two

brothers served together in Vietnam during the war. He's trying to locate

an Amerasian nephew, his brother's son, but no luck so far. But at the

same time, he's

been helping me on other cases for the past two months from his home

in Florida."

Skalamera served two military

tours in the 1960s in Vietnam during the war, he told the

Taipei Times in a recent email. He goes back to Vietnam from time

to time with a veterans humanitarian group, Vets with a Mission.

Skalamera said his brother Anthony, who passed away four years ago,

told him of a child

he had fathered during a tour of duty in Vietnam in 1967. The

Amerasian man would now be about about 43,

Skalamera said.

"For my brother's dying wish, I will try to find this man," he said.

"I will be going back to Vietnam as part of this group in September,"

he said. "I've been working with Brian for about two months now, and I

was forunate enough to locate a former soldier who lives in Oregon who

did not even know that he had a Amerasian daughter. She lives in

Arizona, and now they are in touch. I can tell you, I was as excited

as he was once he found out!"

"But most of the cases that Brian has given me are a lot more

difficult," Sklalamera said. "Some guys deny that they even had sex

over there with a Vietnamese girl during the war, and of course, some

vets are dead and it's difficult to locate family members."

Hjort hopes to visit Taiwan in the near future, to meet with

Amerasians here, he said,

although he has not fixed date yet and is still raising travel funds.

For Lam Goc Mai in Chiayi, Hjort's visit might help answer some of her

questions, too.



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