ABOVE TOP, JOE -- ABOVE, BRIAN
Brian Hjort didn't plan on going to Vietnam in 1992,
but the trip changed the Danish man's life.
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, FatherFounded.org, 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
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
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, amerasian-childfind.org,
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
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
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,
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
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,
"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