Approximately 100,000 children of American military men and Vietnamese women, referred to as "Amerasians," were born during and just after the end of the Vietnam Conflict. They faced tremendous difficulties, were labeled as 'children of enemy,' prohibited from going to school and were left out on the streets. Many lost their mothers due to the fear of the cruel new communist government. Many mothers left their children in orphanages or gave their Amerasian children away and disappeared. Years after the war’s end, the children begged in the streets, worked as street vendors, sold their bodies or committed street crimes. Many Vietnamese escaped via boat, risking their lives to make their way to foreign lands. The United Nations and the United States of America took action and the Orderly Departure Program (ODP) and Amerasian Homecoming Act of 1987 created an opportunity for Amerasians and their families. A desire to explore the world would lead Brian Hjort, the founder and director of Father Founded, to become one of the few that has guided Amerasians to their fatherland.
The Amerasian Transit Center-Vietnam
Years after the war’s end, the children begged in the streets, worked as street vendors, sold their bodies or committed street crimes. Many Vietnamese escaped via boat, risking their lives to make their way to foreign lands. The United Nations and the United States of America took action and the Orderly Departure Program (ODP) and Amerasian Homecoming Act of 1987 created an opportunity for Amerasians and their families. A desire to explore the world would lead Brian Hjort, the founder and director of Father Founded, to become one of the few that has guided Amerasians to their fatherland.
The Amerasian Transit Center (ATC) opened in January 1990 to facilitate in processing Amerasians from Vietnam to the United States. It was based in opposite Damn Senh Park in the outskirt of Ho Chi Min City. The center could house 1,000 people and contained small houses and billets where the Amerasians and their families resided while going through the interview process. The ATC had its own system of schools, workshops, common eating places, and a reception area for visitors and foreign dignitaries. The average processing time took 6 months, for some even longer but this microworld helped Amerasians to be productive and prepare for the departure from their birthplace. For others, the wait was even longer, some almost 5 years and when the center closed in 1997, it also dashed the hope for many of the remaining Amerasians.
Brian became involved with the Vietnam Veterans and Amerasians in 1992, when he came to Vietnam as a backpacker. There he met the Amerasians in the streets of Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon. He felt compelled to take action after seeing how they had such a hard life, were humiliated and looked down upon, but remained so friendly and curious when he met them. Brian understood they wanted to be accepted for who they were and not judged based on circumstances they could not control. Most Amerasians he met, spent their time outside the ODP office, waiting to apply for an interview or waiting for the interview to immigrate to the USA. When they were not spending their time outside the ODP office, they lived in the ATC. Brian ended up in the center as a volunteer where he made friends for life. While helping at the transit center he saw the maltreatment Amerasians faced by their own countrymen; this angered Brian enough to push him to act. He turned anger into something positive and he decided to help the Amerasians change their futures. He knew the best way, was to locate their fathers in the United States. Once the funds that supported the ODP program dried up in late 90's, the chance for the remaining Amerasians to leave, went to virtually zero. Most had no information about their American fathers or Vietnamese mothers, they were orphans. With their Western or African American appearance and no other evidence, those that remained in Vietnam were doomed to face racism and cruelty. Knowing the hardships Amerasians in Vietnam were facing firsthand, Brian created a website, and news agencies like the New York Times, the Washington Post and BBC covered his work. Since 1992, his little agency works 24/7 to help the remaining Amerasians in Vietnam.
In 1995, Brian helped an Amerasian woman locate her father in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The Vietnam Veteran was very happy to be united with his daughter and from that point on many other Amerasians reached out to Brian for help. As he has continued to help Amerasians he has also been contacted by Vietnam Veterans asking for help in locating their wives, girlfriends, and children. With the use of commercial DNA tests Brian has become even more successful in finding birth fathers and uniting families.
DNA tests are brought to Vietnam and given to Hung Pham who facilitates delivery to Amerasians there and then taken back to the United States for the lab results. The DNA tests have been a vital tool in locating fathers, dead or alive, or father's families. Under the Amerasian Homecoming Act of 1987, Amerasians from Vietnam are able to leave for the United States once the DNA evidence proved an American father existed. As of 2023, almost every Amerasian that still remains in Vietnam, has been DNA tested. The FF team remains ready to help any Vietnamese Amerasian, whether in Vietnam or the United States, and military veterans to be united.
In 2021 the focus of Father Founded changed to help Amerasians in the Philippines find their American birth fathers. An estimated 50,000 Amerasians, known as “souvenir babies” were created by U.S. military men who were stationed, docked, or deployed in the Philippines. Unfortunately, these children were not included under the Amerasians Homecoming Act of 1987 and cannot come to the United States unless their birth father recognized them both legally and financially before they turned 18. Father Founded is providing free DNA kits in coordination with Amerasian groups in the Philippines. FF is helping to find fathers and create a group of advocates that will reach out to their members of Congress as bi-partisan legislation is introduced.
During his time in the Amerasian Transit Center (ATC), Brian took several photos of the Amerasians and their daily lives there. If you know the names of these people below, or where they live in the USA or Vietnam, then please email him.
THE PHILIPPINE REFUGEE PROCESSING CENTER