"In America, I wouldn't have any problems," explains Paul (Kwang Gyun) Shin, a sepia-toned Amerasian who affects the swagger of the South Philadelphia dude he imagines his father to have been. "I could stop fighting and wouldn't have to hear the word twigi -- "wild seed" -- every day. I love my mother, but I want my inheritance. If I have my father's face, I should be able to live in my father's country."
Long before he saw David Devoss' article in GEO magazine, from which the passage above is taken, Rep. Stewart McKinney (R-Conn.) had known of the problems confronting Amerasians in Asia. His interest was sparked several years ago during a visit to Korea, and since then, he has made it a point to learn more about these outcasts -- mostly the children of Asian women and American servicemen -- and to do something about their plight. His basic proposal, contained in a bill he reintroduced in May, is pretty much what Paul Shin, a young South Korean, had in mind: let them come to America.
"It is time the United States admits our soldiers fathered thousands of children in Asia, children those soldiers abandoned, when they returned home, to a life that is no life," McKinney said the other day.
"These are our children, and they have ben left to a future of little or no opportunity for education or jobs. Probably even worse, they have been abandoned in a society which does not recognize them as people because they are not pure, to a people which does not look at them as they walk down the street, unless it is to call them dirty names.
"And their only sin is that they have U.S. fathers."
Nobody knows how many of these Amerasians there are -- partly because neither the Asians nor the Americans have shown much interest in counting them -- but estimates from 30,000 to as many as 150,000. Most of them are in Korea. Vietman, Laos and Thailand. And nearly all of them live as pariahs, uneducated, jobless and shunned.
South Korea may be the worst, although there have been unconfirmed reports that Amerasian babies in Laos have actually been slaughtered. Some untold number of them are children of prostitutes, but many were born to long-term alliances between Asian women and GIs. Still, few of their fathers have provided support after their return to the States. Their own governments take no interest in them.
While the children of white servicemen are marginally less despised than those of black or Latino GIs, it is small consolation. Listen again to Devoss:
"Lee Sung-gu waits for his bus in icy silence. In the distance, downtown Seoul is emerging from the predawn gloom, but the approach of a new day brings no promise of a brighter day for Lee. He is an Amerasian, the son of a Korean mother and an American father. That alone makes him a cipher, a pariah beneath notice. He is only matter-of-fact when he says, 'I can truthfully say that I've never had a Korean friend.'
"Few societies would fail to value a presentable young man like Lee. His bearing is erect, his manner precise. He is a devout Presbyterian and a devoted son. He performs well at his modest job as a vegetable chef in one of Seoul's most exclusive private clubs. And yet the visible fact of his parentage condemns him to contempt or invisibility. When they speak to him at all, his co-workers use a form of address reserved for menials and children. Korean women of every class and profession avoid him. Only by agreeing to a marriage arranged by his church has he managed to avoid a life of celibacy."
McKinney's bill, while drafted to avoid "throwing open the gates to mass immigration," would "correct a flaw in the current immigration statute which now denies Amerasians their true status."
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 assigns Amerasians to the lowest, "non-preferential," class of immigrants -- which means that they have little realistic hope of coming to America for five or 10 years at the least.
Many of the younger Amerasians are available -- and wanted -- for adoption here, but their low immigration status prevents it. The McKinney proposal, which would requrie each applicant to have a U.S. sponsor (who would guarantee support at no less than 125 percent of the official poverty level) would move them nearer the head of the immigration line.
What's in it for McKinney politically? Nothing. Maybe less than nothing. Bridgeport, which is in his congressional district, has a large number of Haitians and Latinos who, because the McKinney proposal would favor the Amerasians, over their won compatriots, might attack him for bigotry.
If it were a question of international charity, McKinney might agree with them. But it is justice, not charity, that motivates McKinney. "These are our children" he says.