They are the product of a war America has tried to forget. In Korea they're called panjant, in Thailand, farang. In Vietnam they are con lai-- "mixed blood" -- and bui doi, literally "the dust of life." They are Amerasians, children of American soldiers and Vietnamese mothers, the most enduring human legacy of the horror of the Vietnam War.
In his new book Vietnamerica, the American journalist Thomas Bass has written a moving story of the Amerasians and their battle for identity against indifferent bureaucracies here and abroad. Vietnamerica is also a book about the erosion of memory and resolve, the intractable traditions that made these children strangers at home, and the pain of their (too-infrequent) encounters with their fathers in America, a country dealing with its own racial intolerance.
The book's historical overview traces the origins of the dilemma to before the Vietnam War, back to the turn of the century. One surprising estimate Bass relates is that perhaps as many as two million Amerasians have been born since American soldiers first landed in Asia, during the Spanish-American War. But the book's most affecting content concerns people in despair. Consider Huynh Thi Huong, a woman who came within a hair's breadth of leaving Vietnam to seek her father in America, only to have her hopes dashed by interminable red tape; or Phuong Thao, a Vietnamese actress who, despite a meaningful career, must play the bureaucratic game, and who asks Bass: "Will you help me find my father? There is a wound in the heart of my mother that I want to help her heal."
In the book's title itself, Bass smartly conflates the intertwining destinies of America and Vietnam, destinies that still link the countries a generation after the war. With incisive wit, compassion and formidable intelligence, Bass has shown how, until the patriation issue is settled, the Vietnam War is ever with us, an apocalypse for now and always. -- Salon