Like many children, Jimmy Miller recalls a childhood filled with bullying and abuse.
But for him it was different. The son of an American soldier and a Vietnamese woman, Miller was born in the shadow of the Vietnam War and was among the thousands of babies left behind after the U.S. withdrew from the conflict in 1975. Miller's parents were married, but a combat injury forced his father to return to the U.S. when Miller was a baby.
These war babies – known as Amerasians — were called names like "children of the dust" and "half-breeds." Many of them were abandoned by their mothers – dropped off at orphanages or even thrown into trash cans — amid fears they would be attacked by the Communist government.
"After the war, the Vietnamese society seen us as the blood of the enemy," Miller tells Here & Now's Robin Young. "When Americans left, they turned their hatred on us. We get mistreated really badly."
It is unknown exactly how many Amerasians were born. Miller immigrated to the U.S. as a young man, and his own experience prompted him to found Amerasians Without Borders in 2015. The organization uses DNA testing to identify Amerasians still in Vietnam, advocates for them to immigrate to the U.S., and supports them once they are resettled.
For years, both the U.S. and Vietnamese governments failed to take responsibility for this side effect of war. Then in 1987, Congress passed the American Homecoming Act, which allowed children in Vietnam who were born of American fathers during the war years to immigrate to the U.S.
Miller applied, and in 1990, he and his family moved to Spokane, Wash. A report by the U.S. General Accounting Office estimates that between 20,000 and 30,000 Amerasians lived in Vietnam in 1987, but by 1994, more than 75,000 had moved to the U.S.
When Miller was approved, the only proof he had of his father was his name, a photo and letters his father wrote with no return addresses. He contacted the American Red Cross for help, but it said he didn't have enough information to trace his father.
"I thought maybe my dad already passed away," he says. "So I give up until 1994 when I'm getting ready for marriage, and my sister, she thought she wanted to give me a gift for the wedding that I'd never forget."
Only one of his father's letters was postmarked — Fayetteville, N.C. Miller's sister, who worked at the public library in Spokane, called the library in Fayetteville to see if her brother's father was registered. Miller's sister called the number in the library's file for James A. Miller, and left her brother's contact information.
Shortly after, Miller's father called him and asked for his son, Jimmy. After 27 years apart, Miller's father and stepmother flew to Washington to meet him. Miller says his stepmother was sympathetic because she too was the product of an American soldier and a German mother during World War II.
Meeting his father inspired Miller to help other Amerasians come to the U.S. and find their fathers. Since Miller came to the U.S., the 1987 law giving Amerasians preferred immigration status has gotten a lot tougher.
Many Amerasians don't have any proof that their fathers were American because they were abandoned as children or their mothers discarded any evidence due to the stigma surrounding it. Miller says what makes Amerasians an object of scorn in Vietnam – their appearance – often doesn't help them in the U.S. immigration process.
"We clearly look different than normal, ordinary Vietnamese people," he says.
Through DNA testing of about 500 people, Miller says Amerasians Without Borders has identified about 400 Amerasians still in Vietnam. Miller initially struggled to get his project started due to the relatively high price of DNA kits, but he says a partnership with Texas-based Family Tree DNA has reduced the cost.
Miller says his organization recently launched a petition urging President Trump to launch new efforts to bring Amerasians back the U.S. He says he was lucky enough to come to the U.S., reconnect with his father and build a better life for himself. But what about the other Amerasians stuck in Vietnam?
"Forty-three years later, [the] U.S. government still has the obligation to go back to Vietnam, gouging the dirt, looking for the remains of the missing in actions, while their children [are] still in Vietnam, still alive, still walking on the face of the Earth," Miller says. We need to "bring our kids back home."
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