I first met Tran Van Hai in February of 2012 on my first trip to Ho Chi Minh City. He was my second African Amerasian that I interviewed after Cao Thi My Kieu. I was having a drink at a local bar when Hung Phan arrived with a friend in tow. With thick, wiry hair and a most unmistakable African American features, Hai came up to me with a quick smile and shook my hands vigorously. We sat down for a drink and a quick chat. He later invited us to his home for lunch and promise to tell his story then.
We arrived at his small apartment above a butcher’s inside a small market. Hai was happy to see us and took us into his humble abode with the table laid out with plates of food and copious amount of beer. He introduced us to his Vietnamese wife, his oldest daughter, Tien, from his first marriage and his two younger children.
We all sat down to a delicious meal and after some cold beer, with Hung acting as a translator, Hai begin to tell his story:
“I was born in May 1971 in Phan Rang which is about 350 km northeast of Ho Chi Minh City. My mother, Tran Nhuong Thi, used to work as a house maid in 1969 for the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing based out of Phan Rang Air Base. That’s where she met my African American father and I think she said that his name was Mark or something similar. She doesn’t remember much about him these days except that he probably worked as a manager at the carpentry department of the Air Base. In any case, he left before I was born. I came from a rather large family and two of my half sisters were also Amerasians but from a different father to mine. We were close but one of my Amerasian sisters died of food poisoning because we didn’t have any money to pay for a doctor. The other married a Vietnamese man and was able to immigrate to the US under the Amerasian Homecoming Program. She now lives in St Louis, Missouri, with her family and sends some money back every year.
My sister tried to get me over on a family visa but we were told that I could only immigrate to the US under the Amerasian Homecoming Program. Unfortunately, due to the lack of evidence I was unsuccessful. This has been very frustrating for me to say the least because based on one of the prerequisite for application – having Amerasian features – I should have qualified. I kept on applying and was unsuccessful on all accounts. Later a Vietnamese woman approached me and offered money if I am willing to make a false application with a Vietnamese woman with two children. Being short on money at the time I agreed.
For reasons unknown to me, the fake application came through and I was granted a visa. This made me very angry because I’ve been rejected based on a genuine application but passed on a fake one. Besides, I already have a wife and two children and I can’t possibly leave them here. So I sent a letter to the US Consulate to protest and they cancelled my visa.
So now I’m back to square one. I’ve since remarried and my current wife and me have two children of our own. Our marriage wasn’t easy as her family was very much against her marrying a con lai (mixed blood person) and her friends warned her that I was not to be trusted.
Now I work as a driver delivering construction materials and my wife is a teacher. With our small income we are able to support our two young children and also help out the two older kids from my first marriage.
I’m not going to give up trying to apply for an immigrant visa for as long as the Amerasian Homecoming Act is in effect. I really hope to go to the United States someday and look for my father. I want to be able to hold him and tell him how much his absence has affected me. I want to introduce all his grandchildren to him and most of all I want to ask him why he abandoned my mother and me and had made no effort in the last forty years to return to Vietnam to look for us.”
Hai couldn’t hold his tears as he finished off his story.