The Vietnam War, which ended nearly forty years ago, today still continues to touch multiple generations of people: Vietnamese from the South who were forced to flee on treacherous journeys or remain to endure the horrors of Communist persecution; American war veterans who returned home traumatized; and countless others whose stories never commanded a high profile. This is one of those stories that didn’t quite keep the American public enthralled for long but yet within its short shelf life managed to change the lives. It illustrates the power of photography in the media world in challenging and changing society. It is the story of the Vietnamese Amerasians—children born of unions between US servicemen and Vietnamese women.
Despite the fact that we are indebted to photography for bringing the plight of the Vietnamese Amerasians to the attention of the American public it is easy to overlook the fact that most of the early photographs showed ‘white’ Amerasians, which by implication, American fathers. A racial logic where whiteness equates American ties and readers are persuaded to recognize the ‘American’ in the Amerasians.
By and large, the media, with a helping hand from photography, became successful in persuading the fragile American public that they bear a moral and social responsibility towards these Amerasians. There was a clear bias in the media to portray these Amerasians as ‘Americans’ left behind in Vietnam, needing to be saved, perhaps as a mean to assuage the American guilt and to bring some kind of purgative closure to one aspect of the Vietnam War. America was persuaded that the Amerasians are not Vietnamese responsibility. Laws, such as the Homecoming Act, were passed and the Amerasians were given easy passage to immigrate to America. To come home.
When these children grew older, interest in Amerasians began to fade, as did journalistic coverage of the issue. The US government eventually withdrew funding for the Homecoming Act. Media coverage and popular interest in Amerasians in both America and Vietnam has since been very sparse.