For the 43-year-old Tuan Nguyen, the challenge is the uncertainty about whether he belongs in America or in Vietnam.
When he tried to go to college in Vietnam, he said, “They kicked me out because I was an Amerasian.” Now he’s an American citizen, but he’s mystified that he has no relationship with the American soldier who was his father. “The American love,” he said, “and Asian love are different.”
He and his wife, Myhanh Ngo, own T&H 2000 Hair Salon on North State Street. The couple are among the thousands of offspring of American soldiers and Vietnam women who have immigrated to the U.S. under the 1987 Amerasian Homecoming Act. In Vietnam, many of them say, they were considered children of the enemy and endured much discrimination.
The Vietnam War ended in 1975, leaving approximately 30,000 Amerasian children without legal or social equality in Vietnam. 1987 the U.S. Congress passed the Amerasian Homecoming Act, which allowed an estimated 23-25,000 Amerasians and 60-70,000 of their relatives to immigrate to the U.S., according to the Vietnamese American Subject Guide from The Vietnam Center and Archive of Texas Tech University.
Many came with the expectations to live a better life. Many hoped to find their American fathers. But many struggle with the confused identity that still troubles Nguyen.
Leon Trang, the owner of the New Century Vietnamese restaurant in Syracuse, has been in the U.S. since 1984. “In Vietnam, people look at them with discrimination, they were treated differently,” said Trang. “Those people were living terribly in Vietnam.”
For barbershop owner Myhanh Ngo, she has a very strong will to find her biological American father. She has been searching for him since she came to the United States. But she didn’t know his family name or the name of the army unit in which he served. She only remembers that her mother called him Don.
“I want to find my father, but I don’t know how to start,” Ngo said. “I don’t know how can I do without the last name.”
For her husband, Nguyen, what has tortured him the most was neither being away from Vietnam nor the language barriers. It was the growing confusion, as he enters the middle age of his life, about whether he has become more American or more Vietnamese.
Nguyen has been living in Syracuse since 1992. But, he said, he has always stayed in the small Vietnamese community without many interactions with the local Americans. “I have been in schools and have learned English in Vietnam so it’s not a big problem for me,” said, Nguyen. “But still, two cultures are very different.”
(Mei Wang is a graduate student in magazine, newspaper and online journalism.)