The Forgotten Angels
When Robert Roydall Reese was 14 years old, his mother gave up and kicked him out. He was, she said, uncontrollable, too much like his father�too black. Robert's father is named John Roydall Reese. He is from West Virginia. That is all Robert knows about him. That is all he knows about the man that made him too black.
Throughout the Philippines, there are tens of thousands of children who are like Robert, and tens of thousands more who are too white. They are called multo, or ghost, if they are light-skinned, and kulot, or curly-haired, if they are dark. A nickname that applies to both groups is Babay na sa, or Bye-bye to daddy. In all, there are 52,000 mixed-race children nationwide, most the unwanted offspring of Western men and Filipina prostitutes. Some, like 16-year-old Robert, live on the streets, surviving on handouts and sniffs of mind-numbing glue. "They are born in shame," says Agnes Espiritu, a women's and child-rights activist based in Angeles City, home to what was once Clark Air Force Base, one of the the U.S.'s largest facilities in Asia before being returned to the Philippines in 1991. "They can't hide their history because it is printed so clearly on their faces."
Nowhere in the Philippines are there more mixed-race children than in Angeles. For decades, young American recruits wandered the girlie bars that proliferated outside the base. Many soldiers never knew about their unexpected progeny; others accepted them and nurtured families, especially if they were stationed in Angeles for several years. (Even after returning home, many continued sending money for their support.)
But when Clark closed in 1991, everything changed. By the mid-'90s, the town began marketing its nubile wares on the Web, offering two-week, $1,700 sex tours to American and European men hankering for young flesh. Touted one website: "Recreational sex is the sport of choice. You can get loaded and laid regardless of your age, weight, physical appearance, interpersonal skills, wealth or social class." Viagra reinvigorated business, too: by 1999, the visiting population of Angeles had shifted from young American G.I.s to boozy retirees, few of whom felt like supporting instant families. Unfortunately, the girls they liked best were the ones most likely to get pregnant: callow Catholic girls from the countryside with little knowledge of birth control. The population of unwanted mixed-blood children continued to grow.
At Checkpoint, a tin-roof shantytown next to the entrance to the former base, those young Catholic girls have had to grow up quickly. Melinda Basilan started working the strip stage at the Tahitian Queen when she was 16 years old. Now, she has two children. Stephanie is three, and her father is English. John Michael is two; his father is an American from Georgia. The Yank has promised to visit in May, but no one in the dirt alley is holding his breath. Checkpoint is filled with mothers waiting for fathers who never come back.
Next door, 14-year-old Jaime Adriano is waiting, too. He was only two months old when his mother abandoned him, overwhelmed by the prospect of raising an Amerasian child on her own. Jaime lives with a foster family, sleeping in a coffin-sized bedroom where he keeps his hip-hop clothes and prized hair gel. Neighbors whisper that his foster father beats him, but there is nowhere for the 14-year-old boy to go. School is out for the former honor-roll student: his foster father recently lost his job and Jaime's $10 tuition was the first expense to be cut. "I'd like to go to America," he says. "You can go to school, even if you're black and poor."
Back when Clark was open, Amerasian children of servicemen did have a chance to go to the U.S.�if their mothers could prove paternity. While that didn't happen too often, the occasional success story gave others hope, and they bombarded the U.S. embassy in Manila with citizenship applications. Older Amerasian girls traded on their exotic-but-familiar looks to marry serving soldiers, later settling in prosaic places like Oklahoma City and Fort Wayne. But with the base gone, so are the servicemen and the link to American passports. Few of the Europeans or Americans who descend on Angeles these days stay long enough to leave more than a vague sense of identity�and sometimes a souvenir baby. Four-year-old Helen, with her dirty blond hair and pink cheeks, could be half-American, half-English or half-Australian. "I can't tell the difference between all those accents," says her mother Julie. "But I think his name was Scott. Is that an American name?"
Ollie Barge has an American name, but not much else. She never knew her parents, having been raised by a foster mother. When her college was flooded by mud slides from the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991, the school relocated and Barge couldn't afford the commute. She tried getting work at the garment factories now prospering on the former base. But each time she carefully combed back her curly hair and went for an interview, the managers turned her away. Only a handful of mixed-race Filipinos have landed jobs at Clark Special Economic Zone, where thousands of other locals have found work. "My father served at this base," complains Barge, 23. "But I cannot work there. The Filipinos say 'go to America.' The Americans say 'get a job in your own country.'"
Discrimination affects the half-black children most deeply, but the lighter-skinned Eurasians suffer also. Other students know these kids' mothers are probably prostitutes, and schoolyard taunts reflect that open secret. "I don't want them talking bad about my mother," says Bryan Enders, an 11-year-old whose American father died of cirrhosis of the liver two years ago. "But I can't say anything, because they will beat me up." Even the teachers sometimes pitch in, blaming the biracial students for fomenting classroom dissent. "They act up more than others," says Juanita de la Cruz, who has five mixed-race students in her elementary school class. "I think it's because their blood is all mixed up. They feel most comfortable hanging on the streets with other Amerasian kids."
In fact, most of the Amerasian children avoid the sleazy lanes where their mothers sold themselves to their fathers. "When I see a Western man with a Filipina girl, I feel sick," says 19-year-old Paul Calumpiano, who is half-American. "But I can do nothing but throw stares at the man's back." Others, though, have no choice but to return to the bars teeming with retired American postal workers and overweight German laborers. Mixed-race boys can find work as deejays, bouncers or, if they're tall, play for a local basketball team.
But for a poor, young girl in Angeles, there is little to trade on except her body. Northern European men prefer the darker-skinned Amerasians, while the Japanese go for lighter skin. Jewel, 18, plies the streets in front of Splash, Lollipop and Confetti's, where drunken men amble with a girl in one hand and a San Miguel beer in the other. She's never met her American father, but her mother says he had a scar on his left calf. So every time Jewel meets a middle-aged American, she checks his leg, just in case. "I don't know what I will say if I meet him," she says, pulling the hem of her pink leather skirt down her thighs. "But I think I will say: 'Hello, I am your daughter. Welcome again to Angeles. We call it the city of Angels.'"