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Volunteer Group Searching "Lost" Fathers of Amerasians

By: Jena Maddalino

Date Posted: 2000-01-22

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." (Margaret Mead)

Many reasons exist as to why people decide to search for long-lost relatives. Regardless of the reason, the importance of finding a relative cannot always be defined. In Okinawa alone, there are countless numbers of children - now adults - who have either never met their own fathers, or barely knew them after birth. Many of these young adults would now like to find their fathers, in an attempt to reconnect to their roots. One small volunteer group, started by Ms. Kim Sagendorf, has not only decided to help, but can actually boast of having been successful in finding 4 fathers so far.

The small group, known as Amerasian Connections, started when a friend of Kim Sagendorf informed her that some of his students wanted help in finding their American fathers. Sagendorf, a Program Coordinator and a Graduate Student in Counseling at the University of Maryland, says she really wanted to help the students but did not quite know where to start. Sagendorf began by using the Internet as a resource but soon realized that the task was more than a one-person job.

An unfortunate legacy of the American Forces in Asia has been that of parenting children with Asian mothers and then leaving them behind, once their mission was over, to return to the States. At the end of World War II, there were a lot of children whose fathers

were active duty military servicemen and mothers were Okinawan. Unless their parents

married while they were still in Okinawa, it was difficult to obtain an official marriage. This obstacle paved the way for many servicemen returning to the states without their families, regardless of whether or not it was their own choice. The very fact that this legacy continues till present day is not only a disturbing factor for several Amerasian "fatherless" kids, but also a very unfortunate situation for society as a whole. Amerasian children, for example, are not always well treated by people who are deeply rooted in hard traditional Japanese culture.

The task of finding lost fathers seemed, at first, to be monumental. But what Sagendorf soon found was that many people were willing to help. "There are a lot of people who do want to help others. It only takes one person to start a connection," She says. Sagendorf was successful at recruiting a few volunteers by placing ads in local publications. Some of the people, who have volunteered to join her, offer the best help they can, based on their own resources. The manager of a local pub, the Morrigans, has offered to donate a portion of proceeds from a charity "hoolie" which he will hold in late January, to the cause. An Okinawan Business Association in the States and John Hampton of the University of Maryland have offered to create a website to place the issue on the worldwide stage.

One volunteer, in particular, has been very dedicated to the cause. Sandra Beecher, a wife and mother of three, immediately became interested in helping Sagendorf after reading a newspaper article about Sagendorf's endeavor. She explained that the process starts when names are forwarded to Sagendorf from the Okinawa Amerasian School and other sources. She then forwards the information to Mrs. Beecher and two other volunteers, who then begin to search on the Internet through various genealogy sites, using powerful search engines, and anything they can think of. "The first father that I was looking for, I found within 1 hour on the Internet," said Beecher. "The more information we have about the father - birthdate, full name, etc. - the easier he is to find."

Of course, not every search has been that easy. Some of the information she receives is sketchy at best: guessed names, for example. Some of the children only have small pieces of the puzzle; fewer have pictures or even full names. One woman had only a first name and very little memory of who her father was.

Even though the task of searching for a person on the Internet can be difficult, dealing with the emotional issues once that parent has been found is, at the very least, complicated. Americans, by the very nature of their judicial system, tend to be suspicious of a relative or child contacting them years after they have not been in contact. Some fathers may not want to be found, and the potential for hostility is very real.

Sagendorf, aware of the emotional issues, realizes that a mediator between the father and child is a good way to break the ice and that some kind of support system needs to be in place. Most of these children are not after money; all they want is to know their fathers, and possibly have a relationship with them.

Sagendorf hopes that the group will continue to grow and evolve into something larger than the single issue of searching for parents. "I have received phone calls about issues other than volunteering to find parents," said Sagendorf. Her future goal for the group is to compile information, which will better define the issues and concerns of Amerasians living in Okinawa.

Anyone interested in volunteering to help find lost parents of Amerasian kids should contact Sandra Beecher at 936-5474 or by email at GAsmb@aol.com. For any questions or ideas regarding Amerasian issues please contact Kim Sagendorf at sagendorfk@hotmail.com.

The Morrigan's Irish Pub will be holding an Irish Hoolie on Saturday, January 29th, from 6:00-9:00 p.m. The Hoolie will consist of beer, food, Celtic music and entertainment. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Okinawa International Culture Exchange Club (ICE) which will use it to fund both the search for parents (through Amerasian Connections) and to bring attention to Amerasian issues on Okinawa. Tickets will be 5000 each. Contact Martin at the Morrigan's (934-7778) for more information.

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