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Children Of Peace Network

By: Stephen Carr

Date Posted: 2000-08-04

There are about 30,000 Amerasians or children of American Servicemen and Okinawan mothers on the island. Many of these have never seen their fathers. Here is the story of how Maria Tomiyama whose contact with a father absent for decades, led her to start a network helping other Amerasians find long lost relatives.

Maria Tomiyama is the daughter of a Camp Schwab marine who returned to the USA before she was born in 1968 and had asked her mother to have an abortion. She had problems of discrimination while growing up, common to most Amerasians.

But these were offset to some extent by a loving stepfather. When Maria was 11 he went to work in the petroleum industry in Algeria, where he tragically died in a work accident. Maria discovered after his death that he had been trying to raise money so that she could find her father. He thought his adopted daughter, if she was to marry respectably, needed the consent of her real father.

A year after the death Maria told her mother she would like to try and find her father. Writing to an address on an old envelope her mother gave her, she requested contact. It reached her father’s parents, who replied with the information that her father had married and had two children. They enclosed photos but not his address. Maria wrote many subsequent letters but received no further replies. She assumed she was coming up against a family taboo similar to the one surrounding her own birth.

At the age of 17, to mark her graduation, her mother gave her the present of a trip to the USA. Before she left she sent a message to her father that she would be there a month and that she would like to see him. A local church made contact with some of its members in Virginia, where her grandparents lived. The church people met her at the airport and showed her around. The grandparents were polite but at first refused a meeting. Eventually the church people prevailed on the grandparents to set up a meeting. Their son persistently refused to come, despite the attitude of his own father, which by now was one of anger towards him.

Maria gave up and decided to go to Chicago with her church custodians. They told her father of her plans and her departure date. Three days before she was due to fly home, she had a call from Chicago airport, saying her father was there and would like to meet her. He had told his wife he was on a business trip. One of the obstacles to their getting together before had been the extreme jealousy of his wife.

Maria had had a dress made by her mother for this meeting, which she did not now have time to iron. But she wore it anyway. The hour before he arrived “seemed like 100 years” and when he was at the door she was shaking. There were hugs and kisses and Maria says that when she was picked up and cradled in his arms “it was like a dream. My step-father was too short to do something like that.”

During a visit to the Chicago Museum the next day, at a display of the stages of the embryo to birth, Maria told her father she was glad she had been born. She had learned of her father’s request that she be aborted, just before her trip to Virginia and had been shocked by it. Her father started crying.

At the airport the next day Maria said she wanted to see him again. He said “I promise” and they were both crying. However a month later he wrote her a letter saying that as he had a new family now, he would not after all be able to see her again. Devastated and furious, Maria tore up the letter.

A silence of 14 years ensued until Maria’s own daughter expressed a wish to see her grandfather. Some friends called Virginia and news came back that Maria’s father was now divorced and had tried to contact Maria again, but couldn’t find her after she had married and moved address. An e-mail arrived from him last February, telling her he was ashamed, was glad to know she still wanted contact and still wanted to take care of her, even though it was probably now too late.

He came to Okinawa last month and met Maria and her daughter. E-mails now arrive from him two or three times a week and the next plan for a family get together is at Thanksgiving, which he wants to make a yearly event.

Since this meeting Maria has set up a web page aiming to help other Amerasians wanting to find long lost relatives. The site http://www.geocities.co.jp/Milkyway/8422/eng has 100 hits a day and so far has six people registered as looking for relatives, with 25 more waiting to sign up. Three more are shortly to go onto the site.

Maria is organizing the site herself but has links with another Amerasian in American who is helping her and will shortly be taking on some volunteers. They call their organization the Children of Peace Network and aim to turn it into a well established NGO. They believe that as the Japanese and US governments are not doing enough to address the problems of children created by the US military presence, they have to do something themselves.

They have so far helped 13 people find relatives and are now getting calls not just from from Amerasians in Okinawa, but ones in the United States too. Two fathers contacted did not want to see their children. Both had wanted abortions. But Maria says even if the result is bad, the search is still worth trying.

Two further contacts had more positive results and two other fathers are coming to Okinawa to meet their children. An Okinawan mother is also planning a trip to New York for a reunion in August or September.

The Children of Peace Network has already turned into a full time activity for Maria, who has quit her job to run it. She now needs two or three volunteers to cope with the increased workload. Donations are also welcome, as at the moment the project is being financed out of Maria’s own pocket.

Anyone who donates ¥3000 or more becomes a member of the Children of Peace Network and will receive announcements of the group’s activities, legal developments and news of when a new family member has been found.

Local donations can be made in any post office to the Children of Peace account 01700-7-46804 at Shuritera Post Office. Overseas donors should make checks payable to Maria Tomiyama, 904-2241 Okinawa, Gushikawa-shi, Kanekadan 1311-1 (1-313) Japan.

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