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Okinawa International Cultural Exchange Club Tackles Amerasian Issues

By: Jena Maddalino

Date Posted: 1999-12-03

The Okinawa International Cultural Exchange Club (OICEC) held its first formal gathering last week at the Kadena Officers' Club. The meeting's main mission was to examine ways of bringing Amerasian issues, specifically those affecting Amerasian children, to the forefront of the local community.

The Naha Junior Chamber of Commerce (a local Okinawan business organization) created the OICEC approximately 3 months ago with the goal of combining forces with the American Chamber of Commerce to develop management skills, to serve the community and to seek friendship.

OICEC membership includes chamber of commerce members as well as prominent members of the community. People of all nationalities are welcome to the club.

According to Mr. Hasashi Unten, Chairman of the OICEC, the club plans to truly interact with many other organizations. "Our long term goal is to make Okinawa a better place to live in," Unten said recently. To achieve this goal, the group will not only focus on popular issues, but also those that tend to be background.

Speakers at the gathering were asked to address an issue that is often ignored - the treatment of Amerasian children in Japan. In a society where uniformity and conformity are often the tenets of life, the term "Amerasian" often has a negative connotation. Loosely defined, an Ameriasian is a person of both American and Asian heritage. Here in Okinawa, it is used to label a child of an American father and an Asian mother. In Japan and Okinawa, children of a mixed heritage are often treated as halves; they are made fun of in school and sometimes treated as outcasts. As the children get older, the mistreatment gets worse and they are often forced to attend schools outside of the traditional school system.

One such school, the Okinawa Amerasian School, helps children prepare for adulthood. Children learn in English and are taught that they are not halves - but rather unique individuals. In a video presentation to the audience during the OICEC meeting, Ms. Midori Thayer, a representative of the school documented the situations encountered by Amerasians. Ms. Thayer explained that her school students are 100 percent Amerasians who have been treated as outcasts. The school is one example of a place where the children can learn without fear of ridicule.

Following the video presentation, Mr. Eisaku Yara, a member of the Naha City Assembly, spoke of the objective of the gathering and what was defined as the Amerasian problem. According to Mr. Yara, another significant obstacle that many Amerasian children have had to overcome is the search for their biological fathers. A considerable group of Amerasian children are raised in a single parent environment because their parents never married and their fathers returned to the United States.

"The G-8 Summit will provide a good opportunity to bring attention to those children who are unable to locate their fathers," said Mr. Yara. Organizers say that bringing more attention to the subject will allow for changes to occur more rapidly.

Among those who were invited to the gathering was Ms. Kim Sagendorf, a program coordinator for the University of Maryland. Ms. Sagendorf recently started a campaign to find volunteers for Internet searches of Amerasian children looking for a parent. According to Ms. Sagendorf, the process of searching for clues on the Internet is both costly and very time consuming. Many of the Amerasian children are already adults, born during wartime eras and are sometimes forced to deal with the knowledge that a parent has already passed away.

In light of the hardships that Amerasian children have had to face, the frustration expressed is understandable. In a moving address to the club, Ms. Kiyomi Shimamoto, an Amerasian guest, expressed the disappointment of those attempting to find their fathers. "We have no clues as to how to find our fathers. All that I want is for the proper authorities to pay attention to our particular issue. We are the ones who must deal with being made fun of."

According to Mr. Hiroshi Matsunaga, one of the organizers of the program, members hope to be a strong force in the community and to continue to give important issues such prominence. "Through fellowship we will build trust, join forces and try to solve the Amerasian problems."

This January, a charity "Hoolie" will be held at the Morrigans, an Irish Pub run by Mr. Martin McIntyre. A portion of Proceeds will benefit Amerasian children looking for a parent in the United States. Organizers do not have a date set but stated that tickets will be sold at the Morrigans. Anyone interested in volunteering to help with Internet Searches of missing parents should contact Ms. Kim Sagendorf at 090-9487-3303.

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