Left by the Ship

Trailer (2:50)
Clip 1 (2:20)
Clip 2 (2:26)
Clip 3 (3:00)

About the Film

A young girl — half Filipino and half African American — lies on the ground looking sad.Two young Filipino Amerasian men sit on a dock on Subic Bay and look out over the water. The boy on the right is pointing into the distance.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the world was touched by the stories of Amerasian children, the offspring of U.S. military personnel stationed in Asia and the Pacific in the aftermath of World War II, and during the Korean and Vietnam wars. Many of these children were born to impoverished prostitutes who worked on the outskirts of the American military bases, and left behind by their American fathers as soon as their deployment ended.

In 1982, the United States Congress passed the Amerasian Act to allow Amerasian children and their parents from Vietnam, Korea, Thailand, and other Asian countries, to relocate to the United States. One of the exceptions was the Philippines, where the United States military maintained active military bases into the 1990s (Japan was also left out of the legislation). Children of U.S. soldiers and Filipino citizens are not covered by the Amerasian Act — they have to be claimed by their American fathers to be permitted to claim a right to relocate or take advantage of the Child Citizenship Act, which gives citizenship rights to children of American citizens.

Before it closed in 1992, the U.S. Naval Base in Subic Bay was the largest military installation outside the U.S. mainland. For almost 50 years, the base served to repair and resupply ships, and also to house sailors and Marines who were on leave for rest and relaxation. An entire town — Olongapo — went up almost overnight just outside the base after World War II. Catering to the needs and desires of the servicemen was the foundation of the local economy: 15,000 women worked in the bars and clubs in town; Olongapo developed one of the largest red-light districts in all of Asia. Servicemen were often stationed in Subic Bay for long stretches. Local women often served as “wives for rent,” living with the sailors and Marines, bearing children, cooking, cleaning, and effectively functioning as stand-ins for the sailors’ family back home. Many soldiers left without even knowing (or caring) that they had children on the way in Olongapo.

After the fall of the Marcos regime, the Filipino Senate voted to rescind the leases of all U.S. military bases in the country. Subic Bay closed in November of 1992. Multiple charitable organizations concerned about the Olongapo population filed a class-action lawsuit against the United States to include Filipino children of American servicemen in laws governing the immigration and citizenship rights of the children of U.S. service personnel. A federal court ruled that since the children were largely born to unmarried women who worked as prostitutes, and because prostitution is illegal, the claimants had no right to sue.

An estimated 50,000 Amerasians live in the Philippines today. As in other Asian countries, these mixed-race young people (especially kids of African American servicemen) often face discrimination and are ostracized. Some were abandoned as infants, and many are teased for being “illegitimate” children of presumed prostitutes and fathers who abandoned them. They are routinely labelled “Iniwan ng Barko” (left by the ship).

It has been 20 years since the bases closed. What is it like to be a young Amerasian adult in the Philippines today? What kind of future do these young people have, when their socioeconomic opportunities are limited by the bias of Filipinos and the disregard of the American government?

The Filmmakers

Filmmaker Emma Rossi-Landi

Emma Rossi-Landi, is an Italian American dual citizen. She was born in Rome in 1971, studied the history of cinema at the University of Rome, and then obtained a diploma in filmmaking at the London Film School in 1998. She worked as an editor, directed eight short fiction films, and directed her first documentary in 2001. Her documentary films include Giuseppe's Journey, (2001); Forty Days (2004); Veronica's Thread (2005); Looking for Eden (2006); and La Canzone di Vaccarizzo (2007).

Filmmaker Alberto Vendemmiati

Alberto Vendemmiati is a graduate of the University of Bologna and of Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia. He directed the fiction feature film Cadabra, a few short fiction films, and then moved into making documentaries. His films include Jung (War) in the Land of the Mujaheddin (2000), co-directed with Fabrizio Lazzaretti, which aired internationally and won numerous awards including the Silver Wolf Award IDFA, the Nestor Almendros Award, the Human Rights Watch International, and the Freedom of Expression Honor by The U.S. National Board of Review; Afghanistan Collateral Damages (2002); and The person De Leo N. (2005).