As one of the free world’s oldest allies, the United States and the Philippines have shared a storied past together. From fighting alongside each other to delay the Japanese’ war plans in World War II, to forming an armed presence in the Pacific by virtue of the United States two military bases; Clark Air Base and US Naval Base in Northern Luzon. However, hidden from these historical bonds lies a complex weave of direct blood descendants, of abandoned children sired by some members of the US Military during their service at the US bases in the Philippines, a large legion of fatherless men and women who possess multi-ethnicity looks born to single mothers, remains in search of half their roots. Often bullied in school for growing up in a broken household, these individuals harbors a secret wish of knowing their real fathers. For photographer Enrico Dungca, photographing them in order to send their message across the globe became a personal mission “The story begins with a young man I met during a trip in my birthplace, Angeles City. I was born and raised there and lived near the former Clark Air Base. I knew about the Amerasians and in fact witnessed many of them bullied and discriminated. I didn’t think much of it then for I was young and naive,” Dungca tells Resource Magazine. More than 20 years after the last US Military Base closed down, an undeniable footprint of our Superpower ally still remains – and for some, something that needs to find closure soon.
Enrico is an American but with roots originating from the Philippines. “Having lived in the U.S. for over 30 years and now naturalized as an American citizen, I feel more American in such a way but my heart still beats as a Filipino,” Not soon after, the urge to do something meaningful using photography as a tool became too strong “I have worked as a commercial photographer for many years and at one point in my career, I felt empty. I just felt that I was just a small box clicking pictures away. My pictures did not have any emotional connections. I prayed that someday I can use photography to be a vehicle in communicating a much more important issue,” Enrico adds.
It turns out, helping others runs in the blood of Enrico “My dad was a very generous and helping man. When he passed in 2005, I made a promise to him that I will continue his legacy of helping people out. I did not know where and how to begin. Yes, a little donation here and there to local organizations was nice but I felt I needed to do more. He was known in Angeles City as the “child who grew up in church.” As a young boy, he spent many hours in the local parish church and helped out in the church. He was a big believer in prayers. So I prayed that I could do something with my photography so I can continue my father’s legacy, and this project is a tribute to him.”
A return visit to the Philippines opened an avenue for Enrico to follow the legacy of his father when an idea for a photography project was born out of an accidental encounter with an “Amerasian”. “When I visited the Philippines a couple years ago, I met a young man who had the looks of caucasian and Asian fusion. I was intrigued by his looks so I started talking to him. Fast forward the conversation: he was abandoned by his American father when he was 5 years old and had lived a life full of mockery, discrimination, and in poverty. He still hopes to meet his father to rescue him.”
“I came back to NYC with this young man’s unfortunate story rewinding in my head. I got online to research further and learned that when the U.S. military bases closed in 1992, there are about 52,000 children left behind in the Philippines. My heart pounded even louder when I learned that in 1982, the U.S. Government signed a law allowing children of 5 Asian countries who were abandoned by American men be given preferential immigration treatment to come to the United States – Laos, Vietnam, Kampuchea, South Korea and Thailand. The Philippines hosted two of the biggest military bases outside of the U.S. mainland (Clark Air Force and Subic Naval Bases) and has a special friendship with the United States, and it’s a big wonder why the abandoned Filipino Amerasians were not included in the law. Why were they discriminated and left unforeseen? It is now my advocacy to speak for these children left behind. Though majority of them are now adults, does that mean, they will remain neglected? I have big hopes of using my passion in photography to bring light to the plight of these underserved citizens”
Compelled to action in hopes of telling the stories of these abandoned Amerasians, Enrico’s The Amerasian Photography Project: The Forgotten Americans photography series was conceptualized. “The naval base is in queue to reopen, and I hope there will be no new generation of abandoned children of America” and instead Enrico hopes that the number of fatherless Amerasians would dwindle by reconnecting them to their long lost fathers.
To reach a larger audience and therefore, generate a bigger voice, Enrico has set up an Indiegogo page to fund a planned photography book. “Your contribution will help in raising awareness about the plight of the Filipino Amerasians, their struggle for hope, call for help and political and social recognition by the U.S. Government.”
To learn more about Enrico Dungca’s The Amerasian Photography Project: The Forgotten Americans, check out his website, Facebook Page and Instagram or contribute to the funding of the planned photography book at its Indiegogo Page.