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The Search Stops but the Longing Will Not : 'Devastated' is too mild a word to describe the feelings of Bang Quoc Nguyen, an Amerasian whose American father does not want to see him. Such rejection--a denial that these offspring exist, that they count--can be catastrophic, experts say.

July 07, 1991|DIANNE KLEIN

GARDEN GROVE — Bang Quoc Nguyen met his American grandfather and uncle for the first time about a year ago. Bang's older daughter, who was 4 then, came along for the trip to San Jose.

The grandfather recognized his relations right away. It was almost like deja vu . Bang looks just like his father did when he was 22.

Tears slipped from the grandfather's eyes.

And Bang cried that day too. His tears have never really stopped since.

Bang's father, with a new wife and daughter, has made it clear that he does not want to see his son. Messages have gone unanswered, or maybe, Bang hopes, they have never been passed on. A woman on the telephone--his father's new wife?--says please don't call here anymore.

"I call my uncle every day," Bang says. "I tell him I miss my father. I ask him to help."

But the silence loosely translates as no.

"I am very, very sad and disappointed," Bang says.

He fingers the photographs taken in Vietnam. There is a 2-year-old Bang, his Vietnamese mother and his American dad. They are all wearing smiles.

Bang Quoc Nguyen, who has lived near the heart of Little Saigon for almost two years, knows much more about his father than most Amerasians from Vietnam ever will. His father and mother had a marriage and a life. They lived together, mostly in Phan-thiet and Saigon, for eight years.

Bang's birth was even registered at the U.S. Consulate. Then the Viet Cong swept into Saigon in 1975. Bang's father, a Marine, got out just in time.

"I don't remember anything about my father," Bang says. "But my mother always tells me. He would go to work and she would stay home and take care of the house. On the weekends, we would all go out together."

Bang and his mother stayed behind when the Americans pulled out of Vietnam. Bang says his mother felt she had no choice.

"She was afraid that if she came with him in 1975 it would be very strange for her to come to this land," he says.

"She wouldn't know what to do with herself. She thought he would leave her because she is Vietnamese. My father had a lot of girlfriends in Vietnam too," he says.

Bang's mother lives with her son now. So does his Vietnamese wife, Hung Nguyen, and their two daughters, Hang, who is 5, and Elizabeth, 1 1/2.

Bang named Elizabeth after his American grandmother, who died in 1989. She once sent Bang and his family a box of clothing in Vietnam. Among Bang's most treasured possessions is Elizabeth's photograph, black and white, formally posed decades ago.

And even Bang's father, in a way, has been in touch before. He sent his son money--about $200 a year--from 1985 to 1987. Bang hadn't asked.

Yet he is asking for more now.

Bang wants recognition that he exists, that he counts.

He even asks me: "Can you help?" His mother, too, pleads on her son's behalf.

In the parlance of the experts who study this special brand of sad, Bang's is a classic case. Devastated may not be a strong enough word to describe how he feels.

"For refugees who approach the search as a vehicle for confirming their own sense of identity, for validating the authenticity of their existence, such rejection can be catastrophic," says one report, prepared by United States Catholic Charities.

It is a risk, these same experts say, that Amerasians searching for their fathers perhaps should not take. Most fathers simply do not want to be found.

Bang's mother's doesn't want her photograph taken. She doesn't want it to appear that she is causing trouble. She says she doesn't want to upset her husband's new wife. She just wants her son to have a dad, and for her grandchildren to know him too.

"In Asian cultures, great emphasis is placed upon the historical continuity of the family, particularly through the male lineage," the Catholic Charities report says.

Bang's home, in the tradition of Vietnamese--Buddhist and Catholic alike--has altars throughout. One dedicated to the family's ancestors has two cups of tea placed before each photograph of the dead. There are flowers and food too.

Even in their new land, Bang says he and his family must keep their traditions alive. That is why he will never stop longing for his dad.

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