Love binds US family and Amerasian Thai sibling
She may have been Thai all her life, but not her features. She is a redhead but colors her hair black. She has fair skin and an aquiline nose – an all-American white girl. She would have been registered as Kalwin Anne P. Lipford, daughter of Staff Sergeant Wayne E. Lipford of Company L Rangers 75TH Infantry 101st Airborne Division stationed in Vietnam, and Kamnuan Pungprasert of Thailand, a janitress at U-tapao Air Force Base, Rayong Province.
Anne was delivered by a midwife in her mother’s home in Sattahip, Chonburi. She was registered late. Her Thai identity card shows her birth date as May 21, 1971. Based on the exchange of letters between her parents and a photo, she could have been born in late 1969 or early 1970.
Orphaned at an early age, Anne was adopted by her grandparents. Her grandmother told her that her father died. But her grandmother saved all the letters and stubs of money orders Sgt. Lipford sent to Kamnuan, not knowing that one day, they would be Anne’s passes to American citizenship.
“I was the red-headed violent girl,” Kalwin Anne Puangprasert, recalls her childhood in Angthong Province in Thailand.
“I was different from all other children in school and even with my family. I was bullied as a child and I fought back. I was alone.”
Due to poverty, Anne was not able to finish her education and worked early to survive. Currently, she lives in Nongkhai Province, on the border between Laos and Thailand, with her husband and two children. She is engaged in the food business.
Anne’s experience isn’t an exception.
‘Maem phla ra’
Dr. Davisakd Puaksom, a Thai historian and a sociologist, says that being an Amerasian in the ‘60s-‘80s was a moral stigma. Until now it is seldom discussed.
“People thought that their mothers were sex-workers, mostly from the poor rural area in the northeast. These ladies were called ‘maem phla ra,’ meaning a Thai woman from the northeast that became the G.I.s wife,” Puaksom explains. “Phla ra” is a fermented fish sauce that is associated with the northeastern food-culture. Almost everything is seasoned with phla ra.
Finding the American Family
Anne spent much of her life looking for her father. With her little English, she asked every American she met about her Sgt. Wayne Lipford. She sought the assistance of Pearl S. Buck Foundation to no avail. She has no birth certificate to prove paternity, except a bunch of old letters, claim stubs from money orders, and a few pictures.
In 2004, Anne met the wife of an American veteran whom she asked for help finding her father. She later learned that Sgt. Wayne Lipford had died of cancer in 2003 from having been exposed to Agent Orange during the war.
It did not deter Anne from finding other members of her family.
In an email, Peter Lipford wrote:
“Anne first contacted my sister Tanika (note: a Thai name, in memory of Thailand) through Facebook in January 2015. I was very surprised because when I was about the age of 13, Dad sat me and my sister down at the kitchen table and told us about Anne. He told us that he met a woman while being stationed at U-Tapao base in Thailand in 1969. They were in love and had a baby together.”
In the letters, Wayne always reminded Kamnuan of his love for them and the plan to bring her and the baby to America. Financial support was always mentioned in the letters.
In the email, Peter explained:
“My father sustained a serious back injury during one of his tours in Vietnam and was sent back to Walter Reed Hospital. He still continued to send money and letters to the woman until one day he received a letter from a family member of the woman telling him that both the woman and his daughter had died. Dad also told this story to my mom before they were married.”
The letters stopped in late 1971. Neither Wayne nor Kamnuan ever learned of the truth. Kamnuan died in 1973.
The long road to citizenship
An offspring of an American can apply for an Adult Derivative Citizenship Claim. The US Embassy website explains that this can be claimed by applicants 18 years old and over, born outside the United States, whose parent/s at the time of the applicant’s birth was a United States citizen. Once the citizenship claim is established, the applicant qualifies for a first-time U.S. passport.
In November 2015, Peter and his wife, Kim, hired an immigration lawyer and began the process to bring Anne and her children to America. It was approved by the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) in 2016, and the documents were sent to the visa center. However, recent events in the US have tightened visa sponsorship. Anne’s interview at the US Embassy was canceled because her visa status changed. She is now on a seven-year waiting list.
The Lipfords are still hoping that Anne will soon join them in America.
On March 13, 2017, Congressman Ron Kind of the 3rd Congressional District of La Crosse, Wisconsin, introduced House Bill 1520, or Uniting Families Act of 2017, “to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide for the admission of certain sons and daughters of citizens of the United States, which citizens served on active duty in the Armed Forces of the United States abroad.”
The bill was influenced by John Thomas Haines, a veteran, stationed in Subic Naval Base in the Philippines. He has a daughter in the Philippines whom he has not yet been able to bring to the US despite his acknowledgment and a positive DNA test.
“My wife and I have sent letters to congressmen and senators. Last November we went to Washington, DC with John Haines and personally delivered this packet of information to at least 17 different politicians to get Anne to America,” Peter says.
Brother and sister reunited
Peter and his family flew to Thailand to visit Anne in June 2017.
“It was an amazing trip getting to know them, but it was very difficult leaving them there. I video chat with Anne, Ennyah, my niece, and Sean, my nephew, every Saturday night for at least two hours. I am encouraging them not to give up hope and to let them know we love them very much. They are our family and they deserve to be with people that love them. I know this is what Dad would want us to do for them,” Peter says.
Anne keeps all the letters that connect her to the past. Despite her limited English, she understands that her parents had loved each other but fate was not just on their side.
“I must be strong and look forward,” Anne ends.
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