Pictures Of Innocence

I reached into the camera case for a fresh roll of film, but the patrolman stayed my hand. I glanced inquiringly at my guide. He shook his head.

"No more."

The children looked at me optimistically, an expression alien to their small faces. Faith and trust had to be nurtured in order to grow. In this case, the emotions had been stifled...strangled at birth. Again, I wondered how this could have been allowed to happen. They were innocents, being punished and made to suffer for a crime they had no part in committing. There were so many things they could not understand. So many things I was neither qualified nor capable of explaining, but I could offer them an opportunity and the possibility of a better life.

They grasped the concept of war well enough though, existing...I refused to call it living...in its aftermath since the day they were born. They also understood the meaning of prejudice and what it was to be different. To see that, they only had to look beyond the confines of the camp or in a mirror.

"It doesn't seem fair," I murmured to the guide. He shrugged indifferently. His job was merely to show me around and act as translator. If he agreed with my statement, he either couldn't or wouldn't say.

"No place else for them to go," he said, matter-of-factly. "Nobody wants them. They can hardly just blend into society. After all," he gave a condescending laugh, "you can spot them a mile away."

That, at least, was true. Their heritage clearly betrayed them: round eyes of blue or green, instead of being deep brown and almond-shaped; light colored hair that often curled, instead of hanging straight and black; skin easily identified by its overt fairness or, in some instances, its blatant darkness. All characteristics over which they had no control. Characteristics which marked them for persecution...the detested product of a liaison between a woman of Vietnamese blood and a man from a faraway foreign land.

My eyes swept again over the sea of children, many of whom clutched small photographs of their fathers...treasures given to them by mothers who wanted only the best for their little boys and girls. They had displayed the snapshots proudly for the camera. In a few instances, the likeness between the dog-eared image and the miniature effigy brought a lump to my throat which made it almost impossible to swallow.

"Tell them that this will be part of a program in America," I instructed the guide. "That some of them may be given a new chance at life because of this." He regarded me with scorn.

"They wouldn't understand," he said, "and even if they did, to give them false hope is just as unfair as keeping them here, don't you think?"

I disagreed. My reasons were many but it was pointless to enumerate them. "Just tell the children that, please," I insisted, and he did.

I put the camera and the numerous rolls of film into the back of the truck. The rows of tiny, solemn faces pressed against the chain link fence was heartwrenching. Even without the photographs to later remind me, I would never have been able to forget the sight.

The guide started up the engine.

"What do you call them?" I asked. "Do you have a name for these children?"

He nodded.

"We call them bui-doi," he said. I waited for the translation, as I watched his lips curl contemptuously and he spat out of the window into the dirt.

"Bui-doi," he reiterated with an emphatic nod. "The dust of life."

Photographic Credit

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