Kim Loan Nguyen stood quietly near the baggage claim at Spokane International Airport, a bundle of six red roses clutched tightly to her chest. She gazed forward at the line of people shuffling their way off the plane, her eyes scanning each older male’s face.
Craning her neck to peek around the line of bodies, the excitement was overwhelming, and her smile grew wider in anticipation. With her family by her side, some took turns asking in Vietnamese, “Is that him?” when they spotted someone who loosely fit the bill. “No,” she replied, shaking her head.
Until she saw him: his smile as big as hers, his hat as red as the roses. That’s when she moved forward and grabbed him, hugging him tightly.
For the first time in 46 years, the Vietnamese Amerasian met her biological father.
“I’m overwhelmed,” said Donald Bayler, surrounded by a daughter, son-in-law and several grandchildren he met for the first time Sunday afternoon. “I’m very excited.”
It’s an unlikely gathering nearly five decades in the making, with a conclusion due in large part to Jimmy Miller, the founder of Amerasians Without Borders, a nonprofit that provides free DNA testing to Vietnamese-based Amerasians. When Miller sponsored Nguyen’s family in 2011 and helped them resettle in Spokane, it wasn’t long after that he uploaded her DNA to see if there were any links to Vietnam War veterans.
In 2015, they submitted the first sample, but it came back negative. So they tried again in February of this year, and much to their surprise, it pinged a 68-year-old living in sunny southern Florida, in Fort Lauderdale. As it turned out, he and his wife, Pam Bayler, were just trying to do a bit of research on their family tree, when they learned its branches extended much further than they anticipated.
“We never knew we’d find this one,” said Pam Bayler with a large grin across her face as she rested her arms around her daughter-in-law’s waist.
“It never crossed my mind,” Donald Bayler said.
Donald Bayler was in the Air Force when he encountered Nguyen’s mother. The veteran said he undertook several missions, where he’d be out 55 days at a time.
When he got out of the military in 1973, he moved to Florida, where he met Pam Bayler. The two started a life together, including having kids of their own and three grandchildren – six counting Nguyen’s children.
“We’ve just doubled in number,” Donald Bayler remarked.
Miller estimates there are still about 400 Amerasians remaining in Vietnam. An Amerasian himself, he moved to Spokane in 1989 after the American Homecoming Act was passed in 1987, which allowed Vietnamese Amerasian children to establish mixed-race identity in the United States. Since 2013, he’s devoted his life to connecting people, like Nguyen, to their biological fathers.
“It’s rare,” he said. “Sometimes we locate the father, and the father has already passed away. And sometimes, we’re lucky if the father is still alive, like with Loan.”
Before moving to Spokane, Nguyen lived with her mother in southern Vietnam. Though she misses home – particularly her mother – she said she “likes living here.”
As for meeting her biological father for the first time: “I always wanted to see my father.”
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