Archie: The richest, fastest-growing Filipino
May 16, 2010 Leave a comment
I was 10 years old on the way home from church when my mother introduced our family to Archie. According to the photograph she showed us, Archie was a 6-year-old, skinny Filipino boy wearing a stretched t-shirt, torn blue jeans and dusty sneakers.
“It’s this semi-adoption agency I learned about after mass,” my mother explained. “All we have to do is pay $20 a month, and Archie gets food, clothes, medicine, and school. Isn’t that great?”
I was jealous of the little bastard from the start. Twenty dollars a month! Screw medicine and school – in half a year I could finally have a Gameboy Color like all the other kids. Archie? You’ve got a charity case right here!
“THANK YOU FOR ALL YOUR HELP,” my mother read aloud from a letter Archie wrote to us. “I LOVE SCHOOL AND I WILL PRAY FOR YOU.”
My mother magnetized the photo and letter on the refrigerator as a reminder of how much we take food for granted. Instead, I routinely covered Archie’s face with my magnet-backed little league photo and stuffed my face with an extra helping of ice cream.
We didn’t hear from Archie again until a year later. There was no letter, but there was a new photo. However, something didn’t seem right.
“Is that the same kid?” my father asked, squinting at the photo.
“He does look a little different,” my mother replied.
“He’s fat,” I said.
Indeed, the kid had put on some weight. Not only that, he must have grown about six inches, and he appeared to be about my age now. He wore dark, designer jeans, new athletic sandals and a Nike tank-top.
I frowned at my hand-me-down Seminoles t-shirt and Payless sneakers.
“His clothes are nicer than mine!” I complained.
I figured that Archie must have been the richest kid in the Philippines. I envisioned him at the end of a long marble table, bulging out of a high, gilded chair, greasy turkey legs in each hand and laughing merrily at the fortune he was receiving from those gullible Vosses from America.
“Slaves! Carry me back to the Oreo castle. And do hurry – my Gameboy Color awaits!”
My mother scolded my whining and continued sending the $20 every month. Another year passed, and once again we received a new photo in the mail.
“Okay, that can’t be the same kid,” my father concluded.
“I just don’t know,” my mother said.
“He’s got a moustache!” I exclaimed.
“Archie” looked to be about 15 years old now. He was pushing six feet tall, and he had broader shoulders and coarse black hair on his upper lip. He wore a nice polo shirt, hip, baggy khaki shorts, and flashy Converse sneakers.
What the hell!
At this point, my immediate assumption was that we had been had. It seemed like an ingenious money-making scheme: Rip off empathetic Christian families and send them pictures of random poor minority children to fully illustrate the “white man’s burden.”
I imagined a clever racketeer hiding in some warehouse in Detroit, cackling from behind a cigar as underage prostitutes danced on the tables, their skinny ankles wobbling in their mothers’ heels and knocking over the glasses of moonshine bought by hooting, off-duty cops.
“It’s pay day, folks! Another twenty smackaroos! Send our generous benefactors another mug shot from the Orient!”
“Boss, we’re out of Asian photos.”
“No matter – grab one of those fresh slumdog shots we just got in from Mumbai. They won’t know the difference. It’s gonna be another great year!”
“TO ARCHIE!” cheered the cops.
We stopped contributing to the organization about two years later. Still, despite the clear, photographical evidence, my mother never doubted for a second that our money went to a good cause. And in reality, she was probably right. A true sting would have been more discreet, with paid actors and photographers to produce more subtle counterfeits.
This organization, on the other hand, seemed desperate. The photos were too casual, too rushed. Perhaps there was a paperwork mix-up. My theory is that the good-intentioned volunteer organizers somehow lost track of the original Archie, and, worried about losing funding, took pictures of some other healthy Filipino boy within the organization to convince us that our money was being put to good use. I suppose that isn’t too bad. After all, the whole point is to give some child a better life.
“Doctor, the Lamberts want to see their baby, but we lost it.”
“Just give them one of the babies that those teenage mothers left up for adoption.”
“What choice do we have? We’re in the business of saving lives, goddammit!”
For years I have waited for my long-lost step brother to turn up. I don’t know where Archie is, or if he even existed. I’d like to shake his hand and apologize for envying his nice clothes and admit that I was better off without a Gameboy Color. I hope to meet him soon.
He doesn’t have much time left, after all. He must be 70 by now.