Veromi Arsiradam, Philosophy, Western University, “Children and Rights to Culture in the Context of Adoption”
Lori Askeland, English, Wittenberg University, “‘A Child Named Tanya’: Transracial Adoption in Louise Erdrich’s The Round House”
As scholars Cynthia Callahan and Mark Jerng have argued, writers throughout US history have frequently sought to enlist transracial adoption as a trope to explore, and sometimes to complicate, notions belonging and citizenship in US history. Jerng, in particular, argues that transracial adoption as a trope seems especially to rise “during precisely some of these large-scale national traumas focused on the question of national and racial belonging” and that typically transracial adoption has been a one-way movement of children, whereby “Racialized norms of citizenship have … been buttressed by the sanctification of white fathers and mothers as benefactors to infantilized racial others throughout history” (Claiming Others, 2010). During our current era of calls for policing immigrant neighborhoods and building a wall across the land that some Native people call Aztlan, we would seem to be in the midst of one of those large-scale traumas of national and racial belonging. Minnesota writer Louise Erdrich’s The Round House (2012), centered as usual in the less-sensationalized (but no less complex—significantly shaped by the métis rather than Anzaldúa’s mestizo) northern borderlands, enters into this discourse with a deep awareness of the history of Native adoption, and its relation to questions of sovereignty, community, family, and white colonialism masked as paternalism. This history has animated 19th-century captivity narratives as well as narratives of off-Reservation boarding school experiences and public policy—all of which eventually shaped public policy surrounding Native adoption in the late 20th century to the present day, from the Indian Adoption Project (1958-1967) to the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, which remains a highly contested law. Her novel, I will argue, engages this history transracial adoption as a reality and as a trope in two distinct ways—both as a loving response to a child’s endangerment, in the situation of an unwanted white child adopted by a Native family (whose very body is later used to give life to her murderous white brother), but also in the case of Mayla Wolfskin and her transracially adopted child, Tanya, as a continuation of genocidal colonialist efforts directed against Native sovereignty at the level of the family and the child–and the desperate importance of re-claiming those children under the law, an effort that drives everything else in the plot of this important novel.
Amanda Baden, Counselor Education, Montclair State University, “Adoption Competence Training in Graduate Clinical Education”
As an educator, practitioner, and adoptee, I have worked to bring awareness and insight to the experience of adoption in numerous ways. As the co-chair for the Adoption Initiative conferences held in the greater New York City area for the past 16 years (we are currently planning our 9th biennial conference), I have been involved in attempting to execute the mission of these conferences, which has been to train clinical practitioners to provide adoption competent mental health services. One of the products of these conferences has been a textbook, The Handbook of Adoption: Implications for Researchers, Practitioners, and Families (Sage, 2007), that has been used in training programs and higher education coursework. As a scholar and psychologist, my work has been used in the training of practitioners, and as a faculty member, I developed a course 11 years ago called Counseling the Adoption Triad, which was designed to train graduate students who are training to become Licensed Professional Counselors and school counselors. I continue to see ways to educate students and provide new experiences, clinical preparation, and guidance so that they can help support the needs of the adoption kinship network.
Karen Balcom, History, McMaster University, “‘Of My Own Free Will’: Japanese Women Relinquishing Children to US Military Families in Japan, 1948-1953”
The US occupation of Japan after WWII took the most intimate of forms in consensual and nonconsensual, lasting and fleeting, sexual encounters between Japanese women and American soldiers. Facing few realistic choices and great social condemnation, many of the women who bore children from these relationships surrendered those children for adoption by American military families. But before 1952, those children were barred from entry to the United States because of racial restrictions in US immigration law. Each adoptive family was forced to petition Congress for an individual act of Congress to allow the child into the United States. The records generated on the way to each of these private laws provide a rare, fleeting window into the situation of the Japanese women and their children, and the difficult decision to relinquish the children of soldiers to be raised by the families of occupation. This paper uses the records from the Congressional petitions to explore what we know and what we don’t know (which is much more) about the women relinquished children for adoption by American military families between 1945 and 1953.
Emily N. Bartz, English, Texas A&M University, “‘I can turn into anything as long as it’s me’: Loki, Agent of Asgard and the God of Lies and Goddess of Stories”
A frequent theme that arises in adoptee, birth parent, and adoptive parent testimonies is the issue of silence. For adoptees, it can be not knowing the circumstances in which one was relinquished, the contents of one’s medical history, or inability to view one’s original birth certificate. For birth parents, it can be not knowing what happened to one’s child after relinquishment. For adoptive parents, it can be not knowing enough information about an adoptee’s life prior to relinquishment to satisfy an adoptee’s questions or even just how to raise an adopted person. Often this silence is filled with ignorance and lies—adoptees making up stories about being long-lost princes or adoptive parents attempting to soften the hard truth of economic and social inequality and the shame of illegitimacy.
I believe this uncomfortable silence is an agnotological lacuna in need of investigation, interrogation, and liberation if all parties are to collectively move forward, heal, and make adoption a truly fair legal practice in which all involved experience clarity and have their humanity recognized by others. I will use a recently concluded nineteen-issue comic book series, Loki: Agent of Asgard, as a 21st-century example of how one fictional adoptee interrogates and un-silences his adoption story in a liberating, transformative but slightly destructive manner. This paper examines Marvel’s Loki as a transracial interdimensional adoptee with the problems often stereotypical of the “angry adoptee”: conflicts of identity, attachment issues, and anger stemming from his adoptive community’s silence and the silencing he often faces when he searches for clarity about his role as an Othered prince of Asgard.
Catherine Becker, Communication, University of Hawaii, “Moving Between the Lines: An Adoptee’s Search Memoir as a Vehicle for Transformation”
Memoir as a vehicle for transformation allows us to access, share and alter memories, catalyze new patterns, reconfigure communication networks, and transform lives that become part of the cultural heritage affecting future stories and future lives. This presentation considers the ways that process of researching, writing, revising, or reading adoption memoir may lead to individual, relational, and cultural transformation. After discovering at the age of nineteen that I was a “black market baby,” I became increasingly disillusioned with working-class life in Buffalo, so I set out on a 9,000-mile motorcycle ride across the United States searching for answers and alternatives. After the deaths of my natural and adoptive mothers, writing my memoir has allowed me to begin a new journey of healing, self-acceptance, and authenticity. Excerpts from my forthcoming memoir will be presented to demonstrate the ways that adoption memoir writing as a form of inquiry has the potential to serve as a liberation narrative if it evokes a response of “That’s my story, I am not alone.” When a liberation narrative evokes the realization that we are not alone, new communicative possibilities, personal and social identities, alliances and activism may emerge (Richardson, 2007).
Cynthia Callahan, English, Ohio State University-Mansfield, “Interracial Couples, ‘Brown Babies,’ and Black Families: The International Adoption of African American Children in the 1950s”
My conference paper is a (very) preliminary examination of the Brown Baby Plan (1950-55), an adoption initiative meant to address the problem of children born from relationships between German women and black soldiers serving in the occupying forces in Germany after World War II. Frequently prevented from marrying their German girlfriends on the grounds that such marriages would create social problems domestically, the soldiers were denied the possibility of creating an interracial family within the US However, in a strange turn, their children could enter the country, but only if they were first legally designated as orphaned or abandoned—the vestiges of their original families erased—and then adopted by African American families. Upon arrival, these biracial children were reborn as African American under the one-drop rule, their complex international and interracial identities overwritten
My paper explores how and why these children, members of arguably the most abject racial group in the US of the time, occupied this relatively privileged position in the postwar economy of immigration and adoption. I examine the media and cultural coverage of the project in the black press and mainstream media to discuss how discourses of race and family on a domestic level—including prohibitions on interracial marriage—intersected with international politics in the early Cold War through the biracial body of the Afro-German “brown baby.”
Moon Cassinelli, English, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, “Queer Kinship in Transnational Korean Adoption Narratives”
Deann Borshay Liem’s documentary films, First Personal Plural (2000) and In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee (2010), have become familiar and widely circulated representations of Korean adoptees’ experiences. Some critics characterize these films as conventional due to the narratives’ adherence to the search-and-reunion genre (E. Kim 2013: 78). Within the films’ returns to Korea, institutions—the family, the orphanage, the adoption agency, the nation-state—are considered key to producing answers for and about the adoptee.
In this paper, I ask what queer theory might bring to the study of narratives and adoptee representations within first-person transnational Korean adoption documentaries. I draw on JeeYeun Lee’s framework for a queer Korean American diasporic history, in which Lee asks, “How can I claim a past that seems both mine and not mine?” (1998: 187). I pair the two films to discuss narrative moments of misalignment and failure within transnational adoption. My reading considers how Borshay Liem is more invested in the questions than the answers associated with her adoption, framing the searches as unpredictable, flexible processes informed by intimacies and diasporic histories. From this consideration, we see how the films present kinship relations that exceed normative constructions of family and national belonging.
Lucy Curzon, Art History, University of Alabama, “Just Ordinary? Visualizing LGBT+ Families in the Photographs of Catherine Opie”
This paper explores what is at stake in visualizing the “non-traditional” kinship of LGBTQ+ families. Notions of the family are customarily rooted in bio-normative logic—that is, the belief that biological parenthood is the foundation of a “normal” family structure. Bio-normativity consequently marginalizes or erases altogether LGBTQ+ families because their foundational relationships do not mirror tradition-bound, bio-normative expectation.
Using Catherine Opie’s Domestic series of photographs, I explore how these images—via the politics of queer visibility—ultimately rub bio-normativity against the grain. Opie began this series in the mid-nineties. She travelled across the US for two months to photograph lesbian-led families in their homes. What is striking about the images she later produced is their ordinariness or, as one critic argued, “the endearing mundaneness against which we all live our lives.” What this paper will argue is that this sense of “everydayness” or “normalcy” is crucial to undermining the perceived ‘naturalness’ of the bio-normative order in American society. Indeed, queer visibility has the potential to undermine the social, even political force of bio-normativity, ultimately revealing not only its status as type of performance but also the motivations for performing it.
Deborah DeRosa, English, Northern Illinois University, “Dangerous only because they speak the truth: The Traumatic Narrative in Gloria Whelan’s Chu Ju’s House”
Gloria Whelan, HarperCollins and professional reviewers participate in victimizing China adoptees as they soft-pedal, downplay and/or misrepresent a fictional family’s response to the One-Child Policy in Chu Ju’s House. The fundamental premise which spurs Chu Ju to leave her family and journey throughout Jiangxi and Shanghai from 1998 to 2002 rests on the reality of infant trafficking. Chang writes that the when Chu Ju’s mother gives birth to a second girl, the “grandmother plans to give the baby away”; Jennifer Hartshorn writes that “Chu Ju runs away so her sister won’t have to be given up”; Gillian Engberg writes that the “bitter grandmother convinces the parents to put the new baby up for adoption”; Nora Piehl writes, “disappointed parents and grandmother consider sending the baby to an orphanage; Rosser writes that “the grandmother threatens to destroy her”; finally, Whelan’s publisher, HarperCollins, writes, “the baby must be sent away.” Only School Library Journal accurately acknowledge that the infant girl will be “sold” and Publishers Weekly affirms that the grandmother “makes plans to sell the baby.” These misrepresentations by adult mediators (publishers, librarians and teachers) prove problematic to parents who rely on reviews and/or back-of-the-book summaries to help their children choose reading materials representing an ethnic and historical narrative. Whelan’s right to present this truth about Chinese culture does not negate adult mediators’ responsibility to acknowledge the presence of child trafficking within the narrative, a narrative that proves dangerous to Chinese adoptees, 64,900 of whom were adopted by American parents between 1999 and 2014 (Statistics ).
Kira Donnell, Ethnic Studies, University of California, Berkeley, “Collections and Counternarratives: The Politics of Museums and Adoptee Agency”
In this paper, I cast a critical lens on museums as institutions of knowledge production and the transnational adoption industry. Drawing from scholars who have critiqued the representations of indigenous peoples in museum exhibitions, I examine how transnational adoptees have similarly been rendered agentless objects in museum projects. This research is part of my larger doctoral dissertation project that looks at the ways in which the figures of the Korean orphan and adoptee have been used by both American and Korean popular media and culture to construct nationalist narratives and identities.
While actual representations of adoption narratives are rare in museum exhibitions, interesting parallels can be drawn between the motives for museum curation and transnational adoption. For some, both activities can be seen as an act of collection or preservation. In her book Primitive Art in Civilized Places, anthropologist Sally Price equates adoptees with antiques or primitive art, salvaged from obscurity by the benevolent collector, who will value and maintain such an exotic treasure far better than the natives could. As such, adoptees become objects rather than subjects, inanimate and on display. With this in mind, I evaluate three museum exhibit sites that address transnational adoption from Asia: the “Newcomers: The People of this Place” exhibition at the Grand Rapids Public Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan; the “Operation Babylift: Perspectives and Legacies” exhibit at the Presidio Officers’ Club in San Francisco; and the permanent exhibition on Korean adoption hosted at the Museum of Korea Emigration History in Incheon, South Korea.
Daniel Drennan, Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship, American University, Beirut, “Citizenship and Statelessness: The Adoptee as Citizen, Denizen, Alien”
In recent years we have entered into a secondary stage of problematic issues concerning adoptees and citizenship. Statelessness, deportation, returnee visas, repatriation/rematriation, etc.: the conceptual and practical results of adoption practice decades after the transaction require a revised understanding of the very notions of identity and citizenship. Adoptees represent the “razor’s edge” between receiving and source populations. These continue to reflect the class disparity that has been at the core of this transfer of children and rupture of filiation. This transfer maps readily onto extirpative practices also based in economic and political class disparities. The origins of the practice and its global expansion/universalization reveal an international “cosmopolitan class.” This divide denotes a difference in sheer political embodiment, between polis and zoë. Via the adoption of children across borders and class strata, dominant classes empower nation-state agency in a continuation of colonial and missionary actions. The perpetuation of the practice is based in shared class interests in globalization and the neoliberal order. Adoption is thus added to a list of deleterious practices used against those deemed to be extraneous to the body politic.
This presentation is based on research within Lebanon concerning the legal status of those locally dispossessed, displaced, and disinherited. Comparison is likewise made with other adoptive source countries. Based on this research, adoptees are revealed to be “second-class citizens,” with dubious ties to source as well as receiving countries. This presentation acknowledges the inherent aspects of kinship and family creation found within adoption practices, but similarly places these within socio-economic and political contexts. It examines base conceptions of citizenship and nation-state, and explores current issues and problems for adoptees whose very “statedness” is being called into question. Rather than proposing a formalized status-quo citizenship from currently existing nation-states, questioned are the very economic and political bases of assigning such “belonging” in the first place. This provides us with sites of resistance for activists to explore and expand on, as well as to move past and break out of, in an effort to define a valid polis for all.
Lorraine Dusky, New York, Keynote and “Writing Blogs and Memoirs”
Marina Fedosik, Writing, Princeton University, “Adoption in Stephen Spielberg’s A.I.: Kinship in the Posthuman Context”
Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi film Artificial Intelligence (A.I.)—based on “Supertoys Last All Summer Long,” a short story by Brian Aldiss—is a narrative of a robot boy adopted by a human family after their incurably ill birth son, Martin, has been cryogenically frozen. While scholars such as John Tibbetts and Bert Oliver have recognized (albeit in passing) that A.I. is a narrative of adoption, none of them analyzed it from the perspective of adoption studies, with adoption as a central trope that contributes to the film’s (and the short story’s) larger concerns about “what is real.”
This paper is arguing that A.I. and the short story it is based on are testing the cultural “realness” of the adoptive family and exploring the role of biology and affect in securing kinship bonds. As works of science fiction, both texts posit the cultural possibility for the disappearance of the adoptive family’s double bind: compelled to appear, in Barbara Melosh’s words, “as if begotten” and yet perpetually measured against the biological model it can never fully replicate. Ultimately, the film suggests that such possibility can be realized only when the cultural commitment to the biological family as a place of origins is gone after the human race and the biology-based reproduction disappear.
Jacki Fitzpatrick and Erin Kostina-Richey, Human Development and Family Studies, Texas Tech University, “Is There Truth in Fiction? Content Analysis of Stories Written by Adoptive Family Members”
This qualitative study analyzed children’s storybooks written by adoptive family members (parent, adoptee). Aligning with prior research (Gill, 2012; Pinderhughes, 1996), books frame adoption as an ongoing identity process and allow families to share experiences which are not obvious to outsiders. The researchers used directional coding by creating a list of pre-selected concepts and search the books for the presence of such concepts (Hsieh & Shannon, 2005). Concepts were drawn from prior research on adoptive families (e.g., Gill, 2012; Kranstuber & Kellas, 2011; Suter et al., 2011). For example, child empowerment (Kalb, 2012) aligned with the following question posed by an adopted child character—“What if … instead of an orphanage where kids without families live, there was an orphanage where all the moms who want kids live? They would stay there until a kid visits the Mommy Orphanage, picks out a Mom, and takes her home” (Krass & Krass, 2008, p. 6). The outcomes of such research have implications for family therapy/education. For example, books can foster dialogue between family members or validate children’s experiences. Published books can be used as a model for families to create storybooks, similar to other parents-as-authors programs (Auerbach, 2011; Gallagher, Rhodes & Darling, 2004).
Lisa Gaskill, Education, University of Alabama, “Dismantling Dixie: Race, Place, and the Politics of Belonging Through the Eyes of a Transnational Adoptee”
The purpose of my research is to examine how autobiography can serve as a pedagogical methodology for expanding, occupying and constructing sites of negotiation, agreement (Pinar, 1994) and community. According to Pinar, autobiography is the human hubris that attempts to find order among chaos and knowledge out of the mystery of one’s life story (Pinar, 1985). Autobiography is more than just a collective retelling and interpretation of one’s lived experiences (Schubert, 1986). It becomes shaped into retold conversations across various locations and communities. Autobiography is not just an embellished reflection of our past and present. This psychoanalytic approach pushes back the edges of memory, making it deeper, larger and more complete (Pinar, 1994). It is a “revolutionary act” (Langness and Frank 1981, p. 93) that can bring together adoption and non-adoption communities.
I will use autobiography to examine how my own transnationalism problematizes southern narratives, which are steeped in the traditions of family, community, religion and place. Postcolonial Feminism and Asian critical race theory help me examine ways in which southern politics of race, place and belonging contradict my transnational identity and understanding of Self. I will use my racial in-betweenness and strange multi-consciousness to dismantle and reinvigorate the first-person narrative of the American South.
Shannon Gibney, English, Minneapolis Community and Technical College, “Transracial Adoption in See No Color and Other Young Adult Fiction”
Young adult fiction (YA) is a potent site for investigating identity formation—particularly around race, gender, kinship, and family. Little has been discussed, however, about the intricate and nuanced interaction between all these facets of identity in the genre itself, or its criticism. As author of the 2015 YA novel See No Color, I will share my thoughts on the creation and reception of the novel so far, and how this and other recent YA novels interrupt or reinforce existing discourses around adoption in general and transracial adoption in particular.
Meghan Gilbert-Hickey, English, St. John’s University, NY, “The Search for the Good, Real Mother: Depictions of Birth and Adoptive Mothers in Young Adult Dystopian Fiction”
If the cultural scripts of mothering are contested at large, so, too, are those for birth and adoptive mothers, whose roles are mediated by raced and classed questions of ethics. In their culturally perceived failure to participate in heteronormative middle-class motherhood, birth mothers can neither claim their status as mothers nor publicly mourn the loss of that motherhood. Socially defined “good” motherhood is unattainable from this position. Likewise, adoptive mothers—and, particularly, those who have become parents via international and/or cross-cultural adoption—are depicted as participating in either child rescue or child trafficking. Both stereotypes perpetuate a raced and classed hierarchy through which poor children, children of color, and special needs children—the primary populations waiting to be adopted—are othered, as are adoptive mothers, whose families become marked by the stigmas of their children. For these women, as well, “good” motherhood—white, middle-class heteronormative motherhood—is foreclosed.
In this presentation, I will use Caragh O’Brien’s Birthmarked Trilogy and A. G. Henley’s Brilliant Darkness series to examine contemporary anxiety over the ethics of international adoption and how it reifies the centrality of the white, middle-class heteronormative mother, simultaneously othering the always already queered, classed, and racialized birth and adoptive mothers.
Johanna Gondouin, Gender Studies, Stockholm University, “Transnational Adoption in the Age of ARTS: Kinship and Ethics in Swedish Media Debates on Surrogacy and Assisted Reproduction”
In early 2016, a Swedish governmental inquiry concluded that altruistic surrogacy shall continue to be banned from the Swedish health system. It also pleaded for assisted fertility treatment using donated reproductive cells only, dropping the previous requirement of a genetic link between child and parent. The parliament is expected to approve of these conclusions later this year. The inquiry and surrounding public debate bring attention to transnational adoption. Abandoning requirements of a genetic link is argued for through research on adoptive families who “seem to do well.” This is a significant change from the privileging of biogenetic relatedness in existing legislation which makes Sweden’s role as a major receiving country for transnational adoption a flagrant inconsistency. Furthermore, in debates on surrogacy, adoption is often mobilized as the ethical alternative. This paper considers how these media debates bring transnational adoption to the fore, and the different discourses on kinship and belonging that appear. Pro-adoption contenders tend to downplay the significance of biogenetic connection, whereas those in favor of surrogacy stress the crucial importance of genetic bonds: whether absent (as between the surrogate and child) or existing (as between intended parents and child).
Kori A. Graves, History, State University of New York at Albany, “Before It Was ‘A Practice of Genocide’: Transracial Adoption and African Americans in the 1950s and 1960s”
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, a small number of adoption agencies in the US began experimenting with placements that broke from the practice of matching perspective parents and adoptable children based on race. While the number of transracial adoptions involving white parents and African-American children was always small, these placements became the subject of debates in white and African-American communities. Officials with the National Urban League, a civil rights organization, encouraged transracial adoptions because they considered it to be consistent with the organization’s promotion of integration. White officials with a number of child welfare agencies were more cautious about transracial adoptions precisely because of the nation’s troubled race relations and the explosive nature of US civil rights struggles. However, white families’ pursuit of transracial adoptions coincided with legislative changes mandating racial equality and these new laws, and families’ actions, inspired changes in adoption practice that made placements across race more acceptable in some circumstances. Organizations and families in Minnesota were a part of the vanguard of formal transracial adoption and this talk situates their activities in the evolution of transracial adoptions through a consideration of the significance of organizations like Minnesota’s Parents to Adopt Minority Youngsters (PAMY).
Justice Hagan, English, Marquette University, “International Adoptee Narratives as Forced Migrant Literature”
When it comes to categories of forced migration, international adoptees are not the first individuals who come to mind, especially considering the massive diaspora of refugees from the Middle East and the many discourses in communities across the world regarding their perilous journeys and future in the West. When taking into account the comparatively “peaceful” transition that adoptees make between their country of origin and their adoptive country, many find it difficult to sympathize with an individual who, so they believe, has been given a better chance in the United States and, because they were adopted during infancy, has never known another life. All of these beliefs, however, are partially based in assumptions of cultural assimilation and fail to take into account other critical considerations, such as ethnicity. Through a reading of Kathryn Ma’s The Year She Left Us, we can see the ways in which these assumptions are resisted through the transnational identities that emerge in literature. The UN and Hague conventions regarding international adoption add to this analysis greatly, as they reveal large gaps in understanding within the global community regarding the experiences of international adoptees. Finally, as a case study in resistance, the Korean-American adoptee community, as forced migrants, provides a living voice against the assimilation expected of them.
Jena Heath, Journalism, St. Edward’s University, Texas, “Our China Stories”
Oral history and digital storytelling provide powerful opportunities for adoptees and others in the adoption community to share their perspectives and experiences. These stories shatter preconceptions and challenge the notion of a single, or even dominant, adoption narrative. Our China Stories, a storytelling site launched in 2016, is a place for adoptees and others in the Chinese adoption community to read, hear and watch the direct, unmediated stories of others who share their experiences. Adoptees are able to record and upload their own stories (as oral, visual and written narratives) themselves.
The project launched in Summer 2015 and active interviewing continued through Summer 2016. So far, Jena Heath has collected nearly 70 interviews with Chinese adoptees and family members across the US and abroad. Interviews with birth families are also planned. This presentation will introduce the site, which is available in English and Mandarin, and discuss the nuanced range of views and experiences about adoption from China. This project makes clear that the Chinese adoption diaspora is diverse and offers important insight as China’s international adoption program continues to slow, and likely end, in the coming years.
Emily Hipchen, English, University of West Georgia, “Christopher Reeve’s Superman as Supercrip Adoptee”
In pursuit of language to describe reports of adoption trauma well, I have begun to deploy social theories of disability in my discussions of adoption narratives. I’m interested especially in the way in which social constructionists can frame disability as a production of cultural narrative and practice, given how that may lend adoption studies theorists new methods of seeing and addressing what sometimes gets naturalized in our discourse.
I began using this theory to look at Walter Isaakson’s biography of Steve Jobs, arguing that in Isaakson’s Jobs might be read as a supercrip (the contested term for the heroic, triumphant disabled), and that a supercrip Jobs might raise interesting questions about the relationship between adoption and Americanism, ones Carol Singley had noted in her recent book Adopting America.
For this presentation, I turn my attention to a cluster of texts around another hyper-able adoptee and champion of the American way: Superman. Here I think about supercrip adoptees a little more literally, and consider Superman-impersonator Christopher Reeve’s two autobiographies as paratexts, reading backward from Reeve’s representations of his disabling accident in his two memoirs into his portrayal of Superman on film. Looking at Superman through the lens of disability studies, particularly noticing how reading the film with the figure of wheelchair-bound Reeve in the background changes almost everything about the way I encounter about the multiple mythologies of that film, I think about the way in which adoption damage in adoptee-based narratives has the same paratextual quality, the same ghostly persistence-in- absence.
I want to read Super-Reeve to consider how narratives of adoption damage are produced by that reading itself, in the context of what I come to the text thinking I know about pain, disability, Superman, Reeve, Americanism and adoption. If we imagine Superman, the champion of the American way, as both a hyper-able adoptee and a quadriplegic, what might that mean for our understanding of adoption’s role in constructing “America,” of the way in which its pain is both storied and paratextual? What might it mean to be able to read Superman as Supercrip, both for adoption studies and as a way to imagine adoption as a particularly American metaphor?
Margaret Homans, English and Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies, Yale University, “Reunions with Siblings in Search Memoirs Across Cultures”
A recurrent theme in search and reunion memoirs by transnationally adopted individuals is the contrast between troubled or unrecoverable relationships with birth parents on the one hand and, on the other, joyful and sustainable relationships with birth siblings. In the memoirs I discuss, the adoptees search for their birth parents, only to encounter difficulties with communicating and other disappointments and losses. These challenges are, however, compensated for by the forging of enduring and rewarding relationships with previously unimagined birth siblings. Unlike birth parents, siblings aren’t damaged by guilt or by whatever violent forces impelled the adoptee’s abandonment in the first place; siblings offer the adoptee a vivid image of what her life might have been like and share or can sympathize with the adoptee’s challenges in relating to the older generation. Most important, given our era of rapid globalizing change, they live in the same world—a world that is more transnational and cosmopolitan than that of the birth parents. Language barriers are often breached and cultural differences can be more easily bridged than in the relationship with the birth parents.
Memoirs to be considered include Mei-Ling Hopgood’s Lucky Girl, Jane Jeong Trenka’s The Language of Blood, Jackie Kay’s Red Dust Road, and Samantha Futerman’s recent film Twinsters.
Kay Ann Johnson, Critical Social Inquiry, Hampshire College, roundtable discussion of her book China’s Hidden Children: Abandonment, Adoption and the Human Costs of the One Child Policy (U of Chicago P, 2016)
Panelists will speak from a variety of scholarly and personal perspectives on the impact of Johnson’s discoveries; open discussion with the audience will be encouraged. China’s Hidden Children has been widely reviewed, including by the New York Review of Books, Financial Times, Foreign Affairs, and New Republic. China’s Hidden Children is based on twenty years of fieldwork interviewing hundreds of rural Chinese parents who surreptitiously relinquished, secretly adopted, and/or hid or disguised children born in violation of birth planning rules in order to avoid impoverishing fines and other harsh penalties, such as forced sterilization and loss of livelihood. Birth planning policies also deprived children born out-of-plan of a legal existence, leaving many in the shadows without access to health care and education and placing them at risk of losing their family. The book gives voice to this invisible group of rural families and children whose perspectives have been missing from previous accounts of the impact of China’s One-Child Policy.
The book also sheds light on how and why China became the world’s largest supplier of healthy, disproportionately female children for international adoption in the 1990s and early 2000s. The research shows how government suppression of widespread local domestic adoption was a crucial part of the story; many rural families wanted to adopt the daughters that sonless families relinquished in the face of harsh birth planning restrictions, but were often prevented by adoption policies. This account challenges the accepted belief that traditional Chinese cultural attitudes toward girls created a pool of unwanted healthy children in Chinese orphanages, necessitating a turn to international adoption to find them adoptive families. Finally the book shows how these government policies led to government seizure of children from families and set off dynamics that fuel “child trafficking,” an interregional trade based in large part on the out-of- plan children in poor areas whose parents are compelled to relinquish or “sell” them in order to avoid fines they cannot afford, supplying adopters in wealthier areas where there are few healthy children available for adoption. In this way most domestic adoption has been recast as “trafficking.”
LiLi Johnson, American Studies, Yale University, “Selfie Photography, Birth Parent Searches, and an Epistemology of the Self”
One young woman’s online profile picture features her facing the camera, at arm’s length, head on, low resolution: the telltale signs of a selfie. She is winking with a defiant girlish look and her fist is raised framing her face. There is an added graphic that causes a radiation around her face like a cartoon. Is this picture from a dating or social media website? No. This selfie comprises the primary visual component of this adopted woman’s online profile searching for her birth parents. With conversations about popular culture occupied by the celebrity selfie and the social media selfie, what room is there for a searching-for-my-birth-parents selfie?
In this presentation, I consider the public online archive of birth parent search profiles on the Chinese website Baobei Hui Jia (宝贝回家). The website provides a space where individuals adopted in (and from) China can search for their birth parents by creating a profile with identifying details and a photograph. In this project, I focus on teen and adult adoptees who are searching for their birth parents. I show the ways in which the photographic archive of profile pictures fundamental to these searching profiles demonstrates the importance of the selfie as a means of recuperation.
I argue that the selfie becomes a way of knowing, an epistemology, of the self through its ability to self-narrate. The term “selfie” describes a type of photograph defined by an encounter with the self and with technology. This encounter is constructed by specific relations to space (camera arm’s length from the face), subjecthood (as connoted by its reference to the “self” taking a photograph of itself), and the body (the camera becomes an extension of both the hand and the eye). This epistemology functions as a re-making of the self: she who was once without the agency to know her family, becomes the adoptee using the selfie to search for that lost family. And in this re-making, the self can be recuperated through its photographic creation. In a process of searching that attempts to recuperate a family in a history of trauma, abandonment, and loss, the selfie and forms of photography allow space for re-cognition, re-creation, and re-cuperation.
Glenda Jones, English, University of Wisconsin, Stout, “‘Ain’t I A Mother’: The Validity of a Transracial Family Consisting of a Single Mother and Adopted Children”
In this paper, I use feminist theory to critique modern societal norms of motherhood through the lens of my own experience as a single parent of an adopted children whose identity, due to race and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, is vastly different from my own. My interest in this topic was especially piqued by Andrew Solomon’s work in his book Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity (2013). Solomon refers to vertical identity as that passed down through strands of DNA and horizontal identities as those traits that the child does not share with his/her parents.
I acknowledge both vertical and horizontal identities and discuss both the implications of my choice to parent and my choice to narrate my story. I argue that society can no longer afford to consider single parenting as an alternative lifestyle. Nor can single mothers afford to be demonized by politicians and controlled by the dominant white patriarchal hegemonic forces that silence us and marginalize our existence. I look at representations in the media that both problematize identity politics and celebrate single mothers of transracial families.
Hosu Kim, Sociology, College of Staten Island, CUNY, “Gendered Violence and Transnational Adoption”
This paper examines the functions of gendered violence and transnational adoption from South Korea. In Korea’s longest history of transnational adoption practice, the gendered violence has entrenched with adoption as one of the most common adoption background and a major catalyst for adoption. Intercalated with economic dispossession, gendered violence has long been covered over, rapidly turning ordinary predicaments into a life threatening condition in which numerous working-class women could no longer foresee a life together with their children. This paper catalogues the gendered violence into (1) domestic violence, (2) institutional neglect and expunging of birth mother’s basic rights, and (3) national disavowal of a basic protection for maternity among mothers outside the normative family. Based on in-depth interviews with Korean birth mothers, this paper attends to the ways in which birth mothers have long been subjected to abuse and violence before, during, and after adoption process. My inquiry seeks an alternative framework in which birth mothers are not just victims of multiplied violence, evoking a politics of pity, but more witnesses, who demand a politics of transnational reproductive justice. In doing so, we commit to disconnect transnational national adoption practice and discourse from its overwhelming salvation narrative of people from the Third World.
Jae Ran Kim, Social Work, University of Washington at Tacoma, “Activist Scholarship and Adoption Studies: The Need for an Interdisciplinary Lens”
The focus on adoption as a subject of research has been tackled in many academic disciplines. Yet social work, the very field that physically and conceptually creates adoptive families has been largely myopic in adoption research. Absent from most social work adoption research is a grounded understanding of adoption in terms of its historical and social contexts. At the same time, researchers in the humanities tend to theorize from historical and social contexts without an acknowledgment of how their work can be applied to social work professionals and adoptive families. The emergence of adoptee scholars located across academic disciplines has increased interdisciplinary and intersectional conversations and conceptualizations of adoption. In this paper I call for adoption scholars across the behavioral sciences and humanities to understand or problematize each other’s work. I also discuss implications for scholars who engage in activist scholarship or critical adoption studies, particularly in disciplines where such research is marginalized.
Elizabeth Kopacz, Ethnic Studies, University of California at Riverside, “Revaluing the Transnational Asian Adoptee: Multiculturalism and Fresh Off the Boat”
Since its premiere in February 2015, Fresh Off the Boat has generated varying layers of praise and critique as the first mainstream series in twenty years to feature a primarily Asian American cast on network television. Although the series has been posed as the advent of increased inclusion and representation of Asian Americans in dominant media, this paper works with Jodi Melamed’s concept of neoliberal multiculturalism to critique the project of the “multicultural” television series as complicit in racial capitalism and neoliberal models of governing. Working both with and against discourses that characterize Fresh Off the Boat as “revolutionary,” “liberatory,” and exceptional, this paper will focus specifically on two aspects: the transnational, transracial Asian adoptee as a figure that reveals how difference is deployed to benefit and perpetuate capitalist social reproduction, and the value placed on the transracially formed family as liberatory and limiting nonnormative family formation. How does the particular representation of the transnational, transracial Chinese adoptee as idealized, “globalized multicultural citizen” become racialized and valued through and against Eddie Huang as “exemplar” Chinese American?
Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, English, St. Olaf College, “Myths to Have a Good Time”
I will be reading a paper about post-birth family reunion and alternative reproductive technology. The essay previously appeared in Asian American Literary Review and was anthologized in Nothing to Declare: a Guide to the Flash Sequence (White Pine Press 2016). A brief sample appears below:
Last year in Seoul, my mother and I reunited after she read my story in an online newspaper. For 7 years, Omma searched for me after finding out through family gossip the name of the orphanage where my grandaunt had taken me without her permission. I was two weeks old.
My name is Jennifer. My name is Jennifer Synobia. My name is Kwon Young Mee. My name is case #1314. My name is Soo Jin. Omma named me for the monsoon rain, a northern pine mountain facing her window overlooking summer cornfields. She wasn’t a prostitute who my adoptive mother said had fallen in love with a G.I. and who loved me so much that she chose for me “a better life.” Instead, she belonged to the high school traditional dance troupe and enjoyed studying. After graduation, she moved to Seoul to work in Namdaemun Market while her older brother attended basic training. She sent money home to her parents, three younger sisters, and brother. Her hair fell past her waist. She was the school beauty, which was why Appa lingered inside the cramped dress shop pretending to look for a blouse that November evening. Just one drink. Just one dance. Just one. Just one. Just once.
Stevie Larson, Sociology and Anthropology, Spelman College, “Impermanency Planning: Uneven Geographies of the 1970s-1980s Child Welfare Insurgency”
Adoption scholarship largely agrees that a number of paradigm shifts in adoption practice—the relaxed standards of adoption agencies, the turn to “hard-to-place” child placements, the rise of transnational adoption—emerged in roughly the same time period in history. The suspected causes of these 1970s-1980s shifts (economic crises, changing norms for women and families, “baby shortages”) have garnered vigorous speculation that, while productive, may obscure more than it can show. In this paper I analyze this time of the “child welfare insurgencies” through the lens of the insurgents themselves: the plentiful organizations of adult adoptees, birthparents, adoptive parents, radical social workers, and others that filled the temporary vacuum of child welfare’s delegitimized authority. I specifically argue that the decentralized actions of these groups led to spatially uneven paradigm shifts in child welfare, many of which were unintended. I compare the assumed national scale of these shifts with the local scale in Minnesota (based on archival research and interviews done with child welfare organizations of that era) as an illustration of this unevenness. This research suggests a need for our own paradigm shift in how we understand the child welfare system and its main participants.
Frances Latchford, Women’s Studies, York University, “Heterodox Love and the Girl Maverick: Simone de Beauvoir, Sylvie Le Bon, and Their Confounding Family Romance”
Simone De Beauvoir adopted Sylvie Le Bon in 1980. Beauvoir was seventy-two and Le Bon in her late thirties. Beauvoir and Le Bon, by then, were in a deeply intimate relationship of some twenty years, a relationship Beauvoir refused to call lesbian, but described as “absolute,” because from “‘the beginning we were both prepared to live in this way, to live entirely for each other’”(Bair qtd. in Simons 218). Beauvoir’s adoption was, and remains, scandalous; initially, she even had to entreat Le Bon to “accept the adoption”(218). In spite of her notorious and steadfast rejection of institutionalized marriage, Beauvoir presented Le Bon with the curious argument that their adoption was “‘like marriage, because you share my name’”(218). Perhaps Beauvoir offered Le Bon this ironic analogy to somehow normalize their relationship, but then again, perhaps not.
This paper explores Beauvoir as a queer maverick: it critically investigates her use of adoption, not simplistically as a solely legal and expedient means to “secure a literary heir,” but as a creative resistance to heteronormative notions of romantic and familial love. It posits the idea that Beauvoir confounds historical and contemporary meanings of sexuality and family because her heterodox use of adoption blurs the boundaries of both. It concludes that Beauvoir’s use of adoption allows her to make the profundity of her love with Le Bon legible, but not intelligible as either a bond that is precisely sexual or familial. It suggests instead that her family romance refuses to be formulated in a phrase, because she intends to confound love’s discourses of family and sexuality.
Shawyn Lee, Social Work, University of Minnesota Duluth, and Amanda Schaller, Social Work, St. Catherine University, “In Whose Best Interest: A History of Maternalist Social Work Practice”
This paper offers a historical perspective and examines the ways in which maternalist ideologies in the United States that associated proper motherhood with white, middle- and upper-class Christian women have adversely affected child-removal practices that long claimed to serve in the best interest of those children. We explore how the social work profession contributed to the experiences associated with the separation of indigenous, immigrant, and Korean children from their birth families and cultures into primarily white families and institutions. We will look at the effects of the boarding school and orphan train movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, intercountry adoption from South Korea beginning in the mid-1950s, and the adoption and fostering of indigenous children after World War II. In all of these instances, children of different racial and cultural identities were oftentimes forcibly removed from their communities and placed with primarily white Christian families or in institutions predicated on white Christian values. The social work profession played a large part in these historical events. Consequently, the forced or assumed assimilation processes involved had devastating and long-lasting effects that have continued to plague subsequent generations. Implications for culturally appropriate and sensitive social work practice will be discussed.
Kimberly Leighton, Philosophy, American University, “Genetics Uncertain: American Eugenics and the Dangers of Adoption”
Adoptees have historically been thematized as dangerous. A particular source for such imaginings has been the purported unknown ‘genetic background’ of adopted children—and the adults they become. To be without heredity in the US is to be, at once, an epitome of the American self-made individual and a threat to the American hierarchy of kinship by blood. This paper traces the imagined threat of uncertain genealogy back from “genealogical bewilderment” to American eugenicists such as Paul Popenoe and Henry Goddard, men of “science” saw the condition of being someone with genetic uncertainty as itself a cause for grave concern. If Wellisch, the man who coined the term “genealogical bewilderment,” feared that “the deprivation of a child’s knowledge of his genealogy” could “lead to an irrational rebellion against his adoptive parents, the world as a whole and eventually to delinquency,” eugenics advocates like Paul Popenoe saw adoptees as “defectives” by nature. For Popenoe, legal adoption was a system motivated by the misguided and “pious hope…that any child will turn out well if given a proper home” (1929: 244). The “foster child” presented a problem because, by definition, she had questionable origins: “These children are not orphans…the children of profligate parents, children of families who are unable to maintain their footing in the community, or even provide for the necessities of life. And this is the condition not only of the parents, but also of the other relatives of the family. In other words, these children have no relatives who are sufficiently endowed with self-respect and intelligence to enable them to make a living for themselves, or to have interest enough to take care for their own kin.”
The paper concludes considering how the practice of closed adoption has functioned as part of the rewriting of the adoptee’s genetic uncertainty, from dangerously unknown to able to be reborn. Adoptability, thus, hinged in this context, on such an imagined erasure.
The Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture and the Loft invite you to a reading curated by Shannon Gibney.
Shannon Gibney is a writer, educator, activist, and the author of See No Color (Carolrhoda Lab, 2015), a young adult novel with themes of transracial adoption that won the 2016 Minnesota Book Award in Young Peoples’ Literature.
Lisa Marie Brimmer is a Queer, Black, Transracial Adoptee artist, academic fellow and administrator living in Minneapolis, MN and attending University of St. Thomas for her Master’s in English.
Susan Harness is a member of the Salish Kootenai Tribes and recently received her MA in Creative Nonfiction from Colorado State University.
Jennifer Kwon Dobbs is the author of Paper Pavilion (White Pine Press 2007), Notes from a Missing Person (Essay Press 2015), and Interrogation Room (forthcoming). She is associate professor of English and program director of Race and Ethnic Studies at St. Olaf College.
Melissa Ludtke, an adoptive parent and veteran journalist, is the producer, co-creator and writer for Touching Home in China: in search of missing girlhoods, a transmedia storytelling project and curriculum for students from middle school through early years of college.
Jean Marie Place is an assistant professor of women’s health at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.
SooJin Pate is the author of From Orphan to Adoptee: U.S. Empire and Genealogies of Korean Adoption (University of Minnesota Press) and Motherloss: A Memoir (forthcoming).
Sun Yung Shin is the editor of A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota, the author of poetry collections Unbearable Splendor (poetry/essay); Rough, and Savage; and Skirt Full of Black (all from Coffee House Press), a co-editor of Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption, and the author of the bilingual illustrated book for children Cooper’s Lesson.
Kate St. Vincent Vogl teaches both fiction and nonfiction at the Loft, and her book, Lost & Found: A Memoir of Mothers, was featured on national ABC news.
Elvira Loibl, Law, Maastricht University, “The Economy of Love: The Narratives German Parents Use to Decommodify the Intercountry Adoption Process”
Loving and parenting a child, many people would nowadays probably agree, cannot and should not be consumed or paid for. The relationship between parents and their children is so special and divine that it defies commodification. A child is not a piece of property that can be transferred from one owner to another. Rather, a child is considered to be priceless and beyond commerce as such.
Intercountry adoption is a field of tension between seemingly contradictory domains—consumerism and parenthood, property and child, money and love. In the international adoption system, the transfer of large sums of money has become common practice. Adoptive parents need to pay inordinate fees for home studies, translations, court hearings, trips to the sending countries and are, thus, often confronted with the allegation of purchasing a child.
This paper analyses the narratives of German adoptive parents with a focus on recurrent tropes for solving the moral tension between commerce and love in intercountry adoption. It explains how the rhetoric of “the right child” and “my child” help adoptive parents to distance themselves from buying a child as well as to “decommodify” and humanize the international adoption process.
Melissa Ludtke, Transmedia storytelling, Cambridge, MA, “China, Identity and Multicultural America: Global Learning with a Cinematic Edge”
Our presentation explores storytelling and curriculum elements of Touching Home in China: In Search of Missing Girlhoods, a website about adoption from China, life as a daughter in 21st-century China, and the journey “home” taken by two teen adoptees to the towns where they were abandoned as newborn girls. Six interwoven, cross-cultural stories are at the core of this thematic educational initiative, which blends content-rich, character-driven storytelling with easy-to-navigate, interdisciplinary lesson plans developed by global educators. The storytellers are six Chinese teen girls and two American adoptees whose lives began in the same two rural towns in Jiangsu, China. The Americans lived for nine months in an orphanage in Changzhou before being adopted by their families and growing up in Massachusetts. At 16, Jennie and Maya returned to these towns, and “hometown” Chinese girls, roughly their age, guided their discoveries about what it’s like to be a daughter in 21st-century rural China.
Our thematic curriculum broadens the study of contemporary China with immersive exploration designed for learning by digital natives. Its hyperlinked stories—told via video, interactive graphics, maps, slideshows, audio and narrative text—inform its curriculum. Its Challenge Based Learning approach challenges students to deeply probe topics, to reflect in small group discussions, and to act through a variety of projects. Curated resources that supplement the stories’ content are tailored to reading levels from middle school through the early years of college.
Liana Maneese, social practice artist, founder, Adopting Identity, “Adopting Identity as Community Education”
I am the founder of Adopting Identity and am a transracial adoptee born in Goiânia, Goiás, Brazil and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I see myself as a catalyst or conduit for People of Color who have or are growing up in multi-racial families. Through Adopting Identity I believe that through building a stronger sense of self and purpose we can begin to open ourselves up to happiness and necessary societal change. My goals are to provoke conversation and bring attention to people often unseen.
Adopting Identity delves into issues of racial identity from my unique perspective. I lead a series of conversations and workshops, educating transracial families and individuals on building strong healthy ecosystems of support. Through residencies (for example in Most Wanted Fine Arts Gallery and Alloy Studios in Pittsburgh) and other partnerships, using art and writing from others as well as my own (which includes filmmaking), I attempt to encourage community members to reflect on profound questions regarding identity and home, while creating tools necessary to truly support the distinct needs of transracial adoptees and any and all multiracial relationships. Making connections between multiracial people and adoptees is important. People in these groups have similar experiences, and sharing them broadens adoptee support systems drastically.
John McLeod, English, University of Leeds, “From Constituency to Collective: Imagining Birth-Mother Community in Recent Adoption Discourse”
Birth mothers have always formed a significant constituency but have rarely forged distinct collectives. As David Howe and his colleagues soberingly pointed out in Half a Million Women (1992), isolation both marked and marred the often traumatic experience of surrendering a child. In empowering these women, they argued, community and the “collective voice” were crucial: “for some, this was just a matter of being able to say ‘we’ rather than ‘I’ and know that she was speaking for many others who felt the same” (123). Recent endeavours in adoption politics and culture have sought to effect this transformation of “constituency” into “collective,” bringing birth mothers and their stories together to expose and contest their disenfranchisement, seclusion and silencing as women often wronged by state, society and family. In this paper I explore recent literary texts that strategically imagine birth-mother constituencies as collectives in order to assist in the assembling, illuminating and empowering of their shared adoptive being. In particular, I attend to Dermot Bolger’s important novel of twentieth-century Irish adoption history, A Second Life: A Renewed Novel (2010), which dares to imagine birth-mothers in terms of community as part of the wider critique of the Republic’s dark adoption history.
Anne Morey and Claudia Nelson, English, Texas A&M University, “Cross-Species Kinship Dilemmas: Adoption and Dinosaurs in Jurassic World”
Jurassic World (2015), the most recent update to the Jurassic Park franchise, employs many of the same elements as the original 1993 film: children menaced by the earth’s most savage carnivores; emotionally stunted and in some cases corrupt adults; families under threat. The chief innovation of Jurassic World, then, is the presence of a prominent adoption subtext, in contrast to the emphasis on birth kinship found in some of the earlier films in this franchise. First and more obviously, young brothers Zach and Gray are at the theme park in the nominal care of their distracted aunt, to whom their divorcing parents have relinquished them; the happy ending requires, in part, that she come to terms with her temporary standing as parent and prioritize them over her work. More interesting, however, is the cross-species adoption plot involving the bond between the island’s pack of velociraptors and their human trainer/foster father. This close tie threatens to unravel when the raptors realize that an escaped superdinosaur, genetically engineered to be as frightening and thus as crowd-pleasing as possible, shares DNA with them and thus may command their loyalty. The film’s biggest question thus involves the nature of community: in this world of high-tech assisted reproduction and outraged nature, who owns whom? To what extent does the blood tie govern affinity? Our paper provides a close reading of the film’s adoptive/reproductive politics.
Kit Myers, Ethnic Studies, University of California, Merced, “Adoption, Family, or Kinship: What Gets Us Closer to Social Justice?” University of California, Merced, Ethnic Studies
At the beginning of my short academic career, I used to tell people that my research examined transracial/national adoptions in the US After years in graduate school and pressure from every angle, especially from my committee members telling me otherwise, I changed to say my research was on family and nation using the lens of adoption. As I continue, I have been more recently confronted with how kinship also fits into my project. These interactions, of trying to broaden my scope, engender an internally abrasive response. To be sure, family, kinship, and nation are useful and relevant to my research, yet part of me cannot help but think that the ultimate goal of my research is to change how we think about and practice adoption. This paper will be a thought exercise to earnestly explore the generative possibilities of family and kinship. While adoption research and practice occasionally examines the family unit, whether it is the adoptive or birth family, the majority of research attends (oftentimes necessarily) to individualized issues and questions of identity, psychology, well-being, and trauma. Thus, I ask the following questions: Can family and kinship, as analytics and not just descriptors, be useful for adoption studies praxis? Can they help us get closer to social justice?
Lene Myong, Gender Studies, University of Stavanger, “Resisting Adoption: Examining Danish Media Coverage of ‘The Jari Case’ (1968) and ‘The Amy/Tigist Case’ (2012-16)”
Many scholars have written extensively and persuasively on the link between US militarism and the humanitarian sentiments that became formative of transnational adoption in the aftermath of WWII. The rise of transnational adoption in Denmark is intimately entangled with US history and in particular the wars in Korea and Vietnam. This presentation will, however, connect transnational adoption to the biopolitics of the Danish welfare state in which the (stratified) optimization of reproduction is a central component. It is significant that transnational adoption took off during a period in which the Danish state sought to democratize reproductive rights for its citizens. The paper will examine media representations of transnational adoption from the 1960s and 1970s when transnational adoption was institutionalized by the Danish state. The paper will focus on the gendered, racialized, and affective logics that permeated the coverage of transnational adoption, and I argue that during this period the discourse surrounding adoption became increasingly preoccupied with adoption, not only as a moral imperative, but as a right and welfare benefit.
Marianne Novy, English, University of Pittsburgh, “Educating about Adoption in Community and University”
There are many ways to educate about adoption besides teaching a regular course. Through the Pittsburgh Consortium for Adoption Studies, for example, I gave a name to a network of faculty at various universities that could sponsor events with both academic and community appeal, and get funding support from several units. Some speakers with large appeal have been Ann Fessler, Elizabeth Samuels, Jackie Kay and Deann Borshay Liem, portraying in poetry and film respectively what they experienced as transracial and transnational adoptees. We worked with Families with Children from China to arrange, for example, a showing of Somewhere Between with a panel discussion including the filmmaker, a social worker who is a Korean adoptee, and a pediatrician specializing in international families who is also an adoptive mother. Most recently, together with that pediatrician and a few visitors, I taught a course on adoption and foster care to Pitt medical students. I have also developed a regular English dept course, Changing Families in Literature, which puts adoption literature and film next to representations of multiracial, immigrant, gay-headed, and/or trans-headed families. This has been approved for a general education requirement in literature as well as interesting our Children’s Literature and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies programs.
Marianne Novy, English, University of Pittsburgh, “Half a World Away and the Traumatized and Transnationally Adopted Child”
Cynthia Kadohata’s YA novel Half a World Away is an amazing treatment of the difficulties of adoption when a child has been traumatized by years of neglect in an orphanage. Twelve-year- old Romanian adoptee Jaden is distant from his American parents, has set fire to objects in their house, and after several years of therapy is not sure what love is. But by taking him with them on a trip to adopt a child from Kazakhstan, his parents make new experiences and growth possible for him. He realizes that his own past provides him with the ability of connecting with other relinquished and adopted children. This novel breaks new ground for YA readers. I will briefly compare it to some other YA fiction.
Kim Park Nelson, American Multicultural Studies, Minnesota State University at Moorhead, “Scandinavian Roots of Transnational Adoption Culture in Minnesota”
Minnesota has a long history of both transnational and transracial adoption; in a 1974 article titled “Area Adopts Many Foreign Tots,” the Minneapolis Tribune reported that the regional office of the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service responsible for the states of Minnesota and North and South Dakota processed nearly four times the petitions for overseas adoption as surrounding regions; most of these children were adopted in Minnesota. Today, the state of Minnesota has one of the highest concentrations of transnational adoptees in the US (over 10,000 of whom were adopted from Korea). This presentation explores many possible factors in Minnesota’s development as a “high adoption society,” including the state’s history of homogeneous Whiteness, political liberalism, Lutheranism, and its high concentration of Scandinavian ethnics. In addition, this presentation will include a discussion of how the large and vocal transracial adoptee population in Minnesota is currently influencing Minnesota’s demographics, culture and politics.
Joyce Maguire Pavao, All Adoption Consulting and Training, “How the Story Heals the Storyteller: Narrative Therapy in Adoption”
No one is without a life story. Even if that story is partly about not knowing certain episodes of the story. We can also have different relationships to our story at different times in our life. Different parts of story stand out to us. Certain parts change meaning for us. Various parts of our story can connect us to other people, or even serve to help us heal from a past hurt. In other times and cultures, community was small and tight. Oral history was a way of staying connected and it was essential to know your story in order to gain belonging.
In adoption, each of us has had to pursue some missing pieces—especially the very beginnings to our stories… Can we change experience? Are multiple realities real realities? Telling a story to kept it alive and moving- does that give us hope? Trauma is a human experience. Some of what heals it is what we do with it. Whose story is it? How does it serve the storyteller and the listener alike? The story is never done but it must be done. We must separate the telling from the told—oral tradition and authorization of each story—the way we view each story and make it ours is what makes us human “beings.”
Rosemarie Peña, English, Rutgers University-Camden, “(Re) Presenting Black Germans in Documentary Film”
My paper analyzes two documentary films that re-introduce the postwar cohort of Black German adoptees to a broad international audience. Brown Babies: The Mischlingskinder Story (Regina Griffin) won the Best Documentary award at the 2011 American Black Film Festival. The film that I am screening here, Michaela Kirst’s Brown Babies—Germany’s Lost Children (2011), has been shown on German public television and is viewable on the internet in German, French, and English.
Adoption documentaries, particularly those that feature life narratives and reunion stories, are a powerful form of visual rhetoric. Filmmakers have tremendous power to shape and (re)present adoptee narratives and exert a tremendous influence on how audiences perceive adoptive families and how adoptees and their family members may come to view themselves. Members of the now middle-aged Black German adoptee cohort are actively searching and reuniting with their original families at the same time they are (re)negotiating a collective identity as a finite, generational group that is situated in a complex, multi-generational, multi-ethnic, historically oppressed, diasporic community—within and in response to the public discourse. My analysis considers how the films complicate the ongoing efforts to reunite the contextually divided Black Germans discursively and beyond.
Bruno Perreau, French Studies, MIT, “Adoption after Marriage Equality: The French Case”
On April 23, 2013, the French National Assembly adopted the law known as “Marriage for All,” which gives gay and lesbian couples the right to marry and jointly adopt children. After review to ensure that it did not violate the 1958 French Constitution, the law was promulgated on May 17, 2013.
Did the law end discrimination against sexual minorities with regards to adoption? I will show that the law not only maintained discrimination against minorities, but also created new ones. There is, for example, no automatic presumption that same-sex married couples are related to each other’s children: they are required to go through the process of adopting a partner’s biological child. When such biological children are born by means of medically assisted reproduction performed outside France, some courts have refused to permit their adoption, on the ground that the parents have contravened a 1994 bioethics law that restricts medically assisted reproduction to heterosexual couples. It is only recently that the highest civil court has considered these adoptions legal.
Moreover, debates on marriage equality in France showed that the government, which backed up the bill, shared with opponents to gay marriage a similar fear that gay adoption would lead to the commodification of children. Preserving the symbolic hegemony of fertile heterosexuality remains a requirement for gay parents. I will argue that the fear of gay adoption is also a fear of adoption itself, as adoption questions the biological fantasies of the social contract in France.
Jean Marie Place, Physiology and Health Science, Ball State University, and John Horowitz, Economics, Ball State University, “A Perfect Storm: The Crisis of Infertility” [Jean Marie Place presenting]
The number of infertile women in the United States is increasing. A study of 7,600 women in the US found infertility issues have grown from 10% (roughly 1 in 10) to 16% (1 in every 6 couples; Thoma et al., 2013). The National Survey of Family Growth estimates that in 2025 between 6.5 and 7.7 million women will be infertile. Demographic shifts play a role in the increase in infertility, including the trend of delayed childbearing until an age of decreased fecundity. Women are marrying at later ages and may be trying to conceive when there is a slight (ages 25-29) as well as marked (ages 35-39) decline in fertility. Traditionally, infertile couples investigate adoption as a way to build their families. However, demographic shifts such as legalized abortions, increased birth control use and effectiveness, and greater acceptance of single motherhood reduce the number of babies available for adoption. In light of these demographic shifts, we discuss the evidence for increased scarcity, in terms of children available for adoption, the implications of scarcity for both the infertile and adoptive communities, and possible ways to avert a perfect storm of increased demand and limited supply.
Rosalie Purvis, Theater Studies, Cornell University, director and performer; Mee Ae Caughey, performer: “When I Heard My Child Cry in Babel’s Rubble: How Embodying Adoption Narratives Connects Experiences Across Cultures and Across the Adoption Triad”
“When the tower of Babel crumbled, suddenly my child was no longer in my arms. Vision blurred by dust, ears crowded by foreign wails, I stumbled through the remnants, the rocks, the people suddenly strangers. I heard but one familiar sound; in the distance, my child’s cry. My child was out there somewhere. I knew it. So I searched. Even after they cleared the rubble, I searched for my child. I searched for my child my whole life long and when I died, I kept searching. I lived many lives and in each one I heard the familiar cry. I kept searching. I searched through waters, deserts, houses, languages, poems, wars, parties, paintings, castles, parties, cities, caves, forests, trains, boats and long dusty roads. I searched in the faces of people I knew and people I didn’t. I searched myself. I searched. Until one day, my child found me.”
–By Rosalie Purvis (from script)
Drawing on a diverse range of migration texts and adoption narratives, “When I Heard My Child Cry in Babel’s Rubble” merges dance and text to address what happens when survival and love compel us to transgress place, language, history, time, familial bonds and national borders. Via our own respective experiences as adoptive parent and adult adoptee, Rosalie Purvis and fellow dancer/choreographer Mee Ae Caughey address the complexity of cross-national and cross-ethnic family and individual identity. The piece places current migration crises in the context of a specific relationship and, in turn, contextualizes the specific relationship within these global migration trends. In doing so, it addresses topics of diaspora, destiny, staggered attachment/bonding between adoptive parent and child, the absence or presence of birth mother/parent, the forming of intercultural and interracial family and identity and the mythology of “the primal wound.”
This artist/scholar talk shows excerpts from the rehearsals and from the piece itself and presents process analysis as a means to analyze how the process of embodying adoption narrative connects experiences across cultures and across the adoption triad.
Liz Raleigh, Sociology, Carleton College, “Wither International Adoption? Implications for Adoption Researchers”
From its peak of almost 23,000 placements in 2003, every year the number of transnational adoptions to the United States continues to decline. In 2014, 6441 children were adopted from abroad. Notably, the profile of parents pursuing intercountry adoption and the characteristics of children placed has evolved. Whereas white parents facing fertility barriers seeking to adopt healthy infants used to be the mainstay of transnational adoption, the practice has shifted. Fueled by a shrinking supply of healthy infants as well as growing interest among Evangelical Christians spurred by the save the orphans movement, these smaller cohorts of internationally placed children are likely to face very different experiences as transracial and transnational adoptees. These changes have significant implications for adoption researchers, many of whom—like myself—grew up under the old paradigm of adoption. As the experiences of the newest waves of adoptees depart from our own, how might adoption research (and researchers) evolve? And if the numbers of intercountry adoptions continue to dwindle, when will we be beating a dead horse?
Martha Satz, English, Southern Methodist University, “‘You are my real mother. I will never belong’: Questions of Family in the Israeli Documentary Probation Time”
In an award-winning 2014 Israeli film, documentarian Avigail Sherber searingly explores questions of what constitutes a family and family bonds within her own family. Her parents after having had nine biological children adopted an Ethiopian girl with a complicated past, Ariella. They extend all the love of a nurturing family to her, but beginning in her early teenage years she consistently manifested problems with alcohol, drugs, men and criminality, which eventuated in incarceration. The film explores her relation to her mother and her siblings and her sense of self. Her long-suffering mother warmly expresses her willingness to do anything for her, but admits that in the past she had to withdraw some of her attention because she was neglecting others in the family. Other siblings question the mother about the quality of her unconditional love, for Ariella has had two children out of wedlock that she was forced to relinquish. Her brother claims if any of the other children had such problems, the family would have banded together to raise the children. In the course of the film, Ariella vacillates about her relationship to her family and initiates a suicide attempt. Simultaneously, Avigail, the maker of the film, explores her own parental role with the son she has raised with her lesbian partner as the two sever their relationship.
This film sensitively explores issue of cross-cultural adoption and parental bonds in unusual circumstances. It explodes binaries to find the reality beneath them. As Ariella answers a guard’s question about her mother: “Is that your real mother or your adoptive mother?” “She is my mother, neither adoptive nor biological—My mother.”
Patricia Sawin, American Studies, University of North Carolina, “‘Are You Her Mommy?’ ‘Yes, Yes, I Am!’: Negotiating Belonging in Mothers’ Stories of Adoptive Family Formation”
Families formed through adoption, especially transracial or transnational adoption, face regular explicit and implicit challenges to their identity as a family. Mothers especially assume the discursive work of defending their relationships and defining their family as “real.” As a part of this effort, mothers often tell stories about the exceptional and unlikely circumstances through which a child became part of the family. These accounts depict the formation of the family as mysteriously “right” or even as ordained by some higher power in hopes of trumping exclusive definitions of family based solely on biological relationship or appearance. Critics of transnational and transracial adoption, including some adult adoptees, object to stories that can be seen as treating the child’s birth family as marginal or merely instrumental. My experience in interviewing adoptive families and my analysis of these stories (drawing on discourse theory, narratology, and folkloric approaches to personal narrative) suggest additional interpretations in specific contexts. Sharing these stories with other adoptive parents helps mothers to solidify a crucial supportive community, while co-telling these stories with their mothers gives teenage adoptees practice in affirming and asserting their identities as real members of real families.
Carol Singley, English, Rutgers University-Camden, “M (Other) to M (Other): Exploring Birth and Adoptive Mother Dynamics in Literature and Culture”
This paper explores relationships between birth and adoptive mothers in popular literature and culture. It acknowledges the inherent stresses in the adoption triad generally and in the birth mother/adoptive mother dyad in particular. It analyzes the representation of these differences between birth and adoptive mothering in terms of failure, shame, guilt, incompleteness, and insufficiency, and it seeks models that may revise these power dynamics in ways that represent success, pride, dignity, and fullness, that acknowledge mutual needs and motivation, and that foster collaboration. It probes the possibility of anchoring this re-imagined relationship not only in the best interests of the child but also in the feminist bonds between women. It draws on adoptive discourse, communication theory, and feminist theory to build bridges between these two entities and to promote a new discourse of kinship.
If one chooses to visualize the adoption triad as triangulated geometry with adoptee, birth mother and adoptive mother at its three points, it is obvious that the triangle is not an equilateral one. Nor is it stable. Rather, the triad is a fluid structure with shifting power relations, expectations, motivations, privileges, and obligations that begin at the child’s conception and extend through its development into a grown adult. As birth and adoptive mothering roles shift during these periods of time, so do social attitudes, which in turn shape birth and adoptive mothers’ sense of self and attitudes toward family and society.
Novels about adoption provide an opportunity to explore these dynamics through their multivocality. As Mikhail Bakhtin writes about the dialogic, polyphonic, multivocal novel, it “is constructed not as the whole of a single consciousness, absorbing other consciousnesses as objects into itself, but as a whole formed by the interaction of several consciousnesses, none of which entirely becomes an object for the other” (18). I utilize this notion of the dialogic to explore birth and adoptive maternal relationships in novels such as Gish Jen’s The Love Wife (2005) and Patricia Park’s Re Jane (2015). I ask, with respect to birth and adoptive mothering: who speaks, to whom, about what, why and with what result? What is in tension; what is in harmony? This paper also draws on my twenty-two- year experience as an adoptive mother in relationship with my sons’ birth mother through an open adoption.
Matine Spence, History, University of Iowa, “Minnesota’s ‘Little Revolution’: The 1960s Beginning of Transracial Adoption for African-American Children”
Intertwined discourses of race as biological or genetic fact, race as an identity based on shared history and culture, and race as a tool for maintenance of power and privilege have shared conceptual space in America’s racial history even as their meanings have been slowly changing. In the early 1960s, amidst an upsurge in the black civil rights struggle, each of these three discourses settled into an alignment that made transracial adoption of African Americans socially acceptable for the first time.
This talk considers how a particular configuration of these three racial discourses made possible the first American promotion of black-into-white adoptions at Minnesota’s adoptive home recruitment project, “Parents to Adopt Minority Youngsters” (PAMY), in 1962. PAMY’s administrator, Harriet Fricke, promoted this turning-point event in adoption history through local and national television, radio, newspaper, and popular magazine interviews, distribution of a rental film, and talks in at least nine cities to social work organizations and public groups. Given the racial context of the day, the National Urban League, an African American civil rights group, also promoted transracial adoption. My talk marks the first public use of the newly available papers and oral history interviews of Harriet Fricke.
Sandy Sufian, Medical History, University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, “The Difference Between Waiting and Belonging: Adoption and Children with Disabilities Near the End of the Twentieth Century”
From 1980-1997, children with physical, intellectual, and emotional disabilities emerged at the center of the American foster care and adoption endeavor. How did the adoption world respond to an upsurge of this demographic of children? Why were these efforts met with mixed results? This paper looks at the social and political currents that gave rise to the dire need for the adoption of disabled children and yet the continual, persistent barriers to their adoptive placement. I argue that although many adoption professionals and policymakers explicitly took the stand that “no child was unadoptable” and put strong practical efforts behind this position, their posture was taxed by broad social and scientific forces as well as bureaucratic obstacles that limited attempts to transform the moral worth of these children and to find adequate numbers of parents to adopt them. Although social workers were more open to placement than even a decade prior, by and large most parent applicants still saw these children as too difficult to raise, not an acceptable risk of parenthood, or not what they imagined for their family.
Kay Trimberger, Sociology, Sonoma State University, “Bringing Adoptive Parents’ Voices Out of the Closet: Memoirs by Adoptive Parents of Adoptees Who Are Adults”
Betty Jean Lifton, in a 2006 afterword to her famous memoir, Twice Born: Memoirs of an Adopted Daughter (published in 1975) rightfully claimed that her “work helped make visible the unresolved grief and loss of the adopted. . . . It inspired other adoptees, and also birth mothers, to come out of the closet.” Clearly missing is any idea that adoptive parents might have grief and loss, or a need to share their experiences. Moreover, at many adoption conferences and talks, I’ve heard that adoptive parents shouldn’t write personally because adoptees have the right to their own stories. Adoptees should decide what to make public or keep private. Yet, memoirs by adoptees often involve lots of personal details about their adoptive parents and sometimes about their birth parents too.
Once our adopted children become adults, I believe that adoptive parents, with respect and empathy, can and should write our memoirs, perhaps changing names and locations where necessary. Certainly, many of us have pain and loss, because the idealism with which we chose to adopt has often been hard to put into practice. Many adoptive parents who have difficult experiences suffer silently because they don’t want to be judged as bad parents.
There are only a few memoirs by adoptive parents looking back after their children are adults. I will discuss two memoirs from the 1990s that are exemplary, Ann Kimble Loux’s The Limits of Hope: An Adoptive Mother’s Story and J. Douglas Bates’s Gift Children: A Story of Race, Family and Adoption in a Divided American. Both of these memoirs gave me courage to write my memoir, Creole Son: An Adoptive Mother’s Story of Nature and Nurture (forthcoming). I hope to encourage other adoptive parents of adults to write memoirs in order to help adoptive parents who come after us and to influence adoption policy.
Katherine Wald, Social Work, St. Olaf College, “Adoptive Parents’ Influence on Identity in an Interracial Child”
Interracial adoption has a complex history in the United States, specifically within American Indian and African-American communities. The aftermath of the 1958 Indian Adoption Project still adversely affects American Indians today. In 1972, the National Association of Black Social Workers stated that they have taken a “vehement stand against the placement of Black children in white homes for any reason.” These communities were rightly worried about the formation of their children’s sense of racial and cultural identities. Today, with international adoption as an option, the worries of the past still ring true. The adoptive parents in interracial families build the foundation of racial and cultural identities of their children.
This paper explores the degree of parental influence concerning race and culture and its effects on the identities of interracial adoptees. Using a psychological approach, I have analyzed various studies and observed patterns that emerge. One pattern is the parental degree of immersion and knowledge of their child’s birth culture and how it correlates to the racial identity of the child. Another pattern is the effects on the adoptee’s psychological health that can stem due to the self-perception of their race and culture. My contribution will be useful to the understanding of how an adoptee develops their identity and how strong the influence the adoptive parents hold.
Eric Walker, English, Florida State University, “Literary Community and Adoptive Fatherhood in Edward Hirsch’s Gabriel”
One of the most striking features of Edward Hirsch’s book-length elegy for his adopted son, Gabriel (2014), is the manner in which Hirsch embeds this harrowing narrative of adoption and grief in a richly historical and global literary community, a family of poets who have lost children. This paper explores the ways in which Hirsch the poet creates an adoptive identity for himself in an adopted family of grieving poets as an essential part of the work of mourning his own adopted son in verse.
The son named Gabriel Landay Hirsch entered his adopted father’s poetry in Hirsch’s volume Earthly Measures (1994), in the much-anthologized poem of adoption “The Welcoming” (“What is for others nature / is for us culture”). In the larger arc of Hirsch’s career, that 1994 poem of adoptive fatherhood was especially resonant in the context of the many poems about biological fathers and grandfathers in Hirsch’s three previous volumes, such as “My Grandfather’s Poems,” “My Father’s Back,” and “Family Stories,” all in the volume The Night Parade (1989). In Hirsch’s next volume after Gabriel’s adoption, Lay Back The Darkness (2003), a rich counterpoint of biological and adoptive fatherhood emerges as Hirsch doubles up poems about his father’s decline and death (“Wheeling My Father Through the Alzheimer’s Ward”) and poems about Gabriel’s developmental shackles (“he was living in his own prison”), a counterpoint of autobiographical biology and culture that continues to play out in the volumes Special Orders (2008) and The Living Fire (2010).
But the remarkable feature of Gabriel in 2014 is how Hirsch now counterpoints the detailed narrative of Gabriel’s short and tragic adopted life with a constructed literary family in which Hirsch the poet is himself simultaneously a grieving father and a lost adopted child. As Hirsch chronicles Gabriel’s stormy life before his death at age 22, he periodically shifts narrative gears to summon, converse with, argue with, and grieve with an astonishing range of poets who have grieved dead children: Ben Jonson, Issa, Tsvetaeva, Tagore, Friedrich Rückert (the poet of Mahler’s kindertotenlieder), Ungaretti, Mallarmé, Hugo, Wordsworth, Kochanowski, Yamanoue, Izumi, the Pearl poet, Margaretha Susanna von Kuntsch. My argument is that the formal work of these passages is to build, adoptively, a literary community that is necessary to the work of grieving the death of an adopted child.
Janie Victoria Ward, Education, Simmons College, and Ivy George, Sociology, Gordon College, “Social Consumption and Reproduction: White US Mothers of Chinese Daughters”
This paper explores the social spaces occupied by a select group of North American women who have become mothers of interracial adoptees. We examine the representational aspects of motherhood engendered in the practice of mothering Chinese girls. By “representational” we mean how women present themselves across the reality of racial difference as mothers to the Chinese daughters in their homes. We are arguing that as women, these adoptive mothers portray two dimensions of representation: as consumers and as reproducers. Our in-depth interviews with middle-class, college educated white US adoptive mothers provide the basis for our argument.
The interstices of mother-daughter intimacy where women have become mothers through these Chinese children offer a unique opportunity to study the close interaction between social consumption and reproduction in this population. Consumption, through the selection and arrival of girls from China, and social reproduction, enacted through the investment of and building capital in the adoptee makes possible the construction of a new identity for these American women as mothers and as US citizens. We are suggesting that in these transnational intimacies, adoptive mothers are actively creating social value through the creation of racial, gender, class and cultural identities for themselves and their adoptees.
Elisabeth Wesseling, Gender Studies, Maastricht University, “Remembering and Forgetting Child Displacement in Postcolonial Dutch Children’s Literature (1950-1990)”
Child displacement formed an integral part of colonial governance, wherever it was imposed. Indigenous children, especially children of white fathers and indigenous mothers, were often forcefully removed from their mothers to be re-educated in children’s homes, so as to “civilize” them. This was the fate of, for instance, aboriginal children in the US, Canada, and Australia, where the practice was continued well into the sixties of the previous century.
The Dutch also engaged in the systematic displacement and re-education of mixed race children in the Dutch Indies (contemporary Indonesia) from 1892 onwards, until they were forced to relinquish their colony in 1949 by two colonial wars in 1947 and 1948. However, unlike the UK and neighbouring postcolonial states such as Belgium, Germany or France, the Netherlands have never really engaged in explicit and sustained Vergangenheitsbewältigung where their colonial past is concerned. Although historical scholarship has persistently poured out publications on the sizable former Dutch empire, the Dutch tend to be fairly ignorant about their colonial history. There has not been much of a public debate on the colonial past, and Dutch politicians have made very few attempts to commemorate and redress the suffering and exploitation which they have inflicted upon the native population of the Dutch Indies, including the practices of child displacement.
This paper attempts to gain some insight into this reticence, by addressing the ways in which Dutch authors of children’s books about the Dutch Indies have addressed the issue of child displacement, if at all, between 1950 and 1990. Children’s literature is indicative of the norms and values which adult authors consider worthy of being passed on to the next generation. In addition, children’s literature is profoundly concerned with issues of “home” and “belonging.” As such, it should shed some light on the value patterns which have facilitated forgetting and remembering child displacement in postcolonial Dutch culture.
Jenny Wills, English, University of Winnipeg, “Fictions of Asian Adoption: The Hundred-Year Flood and Bitter in the Mouth”
In an article about transnational family adoptions—that is, the practice whereby immigrants adopt children, often related, from their countries of origin working within and beyond provincial and federal immigration policies—Chantal Collard distinguishes these adoptive circumstances from more “conventional ‘stranger’ adoptions” (120). In contrast to examples of domestic adoption, when we think of transnational adoption there is an underlying assumption that the parties involved do not know one another and, in some cases, this is one of the features that draws adoptive parents to this mode of family-making.
In this paper I examine Matthew Salesses’s new novel, The Hundred-Year Flood, in connection to Monique Truong’s Bitter in the Mouth, exploring themes of pre-adoptive familiarity, infidelity, secrecy, and parentage. In both texts, adoptive fathers have pre-adoptive links to their children—facts that adoptee protagonists uncover as their narratives unfold. Plots feature parents who travel overseas; in Salesses’s book he is the biological father of a multiracial Korean adoptee and in Truong’s he is embroiled in the dramatic circumstances of the adoptee’s birth and childhood in Vietnam. What does it mean that in both texts fathers “convince” their spouses to accept transnational Asian adoptees? How do secrecy, accountability, and military occupation fuel these acts?