Babies without Borders: Adoption and Migration across the Americas

Babies without Borders: Adoption and Migration across the Americas

Babies without Borders: Adoption and Migration across the Americas

Babies without Borders: Adoption and Migration across the Americas


While international adoptions have risen in the public eye and recent scholarship has covered transnational adoption from Asia to the U.S., adoptions between North America and Latin America have been overshadowed and, in some cases, forgotten. In this nuanced study of adoption, Karen Dubinsky expands the historical record while she considers the political symbolism of children caught up in adoption and migration controversies in Canada, the United States, Cuba, and Guatemala.

Babies without Borders tells the interrelated stories of Cuban children caught in Operation Peter Pan, adopted Black and Native American children who became icons in the Sixties, and Guatemalan children whose "disappearance" today in transnational adoption networks echoes their fate during the country's brutal civil war. Drawing from archival research as well as from her critical observations as an adoptive parent, Dubinsky moves debates around transnational adoption beyond the current dichotomy- the good of "humanitarian rescue," against the evil of "imperialist kidnap." Integrating the personal with the scholarly, Babies without Borders exposes what happens when children bear the weight of adult political conflicts.


Some people keep a lock of their baby’s hair, or their first lost tooth. I keep a Guatemalan newspaper from 30 April 2000, the day after a Japanese tourist was stoned to death by villagers who mistook him for a baby-snatcher. I read the headline, ‘Linchan a japones,’ over someone’s shoulder in a crowded bus in Guatemala City, where I had just arrived to meet the baby my partner and I adopted. It has become part of the archives of our son’s life and my research. A week later, we arrived at the Toronto airport and proceeded to the immigration office. Unlike many, we breezed through, but not before a woman at an information desk fixed us with a look and said, ‘That baby is very lucky.’ We heard this constantly for the next few years.

This was my introduction to the contested politics of adoption: kidnap or rescue.

Since that time I’ve done plenty of research, and this book is full of what historians call ‘evidence.’ I’ll offer up tales from the hundreds of adoption case files I’ve read, and the many archives I’ve visited. I’ll explain that the core of my project is to move our understandings of interracial and international adoption beyond the false dichotomy of imperialist kidnap or humanitarian rescue. I’ll highlight the powerful and deeply historic symbolism of children – bearers, but never makers, of social meaning. I’ll ask why it is we look to children to illuminate, gauge, and solve social problems. But I began to learn about symbolic children because I have one.

As I’ve made my way through archives and interviews and airports, crossing several borders and meeting lots of babies, I have gathered many such tales. As an academic historian, it’s okay for me to recount a few of these, as long as I keep them in the first few pages of my book.

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