Children of Reunion: Vietnamese Adoptions and the Politics of Family Migrations

Children of Reunion: Vietnamese Adoptions and the Politics of Family Migrations

Children of Reunion: Vietnamese Adoptions and the Politics of Family Migrations

Children of Reunion: Vietnamese Adoptions and the Politics of Family Migrations

Synopsis

In 1961, the U.S. government established the first formalized provisions for intercountry adoption just as it was expanding America's involvement with Vietnam. Adoption became an increasingly important portal of entry into American society for Vietnamese and Amerasian children, raising questions about the United States' obligations to refugees and the nature of the family during an era of heightened anxiety about U.S. global interventions. Whether adopting or favoring the migration of multiracial individuals, Americans believed their norms and material comforts would salve the wounds of a divisive war. However, Vietnamese migrants challenged these efforts of reconciliation.

As Allison Varzally details in this book, a desire to redeem defeat in Vietnam, faith in the nuclear family, and commitment to capitalism guided American efforts on behalf of Vietnamese youths. By tracing the stories of Vietnamese migrants, however, Varzally reveals that while many had accepted separations as a painful strategy for survival in the midst of war, most sought, and some eventually found, reunion with their kin. This book makes clear the role of adult adoptees in Vietnamese and American debates about the forms, privileges, and duties of families, and places Vietnamese children at the center of American and Vietnamese efforts to assign responsibility and find peace in the aftermath of conflict.

Excerpt

Born to an American man and Vietnamese woman in 1970, Trista immigrated to the United States and was adopted by a young American couple, Nancy and Chuck Kalan, in 1973 after she and her younger brother, Jeffrey, spent a year in the care of a Vietnamese foster family. Although Nancy would eagerly accept and manage the details of Trista’s adoption, her husband, a veteran of the Vietnam War, had initiated their plans. Trista recalled her fear and shyness on meeting her new parents. “When I first saw my father, I cried,” she explained, “because he had a full beard and I wasn’t used to the facial hair.” Moreover, as a four-year-old, “I still had memories of my family,” she related. These memories would become less vivid over time as Trista learned English, became acquainted with American foods, and integrated into the mostly white community of Feasterville, Pennsylvania, but she retained cultural, political, and familial ties to Vietnam through regular contact with Jeffrey, who was adopted into the household of Trista’s aunt and raised as her cousin, as well as her foster family, who departed Vietnam among a wave of refugees and resettled in the Kalans’ household in 1975. Despite relationships and exposure that could have reinforced a Vietnamese identity, she admitted, “I probably actually repressed any of my culture and herite together their own histories and disrupt the prevailing, politicized discourse about their rescue from Vietnam, the nation’s obligations to Vietnamese, and the lessons of military interventions in Asia, she and Jeffrey began searching for their Vietnamese mother, Thanh Thi Nguyen. Trista collected names, addresses, and other pertinent details from her Vietnamese foster family and Holt International, the agency that had arranged her adoption. Thanks to serendipity and perseverance, she discovered that her and Jeffrey’s two sisters, two brothers, and mother had taken advantage of the Amerasian Homecoming Act . . .

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