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Asian North American Adoption Narratives

Summary and Keywords

Transnational adoption from Asia began in the 1950s as an institutionalized practice. Since, hundreds of thousands of young people from countries such as South Korea, China, India, Vietnam, and the Philippines have been adopted and raised primarily in white families in places like the United States, Canada, and Australia but also Scandinavian countries and countries in western Europe. What began as a relief program for multiracial “war orphans” in South Korea has blossomed considerably and affects countries and people around the world; transnational adoption has become a popular industry that targets young people in countries including Guatemala, Brazil, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Haiti, and Russia. Today, transnational adoption continues to be a lucrative industry, though the practice seems to be dwindling in popularity and certain “sending nations” have recently declared its abolition (i.e., Ethiopia in 2017). The United States is by far the most prolific “receiving nation,” and is implicated as one of the greatest instigators, given that nation’s military presence in places such as South Korea and Vietnam in and around the years that transnational adoption expanded from those countries. While not nearly as many Canadians (in comparison to Americans) adopt from countries in Asia, adoptees raised in that country have unique experiences mainly due to vastly distinctive regionalism, that makes, for instance, the identities of Asian/Québécois adoptees uniquely precarious. Mexico is considered a “sending nation,” and since race and class factors rarely see young people both immigrating and migrating from the same nation under the auspices of transnational adoption (though it is not always the case; see, e.g., the United States’ history of sending black children for adoption to various European nations), it is mostly not included in conversations about transnational Asian/North American adoption.

For decades, literature about transnational Asian/American adoption centered on adoptive parents, social workers, and pro-adoption activists. In the 1990s, Asian adoptees around the world began to recount their experiences of racial and cultural alienation, among other things, in life writing and poetry. Adoptees in North America were no exception. Asian/North American authors (as well as non-Asian writers) began exploring these subjectivities, too, usually in the context of examining racial, cultural, and national issues related to other Asian/North American subjects who were not subjects experienced. Across most of these representations—by adoptees and non-adoptees alike—the theme of personal and collective history is a notable focus, and adoptees are imagined as another meaningful example of the paradoxical and complex ways Asian/North Americans’ paper histories, immigration rights, and so-called model minorityhood have been levied. Transnational Asian/North American adoption continues to be a topic of fascination for so many writers and audiences and these representations cross genres, aesthetic modes, and narrative styles.

Keywords: transnational adoption, transracial adoption, multiracial, war orphans, return narrative, life writing, fiction

When transnational Asian adoption initially became a subject in North American literature, representations were authored by agency workers, adoption practitioners, and adoptive parents. The goals of these narratives were either to encourage more Americans to participate in an industry that was originally framed as humanitarianism or to support parents and offer insight into how and why cultural assimilation could best be achieved. Few texts complicated the idealist ways people thought about transnational and transracial adoption from Asia; fewer still were critical of the larger political, social, and economic antecedents, at least in terms of US (And Western, more broadly) accountability for the number of so-called parentless children in Asia, including (but not limited to) multiracial young people whose fathers were military servicemen. Importantly, Asian/North American authors—both adoptee and non-adoptee—have produced literature that is quite different from these pro-adoption works, most of which were authored by white Americans with vested interests—either personal or institutional. These authors have critically engaged with adoption and offered some semblance of agency—at last—to people displaced by a nearly seventy-year-long system of migration.

This contemporary work reflects the longer history of transnational Asian adoption. For all intents and purposes, institutionalized transnational Asian adoption began as a relief program focused on finding permanent homes and families for young people in the years following the Korean War. The combination of sexually exploitative behavior by (mainly US) military men, as well as the lack of social support for unwed mothers and multiracial children (compounded by anti-black racism) in South Korea, resulted in thousands of “war babies” filling orphanages throughout the country. These young people drew the attention of different humanitarians and philanthropists, including American writer Pearl Buck and Harry and Bertha Holt, the founders of the popular Holt International Children’s Services. Buck authored several fiction and nonfiction accounts of children deemed “unadoptable” in their own countries because they were multiracial and promoted transnational adoption to American audiences on radio and television. It is estimated that South Korea, the country with the longest-running and most prolific transnational adoption program and the model for many other “sending nations” has sent over two hundred thousand young people overseas for adoption since those earliest days. Scholars, politicians, and activists are critical of the longevity of the overseas South Korean adoption industry, particularly since it is no longer a humanitarian relief program.

Other transnational adoption programs arose, including the notorious Operation Babylift out of Vietnam in the 1970s that saw the hasty removal of Vietnamese young people for adoption overseas especially in the final moments of US involvement and presence. This mass evacuation resulted in the removal of over ten thousand children, many of whom were adopted by families in the United States, Canada, Australia, and France. Among the advocates for this removal program were the Holt International Children’s Services organization and the Pearl S. Buck Foundation. Notably, critics of this program pointed out that many of the evacuated young people were not actually orphans, and some started to question if removal was in the best interests of the children. Most recently, countries such as India and China have become leading “sending nations” as relief programs related to population highs include transnational adoption as a solution to overfilled orphanages. In the case of China in particular, which surpassed Korea as the most popular sending nation on an annual basis in the 1990s and 2000s, narratives surrounding reproductive laws and policies in that country inspired Westerners to adopt children, particularly infant girls, from that country.

While adoption is not always as rigidly demarcated as has been described through these demographic waves, literature about transnational Asian adoption, especially life writing, is strongly shaped by this history, especially as adoptee writers themselves reflect on their experiences of childhood and maturation. Though varied in nature, this literature can be described as mapping out three different modes of expression, each illustrating what Mark Jerng describes as the “transform[ation] . . . from objects of discourse into subjects of their own discourse”: life writing, poetry, narrative fiction.1 Asian American authors who are not personally connected with transnational adoption also represent these experiences; their works make thematic links between Asian/North American adoptees in relation to other Asian/North American figures.2

Asian/North American Adoptee Writing: Nonfiction

As with literature from other Asian/North American communities, some of the earliest autoethnographic writings by Asian adoptees are examples of life writing: memoir, autobiography, and (creative) nonfiction. Although it is perhaps not their conscious intent, transnational Asian/North American adoptee life writers challenge and disrupt some of the ways that adoptee-figures have been characterized in preceding narratives that often had a personal or professional stake in the promotion of transnational Asian adoption. These prior texts imagined adoptees as destitute waifs: unwanted, neglected, and most of all, in need of saving. Such representations implied that the most ethical and socially responsible response to these crises of inequality was the removal of young people not just from their first families and homes but also from their countries and cultures of origin. These intentions trafficked in Orientalist and colonial assumptions, to the point where Gayatri Spivak’s memorable summary of colonialism’s fallacious assumption, “white men are saving brown women from brown men,” might well be paraphrased to argue that transnational Asian adoption imagines that “white parents are saving brown children from brown families.”3 Notably, these works idealized the opportunities provided to Asian young people made possible by adoption in the United States and Canada.

Asian/North American adoptee life writers offer an alternative narrative, pushing back against the idyllic fantasy that Asian young people could (and should) be raised in white families, geographically dislocated, and assimilated. They disrupted the image of the “saved” adoptee by expressing their emotional anxieties, racial and ethnic confusions, and general feelings of isolation. Even in works that represent childhoods as generally comfortable and filled with love and belonging, questions over identity and themes of loss appear. Korean American adoptee Thomas Park Clement’s memoir, The Unforgotten War: Dust of the Streets (1998), offers insight into the ways the multiracial author was ostracized in Korea by other children and celebrates his later relationship with his adoptive parents in the United States. The narrator recounts, “When I moved to America I wanted to be like other Americans. I was proud of my new country and my new family. I wanted to be a contributor to both. I rejected my adoptive parents’ early effort to provide me with contact with my native land.” But Park Clement’s memoir does not demonstrate a conflict-free promotion of transnational Asian/North American adoption; it also subtly expresses the adoptee’s internal struggle and his sense of diasporic longing for a country of origin that refuses to claim him.4

Central to most transnational Asian/North American adoptee life narratives is a reflection on childhood and the complexities of being Asian/North American in non-Asian/North American families and homes. For instance, in Jane Jeong Trenka’s The Language of Blood (2003), the narrator and her biological sister are both Koreans adopted by white parents in Minnesota. Audiences might be tempted to read some of the many tensions that arose between Trenka and her family—as when young Jane’s adoptive mother becomes angry when the child inquires about her first mother—as universal adoptee experiences.5 But more often Jane is represented as struggling to comprehend her racial and ethnic subjectivity especially because she is a transnational Asian adoptee. At one point, Jane reminisces on the ways she tried to adjust her physical appearance to more closely match her adoptive mother’s, “perm[ing] her hair beyond recognition, into a giant mass of curls . . . until [it breaks] off in chunks.”6 She also recalls then how her adoptive father’s racism directed at her Asian/American high school boyfriends made her feel ostracized and resentful. “Who do you think I am?” She shouted at him, when he would “mock their faces, as if they were not human, but dark, stupid monkeys,” experiencing the confusion of his hyper awareness of their race but his refusal to see hers. The narrator adds, “He mutilated their long names, which he could not and did not want to pronounce correctly.”7

Similar anxieties over racial discord appear in Kim Sunée’s memoir A Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home (2008) as the narrator recalls racist bullying she encountered as a child and the ways she and her sister, also adopted from Korea, dreamed of becoming white. She recounts: “I try to imagine what life will be like when I become like all the others. But for now, the kids think I have a strange name, strange face.”8 Like in The Language of Blood, here the Asian/American adoptees’ parents are unequipped to help their children confront feelings of racial insecurity and inferiority. Whereas in Sunée’s memoir parents are represented as unaware of or disinterested in addressing racial difference, in Trenka’s book readers witness her adoptive parents as instigators and perpetrators of the narrator’s racial conflicts. In both texts, as in many other Asian/North American adoptee life narratives, adoptees attempt to resolve their racial anxieties by traveling to their countries of origin and trying to reunite with their first families or find information about their lives before they were adopted. Barbara Melosh argues, “Search narratives are expressions and vehicles of the adoption rights movement” while also noting that “there is a certain rehearsed quality to many of the published narratives, a formulaic recitation of the shared assumptions and expectations of the search movement.”9 Yet for many, including Sunée, this return trip adds to feelings of dislocation. With no one to claim her when she arrives, and only shadows of memories of her life in Korea, Kim feels more unanchored in Korea than anywhere else in the world. She mourns, “Because there are no formal records, because I was abandoned, I realize that Seoul is not where I can validate myself. I cannot look to this part of the world to see where I belong. No family faces, and certainly no one to claim me.”10 When Jane first arrives in Korea midway through The Language of Blood she, too, feels alienated.11 “I belong more in Germany than Korea,” she recounts. “At least I look like I don’t speak the language and people will expect that from me.”12

The convention of the return narrative is ubiquitous in transnational Asian/North American life writing and is used to highlight the ways that some Asian adoptees are forever liminal and caught between cultures, countries, and identities. Even when figures are able to make connections with first family members, language and cultural barriers prove heartbreaking challenges to try to overcome, as in Mei Ling Hopgood’s Lucky Girl (2010). In one section of her book, Hopgood, who was born in Taiwan, describes the complex emotions one feels when they are about to meet their first family:

What do you pack in your bag when you are going to meet your birth family in the country you left as a baby, in the home that was never really your home? What outfits and shoes do you wear? What gifts do you take? Which words do you learn in Mandarin to help you navigate the years and worlds that have grown up between you?13

Hopgood’s story is unique because she is surrounded by first family members dedicated to making her feel like part of the family; but even still, she experiences cultural disconnects during the reunion.

Written from the perspective of a Korean adoptee raised in Canada, Jenny Heijun Wills’s forthcoming memoir focuses on her reunion with her first family, all but neglecting any representation of her childhood growing up in a white family in a small town outside of Toronto. In Older Sister, Not Necessarily Related (2019), fragmented vignettes expose the tensions of first family relationships but also the ways that kinship and racial recognition arrive in unexpected and meaningful ways.14 Wills briefly alludes to her childhood racial anxieties, directly addressing her older Korean sister and implying a kind of racial delusion. “Unni . . . did you know,” her narrator asks, “that when I was small I hated myself so deeply that when I was in elementary school I imagined death, but in that dream my face-down eight-year-old body, that washed up in the weeds of the riverbank, had freckled arms and strawberry-blonde hair, straight and thin?”15 Here, the confession implies the ways that racial confusion and adoptee grief are interconnected. Gender issues are at the forefront of this memoir, with central relationships between sisters, grandmothers, mothers and daughters, and aunts and nieces. Unlike many other examples of life writing, Wills deploys creative nonfiction to fill in many of the empty spaces, mistranslations, and mis-remembered stories of her life.16

Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, a Korean adoptee from the United States, also explores her experiences of race, kinship, and gender in her chapbook, Notes from a Missing Person (2015). Using mixed-genre and mixed-media writing and challenging the conventions of nonfiction and memoir writing, Kwon Dobbs imagines her first mother:

Mother, you sit across from a social worker—a woman who is your same age—flipping through pages and indicating where you should sign. You’re heavy with me during your sixth month of pregnancy, leaning slightly backward because your lower back aches. The social worker, maybe a mother herself, disassociates from the fact that your bodies, sitting so close to each other, can do the same work: your pen following the social worker’s finger indicating where you should leave your mark, your pen pointing to where the social worker flagged for your signature.17

Kwon Dobbs explodes the convention of the return narrative and the genre of Asian/North American adoptee life writing by deliberately fictionalizing her first mother’s experiences. Asian adoption life writing is necessarily fragmented and fictionalized because of the ways adoptees are blocked from accessing their agency files; moreover, those files often contain fictional narratives that propel transnational adoptions in the first place.18 Kwon Dobbs illustrates what innovative and experimental literary possibilities can be made of these situations.

Asian/North American Adoptee Writing: Poetry and Fiction

Jennifer Kwon Dobbs is also among the most notable and prolific Asian/North American adoptee poets who, alongside their life-writing counterparts, have shaped the oeuvre of adoptee writing and significantly disrupted preexisting adoption narratives. Her first collection of poetry, Paper Pavilion (2007), brings together traditional and experimental forms as the speaker undergoes a search for her personal and cultural history. In her second collection, Interrogation Room (2018), Kwon Dobbs continues her search for her first family and reflects on reconciliation, the horrors of the Korean War and colonialism, and how language, culture, and identity are stolen through trauma.

Transnational adoption as a central theme is obvious in poems such as “Digital Archive,” in which the speaker’s grandfather searches for people from his past in a photograph from the 1940s; this triggers the adoptee’s realization that her search is more impossible, her “body like too much information / unsorted: all errors, useless without a way to see it / linked to get somewhere.”19 Kwon Dobbs incorporates myths, history, fairy tale, and opera to highlight her forceful appeal to be heard and seen despite all the ways transnational Asian/North American adoptees are silenced and made invisible. In “Face Sheet,” which takes the form of an adoption agency document, Kwon Dobbs presents the hopelessness felt by many adoptees hoping to search for information about themselves and their first families. A bureaucratic questionnaire is left blank, with no answers provided for “Father’s Name” and “Mother’s Name,” places of residence, or family records. Interrupting the impersonal and cold questionnaire is how the speaker imagines her resemblance to her first mother and father: “omma, studied my face in the mirror—piecing together clues: this flat nose, pointy chin are yours; these high cheekbones, brows are father’s.”20 Later, the speaker recounts a conversation with her adoptive mother:

My mother joked I ran into the wall, squished my head, slanted my eyes. / Said / My mother was a slut, trying to stay in business. I was bad for business. Said / . . . / I was lucky not to end up a slut too or dead. Said you didn’t name me, / so I’m not under contract. No agreements were made or terms defined us.21

Fresno Poet Lauréate Emeritus Lee Herrick’s first collection, This Many Miles from Desire (2007), offers an unflinching exploration of Korean adoptee subjectivity through a speaker who feels trapped between two cultures, two lands, and two identities. This collection articulates feelings of grief, hope, and the desire to find and maintain love and kinship. In “Three Dreams of Korea: Notes on Adoption,” one of Herricks’s speaker is a small boy, “on the steps of a church / wrapped in Monday’s Korea Times”—gesturing to the narrative detailed in so many Korean adoptees’ files: abandonment at a church, police station, or firehouse. Seen in a dream that happens one early morning, the child makes eye contact with hanbok-wearing girls marching down the street in celebration of Hangul Day. He anticipates with dread what will come next, ominously declaring, “You can live by the water /and still die of thirst, and I, / there on the cold brick steps, / am dying.” In another section of the poem, another dream’s speaker is discovered by a nun, who wraps him in a blanket and, “like an angel / . . . takes me / into her arms.” The final dream “happens in the cruelest moment / of the day, as heat curls flowers / into dirt.” In this dream, set perhaps in California, the speaker is welcomed into a church ceremony celebrating the birth of a Hmong child. While the narrative ends with hope and transformation, the language throughout is curt and direct, and the stories are fragmented and disorienting.

Motifs of science and calculation appear in Herrick’s second book, Gardening Secrets of the Dead (2012). The short lyric poem, “Exile” begins:

  • Transit to the new country
  • study the preamble and the periodic
  • table of elements, laugh at the racist jokes,
  • Become American, then undo what you’ve learned and become human.22

Here the narrator equates classroom science lessons with other tools of cultural assimilation and identity building. Later in that same poem, the speaker is dubious of the simplicity of acculturation through adoption, cynically proposing, “What we know is this: x minus y/predicates belief in these letters/in the first place, some certain/or concern for extra credit./I do not commit to your math”23 and in another poem, the speaker fashions an alphabetic self-portrait, and opts for nomenclature as representative of the letter N.24 Mathematical equations and scientific approaches to naming are linked to dubious processes of cultural assimilation that offer little room for the ambiguity of unstable adoptee subjectivities. Herrick’s Gardening offers poems depicting identities as unstable, shifting, and in motion. Journeys and quests to find first families or even just Korean history are ambitious since “in fact there may be no one searching/for you. There may be someone missing you or trying not to miss you./There may be someone who hides from you.”25

As much as Herrick’s poetic narrators reject the determinism of Korean adoptee assimilation, they also reference biological essentialism in other moments. In “Spectral Questions of the Body,” the speaker highlights the importance of the body as inextricably tied to race and nation. The speaker completely imagines the corporeality of the Korean mother’s body: “how the cage/of bone protects the heart” or “If I could touch the body,/I would go for the neck/where air meets air,”26 and envisions not just its specter (something “brown and surfacing, a changing shape/of grace and light to mirror”)27 but its physical organs, bones, and skin. Although this example does not specifically reference genetics or blood, it reveals how the Asian adoptee fixates on bodily elements and biological markers, which in turn become bound to nation. The speaker hears a bird crying “a song near the river”—implicitly referencing—the Han River that runs from the northern mountains straight through the capital Seoul and holds a significant place in Korean culture and history.28 Later, the speaker imagines the Korean mother’s body as leading to “the true loss of a child in Korea/who goes West to become a child in America.”29 The physical aspects of the mother—her bones, heart, and neck—become metonyms for adoptee displacement.

Though adoption and adoptee subjectivity are not directly at the core of his novel, The Hundred Year Flood (2015), Matthew Salesses, a Korean adoptee from the United States, also imagines transnational adoption in characterizing secrets about parentage and personal histories. The protagonist, Tee, is led away from his adoptive family in the United States into a tumultuous affair in Prague. Salesses’s novel reveals the subtle ways that transnational Asian adoption can appear in Asian/North American literatures beyond the direct representation of the return or search narrative. Tee’s first mother continues to haunt his life and the relationships he shares with his adoptive parents. Tee eventually learns his adoptive father and biological father are one and the same person, and that his Korean mother (who died in childbirth) was one of his father’s many extramarital pursuits. Tee’s Korean mother appears to him a “ghost,” glimmering in his nighttime “peripheral vision,”30 an ephemeral presence he chases down long empty corridors and who “stomp(s) around in other rooms . . . banging in [Tee’s] kitchen,”31 jealously trying to get his attention when he is with his lover. He shares with his lover, Katka, his feelings of being haunted, and tells her about his Korean mother and his invented stories, telling her “he’d made his birth mother, in his mind, into a woman who wished to leave Korea; he’d made lives for her in which she met foreigners and fell in love. He said, ‘I wanted my birth to be planned, I guess’.”32 However, he is left only with “an empty Korea,” one “he’d filled . . . with myths.”33

Together, the life narratives, poetry, and fiction authored by transnational Asian/North American adoptees individualize figures of adopted Asians, imagine their subjectivities and agency, and center their ongoing identity struggles. By challenging the laudatory and idealistic ways that Asian adoption has been narrated both in pro-adoption propaganda literature and in adoptive parent memoirs, transnational Asian/North American adoptee authors dismantle the celebratory and Orientalist ways they have been characterized in other works. These important writings also initiate further conversations about who might identify as Asian/North American, whose writing qualifies as Asian/North American literature, and the complex ways that race, ethnicity, nationality, class, and gender continue to be remediated across different waves and contexts of Asian migration and movement.

Multiraciality and Adoption in Asian/North American Literature

Twentieth-century Asian/North American writers who are not personally connected to transnational adoption as first parents, adoptive parents, or adoptees themselves have also been captivated by transnational adoption. These writers have represented Asian adoptee figures in a variety of experiences, including depicting the inextricable connections between multiraciality and adoption. For instance, Franklin Hata, the protagonist of Chang-rae Lee’s novel, A Gesture Life (1999), is the adoptive father to Sunny, an African American/Asian adoptee from Korea. Hata is also revealed to be a transnational adoptee himself, one of many Korean young people adopted by Japanese families during the colonial period. The novel addresses Hata’s complex experience of kinship and colonialism: he has been both a victim of Japanese imperialism and a beneficiary of it. In scenes of the past, Hata became a military “doctor” and practiced medicine on Korean “comfort women,” some of whom recognize his Korean ancestry and confide in him using their shared native language. He falls in love with one enslaved woman in particular, K, and is horrified and guilt ridden by her death. K appears in Franklin’s first-person narrative as a memory that invades his present life in the United States, and these memories are often triggered by other recollections of Hata’s tumultuous relationship with Sunny.

While unusual for a single man to be granted a transnational adoption, Hata is nonetheless able to convince the adoption agency to send seven-year-old Sunny to the United States under his parentage because, in Hata’s mind, as an Asian man he would have a natural connection with an Asian child. But their relationship is immediately fraught by Hata’s anti-Black racism. Hata recalls the moment he and Sunny are introduced at the airport:

I had assumed the child and I would have a ready, natural affinity, and that my colleagues and associates and neighbours, though knowing her to be adopted, would have little trouble quickly accepting our being of a single kind and blood. But when I saw her for the first time I realized there could be no such conceit for us, no easy persuasion. Her hair, her skin, were there to see, self-evidence, and it was obvious how some other colour (or colours) ran deep within her. And perhaps it was right from that moment, the very start, that the young girl sensed my hesitance, the blighted hope in my eyes.34

As the novel’s title suggests, Hata is driven by his own desire to assimilate and blend in, which are impulses that result in social performances meant to control the secrets that shape him. Sunny’s blackness exceeds the grasp of Hata’s “gesture life”; her race is something he is unequipped to control through his hyper-vigilance and surveillance. It is in these moments, including when he persuades his teen daughter to undergo an abortion (one that he performs), that Sunny and K are merged together in his psyche. Through a disturbing and unreliable first-person adoptee narrator who is himself both victim and perpetrator of imperialism and racism, Lee’s novel renders the transnational Asian/North American adoptee figure as a catalyst for unpacking the legacy of colonial trauma and bringing pasts, presents, and futures together.

Also published in the late 1990s, Bharati Mukherjee’s Leave it to Me (1997) is a revisionist hardboiled detective novel that frames Devi Dee’s search for her first mother and information about her pre-adoption life as the central mystery to be uncovered. At the novel’s opening, Devi lives in upstate New York. After hiring a private detective and learning that her first mother Jess (a “Fresno flower child” who left her decades earlier) lives in the Bay Area, Devi drives across the country to confront Jess in San Francisco.35 Mukherjee deploys many conventional devices, including a gritty first-person narration and the flexible moral code of the detective hero. Devi “rationalizes her behaviour by explaining that, like other hardboiled heroes, she is an outcast. For Devi, this is connected directly to her experience of being adopted.”36 Devi, who feels transnational adoption has robbed her of any sense of identity (including racial identity) believes she is entitled to everything. But while racial ambiguity at first allows her to fit in with her Italian American family, this also changes. Devi recounts, “In junior high, I’d looked enough like my sister Angie to pass as a real DiMartino. But I didn't thicken like Angie did, and by my senior years, I was the tallest one in the family . . . I was a tall girl in a small school, a beautiful girl in a plain family, an exotic girl in a very American town.”37 Triggered by the knowledge that she can never fit in with her adoptive family or their community, Devi’s search propels the novel’s plot and tension.

The most striking and possibly the most problematic part of the novel is how the Asian/North American adoptee figure is characterized as driven to connect with her first mother, even to the point of being a sociopathic murderer. While Leave it to Me centers adoptee subjectivity, and disrupts idealized narratives about transnational Asian/North American adoption, it also regurgitates disturbing tropes picturing orphans and adoptees as pathologically damaged, incapable of emotional care, and selfish to the point of self-destruction. Leave it to Me also unapologetically declares what so many transnational Asian/North American adoption texts imply: the provocative theory that “genes count” and that they can have “tyrannical control” over people’s identities.38 This novel does offer an intriguing and ironic take on the ways Orientalism shapes these conventions, as Devi feels motivated to reclaim the “Asian childhood” she feels was “robbed” from her. The Asia she imagines is one that is “more harsh than butter.” It is a “fevers, drugs, backroom-behind-the-beaded-curtain Asia. . . . [With] playing card games with child prostitutes between clients, singing for the madams, picking the pockets of American marines on R and R, chasing monkeys with grassy ruins, shimmying up slippery trunks.”39

Don Lee’s Country of Origin (2004) also draws on crime genres to represent adoptee experiences of dislocation, trauma, and racial anxiety. Lee’s spy novel is set in Japan with African American/Asian adoptee Lisa Countryman (raised by an African American family) attempting to make contact with her first mother. Lisa is blocked from accessing her adoption records, and so she accepts the assistance of the CIA, promising to work undercover for them in return. But Lisa’s search is tragic; the reader learns early in the novel not only that Lisa will be killed but also that the only time she met her first mother she was rejected because the woman was afraid to be exposed as zainich’i, one of many “ethnic Koreans who [are] permanent resident aliens of Japan.”40

Lisa’s desire to connect with her first mother stems from the alienation she always felt growing up racially ambiguous in the United States. Her childhood was one marked by non-belonging, with the narrator noting that Lisa just “wanted to belong somewhere, to someone”41 because in her adoptive land and family, Lisa was “never black enough, or Oriental enough, or white enough.”42 Sadly, Japan also refuses to claim Lisa, and the CIA takes advantage of her ethnic alienation, aware that her foreign appearance will disguise her fluency in Japanese and allow others to speak freely in front of her. In Lee’s tragic novel, then, Asian adoptee characters and their desire to return to their origins are exploited by other characters who take advantage of their precarious emotional and racial positioning.

Addressing Asian/North America

Through their representations of transnational Asian/North American adoption some authors try to expand and subvert the exclusionary and limited ways that “Asian/North American” has been conceived of as an identity category. Works such as Aimee Phan’s short story collection, We Should Never Meet (2004) represent multivalent perspectives on transnational Asian adoption and the direct relationship between American military people, American adoptive parents, and adopted young people. The United States is paradoxically imagined as a land of possible opportunity and salvation but also the perpetrator of orphanhood and a place where Vietnamese adoptees never feel like they belong. Set in both Vietnam and the United States, stories in this collection depict Operation Babylift, describing how “the infants chosen to travel to Saigon had survived last months’ chicken pox epidemic, bit were still frail enough that their survival depended on better nutrition and more individual care.”

Several were Amerasian, bastards of the American soldiers, both black and white. Probably from rape. Truc tried to look at them with sympathy. it was not their fault. Just innocent babies. Phuong said their only chance was international adoption in America or Australia. They could never have a life here.43

Phan’s collection skips from these early moments in which narrators detail the motivations and practices of Operation Babylift, to the experiences of Asian/North American adoptees and young people who were evacuated. Many of these characters struggle to belong in white families and communities; Asian adoptees are imagined as perpetually foreign, which has direct consequences on their lives. The character of Kim, one narrator tells us, “came over to the States as part of the Babylift evacuation and was promptly adopted by an American family. But the family had given her back, something about not realizing how difficult it would be to raise a foreign child. Services put Kim in a foster home.”44 Phan’s collection also features a return narrative as two adoptees travel to Vietnam as young adults and try to imagine their lives and families there.

Celeste Ng’s recent novel, Little Fires Everywhere (2017) represents the ethics of transnational adoption as a complex racial issue that has the potential to compromise relationships between white and Asian friends. The novel also explores struggles faced by some Asian/North Americans, including their experiences of kinship, migration, and reproductive justice. Many of the well-intentioned white characters in the novel are satiric embodiments of a postracial idealism. These characters must ultimately reckon with the fallacies of their thinking when a custody battle erupts between the adoptive parents of a Chinese American baby and her first mother, who has been searching for her for months and did not give consent to the adoption.45

Ng draws an ironic picture that challenges the limited ways transracial adoptees have been imagined as “rescued,” highlighting how many of these young people are not in need of saving in the first place. The narrator declares, “The McCulloughs were rescuing Mirabelle, their supporters insisted. They were giving an unwanted child a better life. They were heroes, breaking down racism through cross-cultural adoption.”46 These are statements that are quickly revealed as disingenuous, given the insistence of Bebe, Mirabelle’s first mother, that she be able to come home. Baby Mirabelle (Mimi) is objectified by the same rhetoric that has haunted transnational Asian adoptees for decades. The audience reads, “Little Mirabelle was a darling thing: a fuzz of dark hair topped by a pink ribbon headband, a round pert face with two enormous brown eyes staring out at the crowd.”47 Someone remarks, “Oh, she looks like a little doll.”48

This novel speaks directly to the tensions inherent in Asian adoption when it comes to racial and ethnic rights and questions who has a claim to Asian American subjectivity and how that could come about. Protestors in the town who support the return of Mirabelle to her Chinese American mother insist, “She [Mirabelle]’s not just a baby . . . She’s a Chinese baby. She’s going to grow up not knowing anything about her heritage. How is she going to know who she is?”49 Another Asian American woman speaks out: “To pretend that this baby is just a baby—to pretend like there’s no race issue here—is disingenuous.”50 The novel faces the often false assumption that first families (and especially first mothers) of Asian adoptees are neglectful, ill-equipped, and inferior parents who willingly abandon young people (who then must be saved by white adoptive families). Ethnicity, class, and gender are at the forefront of the debates in the town and Ng represents the various sides to conversations about transnational and transracial Asian adoption in terms of the racial lines that demarcate who is Asian/North American and their beliefs on this controversial issue.

Most notable among these ponderings about who can claim Asian/North American subjectivity is David Henry Hwang’s short play, Trying to Find Chinatown (1996), which stages a race reversal, as a white American character who has been adopted by Chinese American parents tries to claim Asian American subjectivity. The racial affiliation of “[b]lond, blue eyed” Benjamin unfolds through his dialogue with Ronnie, a Chinese violinist and street performer in New York City. When confronted by Ronnie about why he is searching for a particular Chinatown address and why he was an Asian American studies major at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Benjamin explains, “Just like everyone else. I wanted to explore my roots. And, you know, the history of oppression which is my legacy. After a lifetime of assimilation, I wanted to find out who I really am.”51 Benjamin goes on to explain his status as a transracial adoptee, summarizing that “clearly, I am an Asian-American.”52

The conversation erupts into a debate with both characters articulating essentialist arguments that reveal both the limitations of cultural nationalism and also the awkwardness of colorblind and postracial mentalities, especially as they are often deployed in contexts of transnational and transracial adoption. Hwang’s scenario descends into complete fabulation, with Benjamin missing the point that when adopted people search for their origins they are looking for their pre-adoption roots, not exploring the histories of marginalization of their adoptive families. Benjamin’s claim that he no longer wants to be “in denial, masquerading as a white man,” mimicks how some transnational Asian adoptees imagine themselves as fully white subjects.53 Hwang masterfully draws attention to the absurdity of white co-optation of Asian American subjectivity and ancestry and the way adoption enters into these experiences. Through Benjamin the question of who can identify as Asian/North American becomes clearer, at least as readers recognize decidedly who cannot. Benjamin claims that Ronnie “can’t judge [his] race by [his] genetic heritage alone.”54 The question of whether transnational adoptees are part of Asian/North America is addressed in what Hwang ironically represents as Benjamin’s experience: despite missing Asian cultural upbringing and ethnic experience, Asian adoptees are in fact still Asian/North American subjects because, in the words of Bharati Mukherjee’s protagonist described above, “genes count.”

Interrogating Form and Style

While many Asian/North American adoption texts use conventional literary forms, others depict the themes and experiences of Asian adoptees in combination with innovative structures and styles. Chinese Canadian author Larissa Lai’s novel When Fox is a Thousand (2004) draws three different times and places together into one magical realist narrative. The novel gets its title from the mythical fox trickster who transcends time and place and interacts with a 9th-century Chinese poetess and a 20th-century Chinese Canadian adoptee living in Vancouver. Throughout her journey, the protagonist adoptee Artemis Wong tries to connect with other Asian/North American figures with the aim of erasing the “whitewashed walls and rose-pink carpets . . . the Suzuki-method violin lessons and the wardrobe of pretty clothes” that make up her youth in her white adoptive family.55 These relationships are thwarted both by white Orientalists who want her to play a particular role and by Asian/North American characters who cannot comprehend the complicated nature of Artemis’s cultural identity.

Here again is a novel that does not focus exclusively on transnational Asian/North American adoption but nonetheless uses search and return narratives and adoptee characterizations to drive a plot about history, mythology, gender, and sexuality. Artemis’s cultural insecurities allow Lai to imagine the ways that young Chinese diasporic women move in and out of cultural belonging. Artemis’s adoptive experiences propel her to search for cultural clarity and a first mother; that she is vulnerable to accepting the fox spirit, posing as her first mother, into her life references the precarious ways that adoptees try and reestablish connections. Importantly, Artemis’s cultural quest is framed both through historical and contemporary social issues, paralleling the way that fox moves from the past into the present. At one point in the novel, Artemis is linked to student activists supporting the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing; in another moment, her Chinese/North American schoolmate’s family is implicated in a lethal fire in a sweatshop in Asia. That same friend becomes the victim of a gender-based (and also racially motivated) hate crime, and Artemis is left reeling. While her adoptive subjectivity motivates many of these relationships and journeys, Lai’s novel insists on the complexity of these search and return narratives as well as their relationship to other issues and people around the world.

At once disorienting and anchored, the fragmented and experimental style of When Fox is a Thousand mimics not just Artemis’s feelings of being culturally unmoored but also other experiences of alienation and postmodern disconnection faced by Asian/North American and diasporic characters. The lack of linear plot, the many moments of trickery, irony, and misdirection, as well as a handful of intertexts (mythical, fictional, and archival) make this novel a pastiche of more conventional narratives about transnational Asian/North American adoption.

Also drawing on structures of fragmentation, multivalency, and irony is Gish Jen’s novel The Love Wife (2004), which is narrated using the first-person perspectives of five different characters: Carnegie Wong, his spouse Blondie, their two adopted children Lizzy and Wendy, and the girls’ live-in nanny Lan, who was appointed by Carnegie’s mother, the late Mama Wong. Adoption is one of the central themes in this novel, as Blondie and Carnegie attempt to raise their teenage daughters in a positive way, which proves challenging even though Carnegie himself is Chinese American. Jen represents Blondie satirically as an idealistic liberal white woman who is always trying to do and say the right thing, much to her daughters’ (and spouse’s) frustrations.

All of the characters reflect on transnational Asian adoption from their own perspectives, but the novel highlights Blondie’s feeling like an outsider in her own family. Watching her children and husband fold dumplings with Lan, Blondie reflects that “all were quiet and absorbed . . . How much more natural this scene than the one that included me. How natural, and how quiet it was.”56 Blondie’s fears that constructed transracial adoptive kinship may be less valued than cultural and racial community upends everything she thought she knew. Literary scholar Margaret Homans contends that “in a parodic echo of U.S. adoption culture’s conflation of biological birth, genetic heritage, and ‘birth culture,’ Lan’s role in the novel is to represent ethnic and racial roots as natural and as indistinguishable from genetic heritage, and to cast adoption as unnatural fakery.”57

But if anything, the net of voices offered in Jen’s The Love Wife exhibits how fluid and undecided the ethics of transnational and transracial Asian/North American adoption actually are. While Blondie initially feels threatened by Lan, afraid that she is being replaced by a more racially suitable mother, the relationship between Carnegie and Lan is revealed to be both extremely natural and completely unnatural. She is not brought into the family as a replacement wife; she is, in fact, Carnegie’s sister, with adoption pushing together and pulling apart the previous generation’s kinship as well. The use of multiple first-person narrators in this novel, while also disorienting and dislocating at moments, allows Jen to explore the ways that secrecy, unreliability, and the limitations of knowledge around adoption can be represented through literary device, structure, and form.

Monique Truong’s bildungsroman Bitter in the Mouth (2010) is not always recognized as a transnational Asian/North American adoption story. Set in the small town of Boiling Springs, North Carolina, the town in which protagonist Linda was raised in a “blue and grey ranch house,” one of the most remarkable aspects of this novel is the depiction of lexical-gustatory synesthesia.58 Linda’s secret gift (or perhaps curse) causes her to have different taste sensations when she hears or speaks certain words; this is presented as a mashup of text. In normal font are the words Linda either hears, says, or thinks; compounded, but indicated in italics, are the tastes she experiences as “incomings.” Truong’s stylistic innovation here adds another layer of complexity to an already convoluted transnational Asian/North American narrative. A sardonic Proustian, Linda contemplates the link between memory and taste, the link between language and her synesthesia (homonyms, regardless of language, evoke the same tastes), and the reader quickly notes that none of her food memories bespeak her Vietnamese origins: for example, the meals she likely shared with her first parents in the first seven years of her life.

It is not until midway through the novel that Linda reveals her race and her identity as an adoptee, though upon re-reading the first half, clues are certainly there. Finally she confirms what she has been hinting at for nearly two hundred pages: “Since leaving Boiling Springs, I was often asked by complete strangers what it was like to grow up being Asian in the South. You mean, what was it like to grow up looking Asian in the South, I would say back to them with the southern accent that had revealed to them the particulars of my biography.”59 At this point readers learn that “Linda” is an anglicization of Linh-Dao and that she came to the Hammerick family as a “business transaction,” a “contractual dealing.”60 We also learn that her adoptive mother, DeAnne, and grandmother, Iris, resent her not just because she was not biologically related but because she was forced upon them by Thomas, who was still pursuing Mai-Dao.61 Linda’s earlier recounting of childhood sexual assault at the hands of an older white teen, her unpopularity in high school, and the undertaking of the role of scholarly overachiever take on a different tone with knowledge of her adoptive status and her Asian race.

Secrecy over biological parentage again provides narrative tension, as Linda discovers that her adoptive father is also her biological father. Linda’s adoptive grandmother hisses from her deathbed, “What I know about you, little girl, would break you in two,” foreshadowing DeAnne’s eventual confession that she knew all along about Linda’s past and kept it secret despite her daughter’s obvious anxiety over having no memories prior to her adoption.62 When DeAnne finally confesses the family secrets she’s been keeping for nearly thirty years, Linda has already been estranged for nearly a decade. Even prior to that she stopped referring to DeAnne as “mom” (the word that for her incidentally and ironically evokes the delicious, nourishing, and comforting taste of chocolate milk). She confesses, “from the age of seven to eleven, I loved DeAnne because that was what I thought was natural”; that short relationship ends when DeAnne fails to protect Linda from her teenage rapist and continues to invite him over because of her own attraction to him.63 Reunited at the memorial service for Linda’s last surviving beloved family member, her great uncle Harper, DeAnne finally discloses what she has been hiding for decades: Mai-Dao’s identity, her tragic end, and Thomas Hammerick’s accountability in that end. She also confesses what Linda always expected: “(DeAnne), the truth teller now, told me that she, in fact, didn’t feel like she had a choice (in the adoption),” and she never fully accepted it.64 Notable here is Linda’s striking labeling of DeAnne as the truth teller, gesturing at the decades of lies and deceit that preceded the confession.

These novels feature transnational Asian/North American adoption as a thematic element through which to explore other aspects of Asian/North American subjectivity in experimental, innovative, and unique ways. Combined with other works by Asian/North American authors that feature adoptee characters, these fictional accounts contribute to a notable oeuvre of adoption works that rethink Asian/North American experiences of race, ethnicity, class, nationality, and gender.

These literatures created by Asian/North American authors and, most meaningfully, by Asian/North American adoptee authors, move narratives about Asian adoption away from what were formerly the dominant perspectives of white subjects, agency workers, and adoptive parents. They challenge the liberal idealism around transnational adoption and capture the paradoxical, precarious, and exceptional experiences of transnational Asian/North American adoptees. These texts offer an opportunity to reframe discussion about what constitutes Asian/North American subjectivity, who can claim Asian/North Americanness, and how race, ethnicity, and culture come together (or not) for various individuals. Moreover, literature about Asian/North American adoption reconsiders transnational subjectivity, disrupts assumptions about diaspora and return, and details the legacies of colonialism and Orientalism. These works reflect complex experiences as well as afford opportunities for Asian/North American authors and literary scholars to confront deeply rooted and deeply felt ideas of belonging and community.

Discussion of the Literature

Literary critics have also reflected on the ways that transnational Asian/North American adoption appears in literary works, and more specifically, how these issues relate to Asian/North American literary studies more generally. Transnational Asian/North American adoption offers an important opportunity for thinking through broader epistemologies and ways of thinking, as David Eng invites in The Feeling of Kinship, in which he explores narrative, myth, and subjectivity for transnational Asian/North American adoptees from a psychoanalytic perspective.65 In Claiming Others: Transracial Adoption and National Belonging, Mark Jerng considers both fiction and life narratives in his analysis of how nationalism is both racially and narratively imbued. Drawing on the return narrative plot, Jerng comments that “the dominant convention of narrating the dilemma of transracial and transnational adoption has no doubt been the search and reunion story, which tends to locate racial or national origin as the key to real, whole personhood.”66 Narrative trajectory, for Jerng, is inextricably tied to adoptee characterization and whether or not (and how) Asian adoptee figures search affects readers’ interpretations of their subjectivities. Jerng then turns to literary works that “register the problem of finding something inherent within one’s body” in order to “outline different modes of personhood built on dependence on the world. For instance, reading Trenka’s first memoir, he argues that the protagonist reveals “processes of projecting [herself] into the world in ways that confound the forms of nation and race.”67 Transnational Asian/North American Adoption becomes, for Jerng, a way to resist the structures of knowing that limit and exclude figures such as adoptees in the first place.

In a similar vein, Jodi Kim offers readings of transnational Asian/North American texts that disrupt ideological assumptions about Asians and the Cold War. Phan’s short story collection, of which Kim provides a thorough, story-by-story analysis, is lauded as a work that exists “against the uniform portrayal of the Vietnamese who sought refuge in the United States as desperate and pitiable “refugees” or “boat people,” with Phan writing “against the sentimentalist tropes saturating dominant representations of both refugees and transnational adoptees.”68 Exemplifying the kinds of works Kim aims to spotlight throughout her book, Phan’s stories re-center Asian American subjectivity in relation to the Cold War, and adoptees offer provocative figures through which to unpack US accountability, colonial impact, and Asian/North American reflection. From the perspective of theater studies, Josephine Lee argues that dramatic texts “offer a set of compelling examples by which to examine the phenomenon of Korean adoption and how it both complements and complicates our understanding of what constitutes ‘Asian America’ as a racial, ethnic, cultural, and national/transnational category”—particularly on the basis of racial performativity.69 Narrative scholars Kimberly McKee and Jenny Heijun Wills, both transnational Asian/North American adoptees themselves, consider the various ways personal (but also larger) narratives shape and are shaped by adoptee subjects. McKee, for instance, draws on and critiques the cultural narratives that promote transnational adoption from Asia—the “narrow mythology” that purports that “if it were not for adoption, adoptees would face lives of poverty and degradation” before offering readings of narratives that disrupt that ideology.70 Wills, on the other hand, focuses on genre to examine how transnational Asian/North American adoptees are represented in literature and how those representations are connected to literary studies more broadly.71

Further Reading

Bergquist, Kathleen Ja Sook, M. Elizabeth Vonk, Dong Soo Kim, and Marvin D. Feit. International Korean Adoption: A Fifty-Year History of Policy and Practice. New York: Routledge, 2007.Find this resource:

    Bischoff, Tonya, and Jo Rankin. Seeds from a Silent Tree: An Anthology. San Diego: Pandal, 1997.Find this resource:

      Choy, Wayson. Paper Shadows: A Chinatown Childhood. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 1999.Find this resource:

        Dorow, Sara K. I Wish For You a Beautiful Life: Letters from the Korean Birth Mothers of Ae Ran Won to their Children. St. Paul, MN: Yeong & Yeong, 1999.Find this resource:

          Fast, Stephanie. She is Mine: A War Orphan’s Incredible Journey of Survival. Aloha, OR: Destiny Ministries, 2015.Find this resource:

            Gowda, Shilpa Somaya. Secret Daughter. New York: William Morrow, 2010.Find this resource:

              Jerng, Mark. Claiming Others: Transracial Adoption and National Belonging. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010.Find this resource:

                Lee, Julayne. Not My White Saviour: A Memoir in Poems. Los Angeles: Rare Bird, 2018.Find this resource:

                  Nonte Russell, Beth. Forever Lily: An Unexpected Mother’s Journey to Adoption in China. New York: Touchstone, 2004.Find this resource:

                    Robinson, Katy. A Single Square Picture: A Korean Adoptee’s Search for her Roots. New York: Berkley, 2002.Find this resource:

                      Shackleton, Mark, ed. International Adoption and North American Literature and Culture: Transnational, Transracial, and Transcultural Narratives. New York: Palgrave, 2017.Find this resource:


                        (1.) Mark Jerng, Claiming Others: Transracial Adoption and National Belonging (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), 177.

                        (2.) Throughout this entry I will mostly use the term “transnational adoption” to describe the movement of young people across borders for the purpose of adoption. While it is not always the case, most often these adoptions are also transracial. In most cases, Asian adoptees are raised in white families and communities. Also, most often (but not always), these adoptions are overseas with adoptees being raised in places outside of Asia.

                        (3.) Gayatri Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?,” in Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader, eds. Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman (Hemel Hempstead, UK: Harvester, 1993), 93.

                        (4.) Thomas Park Clement, The Unforgotten War: Dust of the Streets (Bloomfield, IN: Truepeny, 1998), 136.

                        (5.) Jane Jeong Trenka, The Language of Blood (Minneapolis: Graywolf, 2003), 22–23.

                        (6.) Trenka, The Language of Blood, 59.

                        (7.) Trenka, The Language of Blood, 59.

                        (8.) Kim Sunée, Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home (New York: Grand Central, 2008), 18–19.

                        (9.) Barbara Melosh, “Adoption Stories: Autobiogrpahical Narrative and the Politics of Identity,” in Adoption in America: Historical Perspectives, ed. E. Wayne Carpe (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002), 227.

                        (10.) Kim Sunée, Trail of Crumbs, 166.

                        (11.) Trenka follows her first memoir with a second one: Fugitive Visions. This memoir documents her life as a Korean adoptee who has returned to live in Korea. There is a small but notable (and growing) community of Korean adoptees from around the world who currently live in their country of origin.

                        (12.) Trenka, The Language of Blood, 106.

                        (13.) Mei Ling Hopgood, Lucky Girl (Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 2010).

                        (14.) Jenny Heijun Wills, Older Sister. Not Necessarily Related (Toronto: McClellend & Stewart, forthcoming).

                        (15.) Wills, Older Sister. Not Necessarily Related.

                        (16.) Although not about transracial or transnational Asian adoption, Chinese Canadian author Wayson Choy’s memoir, Paper Shadows, also details his experiences of being adopted and growing up in Canada.

                        (17.) Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, Notes from a Missing Person (Essay, 2015), 19.

                        (18.) Jenny Heijun Wills, “Fictional and Fragmented Truths in Korean Adoptee Life Writing,” Asian American Literature: Discourses and Pedagogies, vol. 6 (2015): 45–59.

                        (19.) Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, Paper Pavilion (Buffalo, NY: White Pine, 2007), 69.

                        (20.) Dobbs, Paper Pavilion, 65.

                        (21.) Dobbs, Paper Pavilion, 65.

                        (22.) Lee Herrick, Gardening Secrets of the Dead (Cincinnati, OH: WordTech Editions, 2012), 48.

                        (23.) Herrick, Gardening Secrets of the Dead, 48.

                        (24.) Herrick, Gardening Secrets of the Dead, 53.

                        (25.) Herrick, Gardening Secrets of the Dead, 43.

                        (26.) Herrick, Gardening Secrets of the Dead, 53.

                        (27.) Herrick, Gardening Secrets of the Dead, 53.

                        (28.) Herrick, Gardening Secrets of the Dead, 53.

                        (29.) Herrick, Gardening Secrets of the Dead, 53

                        (30.) Herrick, Gardening Secrets of the Dead, 58.

                        (31.) Herrick, Gardening Secrets of the Dead, 77.

                        (32.) Herrick, Gardening Secrets of the Dead, 135.

                        (33.) Matthew Salesses, The Hundred Year Flood (New York: Little A, 2015), 228.

                        (34.) Chang-Rae Lee, A Gesture Life (New York: Riverhead, 1999), 204.

                        (35.) Bharati Mukherjee, Leave it to Me (New York: Knopf, 1997), 68.

                        (36.) Jenny Heijun Wills, “Formulating Kinship,” Adoption and Culture 5 (2017): 68.

                        (37.) Wills, “Formulating Kinship,” 15–16.

                        (38.) Wills, “Formulating Kinship,” 16.

                        (39.) Wills, “Formulating Kinship,” 26.

                        (40.) Don Lee, Country of Origin (New York: W. W. Norton, 2004), 256.

                        (41.) Lee, Country of Origin, 256.

                        (42.) Lee, Country of Origin, 67.

                        (43.) Aimee Phan, We Should Never Meet (New York: Picador, 2004), 64.

                        (44.) Phan, We Should Never Meet, 151.

                        (45.) The young person in this novel is a domestic adoptee, though still transracially adopted.

                        (46.) Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere (New York: Penguin, 2017), 152.

                        (47.) Ng, Little Fires Everywhere, 114.

                        (48.) Ng, Little Fires Everywhere, 114.

                        (49.) Ng, Little Fires Everywhere, 152.

                        (50.) Ng, Little Fires Everywhere, 152.

                        (51.) David Henry Hwang, “Trying to Find Chinatown,” in Trying to Find Chinatown: The Selected Plays of David Henry Hwang (New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2000), 289.

                        (52.) Hwang, “Trying to Find Chinatown,” 290.

                        (53.) Hwang, “Trying to Find Chinatown,” 290.

                        (54.) Hwang, “Trying to Find Chinatown,” 290.

                        (55.) Larissa Lai, When Fox is a Thousand (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2004), 28.

                        (56.) Gish Jen, The Love Wife (New York: Vintage, 2004), 257.

                        (57.) Margaret Homans, “Origins, Searches, and Identity: Narratives of Adoption from China,” in Contemporary Women's Writing 1, no. 1–2 (2007): 59–70.

                        (58.) Monique Truong, Bitter in the Mouth (New York: Random House, 2010).

                        (59.) Truong, Bitter in the Mouth, 169.

                        (60.) Truong, Bitter in the Mouth, 165.

                        (61.) Truong, Bitter in the Mouth, 166.

                        (62.) Truong, Bitter in the Mouth, 5.

                        (63.) Truong, Bitter in the Mouth, 104.

                        (64.) Truong, Bitter in the Mouth, 269.

                        (65.) David Eng, The Feeling of Kinship: Queer Liberalism and the Racialization of Intimacy (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010).

                        (66.) Mark Jerng, Claiming Others: Transracial Adoption and National Belonging (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), 148.

                        (67.) Jerng, Claiming Others, 148–149.

                        (68.) Jodi Kim, Ends of Empire: Asian American Critique and the Cold War (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), 217–218.

                        (69.) Josephine Lee, “Asian America is in the Heartland: Performing Korean Adoptee Experience,” in Asian North American Identities: Beyond the Hyphen, ed. Eleanor Ty and Donald C. Goellnicht (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 2004), 102–103.

                        (70.) Kimberly McKee, “Rewriting History: Adoptee Documentaries as a Site of Truth Telling,” in The Routledge Companion to Asian American Media (New York: Routledge, 2015).

                        (71.) Jenny Heijun Wills, “Paradoxical Essentialism,” Canadian Review of American Studies, 46, no. 2 (2016): 202–222; “Asian Adoption in Crime Novels by Don Lee and Bharati Mukherjee: Country of Origin and Leave it to Me,” Adoption and Culture, 5 (2017): 62–86; and “Fictional and Fragmented Truths in Korean Adoptee Writing, Asian American Literature: Discourses & Pedagogies 6 (2015): 45–59.