Chinese adoption marks new wave of migration to America

A new book by a University of Alberta researcher delves into one of the latest chapters in United States migration--the growing phenomenon of adopting Chinese children into American homes.

In "Transnational Adoption: A Cultural Economy of Race, Gender and Kinship," Dr. Sara Dorow examines the international adoption process while tackling such issues as the cult of motherhood, the power of whiteness and the commodification of kinship.

"Many of the psycho-social problems and adjustments we expect to see in children adopted abroad need to be 'flipped around' and treated as lenses on some of the subtle but powerful norms embedded in North American social life," says Dorow, a sociologist at the U of A. Her book is published by NYU Press.

Thousands of Chinese children, primarily abandoned infant girls, are adopted by Americans each year, yet little is known about the processes that characterize this new migration. One reason people are drawn to China is that its practices, especially in the 1990s, were quite flexible. "Across the board people tend to ask for girls and China's regulations are much less stringent about who can adopt," says Dorow. "Although China has a minimum and maximum age limit, it is relatively high or generous and was especially so in the 1990s."

"People who adopt from China also tend to have more resources and therefore more choices than many other adoptive parents and most birth parents. So it becomes a case of stratified reproduction--they can afford to access such a system."

Dorow visited the "baby hotels" in China where foreign families gather to meet the children with whome they have been matched, and continued to follow the path of the adoption process through both Chinese and American institutions and bureaucracies and into the homes of the new families. The more she talked to the families, the "less I found one particular or right way to approach the adoption process," says Dorow.

One of Dorow's greatest concerns, however, was with the commodification of the system. Currently there are more than 150 adoption agencies in the United States competing with each other to attract clients, and standards of professional practice vary across the states. An interview process for one prospective family might last only an hour while others are much more intense--making the competition problematic, says Dorow. Parents have formed groups to try to address these troubling issues.

A second issue that interests Dorow is racialization and how white parents deal with a child who carries a Chinese ethno-racial history. "It's talked about around the edges and then all of a sudden the child will hit school age and a parent might say, 'wow, I don't know what I'm doing or how to deal with these issues,'" says Dorow. "It's hard to raise the hard questions because parents are already feeling besieged and it feels like we're adding insult to injury to ask about racialization, but it's important."

Although much of Dorow's research was on American families, she is now shifting her focus to Canada, where half of intercountry adoptions come from China.

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For more information, please contact:
Dr. Sara Dorow, Faculty of Arts
University of Alberta, (780)492-4301


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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