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Race at the Center: The History of American Cold War Asian Adoption

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In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, international and transracial adoption have become more prominent than ever before. Celebrity culture and mainstream television and film—for example, Angelina Jolie's adoption of a Cambodian boy, an Ethiopian girl, and most recently a Vietnamese boy, and the adoption of a Chinese baby girl by Kristin Davis's character Charlotte York at the conclusion of the iconic HBO sitcom “Sex and the City”—have reflected as well as disseminated new racial sensibilities regarding family formation to the general public. But these sensibilities are not as new as they seem. They have a history. This essay challenges the popular notion that international adoption is an unprecedented facet of current American multiculturalism by connecting it to the international adoption by families in the United States during the Cold War 1950s and 1960s of mixed-race children of Asian women and U.S. servicemen. While histories of adoption have located the origins of Asian international adoption in the post–World War II and post–Korean War periods,2 the original contribution of this essay is to emphasize and to critically explore how the analytical category of race is fundamental to understanding the demographics, discourses, and institutions of earlier Asian international adoption history.


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