ArticlePDF Available

From primal to colonial wound: Bolivian adoptees reclaiming the narrative of healing



This paper provides a critical analysis of the narratives of Bolivian adoptees in Belgium. We discuss how the adoptees look back upon the imagery of family and culture invoked by their parents and wider social environment and how this imagery has affected their sense of self and belonging. We argue that the adoptees’ narratives testify of a discursive struggle to reclaim control over their lives and histories. While they draw upon prevailing discourses that tend to imagine adoptees as ‘wounded’, they do so in diverse, complex and at times contradictory ways. Their perceptions of the familial and cultural imagery show that while they do not entirely reject the idea of being hurt, they seem to make a shift from explaining this ‘wound’ in individual-psychological terms to explaining it in social terms, making use of emerging anti-racist and decolonial perspectives.
Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at
Global Studies in Culture and Power
ISSN: 1070-289X (Print) 1547-3384 (Online) Journal homepage:
From primal to colonial wound: Bolivian adoptees
reclaiming the narrative of healing
Atamhi Cawayu & Katrien De Graeve
To cite this article: Atamhi Cawayu & Katrien De Graeve (2020): From primal to colonial wound:
Bolivian adoptees reclaiming the narrative of healing, Identities
To link to this article:
Published online: 26 Apr 2020.
Submit your article to this journal
View related articles
View Crossmark data
From primal to colonial wound: Bolivian adoptees
reclaiming the narrative of healing
Atamhi Cawayu and Katrien De Graeve
Department of Languages and Cultures, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium
This paper provides a critical analysis of the narratives of Bolivian adoptees in
Belgium. We discuss how the adoptees look back upon the imagery of family
and culture invoked by their parents and wider social environment and how this
imagery has aected their sense of self and belonging. We argue that the
adopteesnarratives testify of a discursive struggle to reclaim control over
their lives and histories. While they draw upon prevailing discourses that tend
to imagine adoptees as wounded, they do so in diverse, complex and at times
contradictory ways. Their perceptions of the familial and cultural imagery show
that while they do not entirely reject the idea of being hurt, they seem to make
a shift from explaining this woundin individual-psychological terms to
explaining it in social terms, making use of emerging anti-racist and decolonial
ARTICLE HISTORY Received 10 January 2019; Accepted 14 April 2020
KEYWORDS Transnational adoption; Bolivian adoptees; colonial wound; culture work; identity forma-
tion; healing
Recently there has been a renewed academic interest in the colonial power
mechanisms that structure current transnational adoption practices (see e.g.
Ivenäs 2017; Posocco 2014; van Wichelen 2019; Wyver 2018; Högbacka 2019;
Candaele in press), building on earlier work (Ahluwalia 2007; Hübinette 2007;
Wekker et al. 2007). This research points to the colonial roots of transnational
adoption and problematises the reproduction of colonial dynamics in con-
temporary transnational adoption practices, including in the way racial dif-
ference and origins of adoptees become imagined.
This paper aims to
contribute to this body of work.
Since the 1980s and 1990s, transnational adoptive parents in Belgium and
elsewhere have increasingly been urged by adoption professionals and inter-
national treaties to pay particular attention to their childs pre-adoption past. In
CONTACT Atamhi Cawayu Department of Languages and Cultures,
Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium
© 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
line with article 16b of the 1993 Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption,
adoption agencies and adoption intermediaries in Belgium have sensitised
(prospective) adoptive parents to tell their children openly about their pre-
adoption history and to express a positive attitude towards their country of
In her work on transnational adoptive parents in Belgium, De Graeve
(2010) pointed to the dominant imagery that portrays adoptees as unavoidably
woundedbecause of their being uprooted and disconnected from their
biological family and culture of origin. Adoption professionals train adoptive
families to anticipate potential psychological distress and unsafe attachment
through dierent techniques, including through attention to the childspre-
adoption past, also in terms of national and cultural origins (De Graeve 2013,
2010). De Graeve argues that while the currentdiscourse breaks away from the
clean breaknarrative, it still starts from a depoliticised and psychopathological
model that individualises and pathologises mental distress rather than pointing
to the (global) socio-political dimensions that shape adoption trajectories.
In this paper, we aim to re-politicise the terms of the debate, by reporting on
interviews conducted with men and women adopted to Belgium who were
born in Bolivia, most of them with an indigenous Aymara and Quechua back-
ground. In these interviews, we asked them to narrate their adoption experi-
ence, their experience of their adoptive parentsparenting work and their own
feelings and practices in relation to their country of birth. Their stories oscillate
between reproducing the dominant psychopathological understanding of their
displacement and socio-political understandings that centralise the colonial
dynamics in transnational adoption. We argue that a shift from imagining the
adoptee as wounded in psychological terms to imagining the adoptee as
wounded as a result of colonial and racialising discourses and practices, enables
adoptees to reclaim the right to classify(Mignolo 2005, 8) and create narratives
that have the capacity to overwrite the discourses of individualised pathologi-
zation with decolonial social critique. Centralising the colonial(and the
wounds it causes) not only constitutes an important tool in adoptee activism,
it can also serve as a useful metaphor for rethinking the work adoptive families
need to be able to move beyond the persistent bio-essentialist and cultural
essentialist views on family and nation.
The article is structured as follows. In the rst two sections, we elucidate
our theoretical framework and describe our methods. In the next three
sections, we present an analysis of the data. The rst empirical section
elaborates on the adopteesexperiences regarding culture workand the
Boliviangatherings that were organised by adoptive parents. The second
section focuses on gatherings organised by Bolivian adoptees themselves.
The last empirical section discusses how the Bolivian adoptees describe their
racial and ethnicidentity. In the conclusion, we come back to the imagery of
wounds and possibilities for decolonial healing through delinkingand re-
existing, implicit in the adopteesnarratives.
Theoretical framework
Culture work and the culturalisation of colonial dierence
Since the 1990 s, in Belgium and elsewhere a discourse that conceptualises
the child as rootedin her pre-adoption past has become dominant and has
largely replaced the previous paradigm that promoted a clean breakwith
that past (Yngvesson 2003; Modell 1994). A signicant number of studies has
critically examined the increased attention for the pre-adoption past and the
birth countrys cultural peculiarities in transracialadoption in various
national contexts (e.g. Anagnost 2000; Quiroz 2012; Volkman 2003; Willing
and Fronek 2014; De Graeve 2013; Jacobson 2008; Marre 2007).
De Graeve
(2013, 551) uses the term culture workto refer to the creative and construc-
tive parenting work Belgian transnational adoptive parents do to shape the
identity and citizenship of themselves and their children. This work may
include all kinds of cultural practices, including consuming food, music and
artefacts that originate from their adoptive childs birth country.
However, despite the paradigmatic shift in adoption, prevailing adoption
discourses still tend to start from the idea that adoptees suer from a primal
wound(Verrier 1993) that has been caused by the adopteesseparation from
their rst families and cultures. The narrative of the traumatic rupture of the
motherchild relationship (and by extension the nation-citizen relationship)
draws on essentialist notions of family (and nation) and renders adopteeslife
journeys pathological (for a discussion on the pathologizing of displacement
more general, see Malkki 1992). This narrative is all pervasive in adoption
discourse, including in the discourses that assign a dierent cultural essence
to adoptees that requires culture work. De Graeves and other studies on
adoptive parentsculture work have denounced the practice for its under-
lying cultural essentialist and bio-essentialist notions which put an alleged
genetic-cultural origin at the core of adoptees identity formation (De Graeve
2014; Howell 2006). Various researchers have criticised adoptive parents
culture work for being a form of cultural tourism(Quiroz 2012), cultural
commodication (Park Nelson 2006) and for even further alienating adopted
children from their cultures of origin because of the ctional and distorted
construction of identity with limited possibilities for maintaining real or
substantive ties to the culture of origin(Quiroz 2012, 532). Moreover, several
studies have pointed to the parentstendency to conate culture and race.
This conation is particularly evidenced by the observation that in transra-
cially adoptive families the cultural background of the adoptive child is
usually given more attention than in whitefamilies with children of white
colour (Jacobson 2008; Marre 2007). Mignolo (2005,37) critiques the cultur-
alisation of race as, according to him, it overlooks the imperial/colonial power
dierentials. Therefore, he pleads for the use of the term colonial dierence.
He emphasises that race plays a central role but not in the sense of the color
of ones skin but in the sense of how one has been located in the chain of
human being by Western imperial discourses(Mignolo 2006, 481). This
brings us to our second central concept.
Coloniality and decolonial thinking
We aim to situate the adopteesnarratives in a broader scope, including in
wider practices of relocating indigenous populations in Bolivia and elsewhere
to govern and control them. The case of transnational adoption of Aymara
and Quechua children resembles other practices of displacing indigenous
children in the US, Canada and Australia as part of projects of forced assim-
ilation and civilising during and after European colonisation. Drawing this
parallel reaches back to earlier interpretations of transnational adoption as
a colonial practice embedded in a larger history of exploitation of the Global
South and the stratied migration dominated by the Global North (Eng 2006;
Fieweger 1991; Hübinette 2007; Wekker et al. 2007). These parallels seem to
be justied when we consider the fact that transnational adoption is
a demand-driven industry plagued by recurrent practices of abuse, child
tracking, and other irregularities (Smolin 2004; McKee 2016; Cheney and
Rotabi 2015; Leifsen 2008).
Several authors have argued that the colonial realityof transnational
adoption is not limited to the macro level but also inltrates the most
intimate spheres of transnational adopteeslives (Tigervall and Tobias 2010;
Wekker et al. 2007). Drawing on decolonial thought (Maldonado-Torres 2007;
Mignolo 2005,2017; Quijano 2007), we use the term colonialityas dened by
Maldonado-Torres (2007, 243) to point to the global socio-political reality that
shapes transnational adoption. Maldonado-Torres argues that coloniality
survives colonialismand is maintained alive in books, in the criteria for
academic performance, in cultural patterns, in common sense, in the self-
image of peoples, in aspirations of self, and so many other aspects of our
modern experience. According to him, modern subjects breath coloniality all
the time and everyday.
Mignolo (2005) argues that discourses and practices of coloniality cause
colonial wounds, or, with reference to a term coined by Ureña (2019, 1642),
invisible wounds of coloniality.Thecolonial woundpoints to the physical
and/or psychological pain that is a consequence of racism, the hegemonic
discourse that questions the humanity of all those who do not belong to the
locus of enunciation (and the geo-politics of knowledge) of those who assign
the standards of classication and assign to themselves the right to classify
(Mignolo 2005, 8). We suggest that this struggle over the standards of classi-
cation is at the heart of the adopteesclaims to belonging. While the adoptees
in this study did not use the concept themselves, the colonial woundcaptures
a discursive eld that they start to construct. Some of the strategies the Bolivian
adoptees used, include what could be interpreted as decolonial tacticsand
processes of delinking [oneself] from foreign powerscontrol over lives
(Mignolo 2017, 44, emphasis added). These tactics and processes constitute
a counter-narrative to the prevailing discourses that tend to psychologise
adopteesexperiences by explaining them through narratives of primordial
blood ties offamily. Discursivelyshifting the root of their metaphorical wounds
from the psyche to the colonialcan be seen as a way of what Mignolo calls
rebuilding and re-existing under new conditions and modes of existences that
are your own(Mignolo 2017, 44, emphasis added).
This article draws upon the rst authors research conducted in the frame-
work of his master thesis, under supervision of the second author, and
complemented with the preliminary research from his ongoing doctoral
study (20172021) on roots, child relinquishment, search and reunion in
transnational adoption from Bolivia. Interviews with 12 Bolivian adoptees
(eight women, four men) have been carried out combined with multiple
participant observation sessions during Bolivian adoptee gatherings and
festivities mainly in Flanders, Belgium. The participants were selected
through the contacts of the rst author with considerable attention to the
variety of experiences, self-identications and dierent ways of giving mean-
ing to their birth country. They were adopted between 1983 and 1996 and
their ages range from 21 to 37 at the time of the interview, yet the majority of
them have been raised in Belgium after 1990. Nearly all of the participants
have travelled to Bolivia at some point in their lives (eleven participants), ve
of whom several times.
We have used a critical discourse analytical frame of moving from the
micro to the macro to better understand our data (Blommaert 2005; Van Dijk
1993) and have looked to how the narratives of the participants are
embedded in the broader web of culturally, socially, and historically situated
discourses and power dynamics. Therefore, it was essential to look at the
adopteesstories, not as expressions of essential truths, but as discursive
strategies which might have both restraining and potentially empowering
and transformative eects. More specically, we coded the transcripts by
identifying frequent topics, clustered them into themes and grouped the
themes into three meta-themes, i.e. adopteesreections on their parents
culture work, adoptee gatherings, and adopteesidentity formations. We then
assigned the coded text passages to emerging conceptual categories that
reect the discursive strategies employed by the interviewees and their
relation to wider ideological congurations.
Adoptions from Bolivia to Flanders, the northern, Dutch-speaking part of
Belgium, occurred between the early 1980s until the end of the 1990s.
estimate that in that period about 45 Bolivian children have been placed in
Flemish adoptive families. However, as back in the days not all adoptions
from Bolivia were monitored by the Flemish Community government, the
total number of children adopted from Bolivia to Flanders is basically
unknown. Before the Belgian ratication of the Convention of The Hague
on Intercountry Adoption in 2005, only accredited adoption agencies carried
out transnational adoptions under supervision of a governmental organisa-
tion of one of the three community governments in Belgium. Interadoptie, the
accredited adoption agency that was responsible for adoptions from Bolivia
to the Flemish Community indicates that they placed 25 Bolivian children
with Flemish adoptive parents in the period between 1982 and 1999.
However, information collected for this research shows that there have also
been adoptions through other channels, such as unocial adoption inter-
mediaries who facilitated adoptions to Flanders. In at least one case this
involved the kidnapping of a child.
The focus on Belgium, and on Flanders in particular, was mainly for practical
reasons, as both authors live and work in Flanders. However, this focus is also
needed as, so far, knowledge of the experiences of adult adoptees in the
country is almost completely lacking, a few very small studies notwithstanding
(see Buysse and Vandenbroeck 2015; De Pauw, Hoksbergen, and Van Aelst
1998; Paulis 1991). The countrys colonial history is also remarkable, especially
in light of the lack of a critical debate concerning the colonial history and
colonial remnants. Several researchers have observed how the general amnesia
concerning the colonial past goes hand in hand with the denial or minimisation
of race and racism (Ceuppens and De Mul. 2009; De Graeve and Kanobana in
press). A multiculturalism discourse is adopted in relation to the countrys
linguistic-cultural divide, yet the Flemish-speaking and French-speaking com-
munities are imagined as ethnically and culturally homogeneous (Coene and
Longman 2008; Blommaert and Verschueren 1998). In the northern, Flemish-
speaking part, in particular,autochthony discourses havean increasingly strong
appeal in imageries of who the reallocals are (Ceuppens 2006). Policy-making
aims at assimilation of immigrants and points to cultural dierences of immi-
grants and their descendants (not race) as the cause of the persistent barriers
that immigrants face in navigating the job and housing market for instance.
While anti-immigration sentiments are strong in Flanders, family and reproduc-
tion policy still actively supports transnational adoption. Policy makers tend to
see transnational adoption as a viable way for Belgian citizens to expand their
families and tend to draw on an imagerythat valorises adoptees as symbols for
racial harmony and as living diversity tokens (Hübinette 2007).
The focus on adoptees from Bolivia with an indigenous background (Aymara
or Quechua) is important because transnational adoptions from the Latin
American continent have been understudied in general (with the expection of
e.g. Briggs 2012;Dubinsky2010; Posocco 2014)despite the high numbers of
adoptions from this continent (Selman 2009)with an even greater dearth of
information available on adoptions of indigenous children from the Andean
region (Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador). Despite a few exceptions (e.g. Leinaweaver
2008;Clavero2002), the study of adoptions of indigenous children so far has
been limited to the US, Canada and Australia (see e.g. Cardinal 2016;Heanga-
Collins and Gibbs 2015;Jacobs2014). So far, transnational adoptions of Latin
American indigenous children to mainly white families in the Global North have
seldom been analysed through a decolonial lens and/or as part of the ongoing
structural violence against and displacements of indigenous people in the
Bolivia into our home: the parentsculture work
During the interviews in this study, most adoptees recounted memories of
being surrounded by artefacts that referred to Bolivia and its indigenous people
in one way or the other. They talked about the Bolivian (folkloric) music, the
cuddly toys, the books, the paintings, the little Inca statues, the Bolivian
national ag, the Bolivian crib, the panpipes, the knitted caps, the textiles
with llamadesigns, the woven blankets (awayus), etc., that gured prominently
in their houses. Most of them perceived the presence of Bolivian artefacts with
rather positive sentiments. Twenty-four-year-old Naya, for instance, who was
adopted at 16 months of age, even explicitly stated that she felt thankful and
had appreciated how her parents brought Bolivia into our home.
28 years old, who was almost ve when he was adopted together with his
younger brother, indicated that their parents wanted that we could keep some
of our cultureand seemed to have experienced this as a positive thing.
Some adoptees, however, also recounted memories of being dressed up as
Indiansand wearing Indiancostumes during carnival or during gatherings of
their adoptive families.
occurrences, a few adoptees discussed these memories as an example of having
felt stereotyped and racialised, at least in retrospect, or recalled to have felt
uncomfortable during some of these occasions. They indicated that they found
they were somehow forced to embrace theircultural origins and perform
foreignnessfor their white families (Falvey 2008). Yet, some explained that
back in the days they were not aware of the racist implications of being dressed
up as an Indian, but that it was only later that they realised that they were
somehow staged as an exotic Otherin their parentsfantasy of the multicultural
family. However, Asamie, a 25-year oldwomanadoptedafewdaysafterbirth,
explained how even as a child she resisted being stereotyped as Bolivian:
Asamie: Well, if something about Bolivia was on TV, my parents often called
me and asked me to watch. Then I said I did not want to watch and even now,
I still dont want to watch it.
Atamhi: And why not?
Asamie: I think I dont want to watch because this is forced upon me, it is as if
things belong to me. But I dont want to be forced into this, I want to discover
what Im interested in by myself.
During the interviews, many of the adoptees also talked about the Bolivian
adoptee gatherings that were organised in Belgium for about 10 years from
the second part of the 1990s onwards. Previous research (De Graeve 2013,
2016; Howell 2006) shows that festive gatherings have become a common
practice among adoptive families and have even been encouraged by adop-
tion agencies, adoption organisations and adoption guides in Belgium. These
festive gatherings are usually considered by adoptive parents as an important
means to share experiences with each other and to bring their adopted
children in contact with other adoptees from the same or other countries of
origin. The gatherings of Bolivian adoptive families took place in dierent
Flemish towns, and were alternately organised by one of the families, typi-
cally in the hometown of the organising family. The gatherings were relatively
small and usually attracted about 10 adoptive families with their children. The
participants in this study who were adopted from 1992 to 1996 all recalled
having participated in these gatherings at least once in their lives.
The majority of the interviewees looked back on those gatherings with
positive memories. Most of them recalled the gatherings as pleasant and fun,
yet some had some reservations. Carlos, for instance, 23 years old and
adopted at the age of 6 months, said that he remembered that he never
understood why he needed to connect to other people from Bolivia.
What I remember of those gatherings is that I didnt like to go because I was
seen as a Bolivian child while I wanted to be seen as a Belgian child. Well, I was
not completely annoyed because I like to meet other people, but I didnt like to
have my Bolivian-ness emphasized. That is why I stopped going to those
gatherings. (Carlos, 23 yr.)
Some adoptees recounted that young as they were (between 5 and 10 years
old), playing with other Bolivian adoptees was not necessarily an activity they
looked particularly forward to. They said that they did not really feel Bolivian
at that age and were not specically interested in Bolivia nor in adoption.
The quotes exemplify the complex discursive struggle in the adopteesnarra-
tives. When Asamie says that she wants to decide for herself what she likes, she
draws on neoliberal notions of self-actualisation and individual choice to criticise
moments of having been stereotyped by her parents. She denounces her parents
parenting work as too pampering and paternalistic, which contradicts the plea for
intensication of adoptive parentstraining which is often advocated by adoptee
organisations in Flanders. Local adoptee advocacy groups argue for monitoring
adoptive families even more, including intensifying the adoptive parentstraining
in terms of preserving the culture of origin, more low-threshold assistance and/or
obligatory aftercare for adoptive families and adoptees.
This standpoint draws
on the dominant Western middle class ideologies of intensive parenting on the
one hand (for a discussion of intensive parenting see Hays 1996;DeGraeveand
Longman 2013) and prevalent discourses that depict the care for adoptees as
extraordinary demanding and challenging. Adopteespleas for increasing mon-
itoring of adoptive parents implicitly endorse the mainstream and ocial policy
rhetoric that starts from the idea that adoptees are likely to be psychologically
unstable, incomplete and/or damaged, and therefore in need of specialised
guidance and expert knowledge.
However, when both Carlos and Asamie look back on and criticise their
parentsattempts to (re)connect them to their birth culture, they draw on
entirely dierent presuppositions and concerns. Here, they fall back on anti-
racist critiques that are increasingly vocalised in Belgian society yet are still
the object of intense contestation and provide people of colour with
a vocabulary to frame their experiences and feelings of racialisation, discri-
mination and non-belonging. In contrast to earlier generation adoptees, they
have had parents who were already subjected to a considerable amount of
monitoring and control, and were instructed on how to do culture work, yet
the adoptees criticise the paternalistic and essentializing aspects of the
parenting work. Doing so, the adoptees implicitly shift the focus of the
problem (or the wound) away from their purported psychological vulner-
ability (primal wound) to the adoptive society that is unable to sustain
dierence (colonial wound).
Feeling of togetherness: Bolivian adoptee gatherings
While the previous section focused on how the interviewees looked back
upon their parentsculture work, this section discusses the adopteesown
work of trying to reclaim a positive identity. Although some indicated to
have mixed feelings about the gatherings for Bolivian adoptive families,
many of the research participants explained that these gatherings have
resulted in long-term connections with other adoptees and that many of
them have kept seeing each other. After the family gatherings stopped
being organised, little groups of female friends stayed in contact, met each
other repeatedly and went to parties, to the movies or to a girls night
together. Interestingly enough, several of the adoptees emphasised that
these friendships had not so much to do with their common identity as
Bolivianor as adoptee, but more with being of the same age and having
common interests.
Some of the interviewees recounted that once they were in their early twen-
ties, they had taken the initiative to organise a sort of reunion of all the Bolivian
adoptees who had been participating in the gatherings for Bolivian-Belgian
adoptive families and to keep in contact through a self-created Bolivian
Adoptees-online platform. They said that the rst adoptee meetings, unlike the
family gatherings, had a clear purpose to them, notably the need to share
experiences and knowledge about return trips to Bolivia with people who were
in the same situation. Yet they continued to meet each other regularly, which
made the meetings evolve into a space for discussing not only things about
Bolivia, but also about all kind of themes, including everyday life, school and
relationships. Some interviewees said that for them it was important that the
gatherings enabled them to talk in a safe and non-judgemental way. Meetings
happened once to twice a month, with the whole group sleeping over in the
house of one of the adoptees. Naya, who had gone to live in Bolivia for a couple of
years, has then returned to Belgium, yet has also stayed in contact with her social
network in Bolivia mainly through social media, described the gatherings as
The beauty of the gatherings is that you are with other people who are in the
same boat and therefore can understand you. I do have very good, respectful
and nice Belgian friends but because they are not in the same situation as me,
they cant imagine what it is like to live in-between two worlds.(. ..)That is why it
is very important to have friends who are going through this process and this
allows us to understand each other very easily. (Naya, 24 yr.)
Using the expression in the same boat, Naya articulated her experience of
having a lot in common with fellow Bolivian adoptees. Also Sarah, 21 years
old and adopted at 10 months of age, described the gathering with other
Bolivian adoptees as a way of sharing a feeling of togetherness. Some of the
Bolivian adoptees even designated this feeling as a sense of kinship. The
adopteesphrasing in terms of togetherness and kinship seems to creatively
use both family of choice discourses and discourses of biological kinship,
claiming (almost) kin connections with people with whom they are not
biologically related but share national and racial origins. Kim (2007) made
similar observations in her research on Korean-US adoption. She observed
that Korean adoptees tend to experience their connections with other Korean
adoptees as a powerful form of relatedness that is based on radical con-
tingency, shared generational consciousness and elective anities that
articulate adoptees’‘unnatural historiesand struggles for cultural citizenship
in the West and in South Korea.
Nayas expression living in-between two worldsrefers to her experience of
having lived in Bolivia for several years and the subsequent process of having to
re-adapt to Belgian society again. Naya explained her decision to go and live in
Bolivia in terms of her search for racial belonging and a growing desire to
acquaint herself with Bolivian culture. Her return to Bolivia, to use Mignolos
words, was a practice of delinkingfrom the colonial legacies that structure her
life and have put her in a position in which the legitimacy of her presence in
Belgium isconstantly being questioned. She experienced her new life inBolivia,
nding a job, being surrounded by Bolivian people, learning more about
Aymara culture and practices, getting acquainted with dierent knowledge
systems, etc., as a tool to re-existand heal from the hurt that she thinks
colonial and racist discourses in Belgium have caused. When Naya talked
about her decision to go back to Belgium, she emphasised her need to keep
nding ways of delinking and re-existing, for instance through attending
Bolivian adoptee gatherings. These gathering, she explained, tend to provide
her with a feeling of comfortableness similar to what she experienced in Bolivia,
a space in which she can safely express her feelings and experiences as
a Bolivian adoptee. The adopteesreference to the gatherings as places that
evoke feelings of togetherness and understanding also hinge on a politics of
intimate citizenship in which advocacy groups become spaces in which devi-
antbodies are normalised and develop their own visible and positive cultures
that can leak into broader public spheres and have the capacity to shift
boundaries in society at large (Plummer 2001).
Disguised as a Bolivian: negotiating racial and national identities
In this section, we discuss how the Bolivian adoptees in our study negotiate
their racial and national identity, an identity that they tend to imagine as
multiple and complex. The subject of racial, ethnic and cultural identications
was brought up multiple times by Bolivian adoptees during the interviews or
gatherings. Guillermo (see above) for instance, pointed to the various iden-
tities with whom he is able to identify:
Yes, I do feel like a Fleming. My friends also tell me you are a real Belgian. [.] For
sure Im also Bolivian. [. ..] East-Fleming as well. [. ..] And actually I feel citizen of
the city where I grew up rst, and a Bolivian second. (Guillermo, 28yr.)
What is interesting, however, is that most of the interviewees expressed to
have a white identity:
Yes of course I am white. I was raised here, and I havent received any culture
from Bolivia or their ways of thinking. Not at all. So, Im actually white inside and
brown outside. [. . .] So, Im actually disguised as a Bolivian, but Im just like the
[white] people here. I only look dierent. (Pablo, 21yr.)
Using race and culture as interchangeable, Pablo, who is 21 years old and was
adopted at 6 months of age, argues that his acquaintance with Belgian
culture makes him white. Some of the Bolivian adoptees also explicitly stated
that they only date white partners, or like Pablo rarely date people of colour,
actually almost never. Hübinette (2007, 143) argues that this white self-
subjectivity for people of colour can be seen as the result of constantly
copying, imitating and mimicking whiteness on an everyday level. He relies
on Butlers(1993) performativity theory to explain the mechanisms that make
transracial adoptees performwhiteness.
In addition, he notes that this
desire towards whiteness is not uncommon for colonial subjects. The pre-
ference of some of the adoptees for white partners might also be a result of
this white self-subjectivity and an illustration of how colonial imageries
promote whiteness as the universal standard of excellence, beauty and
desire, but at the same time stipulate which bodies are able to reach this
standard and which bodies are not (Wekker et al. 2007). Hübinette refers to
transracial adoptees as ethnic drags [. . .] who are troubling, mocking and
parodying supposedly xed racial, ethnic, and national identities and belong-
ings(p. 143). Pablos words disguised as a Bolivianperfectly grasp this
performativity of racial identity.
While some of the intervieweesclaimed to identify as white, most of the
participants also identied as Bolivian. They often described themselves as
either a mixture of Belgian and Bolivian or as a Belgian with Bolivian roots.
The adoptees thus seemed to feel the need to acknowledge their Bolivian
background, and even said to be proud of their country of origin. However,
most of the interviewees were rather reticent in fully claiming a Bolivian
identity. Some even reported that they had not always been comfortable with
being non-white and being associated with Bolivia. They explicitly recounted
childhood memories of their desire to be white. Even Naya, who recently
moved back to Bolivia for a couple of years (see above) said:
In High School, around the age of twelve, thirteen, I started to have a distaste for
Bolivia. I wanted to be Belgian, I wanted to be white (. . .) I didnt want to have
anything to do with Bolivia. I did not want to be reminded every time again that
I come from Bolivia. It irritated me a lot (Naya, 24 yr).
In this quote, Naya explicitly connects her memory of wanting to be white to
her memory of having an aversion to anything Bolivian and an aversion to her
own body. She presents this memory as a memory of a turning point (Istarted
to), yet leaves the repeated events (every time again) that had led to this
turning point implicit. Her narrative highlights that she had come to see her
own brownbody as something Bolivian, and therefore other,unabletobe
Belgian. She explained that the colonialgaze that she had learned to adopt,
had made her believe that Bolivia represented nothing but poverty and under-
development, which was something she did not want to be associated with (see
also Leinaweaver 2013). Further on in the interview, Naya explained that her
aversion to her country of origin and to the colour of her skin has disappeared
when growing older. She said that she now identies as a proud Latina.
While the adoptees did not tend to see their Bolivian-ness as an essential
identity, they nevertheless sometimes reverted to bio-essentialist ideas, which
may be informed by prevailing stereotypes of Latin Americans. Several of the
adoptees, for instance, tended to support the idea that Bolivians have a natural
sense of rhythm. When Elio, 22 years old and adopted at age one, was asked
what made him a Latino, he replied:
The rhythm, it is something that is highly present. The feeling I have with
dancing. The macho part is present too. I always want to show I am here,
I will never quickly move away from someone or something. (Elio, 22 yr.)
While most of the adoptees in this study claimed to be white, some claimed to be
brown rather than white and explained that their frequent experiences with
racism and racialisation had heightened their awareness of being non-white.
Unlike most of the adopteesnarratives that only implicitly referred to feelings of
non-belonging, these stories explicitly discussed experiences of exclusion in
society. Some of the adoptees explicitly pointed to the adoptive society for
failing to fully embrace transracial adoptees, due to their non-white bodies
rendered illegitimate by discourses of race and coloniality. They explained that,
as a strategy, they had chosen to show pride in their origins rather than hiding or
minimalizing their racial dierences. By wearing Bolivian accessories, by speaking
Spanish in public with peers from Latin America, by travelling back to or by
moving to Bolivia for longer periods of time, by frequenting places where other
people with a migration background gather or by exclusively dating people of
colour, etc., they aimed to highlight the position of Otherness that they occupy in
Belgian society. Using these strategies, the adoptees move beyond the dominant
narrative of adopteesneed for individual psychological healing and/or restora-
tion of a presumed lack of ability to attach to family and nation. These strategies
of fully embracing the own Otherness and shaping spaces in which it is not
whiteness and Eurocentric perspectives that centre themselves as the norm, can
be interpreted as another example of the strategies of delinking and trying to
regain pride, and dignity, and assuming humanity in front of an un-human being
that makes you believe you were abnormal, lesser, that you lack something
(Mignolo in Gaztambide-Fernández 2014,207).
Conclusion: from primal woundto decolonial healing
This paper has aimed to make a novel contribution to the scholarship on
(indigenous) adoptees from Latin America through a study of the narratives
of Bolivian adoptees in Flanders, Belgium, regarding their cultural, ethnic and
racial identications. We aimed to investigate how the heightened importance
that has been accorded to the adopteesbirth countries since the early 1990s,
adopteesfeelings of belonging. We have tried to lay bare the struggle implicit
in the adopteesstories that tries to reclaim discursive control over their own
lives and histories. We have shown that the adoptees try to make sense of their
experiences, drawing on various and contradicting discourses that circulate in
society, and do so in rather ambivalent and complicated ways. Implicit in their
stories is the feeling of living somehow exceptional lives (exceptional identities)
that can cause pain and rejection. Their narratives both reproduce and reject
hegemonic explanations that depict adoptees as woundedper denition,beit
through their being snatched away from the naturalised mother-child bond, be
it through their being uprooted from the national ground where they allegedly
belong (racially and culturally). In spite of the ambivalence in their stories, they
seem to reject victimisation and reclaim control over the narrative of their
identity and (psychological) wellbeing. We have argued that in their stories
a shift is discernible from explaining their being hurt or wounded in individual-
psychological terms (the primal wound) to explaining it in social terms (the
colonial wound). According to Ureña (2019, 1643), the invisible wounds of
coloniality cannot be healed without radical changes in politics, [. . .], and in
narratives about the full humanity of oppressed people. Some Bolivian adop-
tees in this study have actively searched for options to delink themselves from
colonial discourses and practices in order to nd pride and dignity in spaces in
which their non-white bodies are being denied legitimate membership.
The stories presented in this paper show that Bolivian adoptees draw on
various discourses to build their narratives of (non)belonging and healing,
including on postcolonial and decolonial perspectives that only recently have
become introduced in Belgian activist spaces. We believe that decolonial per-
spectives oer promising possibilities for adoptees to reclaim control over the
narrative of their life and possibilities for healing. They create space (although
not without contestation) for voicing the pain inicted by colonial oppression,
which, according to Mignolo (2005,62),oers the starting point not only for
acts of rebellion but for thinking-otherwise. The narrative shift from primal to
colonial wound can be seen as an act of reclaiming control and of resisting the
omnipresent discourses that tend to render adopteeslife trajectories patholo-
gical, and provides them pathways to decolonial horizons of liberation.
1. We use the term colonialto refer to not just historical colonialism but also to
ongoing forms of coloniality, i.e. the perpetuation and reconguration of
colonial legacies in hegemonic discourses, practices and social relations
(Maldonado-Torres 2007; Mignolo 2005).
2. Convention of 29 May 1993 on Protection of Children and Co-operation in
Respect of Intercountry Adoption. Available at
ments/conventions/full-text/?cid=69 (accessed 30 May 2018).
3. We place terms such as transracial,race,white,etc., between quotation
marks the rst time they are used in the text, to emphasise that they are socially
constructed as opposed to objective biological markers.
4. The number of Bolivian children that have been placed in the southern, French-
speaking part of Belgium, is unknown.
5. The names of all the participants are replaced with pseudonyms to protect
6. The word Indianwas used repeatedly by the participants to refer to indigenous
people. We aim the emphasise that we are aware of the colonial connotations
of the word.
7. Te Awa's recommendations concerning intercountry adoption are available at
pdf (accessed 7 November 2018).
8. Kim (2007)uses the term unnatural historiesto refer to adopteesshared
histories of displacement and search for belonging, while at the same time
their lives have been marked by untraditional forms of kinship.
9. East-Fleming refers to being an inhabitant of the Belgian province of East-
10. Hübinettes(2007)use of performativity theory suggests that transracial adop-
teeswhite subjectivities destabilise dominant notions of whiteness while they
at the same time underline how colonial power mechanisms set the limits of
racial identity formation.
We would like to thank the Bolivian adoptees who participated in the study on which
this paper is based. We also want to thank the anonymous reviewers for their
constructive comments on an earlier version of the paper.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the authors.
This work was supported by the Research Foundation Flanders under Grant [number
Atamhi Cawayu
Katrien De Graeve
Ahluwalia, P. 2007.Negotiating Identity: Post-colonial Ethics and Transnational
Adoption.Journal of Global Ethics 3 (1): 5567.
Anagnost, A. 2000.Scenes of Misrecognition: Maternal Citizenship in the Age of
Transnational Adoption.Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique 8 (2): 389421.
Blommaert, J. 2005.Discourse: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Blommaert, J., and J. Verschueren. 1998.Debating Diversity: Analysing the Discourse of
Tolerance. London: Routledge.
Briggs, L. 2012.Somebodys Children: The Politics of Transracial and Transnational
Adoption. London: Duke University Press.
Butler, J. 1993.Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex. New York: Routlegde.
Buysse, A., and M. Vandenbroeck. 2015.Focusgroepenonderzoek over Nazorg Aan
Geadopteerden. Ghent: Ghent University and Steunpunt Adoptie.
Candaele, C. in press.Catholic Humanitarianism and Transnational Adoptions of
Orphaned Indian Youth (Belgium, 19701984).In Child Migration and Biopolitics.
Old and New Experiences in Europe, edited by B. Scutaru and S. Paoli. Londen:
Cardinal, S. W. 2016.A Framework for Indigenous Adoptee Reconnection:
Reclaiming Language and Identity.Canadian Journal for New Scholars in
Education 7(1):8493.
Ceuppens, B. 2006.Allochtons, Colonizers and Scroungers: Exclusionary Populism in
Belgium.African Studies Review 49 (2): 147186.
Ceuppens, B., and S. De Mul. 2009.De Vergeten Congolees: Kolonialisme,
Postkolonialisme En Multiculturalisme in Vlaanderen.In Een Leeuw in Een Kooi:
De Grenzen Van Het Multiculturele Vlaanderen, edited by K. Arnaut, S. Bracke,
B. Ceuppens, S. De Mul, N. Fadil, and M. Kanmaz, 4867. Antwerp: Meulenho/
Cheney, K., and K. S. Rotabi. 2015.Addicted to Orphans: How the Global Orphan
Industrial Complex Jeopardizes Local Child Protection Systems.In Geographies of
Children and Young People: Vol. 11. Conict, Violence and Peace, edited by C. Harker,
K. Hörschelmann, and T. Skelton, 119. Singapore: Springer.
Clavero, B. 2002.Genocidio y Justicia: La Destrucción de Las Indias, ayer y hoy. Madrid: Marcial
Coene, G., and C. Longman. 2008.Gendering the Diversication of Diversity. The
Belgian Hijab (In) Question.Ethnicities 8 (3): 302321.
De Graeve, K. 2010.The Limits of Intimate Citizenship: Reproduction of Dierence in
Flemish-Ethiopian Adoption Cultures.Bioethics 24 (7): 365372.
De Graeve, K. 2013.Festive Gatherings and Culture Work in Flemish-Ethiopian
Adoptive Families.European Journal of Cultural Studies 16 (5): 548564.
De Graeve, K., and C. Longman. 2013.Intensive Mothering of Ethiopian Adoptive
Children in Flanders, Belgium.In Parenting in Global Perspective. Negotiating
Ideologies of Kinship, Self and Politics, edited by C. Faircloth, D. Homan, and
L. L. Layne, 136150. London: Routledge.
De Graeve, K. 2014.Transnationale Adoptie En Diversiteit: Over Wortels En
Rugzakken.Alert 40 (2): 6469.
De Graeve, K. 2016.Adoptiefeesten: Cultuur, Liefdadigheid En Gemeenschapsvorming
Bij Vlaams-Ethiopische Adoptiegezinnen.Volkskunde 117 (3): 247264.
De Graeve, K., and S. Kanobana. in press.Black Identity-making in Flanders: Discourses
and Cultural Practicesamong Transracial AdoptiveFamilies and Black Native Speakers
of Flemish.In Adoption and Multiculturalism: Europe, the Americas and the Pacic,
edited by J. H. Wills, T. Hübinette, and I. Willing. Michigan: University of Michigan.
De Pauw, A., R. A. C. Hoksbergen, and G. Van Aelst. 1998.Interculturele Adoptie in De
Kijker: Evaluatie En Toekomst. Leuven: Garant.
Dubinsky, K. 2010.Babies Without Border: Adoption and Migration across the Americas.
New York: New York University Press.
Eng, D. L. 2006.Political Economies of Passion: Transnational Adoption and Global
Women: Roundtable on Global Woman.Studies in Gender and Sexuality 7 (1):
Falvey, L. D. 2008.Rejecting Assimilation, Immersion and Chinoiserie: Reconstructing
Identity for Children Adopted from China.Journal of Chinese Overseas 4(2):275286.
Fieweger, M. E. 1991.Stolen Children and International Adoptions.Child Welfare 70
(2): 285291.
Gaztambide-Fernández, R. 2014.Decolonial Options and Artistic /Aesthesic
Entanglements: An Interview with Walter Mignolo.Decolonization: Indigeneity,
Education & Society 3 (1): 196212.
Hays, S. 1996.The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood. New Haven (Conn.): Yale
university press.
Heanga-Collins, M., and A. Gibbs. 2015.“‘Walking between Worlds: The Experiences of
New Zealand Māori Cross-cultural Adoptees.Adoption & Fostering 39 (1): 6275.
Högbacka, R. 2019.Intercountry Adoption and the Social Production of
Abandonment.International Social Work 62 (1): 271282.
Howell, S. 2006.The Kinning of Foreigners: Transnational Adoption in a Global
Perspective. New York: Berghahn Books.
Hübinette, T. 2007.Disembedded and Free-oating Bodies Out-of-place and Out-of-
control: Examining the Borderline Existence of Adopted Koreans.Adoption &
Culture: The Interdisciplinary Journal of the Alliance for the Study of Adoption and
Culture 1 (1): 129162.
Ivenäs, S. 2017.White like Me: Whiteness in Scandinavian Transnational Adoption
Literature.Scandinavian Studies 89 (2): 240265.
Jacobs, M. D. 2014.A Generation Removed: The Fostering and Adoption of Indigenous
Children in the Postwar World.Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Jacobson, H. 2008.Culture Keeping: White Mothers, International Adoption, and the
Negotiation of Family Dierence. Nashville, Tennessee: Vanderbilt University Press.
Kim, E. 2007.Our Adoptee, Our Alien: Transnational Adoptees as Specters of
Foreignness and Family in South Korea.Anthropological Quarterly 80 (2): 497531.
Leifsen, E. 2008.Child Tracking and Formalisation: The Case of International
Adoption from Ecuador.Children & Society 22 (3): 212222.
Leinaweaver, J. B. 2008.The Circulation of Children: Kinship, Adoption, and Morality in
Andean Peru. Durham: Duke University Press.
Leinaweaver, J. B. 2013.Adoptive Migration: Raising Latinos in Spain. Durham: Duke
University Press.
Maldonado-Torres, N. 2007.On the Coloniality of Being: Contributions to the
Development of a Concept.Cultural Studies 21 (23): 240270.
Malkki, L. 1992.National Geographic: The Rooting of Peoples and the
Territorialization of National Identity among Scholars and Refugees.Cultural
Anthropology 7 (1): 2444.
Marre, D. 2007.“‘I Want Her to Learn Her Language and Maintain Her Culture:
Transnational Adoptive FamiliesViews of Cultural Origins.In Race, Ethnicity and
Nation: Perspectives from Kinship and Genetics, edited by P. Wade, 7393. New York:
Berghahn Books.
McKee, K. D. 2016.Monetary Flows and the Movements of Children: The
Transnational Adoption Industrial Complex.Journal of Korean Studies 21 (1):
Mignolo, W. D. 2005.The Idea of Latin America. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
Mignolo, W. D. 2006.Introduction.South Atlantic Quarterly 105 (3): 479499.
Mignolo, W. D. 2017.Coloniality Is Far from Over, and so Must Be Decoloniality.
Afterall: A Journal of Art, Context and Enquiry 43 (Spring/Summer 2017): 3845.
Modell, J. S. 1994.Kinship with Strangers: Adoption and Interpretations of Kinship in
American Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Park Nelson, K. 2006.Shopping for Children in the International Marketplace.In
Outsiders Within: Writings on Transracial Adoption, edited by J. J. Trenka, J. C. Oparah,
and S. Y. Shin, 89104. Cambridge, Massachusetts: South End Press.
Paulis, C. 1991.Schaduw over Zonnekinderen: Raciale Waardeoordelen Bij
Adoptiegezinnen.In Racisme, Donker Kontinent: Clichés, Stereotiepen En
Fantaziebeelden over Zwarten in Het Koninkrijk België, edited by J.-P. Jacquemin,
151167. Brussel: NCOS.
Plummer, K. 2001.The Square of Intimate Citizenship: Some Preliminary Proposals.
Citizenship Studies 5 (3): 237253.
Posocco, S. 2014.On the Queer Necropolitics of Transnational Adoption in
Guetamala.In Queer Necropolitics, edited by J. Haritaworn, A. Kunstman, and
S. Posocco, 7289. Abingdon: Routledge.
Quijano, A. 2007.Coloniality and Modernity/Rationality.Cultural Studies 21 (23):
Quiroz, P. A. 2012.Cultural Tourism in Transnational Adoption: Staged
Authenticityand Its Implications for Adopted Children.Journal of Family Issues
33 (4): 527555.
Selman, P. 2009.The Rise and Fall of Intercountry Adoption in the 21st Century.
International Social Work 52 (5): 575594.
Smolin, D. M. 2004.Intercountry Adoption as Child Tracking.Valparaiso University
Law Review 39 (2): 281325.
Tigervall, C., and H. Tobias. 2010.Adoption with Complications: Conversations with
Adoptees and Adoptive Parents on Everyday Racism and Ethnic Identity.
International Social Work 53 (4): 489509.
Ureña, C. 2019.Decolonial Embodiment: Fanon, the Clinical Encounter, and the
Colonial Wound.Disability and the Global South 6 (1): 16401658.
Van Dijk, T. A. 1993.Principles of Critical Discourse Analysis.Discourse & Society 4 (2):
van Wichelen, S. 2019.Legitimating Life: Adoption in the Age of Globalization and
Biotechnology. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
Verrier, N. N. 1993.The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child. Baltimore:
Gateway Press, .
Volkman, T. A. 2003.Embodying Chinese Culture: Transnational Adoption in North
America.Social Text 21 (1): 2955.
Wekker, G., C. Åsberg, I. van der Tuin, and N. Frederiks. 2007.Je Hebt Een Kleur, Maar Je
Bent Nederlands: Identiteitsformaties Van Geadopteerden Van Kleur. Utrecht:
Leerstoelgroep Gender Studies.
Willing, I., and P. Fronek. 2014.Constructing Identities and Issues of Race in
Transnational Adoption: The Experiences of Adoptive Parents.British Journal of
Social Work 44 (5): 11291146.
Wyver, R. 2018.Mimicry, Mockery and Menace in Swedish International Adoption
Narratives.borderlands 17 (2): 124.
Yngvesson, B. 2003.Going Home:Adoption, Loss of Bearings, and the Mythology of
Roots.Social Text 21 (1): 727.
... We engage with the phenomenon of transnational adoptees relearning the heritage language as three European-based literacy and adoption scholars who have published on adoptee practices (Adhikari-Sacré, 2020; Cawayu & De Graeve, 2020;Clemente Martinez, 2022). We discuss the unlearning and relearning of the heritage language in three parts. ...
Full-text available
This theoretical article reflects on a recent development in adult literacy studies: transnational adoptees relearning their heritage languages. Literacy and adoption scholars have studied the replacement of the heritage language with a second language and reported it as a permanent loss. Returning to the country of origin, return adoptees challenge such notion by relearning the heritage language as part of their homecoming. We explore how this heritage language relearning could be seen as a renegotiation of the language hierarchies between the adoptive community and the community of origin of languages in the relationship between the adoptive region and the region of origin. Building on Gayatri Chakrabarty Spivak’s “Enabling Violation” concept, we deploy a postcolonial perspective on understanding heritage language relearning in transnational adoptees. We discuss how language relearning can challenge and reproduce the asymmetrical relation between adoptees’ position in the Global North and their first families in the Global South. We argue that heritage language relearning can open the door for adoptees to engage with transnational literacy, carving out global learning trajectories and reconnecting their adoptive and first world. The last section of this article discusses adoption organisations’ dialectic response to this shift by partaking in the organisation of heritage language classes for adoptees. We argue that adult education centres and literacy educators can play a pivotal role in further institutionalising these heritage language classes for transnational adoptees.
... Colonization describes those acts by the Western European dominant group that oppress indigenous populations and suppress their civilization, to include language, customs, and spiritual beliefs (Hernández-Wolf, 2011). Several scholars suggested transracial adoption is an extension of colonization, where White adopters from colonizing nations adopt children of color from colonized nations (Cawayu & De Graeve, 2020;Kendi, 2020, Schwartz & Schwartz, 2018. Through forced assimilation, the adopted children subsequently lose their connections to the cultural, racial, and ethnic communities (Baden, Treweeke, & Alhuwalia, 2012). ...
Transracially adopted children and adolescents are subject to increased risks to their mental health and identity development as a result of racism and microaggressions. The risks are exacerbated by limited racial–ethnic socialization from their mostly White adoptive parents. This article reviews the history of transracial adoption in the United States through the lens of colonization, describes research related to racism and its impact on transracially adopted children, and recommends relational–cultural theory as a supportive framework for school, mental health, and family counselors.
Full-text available
Most academic studies and public debates about transnational adoption prioritise the experiences of adoptive parents and the voices of professionals, but the perspectives and voices of birth families are rarely heard. I address this shortcoming through a critical analysis of the transnational adoption system by exploring the narratives and experiences of Nepali birth families. Drawing on a 14-month ethnographic study, I explore how birth families’ search for their children illuminates the concept of ‘agency-in-waiting’ and opens up new possibilities for thinking critically about the politics of adoption and the experience of ‘waiting’. The invisibility of birth families in scholarship about adoption belies the fact that many birth families actively search for the children they lost to adoption. This research makes visible the power inequalities that shape family policy and opens new avenues for deconstructing hegemonic narratives that exist in transnational adoption by focusing on birth families’ narratives.
The safeguards and measures to prevent child trafficking mentioned in the 1993 Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption have proven insufficient in curbing the so-called irregular adoptions. An analysis of how Spanish central authorities and intermediary agencies managed the flow of adoption dossiers between 2003 and 2013 presents their inability to react swiftly to the imbalance between adoption demand and supply. The 2015 reforms in the Spanish law introduced measures to bring demand in line with real needs. However, imaginaries that portray adopters and children from the Global South as victims of meaningless bureaucracy continue to hold true even today.
Full-text available
In the context of migration policies in Belgium in the 1990's, this book analyses the discourse of the 'tolerant' majority, as found in news reporting, policy statements, social-scientific research reports, anti-racism campaigns and training programs. The analysis reveals what the authors call a 'homogeneistic' ideology, fundamental non-acceptance of diversity.
Full-text available
Sweden is one of the world’s leading demand countries on the international adoption market, with Swedes having adopted more foreign children per capita than anywhere else on earth. The international adoption project, largely unproblematised in Sweden, takes place in a discursive setting where fantasies of ‘colour-blindness’ and of being ‘post-race’ see adoptees being both desired for their (racial/ethnic) difference and having this difference strongly disavowed. This article utilises Bhabha’s concept of mimicry to critically discuss how the international transracial adoptee is discursively shaped in Swedish adoption narratives against a pro-adoption, colour-blind backdrop. Through an analysis of three Swedish adoption texts, the article explores the process and implications of the adoptee’s body being translated from complete otherness into (almost) Swedishness. The article suggests that mimicry emerges as a process beginning with the adoptee being desired as a body of difference that can potentially become an almost Swede. The adoptee, with a difference that is visible but disavowed and a sameness that is over-communicated but misrecognised, becomes trapped in a constant negotiation of identity, as they slip between being desired as an authorised version of otherness and being an isolated subject of racism, alienated from belonging to a recognised minority or marginalised group. The adoptee’s mimicry is prone to turn into menace, posing a threat to the identity of the white Swede and meanings of white Swedishness, and potentially even to the mission of adoption itself. This may go some way to understanding violent reactions to adult adoptees’ critical reflections on the structural problems of international adoption.