Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Zaretsky, Natasha


Situated within the historiography of transnational child adoption, this dissertation explores the history of transnational child adoption from Vietnam by Americans in the Vietnam War. This story of Vietnamese adoption begins with comparing and contrasting representations of American and Vietnamese parenthood during the War. While American servicemen and women were highly praised for their humanitarianism in Vietnam and portrayed as good mothers and fathers to Vietnamese children, Vietnamese women were depicted as prostitutes, bar girls, and potential enemies in American public memory. This dissertation argues that the sexualized representation of Vietnamese women and the focus on American humanitarianism provided justifications for the transnational adoption of Vietnamese children but concealed the violence of the War that led to the displacement of Vietnamese children in the very beginning. It also shows how racial and religious relations in the U.S. complicated the picture of Vietnamese adoption. African American civil rights movement at home motivated black social workers to fight for the rights of black families to adopt black children domestically and transnationally. Meanwhile, American adoptive parents were subject to the scrutiny of Catholic orphanage directors in Vietnam and American social workers who tried to uphold religious matching in adoption. Finally, this dissertation ends with exploring controversies around Operation Babylift, a US government-sponsored evacuation of Vietnamese “orphans” to the US. Labeled as a humanitarian operation, the Babylift invoked criticism over its morality as more than 130 children were killed by an airplane crash and hundreds of children ended up being illegally brought to the US for adoption.




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