Viet Namese Adoptee Who Found His Family

This is a longish read, but it’s really interesting and captures some of the complexities of international adoption.

Tuy was left with an orphanage as a baby, and according to their records, nobody knew who his parents were. He contracted polio while at that orphanage due to contaminated water. He was transferred later to a better orphanage with better access to medical care, and then was adopted by an American family who had adopted other children internationally as well.   The stories of his life and accomplishments are well worth reading, and there are many surprises and cool twists and turns.  I hope you’ll read it.  I want to talk about just a couple things that just get a mention.

He eventually returned to Viet Nam to visit the orphanages where he had lived.  The orphanage had older children helping to take care of younger children- this is common in families as well as institutions in Asian countries, and probably others as well.   The day he was there, the adult woman who had helped care for him when she was only 7 was also there.  She had just stopped by to visit the nuns while she was in town on other business.  She remembered Tuy- and even though the record book the orphanage had of him said his parents were unknown, she knew his mother.  She was able to go get her and bring her back.  His mother told him that she had put him in the orphanage because she was very sick and couldn’t care for him and had no help.  She also says that later, when she recovered, she returned to the orphanage but the nuns told her the rules were that once you put your child there you couldn’t come and take him back.

So there’s a family disrupted for decades, for life, because a young mother was too sick to care for her baby and had no help.  The American family, of course, had no knowledge of this, nor were they in any way complicit or to blame.  Had they uncovered every stone to find his parentage when he was a child, they would have gotten nowhere themselves (it was illegal for Americans to even visit Viet Nam for many years).

It’s undeniable that the health care, nutrition, and education he received in the US were much better than they would have been in Viet Nam.  But he needed some of that additional health care because he had been in an orphanage to begin with- that’s where he contracted polio.   He’s been able to take the skills, knowledge, and education he got in America and apply them to helping his Viet Namese family, and that’s a good thing.  But international adoptions don’t always end that way.

I have questions.

How did the girl who had been in an orphanage herself, taking care of other orphans at 7, know who Tuy’s family was when the administration and staff of the orphanage said they didn’t know?  How is it that no record exists of his mother coming back and asking for him?  Why didn’t the orphanage at list write down her name?  Some of you have probably thought of the possibility that his mother is telling a story to assuage her own torment and guilt, or not.  We don’t know.  But the fact remains that another orphan knew who she was and where she lived, some 30 years later.  It bothers me.  But then again, the mother herself didn’t have his father’s name right even though she’d lived with him in some form of marriage (not being morality judge here, I just don’t know what the legal circumstances were) for long enough for Tuy to also have an older full sibling.  So I feel like there are probably cultural differences here contributing to the questions I have.

I’d like to blame the nuns at the orphanage for not letting the woman have her son back, but… the reason Tuy was able to find his mother was because one of the orphans from that orphanage still came back to visit the nuns.  They probably aren’t the villains either.

How is it that in her own culture the mother had nobody to help her when she was so sick?  Because she’s a member of a country torn apart by decades of war and poverty, that’s why.  But…

What if instead of taking children out of  the country, the same amount of money and energy had been applied toward building families up within the country, with helping to improve education, with helping to improve nutrition and standard of living from within?  That’s a bit pie in the sky- it wasn’t possible to do that in Viet Nam for many years,  at least not for Americans.  But it has been possible other places, other times, and still, so often our first inclination is to wonder if we can have people’s children.

I am not opposed to all international adoptions.  I know several where enough of the story is known to be clear that given the cultural attitudes at the time and the conditions that existed then and there, the children involved didn’t have options and they would be dead if they hadn’t been adopted.  But there are other children who didn’t hit the lottery with their international adoptions, children who ended up abused, being put in foster care, being abandoned again by their American families.  There are many more poverty orphans created by our blind zeal to respond to the pain of learning about the poverty and hardship other people live in by scooping up their children and supporting orphanages instead of building and supporting organizations that do the less photogenic work of supporting intact families.   There are families disrupted by the too traumatized children who never recover from what they’ve been through through no fault of their own.

It’s just messy, and I want clear and easy answers, preferably one size fits all, and instant fixes.  They don’t exist in this world and they won’t.   Believing they exist probably contributed to the problems with international adoptions.

Conclusions?   Cool story.  Interesting character who has done some impressive things.  Really glad I read it.  I’ll be thinking about it off and on the rest of the day.   Life is messy.  There are no perfect fixes.  What are we going to do about the messy world we live in and the messy, imperfect options available to us here and now?


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