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?

You?

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4 Comments

  1. Lisa Beth W.
    Posted September 19, 2018 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    I really agree with you about supporting families in other countries and in our own as being so important rather than adopting their children if it is at all possible. I have a number of relatives who were adopted and know a number of others who were, and it is just such a BIG DEAL for most kids, it seems, to be adopted, no matter what kind of a family adopts you. It is so earth-shakingly, fundamentally disruptive to their sense of self for so many that it seems like we should try to avoid it and keep them in their country/familiar territory and with their family/extended family whenever we can. I know that adoption is so important for so many, but I have seen and heard what I have seen and heard…

  2. 6 arrows
    Posted September 20, 2018 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    An engaging read. I clicked on it, as I’ve been interested in learning more about Vietnamese culture, having recently become acquainted with a young man in Hanoi with whom I’ve been in email contact since he read one of my posts on my piano teaching website.

    I don’t have any answers regarding international adoption, but do have seven nieces and nephews who were adopted internationally by three of my siblings / siblings-in-law.

    One (now)-niece lived under a tree in India for a while, taking care of her two younger siblings alone, before the three of them were taken to an orphanage. An American couple looking to adopt from that orphanage adopted the youngest two children, but did not want a third, so my niece was left behind. Breaks my heart to think of the pain that caused her.

    I don’t know how old she was when her younger sibs were adopted, but she was later adopted by my sister-in-law and her husband right around the time of her 13th birthday.

    She does keep in touch with her bio siblings in the U.S. — they’re all adults now — and she also has some contact (I think? but limited, if so) with an older biological sibling who never left India. Where he was when the others were living under that tree is unknown to me.

    You are right that life is messy, and I, too, wish there were easy answers and solutions to situations that can be incredibly heart-rending. I wish, for example, that I could say that everything’s been wonderful for this particular niece since coming to the States, but she unfortunately absorbed a lot of our culture’s problems, and is facing some significant challenges because of it.

    Thank you for the thought-provoking article and your conclusions. Good things to ponder.

  3. Posted September 21, 2018 at 12:54 am | Permalink

    I have no questions about how the kids knew, when the staff and records didn’t. That seems perfectly normal to me.

    I have been watching what a very long and complicated process it is to go from an orphanage system to family support. It seems like you could just say Done. Close the orphanages. Support the families. But there are so many questions to be answered and so much to be done before that final step.

    • Headmistress
      Posted September 21, 2018 at 5:07 am | Permalink

      If it was just that she knew and the adults didn’t, that would be one thing, but at least one of those adults had met with the mother and been told she wanted her son back. I find it weird that she didn’t write it down, given the pretty records they kept of the babies and their names. But again, I figure there’s a cultural difference there that makes it hard for me to comprehend.

      And yes, that transition- getting local family support (especially in a country coming out of the kind of devastation that produces kids in need of other places to live in such high numbers)- wow. Oh, definitely, the time and changes necessary to transition from one form of charity to the other is also incredibly complex and sometimes may require a change at the very root of a culture. Last week a Korean missionary here told me how amazing I was for taking care of the Cherub (she’d had a toileting accident that day which required a complete change of wardrobe and a shower, which isn’t that common, but it does happen). I shrugged and said it’s what moms do. She said, “Yes, but in all honesty, she is not your daughter and so you doing this for her is amazing.”
      And of course I said yes, she is my daughter, and then we had a moment of cultural chasm where we were two feet apart but it felt like a million miles. I knew that is a significant difference between American culture and Korean (and just about every other country, to be honest, but particularly so in Korean culture). I knew it as well as I know anything about Korean and it still was bizarre to me- and I know I was even more bizarre to her. And she is the honestly one of the sweetest, kindest, gentlest, most tender hearted women I have ever met, a devout Christian of deep faith. But this is totally impossible for her to wrap her head around.

      Which takes me back to the real world is a messy, complicated place.

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