Claiming America by Claiming Others:
Asian-American Adoptive Parenthood in
A Gesture Life and Digging to America

Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture (1900-present), Spring 2011, Volume 10, Issue 1
http://www.americanpopularculture.com/journal/articles/spring_2011/wills.htm

 

Jenny Wills
University of Winnipeg, Canada


David Eng poses a valuable question in his recently published collection, The Feeling of Kinship, a book that, amongst other things, demonstrates a deepening fascination by Asian-American scholars with topics of transnational, transracial Asian adoption. He asks, “Is the transnational adoptee an immigrant? […] Asian American?” (1-2). These ponderings are significant because, despite a tendency to forget, or a desire to undermine its reality, transnational, transracial Asian adoptees are indeed immigrants, albeit unique ones. Unlike other immigrants, adoptees are granted timely access to citizenship and belonging in the United States. They bypass the class and language struggles that serve as obstacles to some other immigrants. And most importantly, their arrivals are marked by the desire for their presence, a sentiment that is unfortunately unfamiliar to many other immigrants to the United States these days. Indeed, the very success of transnational, transracial adoption, as in the complete integration of an outsider into some of the most intimate kinds of communities (national, ethnic, and familial), is predicated on the erasure of those features that highlight that effort, such as the reminder that one is an immigrant and not biological kin. Adoptees that are raised with the mantras that they are "just one of the family," as if begotten biologically, understandably do not liken themselves with the other immigrants in their respective societies. This fact is made especially apparent when the Asian-American communities with whom they share racial similarities marginalize transnational, transracial Asian adoptees on account of their differing ethnic backgrounds. All in all, Eng’s questions point to one of the many discomforts associated with transnational, transracial Asian adoption: What happens when our efforts to make immigrant status invisible are called out?

In this article, I address two novels that examine the role of immigration in circumstances of transnational, transracial Asian adoption by linking adopted people with immigrant subjects in the United States.  More specifically, Chang-Rae Lee’s A Gesture Life and Anne Tyler’s Digging to America feature adoptive parents who, like their children, are immigrants and visible minorities from different places in Asia.  The books explore the ways that immigrant selfhood is both similar and different for adopted people and non-adopted people as all of the characters seek to understand their American identities in light of their flexible cultural and national alliances.  While the adoptees both come from a Republic of Korea that is an American ally, their parents, importantly, come from nations with which the United States has (and continues to have) complex and hostile relationships (Japan and Iran, respectively). As such, their eagerness to assimilate into their American communities are weighted by social anxieties and political tension, influences that drive them to raise their adopted children as "typical Americans" – practices more in line with earlier adoptive parenting from the 1950s and ’60s when adoptee assimilation into American culture was the primary goal.

Claiming America through the claiming of children exposes already fraught circumstances of transnational, transracial Asian adoption and exposes the deep interconnectedness of ideas of race, kinship, and nationality within instances of adoption and beyond. Here, I have tried to express a different perspective to those transnational adoption conversations that highlight the complexities of racial and ethnic subjectivity, national belonging, and connections to personal pasts that are long gone – since those commentaries almost entirely focus on adoptees as singularly challenged by these factors. Importantly, Lee's and Tyler’s novels remind us that, just as transnational, transracial Asian adoptees are a heterogeneous group made up of many different and incomparable people, so too are adoptive parents – so we must resist the urge to transform them into archetypes like most other narrative representations do. A Gesture Life and Digging to America point to the different ways that transnational, transracial Asian adoption haunts and challenges the categories of identity not only for adoptees but also for immigrant adoptive parents as well as the nation that they claim. In other words, these discussions about transnational, transracial Asian adoption, as well as immigrant adoptive parents, provide us with the opportunity to expose some of the inner workings of American racial politics – who can claim the nation and how.

Certainly, these novels reflect upon different experiences of being an immigrant in the United States, and I do not wish to homogenize East and West Asian people into one indeterminable mass.  What I do think is an interesting point of comparison between these two texts, however, is the fact that characters have indeed immigrated from nations in the Asian continent that have been deemed threats to the United States and American people (the xenophobic, racist and supremacist beliefs that fuel anti-Islamic practices since 9/11 are reminiscent of the internment and deportation of the Japanese and Japanese Americans people in the 1940s).  In A Gesture Life, Lee’s protagonist is a Japanese man who has immigrated to the United States following the Second World War.  Despite his assumptions that he would be deemed undesirable not just because of his Asian origins but, more specifically, his Japanese heritage, Franklin Hata is met with guarded welcome.  He is able to succeed in many ways, obtaining property and a small business, ultimately enjoying a comfortable life in the town of Bedley Run.  Likewise, Sami and Ziba Yazdan in Country of Origin are not necessarily un-welcome in their Baltimore suburb, but they definitely feel marginalized from certain parts of society on account of the anti-Islamic sentiments that leave them feeling targeted as Iranian-American immigrants.  The complexity of the situation of immigrating from a nation like Iran in the twenty-first century or Japan in the middle of the previous century, certainly influences the ways that migration, assimilation, and belonging are dealt with in these novels, and it is due to that similarity that I wish to consider these texts in comparison to one another.

Many of the power relations assumed by transnational adoption studies must be reconsidered when we address stories of adoptive families that are not a part of the dominant culture or racial group. For instance, this dialogue over adoptee assimilation versus cultural preservation that I just mentioned takes on an extra dimension when adoptive parents themselves are struggling with their own diasporic or migrant identities. In the introduction to West Meets East: Americans Adopt Chinese Children, the authors deconstruct the traditional Caucasian parent-Asian adoptee binary by pointing out that “[s]ome immigrant parents encourage their children to identify almost totally with the majority culture, others with their ethnic culture, and still others strive for balance” (23). Tyler and Lee’s texts demonstrate that this format is further complicated when immigrant parents also have pasts influenced by colonialism, dictatorship, and adoption themselves. In this essay, I shall explore the distinctive ways that immigrant adoptive parents negotiate their own "foreigners-within" identities in these stories through the act of adopting children from overseas. Put another way, I shall argue that Lee’s protagonist, Franklin Hata, as well as Tyler’s characters, Sami and Ziba Yazdan, adopt their daughters from Korea for many reasons, one of which could be an effort to "Claim America" for themselves by accepting accountability for American-fathered war orphans and participating in the liberal fantasy of Americans adopting from abroad.

Paradoxically, adoption makes immigration hyper-visible, since the adoptee with his or her adoptive parents logically embodies first-generationhood, but nowadays, in our effort to be on our best liberal, multiculturalist behavior, adoption also urges us to pretend that immigration did not happen, that somehow these adoptees are different than the other immigrants in our societies. Today they are, for reasons that I just described, but this was not always the case. Since 1953, when transnational adoption was first legally enacted, an estimated 200,000 children have been adopted from Korea, a figure that may, in fact, be challenged in coming years by the growing population of adoptees from China, the country that has surpassed all other nations in the 1990s as the leading "sending" nation or country of origin. These early Korean adoptees, alongside their Japanese and Vietnamese counterparts, were subjected to the same harsh xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiments that other, non-adoptee immigrants experienced. Kirsten Lovelock explains that there were “concerns about possible chain migration, backdoor migration, and the possible influence that these migrants would have on American citizens,” including the conspiratorial theory that adoptees might “present a threat to national security” (913) given the fact that they were often born in Communist societies or countries that were enemies to the United States.


Non-Transparency in A Gesture Life

Lisa Lowe, author of the foundational text, Immigrant Acts, reminds us that, in the West, Asianness is inextricably linked to notions of foreignness, non-integration, and Otherness. She argues that American identity is so dependent on the Orientalist binary that allows it to distinguish itself from the geographic and cultural space of Asia, that in America, “the Asian is always seen as an immigrant, as a ‘foreigner-within,’ even when born in the United States and the descendent of generations born here before” (5-6). The Asian-American adoptive parent characters that I will be discussing here are mostly immigrants, surprised by the fact that their "forever-foreignness" persists, regardless of how many decades they spend as Asian Americans in the United States.

This fact is certainly true in the case of Franklin Hata, Chang-Rae Lee’s first-person narrator and protagonist in A Gesture Life, who begins his story with the proud declaration that “[p]eople know me here,” though admitting that “[i]t wasn’t always so” (1). Through his not-so-full-disclosure account of the past, Hata forces the reader to piece together the mysterious story of his origins and arrival in the United States: he immigrated from Japan to the American town of Bedley Run decades earlier, a town that surprised him in its reception. Hata explains, “I had assumed that once I settled someplace, I would be treated as those people were treated, and in fact I was fully prepared for it. But wherever I went […] it seemed people took an odd interest in telling me that I wasn’t unwelcome” (3). The those people that Hata refers to as being typically unwelcomed is ambiguous: They could be immigrants, Asians, former war enemies, visible minorities, or confirmed bachelors, all qualities that Hata represents and that might also destabilize the homogeneous Bedley Run. Perhaps in thanks to this ambivalent reception, Hata has enough confidence to build a life for himself in Bedley Run, a good life where he is revered by his friends and work colleagues, where he can afford to buy a business and home, where he can perfect the English language and become an important community member. In the novel’s opening pages, Hata enthusiastically boasts, “the question of status mostly faded away” (4), later explaining, “I’ve actually come to develop an unexpected condition of transparence” (22). But here we experience one of Hata’s many manipulations of the truth, an obstacle that the wary reader undertakes as the protagonist proceeds in demonstrating his personal flaws and as his narrative interpretation is increasingly revealed to be unreliable. We learn, in truth, that Hata’s "foreigner-within" status never actually is overcome by what he perceives to be his "condition of transparence." He is still referred to as “that ancient Oriental” despite living in Bedley Run for decades, his Asianness and his foreignness drawn out at once in this simple statement. In contrast to the confidence that Hata attempts to project into his narrative, what Mark Jerng calls Hata’s “project of recognition [that is] at the heart of his life story” (206) is shattered when Hata must confront the fact that he is not transparent and that his racial difference might always unfairly shatter the illusion of belonging and assimilation that he has labored so long to protect.

Hata’s assimilation project is registered in the novel’s name, referring to the gestures that he performs daily in his quest for belonging. But to some, Hata’s gestures go beyond the claim that he “takes on the characteristics of the locality, the colour and stamp of the prevailing dress and gait and even speech” (1), since the reader and other characters might understand his gestures to be in excess, bordering on over-accommodation and playing into the model minority stereotype. But by becoming what Jerng calls “the good, assimilated immigrant” (62), Hata is not simply a subordinated Asian, an emasculated and obedient Charlie Chan. I contend that he is strategically gesturing, destabilizing the hegemony through his parodic mimicry of the model minority stereotype because he can never shed his "foreigner-within" status, so he must portray that ideal immigrant persona in order to maintain some semblance of not 'un-welcome-ness." A closer look at his guarded past supports this, as we learn that Hata himself was a transnational adoptee when he was taken from his Korean parents at the age of twelve and raised by the Kurohata family in Japan, becoming an example of what Tobias Hubinette calls an adopted "forcibly made migrant."  Explaining that his biological family could not afford to raise him, Hata recounts that he was taken in by a Japanese family, in effect, adopted by the perpetrators of colonial oppression upon his original family, community. and nation.  Hata’s adoption by a Japanese couple becomes the basis for his life of fragmented identities and frantic assimilation, especially given the often-inhumane ways that Korean people were treated under Japanese rule.  Though it may seem shocking that Hata has completely rejected his Korean past in favor of a Japanese identity, we must recognize that during this colonial period prior to 1945, "passing" or becoming transparent as a Japanese citizen was imperative to his lifestyle and existence. As Anne Anlin Cheng explains, "This repressed, seemingly unself-knowing, Korean-born man labours throughout his life to pose as, variously, a Japanese national, a doctor, a father, and, finally, an unremarkable decent U.S. citizen. […] Assimilation turns out to be not an act of self-effacement but a performance of self-assertion" (558-59). What Cheng calls "self-assertion," I also see as "survival," because assimilation and belonging to someone like Hata is the key to perseverance, in addition to social integration. In other words, while indeed Hata is asserting himself within his society, his many transformations and assimilations become a tool for belonging, existing, and surviving in his different environments.  His time in the Japanese army most notably demonstrates this point; if Hata had failed in passing as a Japanese national, he would have been immediately imprisoned as a Korean imposter in the Japanese military.

The ultimate gesture of American goodness that Hata undertakes occurs when he adopts his daughter, Sunny, from Korea. Since transnational adoption from Korea began as a philanthropic effort to find homes for the thousands of children left orphaned due to the Second World War and Korean War, many of whom were the progeny of American servicemen, claiming accountability for these children became a significant part of the national project in the years following these conflicts.  Many of the children left in Korean orphanages at this time were multiracially African American and Korean, as is Hata’s daughter.  These children were marginalized in Korea, where racial homogeneity continues to be one of its most self-revered qualities.  By adopting a child from Korea, Hata participates in this national acceptance of responsibility for those orphaned children, which was also fueled by the American movement toward liberal pluralism. Not surprisingly, when Hata meets Sunny at the airport for the first time, he initiates their relationship on the basis of observation, judging how well she might benefit his quest for transparency and assimilation. He remembers the scene:

I had assumed the child and I would have a ready, natural affinity, and that my colleagues and associates and neighbors, though knowing her to be adopted, would have little trouble quickly accepting our being of a single kind and blood. But when I saw her for the first time I realized there could be no such conceit for us, no easy persuasion. Her hair, her skin, were there to see, self-evident, and it was obvious how some other color (or colors) ran deep within her. And perhaps it was right form that moment, the very start, that the young girl sensed my hesitance, the blighted hope in my eyes. (204)

From this passage, we can envision Hata, here a middle-aged man, gazing at his newly adopted daughter. He is startled to discover that she is multiracial, half black and half Korean, that not only can she not help him fit in with Bedley Run society, but that she might hinder his efforts because of her undeniable racial difference – in his words,"there for all to see." Young Oak Lee claims that Sunny “thwarts Hata’s effort to fit seamlessly into his environment” because he sees her multiraciality as something that even gestures cannot make invisible (154). Hata’s double-conscious anxieties compromise his relationship with this adopted daughter, and Sunny begins to draw away from him almost immediately.  Moreover, Hata is surprised by his own racist reaction to Sunny, that could be motivated by any number of factors: supremacist beliefs instilled by his racially homogenous American town, Japanese or Korean pasts, or residual anger (and projected guilt) over the misuse of Korean women by American and Japanese servicemen during the war.  Sunny’s multiraciality is an embodiment of Hata’s own hybridized and dislocated past, where answers are missing but evidence remains.  This situation is, of course, rife with irony; Sunny’s multiraciality implies that she, unlike Hata, has some kind of biological roots in America. In fact, Sunny’s multiraciality might undermine the foreignness that her Asian features suggest. She is, in fact, able to pass as American in ways Hata cannot.

As such, Sunny offers a particularly hostile perspective regarding her adoptive father’s life of gestures. Rejecting what she calls his “good Charlie” behavior, Sunny connects with the social rejects in Bedley Run, the visible minorities that literally live in the margins – in a house outside of town. While many transnational, transracial Asian adoptees struggle to understand their ethnic and racial identities, challenged by the fact that they are raised by Caucasian, non-immigrant adoptive parents, Sunny’s circumstances could have had the potential to be different. Unfortunately, Hata fails to assist Sunny in developing confidence in her racial and ethnic background, mostly because of his own precarious relationships to both Korea and America. Hata, who has relinquished any identification as Korean and instead envisions himself strictly as from Japanese origin, cannot comfort Sunny as a Korean American because to do so would be to destabilize his already uncomfortable ethnic subjectivity. As an assimilation-conscious character, Hata in many ways parallels the same philosophies shared by those adoptive parents from this period (1970s) that sought to completely incorporate their children into dominant American society. But Hata’s version of America is twisted by his double-consciousness and his own frustration at being a "forever-foreigner" – and his efforts to raise his daughter as what he interprets to be a "typical America"’ backfire and their relationship is left estranged and perhaps even irreparable.


The Spectacle of Adoption in Digging to America

From Lee’s melancholic and haunting text, I now turn to Anne Tyler’s decidedly more upbeat representation of transnational, transracial Asian adoption in Diggng to America, a novel that follows two adoptive families, the Donaldsons – deemed definitively American by their counterparts, the Yazdans, an immigrant family from Iran. The novel’s first scene ends with the simple statement:  “Friday, August 15, 1997. The day the girls arrived,” (11) alluding to the simultaneous immigration and adoption of six-month-old Korean orphans, Jin Ho and Sooki (later to be renamed Susan). In this sequence, readers experience the “transfers” (9) of both infants to their new adoptive parents as well as the immigration paperwork that goes alongside overseas adoption. As the adoption agency chaperones hand over the babies, they are also making sure that all of the correct paperwork is signed – that the immigrations are complete. It is also in this sequence that the two adoptive families, whose narratives merge and entwine in significant ways throughout the novel, are introduced and juxtaposed. The Donaldsons are almost a comic parody of American stereotypes: with no ill intention, they are loud, overwhelming, self-concerned and self-centered. Drawing attention to themselves with balloons, banners, and other manners of fanfare, the Donaldsons create a spectacle of the event of adoption, of meeting their daughter who is coming from a foreign country, and thus of her immigration.

In contrast, the second family, comprised simply of Sami and Ziba Yazdan and Sami’s mother, Maryam, welcome Sooki without demonstration. Unlike the Donaldsons, the Yazdans are without gifts, video cameras, or extended family. They do not draw attention to themselves, but are instead “three people no one had noticed before” (8) until they are summoned at the gate to meet their baby. Juxtaposed with the Donaldsons’ display, the Yazdans “paid no attention to the crowd,” ignoring Brad and Bitsy Donaldson’s invitation to join their celebratory after-party back home. For the Yazdans, the event of Susan’s immigration and adoption is without pretension, with Sami and Ziba focusing more on the kinship that is being created than the celebration of her foreignness. The night of the girls’ arrival importantly reveals the way that transnational, transracial Asian adoption is always, even from the start, a public presentation of the traditionally private act of creating a family. The Yazdans, like Franklin Hata, are motivated by a desire for invisibility and transparency when it comes to topics of immigration and outsiderness.  Part of this desire comes from the wish to belong in America, a feeling that they believe might be achieved at the moment when their outsiderness and difference disappears.  As I mentioned earlier, given the problematic ways that West Asian people are viewed in the United States today, it is understandable why Sami, Ziba, and Maryam might wish not to draw attention to themselves, why they are “squeezed into a corner” at the gate, contrasting the Donaldsons who “filled the whole airport” (317).

As the Yazdans begin to raise their daughter, this attitude of non-spectacle persists and extends to the limited exposure to either Iranian or Korean culture that they offer her. They make efforts to assimilate her into American culture as they, themselves, have done since arriving from Iran. Ziba’s practices of assimilation recall those of Hata’s in A Gesture Life. In the words of her mother-in-law, she “had so immediately and enthusiastically adapted – listening non-stop to 98 Rock, hanging out at the mall, draping her small, bony, un-American frame in blue jeans and baggy T-shirts with writing printed across them – that now she seemed native-born, almost” (15-16). And like Hata, Ziba insists that her daughter be raised as a typical American, refusing to speak Farsi in front of Susan, demonstrating the uniqueness of those circumstances for children adopted by immigrant parents: parents must consider the role of language beyond the binary of preserving an adoptee’s culture of origin and assimilating them into their given societies.  Ziba’s insistence that Susan only speak English at home gestures toward her own anxiety over anti-Iranian sentiments in the United States and her desire (and her desire for Susan) to be accepted in the United States.

Much like we saw in A Gesture Life, where Hata’s eagerness to assimilate was not simply based on his desire for comfort but a kind of survival in the face of political and social conflict, in Digging to America, it is important that we consider the complexity and precariousness of Iranian-immigrant status in the United States, since these circumstances shape how the Yazdan’s raise their adopted daughter. As Moshen Mobasher explains, “the question of identity is a contested and problematic issue for many Iranian immigrants [because] the Iranian community in exile suffers from a major identity crisis” whereby Iranian political and religious struggles have splintered any knowable notion of Iranian identity, within and beyond the nation (100). Just as Hata’s connection with his past is effaced as a result of political anxieties, so too must we consider the Yazdans to have complicated relationships to their country and culture of origin. These circumstances are further complicated by what Mobasher calls “the anti-Iranian attitudes of most Americans” that has “motivated many Iranian immigrants to cover up their Iranian national origin” (101), in a sense embarking on their own gesture lives in order also to be granted a level of not un-welcome-ness. Nilou Mostofi explains that these stresses motivate Iranians to “try to blend into mainstream America” (691) with extreme enthusiasm.

In Digging to America, these tensions come to a head when the Yazdans are reminded again and again of their "foreigner-within" status, asked by the Donaldsons to prepare their "authentic" food, considered to be “so exotic, so blessedly distant,” and “mysterious” (73). Despite their good intentions, the Donaldson’s liberal pluralist attitudes (that becomes a running joke throughout the novel), remind the Yazdans of their "forever-foreigness," highlighting what they had hoped had become the transparency of their difference. Understandably, the Yazdans raise Susan with the hope that she too will feel a sense of belonging in their Baltimore-area town, trying to minimize the level that she feels like a "foreigner-within." Assimilating Susan in line with their own double-conscious perception of what American culture is, the Yazdans raise their adopted daughter in strikingly different fashion to the Donaldons. Juxtaposed with Jin Ho Donaldson, whose parents have decided to keep her Korean name, Susan is given a name that is both Western and is a “comfortable sound for Iranians to pronounce” (22). Whereas Jin Ho’s mother decides to continue to give her daughter the “squared-off hairstyle she had arrived with,” (28) Ziba lets Susan grow her own hair into long, swinging braids. And when the Donaldsons arrive at a party with Jin Ho in “full Korean costume – a brilliant Kimono-like affair and a pointed hat with a chin strap and little embroidered cloth shoes” (39), Susan is dressed in corduroys and a sweater. The Yazdans’ anxieties toward fitting in and assimilating are as much reflected in the way that they distance Susan from Korean culture, as the Donaldsons’ at-times Orientalist way of exhibiting Jin Ho’s difference points to how much they take for granted the comfort of never feeling like foreigners. Jin Ho, it must be noted, hates the way her parents make a spectacle of her difference. Certainly, we can read the Yazdans’ reluctance to display their daughter’s Koreaness through what Vincent Cheng calls “dangerous” “fetishizations of an exoticized other” (79), as a projection of their own wishes to overcome being seen as "forever-foreigners." The Yazdan’s explain, “You start to believe that your life is defined by your foreignness. You think everything would be different if only you belonged” (216).  While I certainly do not wish to imply that it is an American quality to perform acts in such public and spectacular ways, I think that Tyler’s choice of hyperbolizing and juxtaposing the Donaldsons and Yazdans points to what she sees as a symptom of some experiences of immigration and assimilation.


Conclusion

Belonging, or the desire to belong, is of course a significant trope in most (if not all) immigrant stories. The project of “Claiming America” is in many ways an immigrant project, since a large part of this effort, which gained momentum in the middle of the twentieth century with the Asian-American cultural nationalists, is based on the abolition of the "foreigner-within" assumption. Hoping to overcome what Gordon Chang and his colleagues call the “stigma of perpetual foreignness placed upon people of Asian ancestry,” to claim America is to “assert that Asian Americans were as much Americans as others in the country” (xi). We can see that the desire to claim America and overcome their "foreigner-within" statuses is at the heart of A Gesture Life and Digging to America, with Hata and the Yazdans living gesture lives and encouraging their adopted children to do so as well.

But I would like to argue that this effort to claim America is also evident for these characters in their choice to adopt from Asia, not only in their child-rearing practices. As I hinted at earlier, adoption from Asia feeds into American nationalism both in terms of its global relations as well as its self-recognition as a democratic, liberal pluralist state. Internationally, transnational, transracial Asian adoption reinforced the Orientalist ideologies that justified American presence in Asia following the Second World War, as American families philanthropically offered aid to the Amerasian orphans abandoned at the time. However, this act was less a gesture of taking responsibility for American progeny as it was presented as a pious offering to welcome those children who had been shunned by their homogeneous societies. In the words of Patti Duncan, “the history of transnational adoption from South Korea originated as a rescue mission focused on mixed-race children born to Korean women and U.S. military personnel” (290). Sakai points to a significant aspect of the rhetoric surrounding transnational adoption at the time when she emphasizes the fact that these adoptions were seen as "rescue missions" – feeding into the Orientalist fantasy of an uncivilized and cruel East that is unable and unwilling to care for its own people.

Today, transnational, transracial Asian adoption also sustains the myth of liberal democracy that enables the American state to vindicate its actions both in the domestic and global sphere. Sara Dorow asserts that the practice of adopting children from socially or economically struggling nations feeds into Western countries’ desires to position themselves as internationally altruistic and domestically pluralist. Put another way, Dorow insinuates that in the act of "giving" to another, the United States actually gifts itself an object through which it can actualize its own benevolence; it gives both to the Other and to the Self.

It is this all-American act of adopting from abroad that Lee and Tyler’s adoptive parent characters are participating in. David Eng considers the Asian adoptee to be the “treasured U.S. ‘subject'” ("Transnational" 6) – special because he or she holds the power to symbolize normalized American citizenship for individuals who might not otherwise have access to it. In her essay, “Scenes of Misrecognition,” Ann Anagnost argues that adopting transnationally is a way to obtain “value, self-worth and citizenship […] for becoming a fully realized subject in American life” (392). I believe that in A Gesture Life and Digging to America, though it may not have been a conscious motivator, the Asian adoptive parents attempt to participate in this national project of rescue, pluralism, and nuclear family building, through the event of transnational adoption. Hata expressly demonstrates this with his admission that he had hoped he and Sunny could pass as biological kin in the airport scene that I described earlier. In other words, he tries to claim America by claiming the children of others.



Works Cited

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Lowe, Lisa. Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Durhmam: Duke UP, 1996.

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Tyler, Anne. Digging to America. London: Vintage Books, 2007.

 
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