Global Families

A History of Asian International Adoption in America

244 pages

17 halftones

October, 2013

ISBN: 9781479892174



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Catherine Ceniza Choy is Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.  She is the author of the award-winning book Empire of Care: Nursing and Migration in Filipino American History.

All books by Catherine Ceniza Choy

In the last fifty years, transnational adoption—specifically, the adoption of Asian children—has exploded in popularity as an alternative path to family making. Despite the cultural acceptance of this practice, surprisingly little attention has been paid to the factors that allowed Asian international adoption to flourish. In Global Families, Catherine Ceniza Choy unearths the little-known historical origins of Asian international adoption in the United States. Beginning with the post-World War II presence of the U.S. military in Asia, she reveals how mixed-race children born of Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese women and U.S. servicemen comprised one of the earliest groups of adoptive children.            
Based on extensive archival research, Global Families moves beyond one-dimensional portrayals of Asian international adoption as either a progressive form of U.S. multiculturalism or as an exploitative form of cultural and economic imperialism. Rather, Choy acknowledges the complexity of the phenomenon, illuminating both its radical possibilities of a world united across national, cultural, and racial divides through family formation and its strong potential for reinforcing the very racial and cultural hierarchies it sought to challenge.


  • "Global Families adds important analyses of race, empire, migration, and globalization to the scholarship on international adoption and studies of childhood more broadly.  It is meticulously researched but also highly readable."

    The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth

  • "Amidst the current decline in international adoption because of stricter laws and treatises and increasing activism against it, Global Families sheds light on an important question: How does international adoption contribute to the acceptance of marginalized biracial individuals in a multicultural society?....Furthermore, Choy situates international adoption within the ambit of history and Asian American studies and gives a critical space for discussing international adoption beyond the purview of family and social work studies.”

    Social Transformations

  • “[…] Global Families is a concise and approachable introduction to the origins of Asian international adoption in the United States.  In particular, its geographical focus on East Asia as a whole rather than on a single country, its plentitude of voices and actors, and its commitment to understanding the complexities of international adoption merit its incorporation into future studies and discussions on the history of adoption, Asian American history, and ‘global family making.’”

    Journal of American Culture

  • “By redirecting attention to the historical foundations of contemporary adoption trends, this study places individual stories of child rescue so often valorized by the media within the broader context of debates that took place between adoptive parents, social services, and adoption agencies, and humanitarian organizations…[T]his study makes a significant contribution to the fields of Asian American studies and adoption studies, demonstrating that the two need to be considered in tandem as well as through a more global lens.” 

    Contemporary Sociology

  • "Her book's strength is in the stories themselves, which Choy narrates with skill and sympathy. . . . A useful corrective to one-dimensional, romantic portraits of adoption that saturate popular culture today. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries."

    —K. Dubinsky, Choice

  • "While Hollywood has made it famous, people have been adopting children from other countries since the end of World War II . . . In this book Catherine Choy brings to life the history of this unique way to create a family . . . This book will help students get a sense of where we have come from."

    —Kevin Winter, San Francisco Book Review

  • "Concise, provocative, and utilizing expert resources, Choy's work greatly assists in the larger discussion of, and questions concerning, global family making and the points of view of the adoptees often left out of this discussion."

    —Stephanie Phillips, Journal of Asian American Studies

  • “Choy’s ability to capture, passionately and compassionately, the particularities of individual, organizational, and national histories is the main strength of her book.  Her concept of global family making deserves serious consideration as it bridges the micro and macro processes that come together to shape normative and non-normative family structures, including multiracial, queer, and extended family formations. . . . In Choy’s incisive and sensitive writing, I hope that [adoptive parents] will see themselves reflected not as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ individuals or families, but as participants in a collective saga of personal and political upheaval that is still unfolding.”

    Women's Review of Books

  • “In this engaging book, Choy looks at one aspect of this complex subject. . . . In a gripping final chapter, Choy turns to adoptees—now adults—and charts the ways they have used art to ‘talk back’ to triumphalist adoption narratives. Their art speaks to precisely what these narratives suppress: ambivalence, loss, grief, and racism. This pain does not nullify adoptees’ commitment to their adopted families, but it does remind us that many adoption stories remain to be told. Choy’s book provides a wonderful start.”

    The Journal of American History

  • "Choy's writing is engaging, and the book is a valuable resource for adoptees and families who want to find out how their own stories fit into a larger history."

    —Wendi A. Maloney, Families with Children from China

  • "Global Families is a rare find: a scholarly work that reads like a novel. The framing story, the little-known but influential work of International Social Service, is fascinating in its own right. What felt even more important was how, without compromising on research or analysis, Global Families makes this history matter on a deeply human level. It includes personal stories of the people who were involved in shaping Asian international adoption in the U.S., as well as those affected by it. It raises hard questions about the current practice and culture of international adoption. And it confronts us with the emerging voices of people adopted through this system, who are now old enough to speak for themselves. I’m hoping Catherine Ceniza Choy will continue to look at adoption through this lens, so we can all see more clearly."

    —Laura Callen, Founder/Director of Adoption Museum Project

  • "Overall, Choy’s book is a welcome contribution to understandings of race during the Cold War, the shape of humanitarian adoptions, and the racialized aspects of adoptive kinship, and adoptee experience, all topics covered in five substantive chapters . . . . The book is written for a general audience and will be of interest for scholars of adoption history and politics, and American social work history, as well as historians and scholars of Asian migration to the United States, American studies, and Asian American history."

    —Eleana Kim, University of Rochester

  • "Global Families is transformative in the strongest sense: it challenges the histories that we conventionally tell about Asian international adoption. Whether by uncovering the crucial role of mixed-race babies in the origins of Asian international adoption or recovering the story of baseball pitcher-adoptive father Jim Bouton, Catherine Ceniza Choy crafts a unique history focusing on organizational practices and non-state actors. Using International Social Services records as a point of departure, this book provides crucial historical frameworks for any reader interested in adoption, race, migration, and 20th century international relations."

    —Mark Jerng, author of Claiming Others: Transracial Adoption and National Belonging

  • "How has the sight of a little Asian girl with a white American family become so commonplace? In Catherine Ceniza Choy’s sensitive and absorbing study, we learn that transnational adoptions reveal the intertwined stories not only of war, race, foreign policy, liberalism, and immigration, but also of intimacy, loss, and reconciliation. Choy highlights the human, non-governmental, and personal ways in which America’s relationships with the world has touched and shaped us."

    —Naoko Shibusawa, Brown University