Earlier this week, Jeff Yang reached out to me via Twitter after an ongoing thread on the recent Paul Petersen case and asked if I would like to come onto his podcast, They Call Us Bruce. For those who have not been following this story, Petersen was an elected official in Arizona who was recently arrested for Medicaid fraud after it was revealed that he had been working with a prostitution camp in the Marshall Islands where girls as young as 15 years old exchanged sex for food and housing. After learning about new pregnancies, he brought the girls to the United States to deliver their babies and arranged for the infants’ private adoptions by U.S. parents. Petersen made tens of thousands of dollars off of each Marshallese adoption. This is a story that disgusts me on so many levels and also clearly incited rage in many tweeters. However, many of the tweets expressed anger at the New York Times for titling their article, Former Arizona Official Pleads Guilty in Adoption Scheme. Some criticized, “call this a trafficking scheme or baby mill, not an adoption scheme!”
I believe strongly that the context of adoption for this story is important, and it is critical that we do call this story an “adoption scheme.” In far too many adoption stories, poor women of color are preyed upon to give up their children or are coerced into relinquishing their children for adoption. Another issue that complicates adoption is that there is no universal definition for adoption. In the Marshall Islands specifically, 80% of mothers who had relinquished children for adoption believed that their children would receive an education in the U.S. and return to them at age 18. The grotesque levels of child/birth mother exploitation, prostitution, human trafficking, and fraudulent paperwork are not what people want to associate with adoption, but the commonality of these circumstances in adoption must be acknowledged if people do not want any more adoptees to be manufactured in unethical ways.
On Wednesday evening, Jeff Yang (CNN), Phil Yu (Angry Asian Man), Dan Matthews (DANakaDAN), and I had a conversation about Asian adoptions to the U.S., Dan and my personal experiences growing up as Asian adoptees, stepping into our Asian identities, and our perspectives on some recent, troubling news stories about Asian/Pacific Island adoptions, including the Myka Stauffer rehoming case, the Paul Petersen case, the murder of Johanne by her adoptive brother, and the arrests of 3 Iranian men for selling babies for adoption on Instagram.
The bottom line is that adoption is complicated, and the stories we tell about it need to be complicated, too. Many thanks to Jeff and Phil for reaching out and helping to disrupt the dominant adoption narrative. You can listen to the podcast online, on Apple Podcasts, on Google Play, and Stitcher.