Rachel Nolan F'17
Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships 2017
New York University
“Children for Export”: A History of International Adoption from Guatemala
Guatemala closed international adoption amidst a nationalist backlash and allegations of child theft and child-selling in 2007. Until then, one in 110 children born there was adopted by a family in the United States, Canada, or Europe. The adoption boom has its roots in the most brutal episode of Latin America’s Cold War: a 36-year armed conflict that escalated into state-directed genocide from 1981 to 1983. This dissertation draws on adoption files, police reports, court records, the results of FOIA requests, and dozens of oral histories to explore how Guatemala became a leading sender country for children, and what conditions or characteristics made a child adoptable. It argues that while participants posed international adoption as humanitarian, and thus apolitical, in fact it was practiced as a political, commercial, and racist (anti-Indigenous) institution. International adoption is a crucial site for understanding the articulation of local, national, and transnational politics and social life.