A Public Syllabus about Adoption, Asian Children, and Queering the American Family

For everyone who patiently waited and contributed resources to this syllabus, thank you. It’s been a labor of love and one that will continue evolving as time permits and your feedback dictates. It is meant to be read, shared, critiqued, and used, but most importantly, its goal is to transform. You may read, borrow, take, browse, or what have you–but I want you and “everyone else” to learn.

As of 5/16/21, this is what I have completed so far. As the summer progresses, I will be adding to and expanding the sections that have resources but no content. Key Terms will be defined. I will also link readings and PDFs for certain resources. I have a list of suggested assignments for various sections, which will also be added as time goes on. You may also contact me if you want to chat or request an addition or article directly!

Note that my audience is childhood studies scholars first, so my language may be unclear or not what was expected when I initially announced this project. HOWEVER, public does mean “public,” and as someone who aspires to migrate between academia and “the rest of us,” please tell me what you’d like clarified and I will revise! Gatekeeping knowledge helps no one, so I will continuously update this to make sure the message is heard.

And now…on with it!

Course Introduction

Transracial adoption pedagogy offers childhood studies scholars and the general public a deeper insight into how certain childhoods are constructed for adoption and particular family norms are upheld as ideal for adoptive families.

In this syllabus, you will explore transracial adoption’s entanglement with Asian children’s bodies while drawing connections between queer theory and transracial adoptive families. For this course, we will focus specifically on Asian transracial adoptees—that is, Asian children with White American parents—and interrogate how this family structure impacts Asian children’s identity construction.


Key Terms

Asian American
Asian Adoptee
Cultural Competence
Genetic Mirroring
Intercountry Adoption
Monoracial Families
Multiracial Families
Queer Theory
Racial Mirroring
Racial Competence
Transformative Childhood Studies
Transnational Adoption
Transracial Adoption
Transracial Families

Section 1: Queering the Transracial Adoptive Family

1.1 An American (?) Family Portrait

Beginning the course with readings, videos, and interrogations of families will provide students with the basis for later discussions on queer theory, the Asian child’s body, and transracial adoptive parent education. Future versions of this syllabus will include a narrative critique of the American family structure. Karen Smith and her discussion of biopolitical governance of childhood will be briefly introduced, as it shapes emerging critique about the policies and ethics (and transactionality) of intercountry adoption and children’s bodies. Later syllabi should include the biopoliticality of transracial adoption and its role in constructing children’s bodies as a commodity.

This section to be completed by August 2021.

1.2 Queer Theory and the Transracial Adoptive Family

In the entry for “Queer” in the Encyclopedia of Diversity and Social Justice, “queering” is defined as “an academic kind of activism,” occurring “when scholars ‘read’ texts queerly or interpret an artifact through a queer theoretical lens, thus changing how others understand the world” (812).  Drawing on this definition as well as Kathryn Bond-Stockton’s queer child theory and Hannah Dyer’s (2020) exploration of childhood through the lens of the “queer contours of childhood…those that exceed the confines of normalcy and resist normative assessments of emotional and social growth” (6), queering transracial adoption means speaking to it as a a way to “challenge and subvert dominant, heteronormative discourses” (Barnett and Johnson 2015, 810).  


Section 2: Mapping the “Asian American Child” Identity

2.1 Childhood’s Current Landscape, or “Who Gets to Be a Child?”

This section may be modified or skipped for later-stage Childhood Studies students. Others, however, will be required to work through this section, as it lays the groundwork for comparing childhoods across the American social landscape.

This section to be completed by August 2021.

2.2 Constructing the “Asian American Child” and the “Asian Adoptee”

In the Introduction to Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture, Robert G. Lee (1999) writes: “Yellowface marks the Asian body as unmistakably Oriental; it sharply defines the Oriental in racial opposition to whiteness” (2). Yellowface, a racist “term [referencing] when a white actor dons ‘Asian-esque’ stage makeup and costuming to play an Asian character” (Fang 2018) has long been a way for white American culture to mark “the Oriental as indelibly alien” (Lee 1999, 2).  Aliens, and by extent, Asians, are then denied an American identity by virtue of appearing foreign (Hyunh, Devos, and Smalarz 2011, 135). This construction places Asians—or anyone appearing as such—on the edges of whatever societal protection, no matter how lacking, is offered to marginalized classes. More dangerously, this lack of greater social acceptance and the ascription of identity (particularly American) based on racial appearance reflects what some studies revealed as “American = White” (Devos and Banaji 2005, Devos and Ma 2008).


Section 3: Racial Competencies of Transracial Adoptive Parents

3.1 Perspectives on Transracial Adoptive Parent Education

In future versions of this syllabus, we will discuss the limits of existing parental “racial” education. However, the readings provided thus far are an attempt to reimagine transracial adoptive parent curriculums by using adoptee-created resources and research. Readings and media provided demonstrate critical responses to assumed adoptive parent expectations. Again drawing from Palimpsest (2019), a graphic novel written by transracial adoptee Lisa Wool-Rim Sjoblom, it is up to us to open spaces for children to define their own experiences:

It doesn’t matter what the adoptee thinks, feels or has just said. These self-proclaimed “adoption experts” are strangers who feel entited to ask endlessly intrusive questions before going on to share their own opinions on adoption, oblivious to their own thoughtlessness.

When I was younger, I thought it was all quite exciting, but today I feel very differently. Now, I detect another story behind this behavior. The narrative of the good country of Sweden [Wool-Rim Sjoblom’s adoptive country] with its noble people, who through adoption, are saving vulnerable children of the world. Regardless of what I have to say about my own experience of being adopted, I am repeatedly told—I was lucky. I was saved through adoption. (21).

This section to be completed by August 2021.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s