Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, International Relations, Boston University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2015
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, New York University (NYU)
“Children for Export”: International Adoptions in Civil War and Postwar Guatemala 1968-2007

By the end of its 36-year civil war, Guatemala placed more children per year with foreign families than any other country in the world except for China—in absolute numbers, not adjusted for population. China's population at the time was more than one billion. Guatemala's was seven million. In Guatemala, the adoption boom was coterminous with the most brutal episode in Latin America's Cold War, an armed internal conflict that escalated into state-directed genocide from 1981-83. Illicit adoptions have long been associated with armed conflicts and dirty wars in Central America and the Southern Cone. What is unusual about the Guatemalan case is both the sheer number of adoptions, and the fact that the government agency in charge of the process kept meticulous files on each child. These files provide unprecedented access to the everyday ideologies of the adoption process, including how decades of national crisis, war, and racial violence transformed definitions of what constituted "moral motherhood." My dissertation will use these files along with a variety of other archival and oral sources to trace the complex history of Guatemala's unparalleled international adoption boom in the context of local and transnational Cold War pressures and changing conceptions of motherhood and citizenship. I will also explore the moral panic over adoption during Guatemala's uneasy postwar period, when journalists and intellectuals lamented that Guatemala raised "children for export," and the search for missing children emerged as an important avenue for the recovery of historical memory. My dissertation will illuminate poorly understood aspects of international adoption including how a country becomes a "sender" nation and what effect mass international adoption can have on a society in crisis.