Operation Babylift and Beyond: The Politics of Vietnamese Family Migrations and Renovations

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 8:50 AM
Columbia Hall 6 (Washington Hilton)
Allison Varzally, California State University, Fullerton
This paper investigates the mass airlift of Vietnamese children to the United States on the eve of the nation’s formal withdraw from the Vietnam War.  Arguably the most dramatic episode of an unfolding story about the adoption of Vietnamese children by Americans beginning in 1965, it received overwhelming media coverage,  captured international attention, and pressed Vietnamese adoptees to the center of debates about the War’s end and outcomes. Although architects of the airlift, who included the U.S. government and adoption agencies, hoped it would benefit Vietnamese children and burnish the nation’s tarnished image, it precipitated significant opposition among Americans and Vietnamese who accused the U.S and Vietnamese governments of playing politics and adopting families of privileging their own desires.  Vietnamese families who joined a class action suit challenging the orphan status and adoptive placements of airlifted children offered the most compelling criticism of the evacuation and revealed the complexities of Vietnamese migration and family re-formation in the wake of the war. These families stretched across national boundaries, demanded reunions with kin, and disputed American efforts to contain and control the legacies of war.  As a failed effort to bring the era’s negotiations about race, family, and national purpose to a close, the airlift and its aftermath anticipated the continued resonance of the Vietnam War and Vietnamese adoptees to American society through the 20th and 21st century.