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Jan. 20 2010 - 12:02 pm | 2,629 views | 0 recommendations | 13 comments

My post-colonial fantasies of adopting Haitian orphans

Coast Guard treating Haitians

Image by simminch via Flickr

The American press is full of stories about Haiti’s orphans that paint American adoption of these children as a heroic and worthwhile act.  I should know.  My children, even living here in London, are so influenced by the American media that they have decided that I too should adopt a Haitian orphan.  That it would be better to have a home, any home, where there was enough food and a place to sleep, than be fighting to survive in Haiti.  I myself have, for a moment or two, succumbed to the desire to “save” these kids, or at least parent them.

And how can we resist when American journalists portray the idea of Americans adopting Haitian orphans as not just ethical, but necessary.

A typical example from the American press describes in great detail the plight of these kids.

Tens of thousands of children have been orphaned by the magnitude-7.0 quake, aid groups say — so many that officials won’t venture a number. With buildings destroyed and growing chaos in the capital, they say many children are like Jean — living alone on the streets.

Without doubt, most of them are in the open,” said Elizabeth Rodgers, of the Britain-based international orphan group SOS Children.

Some may have family, but they’ve been abandoned or left unconscious at triage centers for care.

One 5-month-old patient at the Israeli field hospital has a number rather than a name.

No one even knows who left him at the makeshift medical center after he was pulled from a collapsed building four days after the quake. Doctors have a difficult decision as he recovers.

“What will we do with him when we are finished?” said Dr. Assa Amit of the hospital’s pediatric emergency department.

Adopt him to an American family, of course.  The Catholic Church, always ready to be a Colonial force in the world, has come up with a plan: dubbed Pierre Pan,

that would allow thousands of orphaned children to come permanently to America. A similar effort launched in 1960, known as Operation Pedro Pan, brought about 14,000 unaccompanied children from Cuba to the U.S.

Pierre Pan is an apt name for these Lost Boys and Girls.  After all, at this point no one has any idea where their families are in the post-earthquake chaos.

The Joint Council on International Children’s Services said

Bringing children into the US, either by airlift or new adoption during a time of national emergency, can open the door for fraud, abuse, and trafficking.”

But even if these children are adopted in the best of circumstances with people with their “best interests” at heart, people like me, it is still doubtful that such adoptions are a great idea.  To ship Haitian orphans to the US, as is already being done, instead of working to keep them on the ground, safe and fed and housed, is probably less about being ethical and more about our own desires and fantasies- desires and fantasies that can best be described, given the US role in Haiti, as post-colonial.

We are (I am) succumbing to our desire for “cute” children and perhaps even a deeper desire to “civilize” them (remember that the Indians in Peter Pan could not be civilized, but that all the Lost Boys, except for Peter, decided they would “grow up” and become part of British society and leave their primitive ways behind in the end).

Whisking Haitian orphans away so wealthy Americans can raise them in the Never Never Land of endless play, pirates, and, like the original Peter Pan, with a strong dose of Colonizing desires is just not a game I can participate in.  But, as my girlfriend pointed out, there are all sorts of ways to support these children.   Personally for every time I engage in the fantasy of adopting a Haitian orphan, I’m going to donate $100 to the UN’s Central Emergency Relief Fund instead.


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  1. collapse expand

    I was also wondering about potential abuses as the cameras caught the Haitian children being unloaded in Pennsylvania. The first thing that came to mind was the potential for unethical people to race to adopt these traumatized children.

    Just as upsetting is the dismissal of any remaining relatives who may still be looking for them in Haiti. It’s still utter chaos there. Has there really been time to locate family members who may want to raise these children in their own country and community?

    • collapse expand

      The way I understood it (if you’re talking about the clip in which Ed Rendell brought back the kids) is that those were kids who had already been in the adoption system before the quake, either with adoptive families already established in the US or were “on the list”, and were just awaiting paperwork (probably from Dept of State) to clear. That’s not to say that there will be no abuse of that process at any point by anyone with ulterior motives, but those kids were already cleared for adoption in Haiti (whatever that process entails).

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  2. collapse expand

    Thank you, Laurie. Our monthly interfaith group discusses “sentimentality” tonight and your contribution is right on target.
    The US is the world’s most overpopulated country, actively impoverishing vast tracks of the Third World to supply itself with hamburger, patio furniture, palm oil for its deep fat fryers and rubber for its autos.
    Sustainability is a concept that addresses US economic, ecological and ethnic imperialism. I wish Marx had applied his theories to natural capital not to financial capital. We need to concentrate on the thing we truly hold in common, not our labor, but the Earth’s resources. Meanwhile, American business loves the prospect of more Americans and nowadays no one worries much about whether they’re queer or colored. Some sort of equality that is, the lumpenification of everyone.

  3. collapse expand

    I worry, too, when a child is found under the rubble and then handed off to the first person whose arms are held out for the child. In one video report the rescuer asked the man who says give her to me, what is this child’s name? The child was just pulled from the rubble, seemed in shock, and utterly silent. The man could not answer. But the rescuer gave him the child anyway. I’m still wondering about her, worrying about her.

  4. collapse expand

    I hope that you are kidding… Lets see if I have this straight, you would rather leave these kids in that nightmare of a country rather than lets them have a chance at a semi happy life here, really? Liberal Anglos never stop amazing me. Please put aside your post colonial guilt and understand how truly grateful any child would be not to have to grow up in that kind of horrible grinding povertyhttp://trueslant.com/assets/images/button-submitcomment.png.

    • collapse expand

      C’MON SON, your Colonized mind is in over drive. This nightmare is just over 2 weeks old. In light of the circumstances in Haiti, do you think 2 weeks is enough time for one to find missing children? If I were a Haitian mother, father, sister, brother, cousin, aunt, uncle etc. I would want more time to find my relatives and more efforts made to find me. Furthermore, your assumption that all of the children are from poor families is well at best ridiculous. Not all African Americans speak Ebonics and eat fried chicken and not Haitians are poor.

      Airlifting children found alone and stunned to American families whose proper French maybe rudimentary and whose knowledge of Creole non-existent is maybe the cruelest route to bestow on a child in exchange for “a better life.” How extensive have searches been for surviving relatives or even a home grown solution to the problem. Have any NGO’s been asked to assist in supporting these children find families in Haiti? Have systems been erected to help possible relatives in Haiti find these children in the future?

      Haiti has been raped continually of it resources and it is happening again. This time of its most valuable resource, its children and DNA.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  5. collapse expand

    Though some children will have been orphaned by the Haiti quake the ‘urge’ to adopt isn’t http://www.soschildrensvillages.org.uk/charity-news/notoadoptions

  6. collapse expand

    This hand-wringing, navel-gazing is insane. An adoption into a stable wealthy family of a child stuck in a Haitian orphanage can only be deemed a blessing. The true tragedy is the number of families who haven’t the heart or are just too selfish to consider it.

  7. collapse expand


    The Cuban children brought over in the 60’s were not brought over for adoption. I spoke with the Archdiocese of Miami two days ago because I am interested in possibly adopting. The kids are brought over here and placed in fostercare status while all efforts are made to locate family in either Haiti or even the despicable Land of the Free. Can you imagine they do this in the best interest of the kids with no intention of civilizing them??? Do you honestly think a country whose center of government has been destroyed can protect over 200,000 orphans??? DREAM ON!!! You are postulating that Hatian officials are either incorrupt or less corrupt than we are. You must be kidding. If their officials are so amazing then why is there so much corruption in their country? Maybe you need to research Stalin and some other GREAT LEADERS who understand that the way to keep people oppressed is to break their spirit and keep them in a perpetual state of need?? He purposely starved almost 10 million people to establish that the government was the supreme leader without question. These are the types of regimes you appear to support. Communist dictators who maintain their power by denying their citizens have their basic needs met.

    You really missed the point of PETER PAN which is not surprising given your cynical stance on DEMOCRACY. The Lost Boys liked Wendy’s stories and being tucked in at night. It caused them to realize that they preferred the love of a parent over what they had with Peter Pan,so they went back with Wendy not to be civilized but for parental love.

  8. collapse expand

    DON’T ADOPT FOR THE SAKE OF ADOPTING; if loving child you seek, then adopt; but just for the sake of having a souvenir from another country, please stay away.


  9. collapse expand

    As long as USAmericans (Canadians and Australians, too) are not willing to make orphans of our cars, our whole house a/c and heat, our spas, our meat consumption, then we should be reducing, not adding to our population. There were some 6.0 million children in the world needing adoption the day before the earthquake, many Africans who lost their parents to AIDS, and still 6.0 million needing adoption the day after. Where was the outpouring of sympathy the day before? Send money to foster care programs in their native countries. Or truly better yet, orphan your car that others may live decently.

  10. collapse expand

    Are you mentally ill? Or just trying to play politically correct to make yourself appear liberal??? You’ve got to be kidding….
    It seems like you’d rather play politically correct(and in the process bash compassionate Americans)
    I don’t think you have a pion of true compassion

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    I'm an academic who does not believe in abstract knowledge. Like Marx, I think the point isn't just to describe the world, but to change it. Unlike Marx I don't have Engels sending me my monthly rent. So I have a day job teaching sociology at Middlebury College. In my real life, I'm a fighter (taekwondo) and a writer

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