Transracial adoption has become a widely contested and debated subject. Everyone from politicians, to professors, to ordinary people have started to take interest in it. At UC Davis, English professor Mark Jerng, has written a book on the subject. He presented his book, Claiming Others, at the Bookstore Lounge in the Memorial Union last Wednesday.
The event was very low-key and involved Jerng talking about his book and his reasons for writing it. This was followed by a question and answer session. In his book, Jerng traces the practice of adoption from the early 19th century and reveals its importance to American thought, literature and law.
Jerng has been a part of the UC Davis faculty since 2006 and teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses. The subjects he focuses on are Asian diasporic literature, U.S. ethnic literatures, critical race studies, 19th and 20th century American literature, science fiction and human rights.
Claiming Others is Jerng’s first book. His inspiration from the book came from an unusual source. He first started thinking about the topic of transracial adoption when reading William Faulkner’s works, not from media coverage of celebrities such as Angelina Jolie or Madonna adopting children from foreign countries.
“There is obviously a lot of media coverage and a lot of heated debates on this topic,” Jerng said. “What really started me off was looking at the literature, and not just the early literature, but the memoirs that were being written by transracial and transnational adoptees. Their writing is really quite interesting-complicating a lot of these issues and wanting to get a full picture of how this idea of transracial adoption came about. It inspired me to write it and carry it through.”
In the book, Jerng’s purpose is to make the reader rethink the parent-child bond and to view it as central to issues about race and nationality. One of his goals is to mess with the usual timelines of transracial and transnational adoption and connect it with an emerging notion of American identity. The history of adoption has connections to the evolving concepts of national and racial identity. This was a challenge in writing the book.
“The challenge of this project was, to some extent, to organize this literary and cultural representations since they both did and also did not map onto the basic legal history of adoption in the United States,” he said.
He analyzed adoption through a wide array of texts including the 1851 Massachusetts statute and early adoption manuals and works of authors such as John Tanner, Faulkner, Charles Chesnutt, Chang-rae Lee and David Henry Hwang.
The social and imaginative practices of transracial adoption have helped shape major controversies throughout history. As Jerng emphasizes in his book, understanding adoption and all its implications is important to understanding the history of race relations in the United States and the meaning of emancipation and the role of family in nationhood.
When researching, Jerng stated that he enjoyed learning to think about transracial adoption in different ways. The issues and debates surrounding adoption apply to major current events and politics. This was one of the most interesting parts of the project for Jerng.
“As I was finishing the book I became involved with a lot more adoption organizations [that] are politically active and culturally active, and learning more about some of the policy debates from that perspective was really interesting,” Jerng said.
The preview Jerng gave in the bookstore last week was informative and gave insight into the background of the book. It is recommended for anyone who has an interest in transracial adoption and the many political, social and legal issues that come with it.
PAAYAL ZAVERI can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.