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Preface, Finding Fernanda

Preface, Finding Fernanda

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Published by Beacon Press
Read the Preface from Erin Siegal's "Finding Fernanda: Two Mothers, One Child, and a Cross-Border Search for Truth" (http://www.beacon.org/productdetails.cfm?PC=0185), the dramatic story of how an American housewife discovered that the Guatemalan child she was about to adopt had been stolen from her birth mother

Over the last decade, nearly 200,000 children have been adopted into the United States, 25,000 of whom came from Guatemala. Finding Fernanda, a dramatic true story paired with investigative reporting, tells the side-by-side tales of an American woman who adopted a two-year-old girl from Guatemala and the birth mother whose two children were stolen from her. Each woman gradually comes to realize her role in what was one of Guatemala's most profitable black-market industries: the buying and selling of children for international adoption. Finding Fernanda is an overdue, unprecedented look at adoption corruption-and a poignant, riveting human story about the power of hope, faith, and determination.
Read the Preface from Erin Siegal's "Finding Fernanda: Two Mothers, One Child, and a Cross-Border Search for Truth" (http://www.beacon.org/productdetails.cfm?PC=0185), the dramatic story of how an American housewife discovered that the Guatemalan child she was about to adopt had been stolen from her birth mother

Over the last decade, nearly 200,000 children have been adopted into the United States, 25,000 of whom came from Guatemala. Finding Fernanda, a dramatic true story paired with investigative reporting, tells the side-by-side tales of an American woman who adopted a two-year-old girl from Guatemala and the birth mother whose two children were stolen from her. Each woman gradually comes to realize her role in what was one of Guatemala's most profitable black-market industries: the buying and selling of children for international adoption. Finding Fernanda is an overdue, unprecedented look at adoption corruption-and a poignant, riveting human story about the power of hope, faith, and determination.

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Published by: Beacon Press on May 15, 2012
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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09/29/2013

 
viii
PREFACE
T
he first time I set foot in Guatemala was December 2007. My sister and I were visited the country as tourists, wandering to theusual places of interest: the teeming markets of Chichicastenango, Antiguas famous cathedral, the beautiful National Palace. At thetrip’s end, we waited for our flight home in Guatemala City’s gleam-ing, modern airport, surrounded by over a dozen American couples.Each pair was leaving the country with a Guatemalan child. As a photojournalist, I found the image arresting. Back in New  York, I began skimming through press clippings about adoption, try-ing to find a compelling story angle that would enable me to returnto Guatemala to photograph an adoption story. I imagined a human-interest piece touching on cultural blending, or the love and generos-ity that seemed intrinsic to adoption.Instead, the news articles I found were anything but uplifting.Many were downright shocking. In June 2000, nearly a decade ear-lier, the
 Miami Herald 
had reported that Guatemala was “the fourth-largest exporter of children in the world, a ranking sustained by oftenruthless means.” The piece noted, “Child robbery is extraordinarily commonplace here” and described the experience of a young, poorly educated woman from the countryside who had been tricked intogiving her baby up for adoption after a C-section. A year later, in2001, the
Los Angeles Times 
published a substantial feature by JuanitaDarling entitled “Little Bundles of Cash,” which said Guatemalanchildren “have become a major export. . . . There is growing evidencethat the profits and demand for babies have become high enoughto foster child-trafficking rings.” Darling mentioned that the ringsrelied on various kinds of intimidation and financial incentives toinduce impoverished women to give up their children. “Law enforce-ment officials believe that demand has become so intense,” she wrote,“that some traffickers are stealing babies from their mothers.”Certainly, I thought, trafficking and kidnapping problemsfrom almost a decade earlier would be cleaned up by now. But as I
 
ixPREFACE
continued reading press clips from 2006 and 2007, the same trans-gressions kept popping up. Babies were taken, by force or coercion.Birth mothers, largely disempowered, were tricked or paid.By 2007, the Associated Press was reporting that Americans were adopting around one in every 100 babies born in Guatemalaeach year. Other articles referred to Guatemala’s international adop-tion program as “unregulated, profit-driven, and much-criticized”(Cox News Service) and “believed to be rife with corruption” (
New York Times 
).Photographing a straightforward human-interest piece no lon-ger seemed appropriate. In fact, the issue felt better suited to detec-tive work than to visual storytelling. In spring 2008, I applied to theStabile Center for Investigative Reporting at Columbia University’sGraduate School of Journalism, pitching an examination of adop-tion fraud in Guatemala as a potential thesis topic. By August 2008,I was one of a dozen Stabile fellows receiving specialized training ininvestigative reporting. Some of the reporting contained in this book began at Columbia under the guidance of Stabile Center directorSheila Coronel and veteran investigative journalist Wayne Barrett, who was my advisor. At first, the project seemed to be a dry kindof historical documentation, tracking legislative evolution and lob-bying efforts. I wasn’t sure how my own reporting would effectively serve the public interest, since I couldn’t imagine anyone being inter-ested enough to actually read through such dense subject material. Iasked Wayne repeatedly if I should change subjects. He told me tokeep digging, and I did.On December 8, 2008, I found an e-mail that had been writtena month before by a woman named Betsy Emanuel. I’d been readingthe archives of a popular public e-mail Listserv, the Adoption Agency Review List (AARG), learning about how different American adop-tion agencies operated and how clients compared and contrastedthem. In her e-mail, Betsy offered stark advice to a list member whod asked how to choose an agency.“Ask strong questions about exactly who any agency is dealing with in-country,she instructed. “If you get ANY feeling that you areannoying the agency with these types of questions, then dig deeperand DO NOT ignore your feelings. These measures would havehelped me if I had known to do this.”

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