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Jessaca B.


Adoptive Migration
raising latinos in spain

Duke University Press Durham and London 2013

∫ 2013 Duke University Press. All rights reserved. Printed in the United
States of America on acid-free paper $. Designed by Courtney Leigh Baker.
Typeset in Whitman by Keystone Typesetting, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Leinaweaver, Jessaca B.
Adoptive migration : raising Latinos in Spain / Jessaca B. Leinaweaver.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
isbn 978-0-8223-5492-5 (cloth : alk. paper)
isbn 978-0-8223-5507-6 (pbk. : alk. paper)
1. Intercountry adoption—Spain. 2. Intercountry adoption—Peru.
3. Spain—Emigration and immigration. 4. Peru—Emigration
and immigration. i. Title.
hv875.5.145 2013

Permissions/Subventions. Some of the material in this book was previously

published in another form. Portions of chapters 1 and 2 originally appeared in
‘‘Kinship Paths to and from the New Europe: A Unified Analysis of Peruvian
Adoption and Migration,’’ The Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthro-
pology 16 (2): 380–400, ∫ 2011 American Anthropological Association.
In memory of Jorge A. Hernández Seminario

Acknowledgments ix

comparing adoption and migration 1

one Waiting for a Baby

adopting the ideal immigrant 25

two The Best Interests of a Migrant’s Child

separating families or displacing children? 47

three Mixed Marriages

migrants and adoption 66

four Undomesticated Adoption

adopting the children of immigrants 84

five Solidarity
postadoptive overtures 102

six Becoming and Unbecoming Peruvian

culture, ethnicity, and race 122

what adoptive migration might mean 148

Notes 155 References 179 Index 193


In the six years that I have been planning, working on, and completing this
project, I have amassed countless debts. To those who supported (intellec-
tually, financially, and emotionally) and participated in this study, I am
sincerely grateful. Any strengths of this book can be traced back to those I
name here. Its errors and inadequacies are mine alone.
Research and writing take time and cost money, both of which are hard
to come by these days. I am fortunate that my research with Peruvians
in Spain was generously supported by the National Science Foundation
(nsf) (grant no. 1026143), the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropo-
logical Research, the Fulbright iie Program, the Social Sciences and Hu-
manities Research Council of Canada (sshrc) Standard Research Grant,
and the Howard Foundation. Special thanks to Deb Winslow at nsf, Mary
Beth Moss at Wenner-Gren, and Aitor Rubio and Patricia Zahniser at Ful-
bright in Spain for outstanding support. My earlier research in Peru,
2001–3, was funded by the National Science Foundation Dissertation
Improvement Grant, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological
Research, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, a Jacob K. Javits Fellow-
ship, and the University of Michigan.
Brown University has been enormously generous in supporting this
research through its Richard B. Salomon Faculty Research Award; Faculty
Research Fund for the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences; and the
Karen T. Romer Undergraduate Teaching and Research Award for Interna-
tional Summer Research Collaboration. Brown’s Population Studies and
Training Center (pstc) provided financial support in the form of Mellon
Anthropological Demography Funding. I also received support from
Brown’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (clacs). A
course release granted by Brown’s Pembroke Center during the year I was
Edwin and Shirley Seave Faculty Fellow in the seminar ‘‘Markets and
Bodies in Transnational Perspective’’ was deeply appreciated. Exchanges
with colleagues in that seminar, led by Kay Warren, were enormously
productive. The nsf advance Career Development Award ($15,000 to
support career development) that I received through Brown in 2010 was
also invaluable.
I can’t imagine a better environment in which to do this research and
writing than Brown University. I am especially grateful to those writing-
group friends who read and commented on these chapters and improved
them measurably: Paja Faudree, Rebecca Carter, Bianca Dahl, Becky
Schulthies, and Marcy Brink-Danan. My colleagues in the Anthropology
Department deserve so much appreciation for their friendship, support,
and collegiality: Adia Benton, Lina Fruzzetti, Matt Gutmann, Sherine
Hamdy, Marida Hollos, Steve Houston, David Kertzer, Cathy Lutz, Pat
Rubertone, Andrew Scherer, Bill Simmons, Dan Smith, and Kay Warren,
along with Keith Brown, Keisha-Khan Perry, Nick Townsend, Phil Leis,
Dwight Heath, and Doug Anderson. At the pstc, my thanks to Mike
White, Andy Foster, and Leah VanWey. At clacs, Rich Snyder and Jim
Green were very supportive. I’m also grateful to Kiri Miller, Vanessa Ryan,
Nancy Jacobs, and Carolyn Dean for so many non-book-related conversa-
tions that unbeknownst to them, sharpened the book anyway. The sta√ in
Anthropology, pstc, and clacs each made this project less onerous in
small and large ways: Kathy Grimaldi, Margie Sugrue, Matilde Andrade,
Priscilla Terry, Tom Alarie, Kelley Smith, Shauna Mecartea, Sue Silveira,
Susan Hirsch, and José Torrealba. Our librarians also do so much on a
shrinking budget, and I am particularly grateful to Patricia Figueroa, Car-
ina Cournoyer, Ron Fark, Ned Quist, and the Interlibrary Loan sta√.
Finally, I learn new things every day from my graduate and undergraduate
students, and among these I especially want to single out the graduate
research assistants Kristin Skrabut and Josh McLeod and the undergradu-
ate research assistants Alfredo Aguirre and Maia Chao for their truly
important contributions to this project.
I am particularly grateful to those who closely read the entire book, and
whose support has been absolutely invaluable: Nicole Berry and Joshua
Tucker. Nicole read everything piece by piece in its earliest stages and, not
for the first time, motivated me to write and helped me figure out what I
was actually saying. Joshua read the full manuscript with a sharp eye for
how things actually work in Peru and in Spain, and a gift for how to write a
sentence. Two anonymous reviewers improved the text significantly as
well and I thank them for the time and care they took with it. At Duke
University Press I would also like to thank Valerie Millholland for her

x acknowledgments
interest in this project early on and Susan Albury, Rebecca Fowler, and
Katie Courtland for their careful work on this book. It has been a true
pleasure to work with Gisela Fosado—mil gracias, chaque. The press is
lucky to have you.
I thank the audience members and discussants who o√ered many
thoughtful suggestions as I presented this work—particularly those in
Madrid at Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (csic), the
Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, and the Universidad Pon-
tificia Comillas. I spoke about this project at various stages with colleagues
working on adoption or Latin American studies and would especially like
to acknowledge the scholarly generosity of Erdmute Alber, Florence Babb,
Caroline Bledsoe, Caroline Brettell, Laura Briggs, Anne Cadoret, Andrew
Canessa, Jennifer Cole, Megan Crowley-Matoka, Heike Drotbohm, Gil-
lian Feeley-Harnik, Claudia Fonseca, Susan Frekko, Britt Halvorson, To-
bias Hecht, Marcia Inhorn, Eleana Kim, Esben Liefsen, Bruce Mannheim,
Susan McKinnon, Ruben Oliven, Karsten Paerregaard, Jennifer Reynolds,
Liz Roberts, Linda Seligmann, Sonja van Wichelen, Ceres Victora, Sylvia
Yanagisako, Kristin Yarris, and Barbara Yngvesson.
Colleagues in Spain were unfailingly welcoming and cordial, and sev-
eral took the time to meet with me and give me advice and further con-
tacts. I am particularly grateful to Ana Berástegui, Joaquin Eguren, An-
geles Escrivá, Blanca Gomez, Isabel Madruga, Diana Marre, Margarita del
Olmo, Diego Ramiro, and Beatriz San Román for discussing this work
with me on multiple occasions. Thanks also to Sileny Cabala, Julio Diaz,
Juan Diez Nicolás, Adela Franzé, Gonzalo Garland, Carlos Giménez, Félix
Jimenez, Livia Jimenez, Maribel Jociles, Asuncion Merino, Azucena Pal-
acios, Maria Sanchez, and Liliana Suarez.
Professionals working in adoption in Spain were very kind and forth-
coming, and I particularly wish to thank Lila Parrondo of Adoptantis,
Felipe Marín Navarro of the Reik Centro de Psicología Dinámica, David
Azcona and Laura Heckel of La Voz de los Adoptados, Dr. Jesús Garcia
Pérez of the Hospital de Niño Jesús, Antonio Ferrandis of the Instituto
Madrileño del Menor y la Familia, and Belén Cabello of Familias para la
Acogida. I also want to thank some associations that regularly host open
workshops about adoptions: Adoptantis, Hijos que Esperan, the Adop-
ciones, Familias y Infancia (afin) research group in Barcelona, and La
Voz de los Adoptados.
Peruvian migrant professionals involved in various aspects of the life of
this migrant community were generous with their time as well, and I

acknowledgments xi
would like to thank Ana Camargo, Sonia Castillo, Fernando Isasi Cayo,
Mariella Köhn, Manuel Pinto, and Yolanda Vaccaro. The associations Ari-
Perú and the Federación de Asociaciones de Peruanos en España (fedap)
also o√ered kind support. Finally, I want to thank those I spoke with who
were not directly associated with either world—Blanca Hernando, Jorge
Fernandez, and David Planell—for their time and contributions.
Most of all I am grateful to the adoptive and migrant families who
shared their stories with me and introduced me to their friends. Your
generosity is remarkable, and tremendously appreciated. There is a special
thank-you owed to my dear friends whom I followed from Peru to Spain—
and the Spanish friends who brought them there—for putting up with me
for so long. My parents and siblings have been unfailingly supportive and I
am forever grateful. And, always, all my love to Joshua and to Leo.

xii acknowledgments
comparing adoption and migration

‘‘Mami, do cars have souls? And what happens if I don’t wear a seatbelt in
the plane—if I fell, would I fall all the way down to the ground?’’ The year
2002 was drawing to a close, and I was sitting in the small airport in
Ayacucho, Peru, waiting for the arrival of the puddle jumper to Lima. The
source of these questions, and many more, was Rebeca, a second grader
whom I had met in the Ayacucho adoption o≈ce a couple of weeks earlier.
The target of the questions was Fernanda, a woman from northern Spain,
and Rebeca’s new mother. In between the questions, Fernanda’s patient
replies, and the photos that Rebeca directed us to pose for, Fernanda told
me that the pair would spend a few days in the capital city of Lima to
complete the adoption paperwork and obtain Rebeca’s Peruvian and Span-
ish passports.
Fernanda’s adoption of Rebeca was the second adoption to Spain I’d
witnessed that year. I was living in Ayacucho while doing an ethnographic
study of traditional child fostering and formal adoptions (Leinaweaver
2008b). The Ayacucho branch of the Peruvian government’s adoption
o≈ce had only overseen a dozen adoptions that year, and fewer than half
of them were international. Given those small numbers, two children
heading to Spain from Ayacucho was noteworthy.
Three months earlier, Zaida, a twenty six year old who was one of my
closest friends in Ayacucho, had left her extended family, her husband,
and her hometown behind and immigrated to Spain herself. She had
obtained her work contract, visa, and plane ticket with the support of a
Spanish woman who had befriended Zaida’s family over the course of
several years’ worth of volunteer trips to Ayacucho. Juxtapositions like the
nearly contemporaneous departures of Rebeca and Zaida to Spain were
what first clued me in to the way that adoption and migration form
mutually constitutive parts of one integrated system of global mobility. I
follow that juxtaposition of adoption and migration from Peru, where I
first noticed the significance of their pairing, to Spain, where young Peru-
vians like Rebeca and Zaida forge their new lives.

Comparing Adoption and Migration

International adoption is a form of migration. This argument has implica-
tions for how we understand both adoption and migration, although I
focus largely on the implications for adoption. Adoption and labor migra-
tion are rarely, if ever, analyzed in conjunction with one another. In many
respects they are seen as wholly di√erent from one another. They are
regulated by di√erent laws, overseen by di√erent administrative depart-
ments, and governed by di√erent regimes. Social workers and psycholo-
gists make adoptions happen, while consular o≈cials and border o≈cers
shape labor migrations. Furthermore, not only are labor migrants numer-
ically far superior to adoptees in every receiving nation but they also hail
from many more countries (Giménez Romero 2008, 109). Usually, adop-
tees enter a higher social class than do labor migrants, and they are also
usually younger upon arrival (although there are exceptions to both of
these tendencies). Perhaps most importantly, the children of labor mi-
grants are more often pitied or discriminated against by a dominant so-
ciety for which they can never quite assimilate enough. Meanwhile, young
adoptees are more likely to fascinate those around them due to their dif-
ferences. Typically, and ironically, adopted children are welcomed into
receiving countries—their immigration facilitated—while labor migrants
from the same nation are viewed with suspicion or worse.∞
Yet in other ways the processes are similar and linked. Both Rebeca and
Zaida would have to obtain passports and visas before they would be per-
mitted to enter Spain, for example. The paperwork behind their move-
ments reminds us that migration and adoption are transnational phenom-
ena where young people cross borders and, through powerful bureaucratic
processes, come to possess new civil statuses and new identities. More
significantly, the same forces that propel labor migrants to leave certain
nations deemed less developed, war torn, or disaster prone for new lands

2 introduction
of opportunity are also the forces that produce adoptable children. ‘‘Adopt-
able’’ is a euphemism describing children whose parents or extended fam-
ily members are unable to assume their care, often due to the same poverty,
war, or disaster that motivated the migration of their peers. As a result,
labor migration and adoption can occur simultaneously, often sharing the
same origins and destinations. For this reason, I sometimes refer to inter-
national adoption as ‘‘adoptive migration.’’ Adoptive migration highlights
the similarities between international adoption and other forms of border-
crossing, o√ering a starting point from which to talk about the similarities
—and di√erences—between adoptees and immigrants.
As an ethnographer, I am interested in these broader structural ques-
tions about the forces that shape and relocate populations, but I am also
interested in the intimate level of everyday experiences. Here too there
are both important di√erences and provocative similarities between the
experiences of labor migrants and their children and the experiences of
adoptive migrants. The similarities are apparent despite my best attempts
to follow scholarly convention, tease apart the two phenomena, and put
each tidily in its own chapter to begin my analysis. For example, in chapter
1 I describe adoption from Peru to Spain, highlighting the centrality of
waiting in the experience of adoptive parents like Fernanda, and the way
that parents and professionals articulate and contest a preference for
infants. In chapter 2 I take up migration from Peru to Spain, focusing on
the factors considered in making a decision about whether or not a young
person should migrate to Spain, and how to make sense of young people
once they arrive. Yet both chapters show parents waiting anxiously and
with waning patience for the arrival of their children to Spain. Both
chapters suggest that parents are concerned with what an ideal migrant
might be—adoptive parents seek infants who can adapt with ease, while
some migrant parents decide that only adults can bear the di≈culties of
migration and make the painful decision to leave their children in Peru. I
trace these and other unexpected overlaps, identifying certain themes that
floated to the surface of both immigrant and adoptee stories.
One such theme is the contested idea of rebirth. Years ago, before Zaida
immigrated to Spain, she told me that she thought going to Spain would
be like a rebirth, because everything she had lived through would be left
behind in Peru. Adoption too is depicted as a rebirth in the legal sense.
Prior kin ties and community memberships are formally erased and sub-
stituted with new ones (Berástegui, Gómez, and Adroher 2006, 20). Yet
the powerful image of rebirth can sometimes enable a child’s family and

Comparing Adoption and Migration 3

community to mute all traces of the preadoptive past, something viewed
by adoptive professionals as psychologically unhealthy and unhelpful.
The idea of rebirth is contested by members of adoptive families as well.
David Azcona, an adult adoptee and adoption activist in Spain, insisted to
me that Spain’s mistake when it comes to adoption is ‘‘to normalize it and
erase pieces of your life. . . . By contrast, in migration, an Ecuadorian
comes to Spain, he doesn’t stop talking about Ecuador and become com-
pletely Spanish. That’s not normal. He has a life before Spain.’’ Yet Car-
mela, an adoptive mother to three Peruvian children, told me on more
than one occasion that the problematic immigrants in Spain are those who
want to keep living as if they are in their birth countries. Describing a
neighbor of hers, an Ecuadorian woman who had married a Spanish man,
Carmela said that ‘‘it was very clear to [my neighbor] that she couldn’t keep
thinking of her country; she had to take on Spanish norms and customs.
You have to want to become part of the country, not stay on the margins.’’
Both labor migrants and adopted youths must tread a careful path between
maintaining their previous lifestyles and becoming ‘‘completely Spanish.’’
This path becomes even more complicated for those adopted as infants
and for children born in Spain to labor migrants—there is no previous
lifestyle to maintain, and yet both groups of youths are under considerable
pressure from parents and professionals to develop an a≈nity for a country
they may not know or remember.
Labor migrants and adoptees each represent ‘‘foreign bodies’’ in Spain,
and as such they raise a complicated set of questions. What is the best way
to integrate (or assimilate) a foreign body? Does it matter how that body
got to Spain, or who his or her parents are? To put a finer point on it: Does
it matter for a young adoptee that the woman who cleans her father’s
o≈ce after hours has come from the same country that she has? This book
is about the way that adoptive and other migrants and their families nego-
tiate what matters—the ordinary experiences and the poignant recollec-
tions, the exclusions and inclusions, the sense of belonging or not belong-
ing that permeates their daily lives.

Belonging to Family and Nation

‘‘In the airport he told me to look after my mother,’’ the son of a labor
migrant told a team of Peruvian social scientists who went on to title their
study after his quote (Ansion, Mujica, and Villacorta 2009). The airport
has a heightened importance in narratives of transnational mobility: in

4 introduction
Peru it is the site where children and other family members strain to catch
their last glimpse of a departing labor migrant, and in Spain it is a point of
national entry that stands for other kinds of entries into a new country,
family, and way of life. When labor migrants finally pull together the legal
and financial resources to bring their sons and daughters to Spain, these
unaccompanied children land at the Madrid-Barajas Airport in their Sun-
day best and with every hair perfectly in place, greeted e√usively by family
whom the confused children may not recognize. As the adoption psychol-
ogist Lila Parrondo recounted to me, children who migrate to join their
families ‘‘are just as much strangers [to their families] as is the adopted
child, and they, too, have to learn to adapt [acomodarse].’’ But the airport
holds the same mystery for adoptive families—I would later see Parrondo
lecturing an audience of adoptive parents that in adolescence their chil-
dren would begin to ask, ‘‘Who am I? Who do I belong to? Who are my
people?’’ She insisted that they would not always be ‘‘the kid who got o√
the plane at Barajas.’’
Studies of transnational lives must account for the ways and reasons
that people move, and also the complex and often poignant methods
through which they, along with those they are joining and those they have
left behind, make a home for themselves in a new and unfamiliar place.
How young people, in particular, accomplish this is a question yet to be
answered: the anthropologist Deborah Boehm and her colleagues have
argued that young people have been largely overlooked as important play-
ers in globalization and transnational processes (Boehm et al. 2011, 5). As
I began research in Spain, exploring what life is like for young people like
Rebeca and Zaida after arrival at the Madrid-Barajas Airport, I found that
one of the ways young adoptive and other migrants create new homes for
themselves is by deploying ideologies of national identity.
These ideologies are embodied as ‘‘national substance,’’ a notion I de-
velop in chapters 3 and 4. In those two chapters I take up unexpected jux-
tapositions—atypical sites where I found migration and adoption consid-
ered jointly, itself an unusual finding, if one accepts my contention that
adoption and migration are typically treated separately both in the litera-
ture and in real life. Chapter 3 considers mixed marriages—marriages
between a Spaniard and a Peruvian—and the ways in which the di√erent
possibilities for children in those unions (including step-children, biolog-
ical reproduction, and adoption) are inflected with understandings of
national substance. Chapter 4 examines an unusual but growing phenom-
enon, domestic adoptions of the children of immigrants, which I call

Comparing Adoption and Migration 5

‘‘undomesticated adoption.’’ I analyze such adoptions as sites where both
migrant misbehavior (ostensibly high fertility and irresponsible parent-
ing) and native shirking of responsibility (gendered criticism of abortion
rates) are tamed into submission. I argue that such substantialist notions
of identity turn out to infiltrate lives and policies even in a thoroughly
transnational, supposedly postnational world. As such, thinking about
adoption in the context of migration o√ers novel and significant insights
into the continuing centrality of the nation.
Yet it is also possible that I found national substance to be significant
precisely because I was studying adoption and migration with a specific
focus on Peruvians in Spain (rather than, for example, adopted children
and migrants from anywhere), a criticism I heard from a few astute col-
leagues in Spain, and one that has been eloquently described as ‘‘method-
ological nationalism’’ (Wimmer and Glick Schiller 2002, 302).≤ My chal-
lenge in problematizing nationalism has been that the national origin of
adopted children clearly matters a great deal to their families. It matters in
practical terms: each country has di√erent restrictions and requirements,
and adoptive parents must choose only one country from which to adopt
before proceeding with their application. Indeed, there is an emotional
premium placed on the selection of the country. The social worker Charo
González told prospective parents at an information session in Madrid in
2012 that the choice is ‘‘something very personal and intimate between
spouses.’’≥ In this sense national di√erences are what anthropologists refer
to as an emic distinction, a distinction made by research participants
themselves—it would be remiss of me to ignore them.
The importance of the nation may even increase after the adoption has
been concluded, as I discuss in chapters 5 and 6, because Spanish family
members learn to conceptualize themselves as tied in crucial ways to the
child’s country of origin. As a Catalan adoptive father put it to the anthro-
pologist Diana Marre, ‘‘When you go to a country . . . you are of the
country that your children are from. . . . Your children are from that
country, you have ties with . . . you have links to that country, little by little
you come to know the people, you get accustomed’’ (2004).∂ It is further
significant in the friendships the family develops; in Spain, as elsewhere,
adoptive family associations are organized largely by the child’s country of
origin (compare Howell 2002 for Norway). Chapter 5 considers these
ideas through the framework of solidarity as a window into ethical be-
havior in the postadoptive day-to-day, looking for moments or places
where adoptees and migrants actually meet, from employment to philan-

6 introduction
thropy to high school. Chapter 6 begins from the observation that both
migrant youths and adopted youths are told—on a daily basis, through a
dizzying array of actions and behaviors, comments and assumptions—
that they are inextricably associated with Peru. I follow this presumption
of connection to its logical conclusion, investigating both the ways in
which ‘‘Peruvianness’’ is highlighted in adopted and migrant children, and
the ways in which (and the reasons why) it is sometimes rejected.

The Big Picture

‘‘Nation’’ is a genealogical metaphor: like ‘‘nature,’’ the word comes from
the Latin ‘‘natio’’ or ‘‘birth’’ (Herzfeld 1997, 41). Naturalization occurs
when a migrant obtains citizenship of a new nation. Metaphorically, shar-
ing a nationality means belonging to the same family. Where dual nation-
ality is not permitted, one may only belong to one such family at a time.
This exclusivity of family is seen most literally in ‘‘plenary adoption,’’ a
legal term meaning that a child who is adopted loses all legal ties to his or
her birth family (e.g., cannot inherit), as those ties are replaced by a full
set of formal and legal ties to the adoptive family. Adoption in most
wealthy countries, following the Hague Adoption Convention of 1993, is
plenary. Sara Dorow has referred to plenary adoption as a ‘‘kind of ‘serial
monogamy’ of national/familial kinship’’ (2006, 209). As John Terrell and
Judith Schachter have argued, ‘‘a study of adoption can shed light on
definitions of and criteria for ‘citizenship’: What does it mean to belong to
a group or nation, and is this linked with ideas about what it means to be a
family?’’ (Terrell and Modell 1994, 159).
The idea of belonging is central to our understandings of adoption and
migration. Both phenomena ultimately demand an interrogation of what
it means to belong to a family, to a community, to one nation or another or
more than one, in a context where key symbolic markers such as pheno-
type or ideologies of blood ties work against e√orts to belong. Because of
these and other underlying similarities, the historian Karen Balcom has
suggested that it would be fruitful to analyze adoption as a form of migra-
tion (2010). But these two processes are largely kept separate within
scholarly work. Migration is often reported using a wide-angle lens, by
economists or sociologists seeking to understand the causes that drive
migration. Adoption is more often analyzed on a microscale, by psycholo-
gists or social workers who explore the e√ects of adoption on individual
psychological development or family relations.∑

Comparing Adoption and Migration 7

International adoption (also referred to as ‘‘transnational adoption’’ or
‘‘intercountry adoption’’) has become a centerpiece of recent writing,
mostly anthropological, that explores belonging through a focus on kin-
ship, reproduction, and childhood.∏ This work on international adoption
demonstrates how kinship is formed across national borders and between
(or excluding) people of widely discrepant means and stations, and reveals
persistent ties between nationalism, race, class, gender, kinship, and im-
perialism. The central comparative frame in most scholarly work on adop-
tion to date has been between adoptive and so-called natural families—
that is, families formed through biological reproduction. This framing has
led to the important finding that the ways in which internationally adop-
tive families are constructed can shed light on the ways that other forms of
kinship we imagine to be natural are constructed. This valuable contribu-
tion, however, precludes a close comparison of ways that internationally
adoptive families are like, and unlike, specific other kinds of families, such
as the migrant families I knew. We also need to examine similarities and
di√erences between adoptive and ‘‘other unnatural’’ families, families that
draw negative attention or public anxiety, such as migrants who are sepa-
rated from their children.
Books about adoption reside together in the library or bookstore, while
studies of transnational families are scattered across the stacks and shelves,
each catalogued according to the country under discussion. When brought
together, this literature reveals key themes in the field of kinship under
displacement. On one hand, the literature focuses on how kinship is sus-
tained despite distance, and on the other, it elucidates the obstacles to that
kinship, and the ways in which it is reconfigured.π These studies are col-
ored by a particularly poignant irony: the often painful separation that
children and parents endure is caused by a migration motivated by the
parents’ desire to improve the lives of the children, which rarely unfolds in
the way either parent or child had imagined.∫
These studies of transnational families are part of a larger literature on
the transnational connections between sending and receiving countries,
and between people, ideas, products, and other things that flow between
them.Ω The great value of this literature is its emphasis on the ties, rather
than the disjunctures, between people in sending countries and receiving
countries. Focusing on the ties lets us normalize, rather than pathologize,
migration and migrants by showing that labor migration is an understand-
able response to di≈cult situations. The downside of emphasizing ties to
home is that this focus can come at the expense of discovering how labor

8 introduction
migrants may be similar to, and develop a≈nities with, people and ideas
in the host nation—such as adoptive families. Both perspectives must be
held in play to fully capture the reality of contemporary migration.
Caroline Bledsoe and Papa Sow have noted, ‘‘In the eu, as in much of
the industrialized world, family life is quietly becoming the battleground
of immigration struggles’’ (2011b, 175). Their observation reveals how it is
paramount to bring together di√erent ways of considering family, migra-
tion, and the international order in the same framework. Yet work that
places immigration and adoption within the same analytical lens is still
rare, with a few notable and insightful exceptions (see Howell and Mel-
huus 2007; Hübinette and Tigervall 2009, 337; Marre 2009c, 240, Rastas
2009). The comparative literature scholar David L. Eng has labeled trans-
national adoption ‘‘one of the most privileged forms of diaspora and immi-
gration in the late twentieth century,’’ and in the same breath he questions
the adoptee’s immigration status when he suggests that the phenomenon
raises ‘‘an interlocking set of gender, racial, national, political, economic,
and cultural questions. Is the transnational adoptee an immigrant?’’ (2003,
1). Transnational adoptees are privileged immigrants, a contradiction in
terms that begs its own deconstruction, a nebulous status that can always
be questioned: They are immigrants. Are they immigrants?

Origin Stories
While the national origin of adopted children in Spain mattered greatly to
many who are involved in adoption, I confess that it mattered to me as
well. Many scholars who work on international adoption in a receiving
country do so from a perspective of interest in and long experience with
that country (see Howell 2006; Marre 2007; Yngvesson 2010). I made my
way to Spain on an alternate path—the path more often taken by anthro-
pologists who begin their careers in a sending nation and end up working
on communities of migrants from that nation. After many years of anthro-
pological fieldwork in Peru (2000–2007), I had developed a deep knowl-
edge of the way that Peruvian adoptions worked. I had a network of con-
tacts in Peruvian adoption o≈ces, children’s homes, and ngos upon whom
I would be able to call as questions arose. I also knew that people in Peru
were curious, even anxious, to know what was becoming of the children
who left Peru in international adoption. Ruth, the Ayacucho adoption
lawyer during my fieldwork there, had complained that one reason adop-
tions take so long is because some judges and attorneys are against adop-

Comparing Adoption and Migration 9

tion and think it is a method of organ tra≈cking. But, she hastily explained
to me, this is not possible because there are four years of postadoption bi-
annual reports, complete with photos of the children. Beyond these formal
reports sent to the government adoption o≈ce, the public knows only a few
anecdotal cases of adoptees who have returned to Peru to do philanthropic
work or meet members of their birth families (Leinaweaver 2011).∞≠
But I also wanted to find out how transnational migration had trans-
formed the lives of the Peruvians I knew best. Two months after Zaida
departed, her younger brother left too, having obtained a work contract
and visa with the help of his Spanish girlfriend, who had also spent many
summers volunteering in Ayacucho. In March of the next year, Zaida’s
husband Jorge left Ayacucho to join her at last, after a long and di≈cult
separation. During the following decade, a few more of their friends and
relatives followed. By the time I got to Spain I felt right at home there
among my Peruvian friends who welcomed me with plates of ceviche and
papa a la huancaína. They moved into a neighborhood populated largely by
immigrants and Roma, and when I stayed with them we would buy im-
ported Peruvian chilies at small corner shops near their apartment.
My friends had su√ered a terrible loss in the summer of 2006 when
Zaida’s husband Jorge was killed in Afghanistan; the vehicle he was travel-
ing in was hit by an improvised explosive device. He and Zaida’s brother
had both joined the Spanish military when they could not find other work
after migrating. As the first of Spain’s soldiers to be killed in Afghanistan,
his sacrifice was solemnly honored by Spanish dignitaries. As a Peruvian
migrant, his death was analyzed and criticized in both the Spanish and
Peruvian media for what it said about who was fighting this war. ‘‘Peru-
vian, Cannon Fodder,’’ read one memorable headline in a Peruvian news-
paper. In the damp Lima night, I went to Peru’s military airport in Callao
and waited there to meet the Spanish military plane bearing his co≈n, his
widow, and his friends. The next day I followed them northward to his
small hometown and accompanied his devastated family members as they
laid him to rest. I remember that Zaida couldn’t sleep, so as I lay next to
her on a crowded single bed in a crowded room at her in-laws’ small house,
she quietly and urgently recounted stories to me about him, about them,
and about migrant life in Spain.
Over the next year I began making plans to start a new project in Spain,
where I could learn what things were like for my friends as migrants in a
wholly di√erent context, and where I could begin to compare the experi-
ences of adoptees and migrants. Having observed the near-simultaneous

10 introduction
departures of Rebeca and Zaida for Spain, I had already begun to under-
stand the revelatory possibilities of juxtaposing adoption and migration. I
think their pairing promises enormous insight to migration scholars and
kinship scholars alike. As an anthropologist of kinship, and as someone
with several adopted family members and other more distant relatives
who placed children for adoption, I am keenly interested in what this
juxtaposition means for adoption. And as a result of my long-standing ties
to Peru, my account privileges the perspectives of Peruvians within Spain
rather than those of Spaniards.
Listening to both Peruvians and Spaniards, from the perspective of a
U.S. scholar who knows adoption most intimately in its Peruvian form,
meant that I could potentially hear features of Spanish adoption discourse
that might not have been as apparent to observers more permanently
based in Spain. One consequence of this is that my depiction of Spanish
society sometimes di√ers from that which Spanish scholars have pro-
duced, particularly in my analysis of racism and xenophobia there. Race is
directly relevant to the experiences I record in this book because the
implication of transnational adoption between the specific countries of
Peru and Spain is that such adoption is also transracial.∞∞ That is, native
Spanish citizens tend to view themselves as white and European (Marre
2009c, 233). Their children from Peru bear brown skin, dark hair and eyes,
and indigenous Andean or Amazonian features. Signe Howell has argued
in the Norwegian context that young persons of color were assumed to be
adoptees (and not discriminated against) until immigration began to in-
crease; consequently, adoptees were suddenly treated with racism. The
unremarked-upon implication here is that migrants are visibly di√erent
and are unsurprisingly treated in racist ways (Howell 2006, 128).∞≤

A Contingent Method
As an ethnographer seeking to compare two communities that, at least in
theory, are carefully separated, I contribute to the idea that they share key
characteristics through the very act of comparison. I am not and I was not
a neutral observer: I actively sought points of contact and felicitous coinci-
dences that, when taken together, show the complexity of both adoption
and migration as everyday lived experiences. I followed those chance
overlaps when I came across them, a strategy that ultimately produced a
book that, in essence, groups people who are not supposed to be seen
together. The juxtapositions that I encountered gave me a sense of the big

Comparing Adoption and Migration 11

picture: that although children, parents, professionals, and researchers
may consider adoption and migration to be two very separate phenomena,
there are many similarities at the level of everyday life.
It is, then, a contingent method: I am interested in how migration and
adoption have bearing on one another, rather than in what each one can
only tell me about itself. This is an unusual but not unique position, and I
found it notable that the two colleagues in Spain who most explicitly
explore the relationship between adoption and migration are both mi-
grants from Argentina.∞≥ One of them, Parrondo, the psychologist, directs
a support and counseling service for adoptive families that approaches
‘‘childhood from the point of view of adoption and migration, because they
are happening simultaneously in Spain,’’ even in the face of some adoptive
parents’ complaints about this juxtaposition. Meanwhile, the anthropolo-
gist Diana Marre was told in no uncertain terms by a teacher in Barcelona
that ‘‘we do not have immigrant children, we have children adopted inter-
nationally’’ (2009c, 228). My comparative stance would occasionally
bring forth exhortations from adoption professionals to be cautious in
approaching adoptive parents, because these professionals believed that
adoptive parents would be likely to resist the idea that migration and
adoption were similar (compare Dorow 2006, 210). In the end I found that
those people who were willing to speak to me were also open to consider-
ing the comparisons and more than ready to frankly resist anything they
did not agree with.
To figure out what bearing migration and adoption have on one an-
other, I conducted ethnographic research in Madrid for eight months
spread over four years (2009–12). Madrid is a key destination both for
Latin American migrants and for international adoptions. The director of
adoptions in Madrid told me that about 20 percent of Spain’s total adop-
tions come to the Community of Madrid. (The Community of Madrid is
one of the Spanish political divisions known as Autonomous Commu-
nities, and contains the city of Madrid and its environs.) I also draw on
research in Peru to complete my analysis, including both the investigation
that I conducted between 2000 and 2007 on adoption, and a recent visit
in 2012.
Over the course of this study, I spoke with a wide range of very dispa-
rate sources: Peruvian migrants and their families; Peruvian adoptees and
their families; Spanish and Peruvian professionals (such as psychologists,
pediatricians, and consular employees) who work with either community;
and Spanish researchers and professors investigating migration and adop-

12 introduction
tion. Some of these people I met through my earlier connections, asking
migrant friends to introduce me to members of their networks. I met
other migrants in the classic settings of migrant research—Peruvian res-
taurants and bars, national celebrations, and formal settings such as the
consulate. I contacted adoptive families with the assistance of adoption
professionals, researchers, and listservs. Research participants are re-
ferred to by pseudonyms, with the exception of those persons I inter-
viewed in their capacity as experts (for example, lawyers and psycholo-
gists). When I first introduce each research participant, I pause to explain
how I met him or her and to give some contextual background.
Given my focus on young people, I spoke with as many of them as I
could, but, understandably, their parents were protective, and several par-
ents preferred to speak to me alone and not involve their children. The
result is that while I report young people’s voices here, those voices are
sometimes heavily mediated. In addition, while I spoke with mothers and
fathers and sons and daughters alike, I should note that family making in
contemporary Western countries is gendered feminine (di Leonardo 1987)
and adoption is overwhelmingly the work of women (mothers as well as
professional social workers, psychologists, and lawyers), and accordingly, I
talked to more women than men. Finally, most of the migrants and adop-
tive families I spoke to were middle class, although, as might be expected,
they did tend to cluster at opposite ends of that category.
The anthropological tool kit I used for this study emphasized semistruc-
tured interviews, unlike my previous work, which drew more heavily upon
participant observation. This was largely a consideration of the issue I was
studying. From conversations with scholars, professionals, and reporters
interested in adoption, I quickly learned that many adoptive families in
Spain are tired of feeling like guinea pigs and being poked and prodded by
yet another questioning outsider. Participant observation involves spend-
ing significant amounts of time with research subjects as they carry out
their day-to-day activities, and setting up camp in the kitchens of adoptive
families or the classrooms of adopted youths would have been both im-
practical and unwelcome. Contained yet open-ended interviews, where I
spent two or three hours chatting with parents or families and followed up
in subsequent years for more of the same, were acceptable to family mem-
bers and yielded a great deal of fascinating material. (All translations from
these interviews, as well as from Spanish-language texts, are my own. I
follow a loose translation practice, prioritizing the flow and sentiment
over literal translations.) A broad cross section of people touched by adop-

Comparing Adoption and Migration 13

tion and migration—more than two dozen adoptive parents or families
and migrant parents or families—were ultimately willing to speak with
me, and from them I discovered that young people are of interest both for
what they tell us directly and for what others believe about them and do on
their behalf.
I supplemented the insights gained from interviews with sustained
observation of public events, such as informational meetings about inter-
national adoption and educational presentations to adoptive parents. I
collected and analyzed other publicly available materials as well: textual
and visual materials drawn from news media and advertisements; fic-
tional or pedagogical representations of adoption found in films, televi-
sion shows, and books; national legal documents and international con-
ventions regulating adoption and migration; and the records of an open
online adoption forum, where Spanish prospective adoptive parents and
those who have already adopted from Peru exchange information and
My own positionality as an ethnographer in Spain was di√erent than it
had been ten years earlier in Peru. This was a consequence both of my shift
in field sites and of changes in my own life. In Peru at the start of the
twenty-first century, I had been something of a curious anomaly, childless
and unmarried in my mid-twenties, an age when more than half of Peru-
vian women had already had children. Now married and in my thirties,
and on my most recent trips to Madrid accompanied by my infant son, I
was less likely to cause consternation among those I interviewed, not least
because the average age of first-time Spanish mothers is over thirty.∞∑
More interestingly for my research, bringing my son to Spain meant I was
promptly exposed to all kinds of madrileño (the name for a Madrid resi-
dent) and Peruvian ideas about babies and children with which I had
never had an immediate connection before. I heard several aphorisms that
were new to me. Numerous madrileños told me that babies are lovely
‘‘when they’re little,’’ implying that in just a few months they turn into
handfuls. Only one such commenter was silenced by her companion, who
solemnly insisted that ‘‘a house without children is like a garden without
flowers.’’ These attitudes about children reflect broader demographic and
social trends in the Spanish context.

14 introduction
Adoption and Migration in Spain
This juxtaposition of adoption and migration could be studied in many
places where the end points of transnational adoption and transnational
migration coincide, like Sweden, Norway, or the United States. Its alter—
the juxtaposition of absent children and absent migrants—could be stud-
ied in many places where the origin points of transnational adoption and
transnational migration coincide, such as Guatemala or Russia.∞∏ In this
book I compare adoption and migration through a focus on the relation-
ship of two countries: Spain and Peru.∞π Peru is the sending country in this
pairing, an appellation used both in migration research and adoption
practice: babies and children are sent from Peru to new families in other
countries, and men, women, and families travel from Peru to other coun-
tries in search of work, education, personal safety, or to reunite with other
family members.∞∫ Spain is the receiving country, where single people or
couples are transformed into family members via adoption, and where
migrants are incorporated and, in the optimistic discourse of the Spanish
state, ‘‘integrated’’ into new jobs and new communities.
In the past fifteen years more than forty thousand children from more
than thirty-five countries have been adopted by Spanish parents and moved
to Spain.∞Ω In the grand scheme of things, these numbers are not vast—the
numbers of international adoptions do not even equate to one percent of
annual births in Spain. But at the same time, there was a period of great
change in these small numbers. I discuss some of the idiosyncrasies of
Spanish international adoption practices, and the specifics of adoptions
from Peru, in chapter 1. Here I note only the sense of great and rapid
change in the international adoption scene. The demographer Peter Sel-
man (2010) documents that between 1998 and 2004 global numbers of
international adoptions rose by 42 percent and in Spain they rose by a full
273 percent. And the numbers do not fully account for the image and
importance that international adoption has had in Spain. As Laura Briggs
writes, ‘‘adoption, while a practice that a√ects a small and shrinking num-
ber of people, has been important to national and international politics out
of all proportion to its numerical significance’’ (2012, 5).
The numerical significance of international migration, on the other
hand, is unquestioned. The migrant population was recently estimated at
over six million (14.1 percent of Spain’s total population) (oecd 2010). At
the close of 2011, almost 20 percent of the Community of Madrid’s popu-
lation was made up of immigrants. Of those foreigners currently residing

Comparing Adoption and Migration 15

in Madrid, 40 percent are from the Americas, and the top five nationali-
ties are Romanian, Ecuadorian, Moroccan, Colombian, and Peruvian.≤≠ I
will further discuss the specifics of Peruvian migration, and key themes
raised by migrant youths and families, in chapter 2. These numbers have
begun to decline in the past two years, undoubtedly slowed greatly by the
economic crisis but also a√ected by Spanish naturalization policies that
ease migrants out of the category of ‘‘foreigner.’’≤∞
Migrants’ presence is also perceived by most as a recent and sudden
phenomenon. One adoptive family, Diego and Gabriela and their children,
agreed to talk with me after an adoption professional they had worked with
contacted them about my study. They were incredibly gracious, receiving
me cordially in their inviting garden, which was lined with fruit trees and
situated in front of their small white bungalow on the outskirts of Madrid.
Gabriela brought out a generous and multicultural homemade feast in-
cluding Spanish tortillas and Peruvian chicha morada. As I leafed through a
photo album with them, looking at a picture of the school graduation of
one of their children, I remarked, ‘‘Looking at these photos, I don’t see
many Peruvians.’’ Diego explained, ‘‘At first there weren’t many. Ten years
ago in Spain . . .’’ His son cut in, ‘‘In our school there were almost no
immigrants.’’ Diego continued, ‘‘The same is true for our neighborhood.
Our kids were the first ones who went to that school. . . . Spain has changed
a lot. Four million arrived, out of the blue.’’ The language that scholars use
to describe the rise of international adoption in Spain also evokes the
surprise and suddenness with which it seemed to appear out of nowhere;
for example, irrumpir (bursting onto the scene) is often used (Múgica
Flores 2008, 91). Workplaces, schools, streets, public transport, marriages,
and families are all more diverse than they were thirty years ago (Giménez
Romero 2008, 108).
As one social worker told me, Spain was a third-world country sixty
years ago—to illustrate this he exclaimed, ‘‘unicef came here!’’ But over
the past two decades, Spain went from being a poor country of out-migration
to a top European destination for migrants from South America, North
Africa, and Eastern Europe. At the turn of the twenty-first century in
Spain, immigration was ‘‘on the minds and tongues of scholars, policy
makers, politicians, the media, and everyday citizens’’ (Ríos-Rojas 2011,
70). This sudden transformation significantly a√ects the way that labor
migrants, and the adopted youths who resemble them, are incorporated
and come to belong or to be excluded. Over and over, Spanish people
remarked to me some variation of the sentiment ‘‘ten years ago there were

16 introduction
no immigrants in Spain, and look how things have changed.’’ This was said
ruefully, as a precursor to critiques of a Spanish racism that only became
apparent when immigrants arrived to provoke it. As one woman wrote
after being robbed by the so-called banda de los peruanos (Peruvian gang),
‘‘Are we racist or are they making us racist?’’≤≤ Diego, the adoptive father,
qualified this generalized sentiment: ‘‘There are people who say we are
racists. Spaniards have never been racists. It’s just that it is a big change in a
short time.’’
Large numbers of international migrants and symbolically meaningful
numbers of international adoptees do not arrive to a blank slate. Spain is
an aging, low-fertility society, and these demographic features a√ect the
way adoptees and migrants are brought into the national body. For exam-
ple, labor migrants do many kinds of work, but perhaps one of their most
appreciated roles is as caregiver for senior citizens and disabled persons.
They also care for children, although there are fewer and fewer children
for them to care for, given that Spain’s fertility rate is well below replace-
ment level (Population Reference Bureau 2012). I heard many explana-
tions for this low fertility rate. Perhaps it is just too expensive to raise
children to fulfill their class position in a Spain that is falling apart eco-
nomically and politically. Or perhaps children cut too sharply into the
famous Spanish nightlife. Or maybe it is that there are not enough ex-
tended family members around and available to shoulder some of the
caretaking. Violeta, a twenty-one-year-old Peruvian migrant, told me that
after four years in Spain she had observed that ‘‘Spanish people have kids
after age thirty,’’ which seemed delayed to her and which she ascribed to
the weight of their mortgages and their desire to travel and enjoy life.
While Spaniards may delay childbearing, there are many cultural pres-
sures to have children, as suggested by a saying I heard that one must do
three things in life: write a book, plant a tree, and have a child. And
eventually some of those who do want to have children turn to adoption—
until very recently, strongly preferring international adoption—to make
their desire a reality.
While Spanish parents adopt from many di√erent countries, and immi-
grants bring their children to Spain from many di√erent countries, I
found that there is something particularly meaningful about raising Lati-
nos in Spain. (The term Latino refers to people of Latin American origin
who reside in the United States, but it is also used widely in Spain by
migrant youth and others as well.)≤≥ First, Latin American migrants in
Spain are always at least tacitly figured as ‘‘good migrants’’ in comparison

Comparing Adoption and Migration 17

to Islamic North Africans (Rogozen-Soltar 2012). Despite a long history of
relations and mixing, Spain is often defined in the popular imaginary as
that which is not Arabic, from the central historical moment of the Recon-
quista to the resistance to present-day North African migration. So Latin
Americans are often contrasted to Arabs when Spaniards are talking about
the probability of migrant ‘‘integration.’’ Diego had told me that the best
evidence for how well integrated Latinos are is that perhaps one-third of
Spain’s forces in Afghanistan are Latino immigrants.≤∂ By contrast, Spain
is viewed as the mother country to Latin American nations, and the sim-
ilarity that springs from that is felt to be important.
Latin Americans are generally thought to hold great symbolic and ma-
terial importance in Spain because of long-standing, deeply rooted ties to
the Americas lasting five hundred years or more. Of course, the actual
variety of relationships between Spaniards and Latin Americans is much
more complicated than such a quickly sketched history might suggest, but
the past of conquest and colonialism is nonetheless mentioned with sur-
prising frequency given how long ago it occurred. One young man I knew
in Peru, who later migrated to Spain, told me in 2001 that he hated
Spaniards because of what they did to his Peru. And Diego recounted for
me the moment he met Consuelo, one of his daughters, in Peru: ‘‘I think
the kids in the institution had actually never seen anyone with a beard. . . .
It was like the Indians, when the Spaniards came to the Americas, they
had beards. I arrived and she was frightened; she didn’t want to approach
me.’’ So he shaved o√ his beard, and as I turned the pages of their photo-
graph album, the final picture showed him smiling and clean-shaven.
Other scholars have noted that numerous Peruvians associate Spain with
‘‘the conquistadors, arrogant and racist’’ and believe that ‘‘the Spanish are
better o√ than the Peruvians today because they robbed them’’ (Tornos
and Aparicio 1997, 14, 72). Together these instances gesture to a shared,
violent history. The repercussions of the Spanish invasion of Latin Amer-
ica five hundred years ago continue to echo, if softly, as Peruvians consider
migrating to Spain and try to make sense of how they are received there.
Spain and Peru have a postcolonial relationship, although not one that
is usually described in such terms, as the colonial period is so distant in
time. The legacy of colonialism colors Spanish migration policy: legal
residents who wish to obtain citizenship may do so more quickly if they
come from Latin American countries—in two years rather than five years
for refugees or ten years for citizens of other countries. In addition, certain
key former colonial subjects—Peruvians and Moroccans among them—

18 introduction
have been privileged in recent years to be able to migrate with a work con-
tract alone, as opposed to first requiring further paperwork that demon-
strates that potential Spanish workers were not available. People I spoke
with in Spain ascribed these policies to ‘‘colonial guilt,’’ glossed originally
in the law as ‘‘cultural a≈nity’’ (Vives-Gonzalez 2011). Indeed, European
countries have a very di√erent tradition than does the United States when
it comes to incorporating migrants as citizens, due to their ‘‘strong histor-
ical links between imagined cultural community and political belonging’’
(Castles and Davidson 2000, 100).≤∑ For Spaniards, Latin Americans can
variously represent undeveloped, needy people to whom they send hu-
manitarian aid (Sinervo and Hill 2011); ‘‘good migrants,’’ in contrast with
North Africans, courteous and kind and ready to assimilate (Rogozen-
Soltar 2007); migrants who are backward and slow (one friend got called
‘‘Indian’’ by a Spaniard whose meal she was serving); or, worst of all,
delinquents, associated with bandas latinas (Latin gangs).
‘‘Latin gangs’’ is the public’s term for gangs made up of youths of Latin
American origin, like the Latin Kings and Ñetas. Both groups originated
among Latinos in the United States, and their arrival in Spain is a fully
transnational a√air: migrant youths from Latin American nations first
brought them back to their countries of origin, where they grew and
thrived, and some members of those Latin American versions of the gangs
then immigrated to Spain (see Aparicio, Tornos, and Cabala 2009, 84;
García España 2001; López Corral 2008). One social worker I spoke with
made an unconventional suggestion that rang true to me. He felt that the
idea of Latin gangs is almost entirely a moral panic, an invented crisis. He
saw them as simply a way for young people of migrant origin to hang out—
and they are a convenient trope in the conservative media where stories of
migration are all too frequently paired with stories of delinquency.≤∏
The gangs are also a figure against which young migrants can narrate
broader experiences of marginalization and exclusion.≤π For example,
Jaime, a young Peruvian migrant I spoke to alongside his mother and aunt,
argued that Latin gangs formed in response to racism. (I later asked him
where he thought racism came from. ‘‘Good question. . . . I think Ger-
many.’’) He recounted an origin story, possibly apocryphal, about how four
neo-Nazis went to the Barajas airport in Madrid and beat up a recent
arrival from Ecuador, who—angrily and understandably—formed a group
to defend himself, which became the Latin Kings. Jaime thought that the
Latin Kings ‘‘are made up of kids whose parents brought them here as
teens, they came already rebellious, didn’t want to do anything, and joined

Comparing Adoption and Migration 19

gangs. And they start killing people, which obviously isn’t appreciated and
so the Nazi groups come in the nights to beat up dark-skinned people.’’ In
other words, for Jaime, Latin gangs were originally formed in response to
racism, but anti-Latino racism is also ‘‘motivated by Latin gangs.’’ I discuss
the significance of Latin gangs in more detail in chapter 5.
Jaime’s words about racism are particularly interesting given another
important feature of the Spanish context: despite all the evidence and
everyday experience to the contrary (see Barbadillo 1997; Cabral and
Faxas 2004; Calavita 2003; Salvatierra 2001; Suárez-Navaz, Maciá, and
Moreno 2007), the dominant discourse emphatically states that Spain is
not a racist nation. Diego’s words kept echoing in my mind: ‘‘Spaniards
have never been racists.’’ I suggest that—as, famously, is the case for
Brazil—when Spaniards repeatedly insist that they are not racist, they are
actually displaying a hyperconsciousness of race (Costa Vargas 2004).
I introduce here my first scholar-as-informant, on the assumption that
we must ‘‘observe both the social scientists observing the social world as
well as the e√ects that this has on this world’’ (Wimmer and Glick Schiller
2002, 302). The migration expert Juan Diez Nicolás, cordially receiving
me in his shady suburban backyard, expressed the same conclusion Diego
had come to in a backhanded fashion and that I would eventually find to
be typical of Spanish discourse on the subject. Diez Nicolás remarked that
Spain is ‘‘less racist than most European countries.’’ He based this not-
entirely-ringing endorsement on data collected by the World Values Sur-
vey. For a survey question about what kind of person the respondent
would least want to have as a neighbor, he explained, Roma are usually
highest ranked in Spain, far above immigrants or people of other races.≤∫
Not incidentally, the belief that Spain is not racist fits perfectly with
adoptive kinship ideology: that racial di√erences should be meaningless,
and that transracial, international adoption is therefore an ‘‘unproblem-
atic child welfare practice’’ (Hübinette and Tigervall 2009, 336).
Because of this dominant discourse, the Spanish people I spoke to who
said that they had observed racism would always preface it by saying,
‘‘Supposedly Spain isn’t racist, but . . .’’ Esteban Beltrán, the director of
Amnesty International in Spain, noted that racism is ‘‘o≈cially invisible’’
because in Spain, unlike in most European countries, racist acts are not
formally documented and catalogued.≤Ω But migrants do experience rac-
ism: being asked for id by white police o≈cers at metro stations in Latino
neighborhoods and being glared at by older white women on subways are
the ‘‘everyday social circumstances that the bandas mean to respond to,

20 introduction
fighting the humiliation of being Latino’’ (Aparicio, Tornos, and Cabala et
al. 2009, 92). The Spanish pediatrician Jesús Garcia Perez, whose clinic
specializes in the care of internationally adopted children (a population
more prone to tropical diseases, malnutrition, or interrupted vaccine sched-
ules), provocatively characterized gangs as antibodies when we spoke. He
suggested that migrants are not incorporated into a Spanish society that
overtly praises diversity but does not successfully promote diverse social
interaction. And despite its o≈cial nonexistence, many adoptive parents
do see Spain as racist—for instance, when their children are told by class-
mates to ‘‘go back to your country, negro.’’≥≠ Furthermore, xenophobic
political parties have made gains in recent years, as they have elsewhere in
Europe. Carlos Giménez Romero (2008, 112) argues that most Spaniards
have contradictory views about migration—empathizing and recalling
Spain’s history of out-migration (Suarez-Navaz 2005; compare Cole 1997),
but resenting cultural relativism or the possibility of Spain being trans-
formed. I met one migrant mother and her Spanish-born son who partici-
pated in a commission on migration that formed part of the protests of
indignados (indignant ones) that began on May 15, 2011, in Madrid’s heart,
the Puerta del Sol. (Several months later the same anger and frustration
would erupt on U.S. soil as Occupy Wall Street.) The son described their
actions as part of a migrant civil rights movement: ‘‘We wrote a mani-
festo—how we are against human rights abuses, like when they round
people up in the metro, and we are against the new immigration law, and
we want the immigrant detention centers closed. Social and legal equality
for everyone.’’
Transnational adoption from Peru to Spain is usually also transracial
adoption. Outsiders and family members alike identified adopted chil-
dren’s phenotypes as di√erent from their parents’—what one interviewee
called ‘‘the elephant in the room.’’ Race in Spain is heavily predicated on
visible di√erence and on other cues such as place of origin and language
abilities. Adopted children and migrant youths may di√er in their citizen-
ship but they may share a racial ascription, something that causes anxiety
among many associated with adoption. Identifying with one’s roots is one
thing (as I argue in chapter 6), but identifying with one’s fellow Peruvian-
origin migrants may be seen as a step down (as I argue in chapter 5). This
has implications both for labor migrants and their families, whose lives
are limited by connections between race and class, and for adoptive mi-
grants, whose parents must navigate those connections and attempt to
tease them apart on their children’s behalf. For adoptive parents, these

Comparing Adoption and Migration 21

encounters and overlaps may lead to ‘‘an extended conversation about the
social meaning of race’’ among racially unmarked, socially powerful peo-
ple who do not normally engage in the specifics of disenfranchisement
(Dubinsky 2010, 63).
One friend, an Afro-Peruvian musician who has lived in Spain for many
years and who volunteers in youth prisons with immigrants, remarked
that Spain is like a stir-fry (which is referred to as a wok in Spanish). Such a
meal is full of so many di√erent things from all over the place, and you
begin to eat it, and halfway through your meal it starts to feel heavy in your
stomach and you wonder how you will ever digest it. In other words:
diversity is a wok that Spain can’t digest. This characterization, while apt,
downplays two important points. First, Spain is and was already (before
the immigrants arrived) a diverse nation culturally, racially, and linguisti-
cally (Giménez 2008, 108). Language di√erences have long been crucially
important in Spain, a fact that my research setting of Madrid, the national
capital, may obscure. Adoptive and labor migrants who land in the Basque
Country or Catalonia face a very di√erent linguistic and cultural context.
Second, the Spanish government and the European Union more generally
are strongly committed to ideologies of integration and of interculturalidad
(interculturality), despite the apparent di≈culty of digestion. One young
migrant I interviewed, Esteban, told me that he had received instruction
on how to think of himself from a teacher steeped in the discourse of
interculturality: ‘‘Uno no es de donde nace sino de donde pase’’ (You’re
not from where you are born, but rather from where you live). But as
Susana, a Peruvian migrant and psychologist, told me, many Spaniards are
against the ideal of interculturality because of Spain’s ‘‘internal conflict’’:
linguistic and cultural tensions, political separation movements, and the
attendant challenges of negotiating powerful regional governments and
the imperatives of national unity. And to me the emphasis on integration
suggested that the burden is on the migrant to acculturate, not on the
Spaniard to learn to understand and value di√erence.

it is not insignificant that the research for this book was done
during a global economic crisis. The good life prior to the global crash led
to a construction boom in Spain and a great need for labor. That boom was
recent compared to other European locations because of the long dictator-
ship that Spain endured under Francisco Franco (1936–75), under which
urbanization and industrialization both proceeded at a much slower pace
than in the remainder of Europe. Migration policy, while controlled as

22 introduction
necessary in the view of fellow European nations, was nonetheless rela-
tively permissive during the 1990s and early 2000s, and periodic amnes-
ties allowed those who were in Spain without documents to begin on a
path to citizenship. Because Spain has a social safety net that the United
States lacks, even undocumented migrants have access to health care and
But as the bottom fell out from the global markets and Spain’s con-
struction sector was particularly hard hit, it became more di≈cult—and
less desirable—for immigrants to come to Spain. The relatives of migrants
already in Spain continue to arrive, but it is now nearly impossible to
obtain a work contract and migrate as a laborer. In 2011 migrants’ unem-
ployment rate reached 39.1 percent, more than twice as high as the 18.4
percent rate corresponding to native-born Spaniards (Colectivo Ioé 2012:
8). Meanwhile, as one Limeño taxi driver told me, unprompted, in 2012,
he hoped Peru’s economy continues to grow so that Peruvians will no
longer have to emigrate to make a living, as he had seen news reports of
Latinos being treated poorly in Spain. In fact, the number of migrants
leaving Peru began to fall in 2008 after a decade of increase (Cooperación
Interinstitucional inei-digemin-oim 2010). Many migrants are also re-
turning to Peru—including three of the friends I first met in Peru and later
encountered in Spain.≥∞ During the Peruvian elections in 2011, the candi-
date Keiko Fujimori’s radio ad played up this possibility while exhorting
listeners to ‘‘vote for the country that saw your birth. If I am elected and
you decide to return you’ll come back to the Peru that you long for, with
more security and more opportunities.’’ Native Spaniards are departing
the country as well, in such vast quantities that they now outnumber
immigrants to Spain, and some of them are even moving to Peru.≥≤ It is
amid this context of growing insecurity and economic anxiety that I con-
ducted the research for this book.
It is a context that a√ects international adoption as well. One reason
adoptions are stalling in Spain is because of the economic crisis, as Car-
mela, an adoptive mother, told me during our most recent conversation.
People don’t have stable jobs, so they are not approved to adopt. The ngos
that assist Spaniards with the process are closing their doors because of fi-
nancial problems. But she added a few other reasons: the children of the
adoption ‘‘boom’’ have begun to grow up and have di√erent kinds of prob-
lems, so adoption no longer seems like such a good idea. Another contribu-
tor to the decline, she thought, was the decrease in adoptable children with-
out special needs in sending countries (Selman 2009, 589). Every year, from

Comparing Adoption and Migration 23

the beginnings of international adoption at midcentury to their 2004 peak,
both applicants and actual international adoptions grew steadily.≥≥ Since
2004, adoption numbers have fallen substantially, a decline not matched by
numbers of applicants (Selman 2009, 575; see also Selman 2010).
So this book depicts a brief moment in time—a moment when both in-
ternational labor migration and international adoption (to Spain, but also
overall), after swelling tremendously, have crested. It is not necessarily
the beginning of the end of either phenomenon, but it quite possibly
marks a crucial shift in direction for both. The case studies that appear in
this book invite reflection on larger demographic processes, such as in-
creasing immigration, low fertility, and aging European societies. They
also provide insight into larger political processes, such as the rise of anti-
immigrant parties currently transforming even those countries that had
historically welcomed foreign workers. Adoption o√ers an intriguing
model of how ‘‘foreign bodies’’ may be integrated, yet the process of adop-
tion and growing up racially di√erent from one’s own kin—when one of
the many things kinship is thought to mean is the inheritance of racial and
ethnic identity—is a complicated path. The following chapters trace my
own approach to adoption and migration in the way that I inductively ar-
rived at them: from a consideration of each separately to an exploration of
their surprising connections, and finally to how those connections can
reveal the ways that adoption and migration are meaningfully contingent,
and the ideas and ideologies that a unified analysis of migration and
adoption can help to explain.

24 introduction