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What’s up with Vietnamese adoptees and fast food?: My Conversation With Dr. Indigo Willing

My chat with Indigo, who resides in Australia, is fairly long.  So, I’ll keep my comments to this. Thank you Indi for giving me the chance to drop this into Land of Gazillion Adoptees:


Land of Gazillion Adoptees: So, please elaborate on your memory of going to White Castle while visiting MN.  Honestly.  White Castle?!  That’s all you remember?!

Indigo: I traveled almost 24 hours on a plane to go to White Castle because I thought I could hang out with John Cho there.  Just kidding!  I find American food quite fascinating, but the visit there was one of those tourist extras you get when hanging out with hungry friends.  I was in town visiting some very nice Minneapolis/St. Paul Vietnamese adoptees, Tuan Schneider (of the Vietnamese Golf Association) and Brent Kurkoski (now living in Vietnam).  Tuan also took me to The Mall of America where there was a rather cute Snoopy exhibition, and Brent took me to an amazing art gallery that had Chuck Close and Andy Warhol paintings in it!  That kind of artwork only visits Australian shores once every 5 years, if that.  We also went to a sculpture garden that had a giant cherry.  I was hoping to run into Prince, but um, that didn’t happen.

Oh well, no Prince sightings aside, I loved the Twin Cities.  And it was so really amazing for me to see how richly diverse America is.  For example, all countries have issues of racism and cultural discrimination, but not necessarily any significant racial or cultural diversity to create some kind of society where people learn to live with their differences.  America has that racial and cultural diversity.  Everyone living there has an opportunity to get to know one another, exchange ideas, and that’s probably why some of the strongest and most visible adoptee activism comes out from the US.

More generally, it has been great to connect over the Internet with many Vietnamese adoptees from all over the world.  Throughout the past 11 years Adopted Vietnamese International (AVI) has been running, I’ve worked very hard and been very fortunate to travel to America a number of times, usually for research conferences and when I was an occasional visiting Rockefeller Fellow at UMASS, Boston in 2003/4.  During my travels there I always try to meet up with Vietnamese adoptees.  They are so life affirming, fun and absolutely define the ideals of ‘community’ by being there for each other since, as war-time adoptees, we also share some very poignant questions of heritage, identity and belonging.

Highlights include meeting many of the lovely members of the Vietnamese Adoptee Network (VAN) and Operation Reunite (OR).  I also met Linh Song of Mam Non and Caroline Nguyen Ticarro-Parker of the Catalyst Foundation, both Vietnamese Americans who also run groups and projects that are focused on Vietnamese adoptees.  And I must mention one very special highlight is the musician Jared Rehberg, one of your former interviewees, kindly once took me out to Burger King.

One of my biggest wishes is to get to travel to Europe to meet the Vietnamese adoptees living there.  They are a very important voice in the AVI membership, helping us all piece together our history in Vietnamese orphanages over the war period, and have some great individuals who fundraise for orphanages back in Vietnam.  The website designer of AVI, visual artist Jessica Emmett, is also from the UK.

There is also a lot of amazing adoptee scholars from the broader transnational adoption community in Europe, including the pioneering post-colonial writer Tobias Hübinette, who would be great to visit and find out more about their research findings and activism in the European context.  I would also love to revisit Vietnam again as many Vietnamese adoptees are now moving there to live and work.  And to Korea, where I would love to see the progressive human rights work of groups such as TRACK, which concentrate on adoptee and single parent rights.  Actually, I sense Vietnamese adoptees can learn so much from all the other transnational and transracial adoptee communities.  If only we could meet up more in person despite our geographical distance.  This is why the Internet is such a great platform for social change and connections and hopefully the digital divide between adoptees and birth parents and birth communities will quickly be bridged.  It really is the backbone of adoptee activism, research and community building.

Land of Gazillion Adoptees: There’s so much to digest in your response, but all I can focus on right now is that Jared Rehberg took you to a Burger King.  Burger King?!  Moving on…  You’re involved in a ton of stuff.  Would you mind talking about them?

Indigo: Professionally I am an academic at The University of Queensland, Australia.  My PhD was a sociological thesis exploring White adoptive parents with children from Asian countries and also Ethiopia.  My MA studied Vietnamese adoptees’ constructions of identity and global connections.  After graduating in 2010, I am now involved in some very interesting, much broader research projects, which focus on transnationalism and cosmopolitanism in a range of populations and cultural contexts.  I also teach sociology and qualitative research methods, and am always impressed with the students’ enthusiasm for new ideas and the belief that they can contribute so much positive change in the world.

But getting involved with volunteer work is equally important to me.  It means you get to completely tap into your optimism, the belief that just about anything is possible.  And while there’s usually little or no finances around, if you use your imagination and call upon friends kindness and enthusiasm for a common interest, you will always get to build and create something meaningful.  One of the best things in my life has been getting to work with the incredibly passionate and giving people you find in the transnational and transracial adoptee communities.  Some of the things I’m involved with and where I get to collaborate with such amazing adoptees include:

Adopted Vietnamese International (AVI)
Folks involved include the AVI Advisory Board, who include Bert Ballard (academic), Jessica Emmett (visual artists), Trista Goldberg (community worker), Tricia Housteon (teacher), Dominic Golding (theatre artist) and Natalie Cherot (not an adoptee but academic and journalist advisor) and a number of other Vietnamese adoptees from around the world.

Trancultural Adoptee Films (TAF)
I’m currently working with a fantastic adoptee organizing committee that includes HK adoptee Anna Davison and VN adoptees Jen Fitzpatrick and Dominic Golding to name just a few.  Filmmakers who’ve shown work at TAF events in the past include: kate hers (Germany), Kim Noonan (USA), Tobias Hübinette (Sweden) and Jane Jin Kaisen (Denmark) in the 2009 festival, and this year, we’ll show a film by Tammy Nguyen Lee (US) about VN adoptees.  We are also running video making workshops for people in the adoption community to get to tell their stories on the screen.

More general stuff I’m involved with:

Land of Gazillion Adoptees: Wow…  In many ways, you’ve made adoption your life’s work.  What drives you?

Indigo: You know, I do what I do in the hope that other nice adoptees will invite me over to White Castle in MN (I’m looking at you Kevin!).  Well, that and adoption really is just one of the many parts of my life that contributes to ‘who I am’, ‘where I come from’ and ‘where I’m coming from.’  There are definitely so many other things that interests me, where I devote my energies and contributes to how I identify, but adoption is nonetheless an important part.  It’s a social, cultural, emotional and political experience and way of connecting to significant and general others in the world.  There are so many layers of complexity and mystery about being adopted, yet you can also gain an astoundingly clear insight into what it’s to be human, to belong and to defy ‘traditional,’ but highly constructed and breakable stereotypical forms of identification.

Land of Gazillion Adoptees: Word…  Thanks, Indigo.  Members of the adoption community here in the US can learn a tremendous amount from you.  And to you, dear reader, if you want to find out more about what Indigo’s up to, check out her website.

2 Comments on What’s up with Vietnamese adoptees and fast food?: My Conversation With Dr. Indigo Willing

  1. Thanks for the interview Kevin!
    Adoptees are such great folks and amazing voices in academia, the arts and community work. It’s a real privilege to be featured here as a non-MN person. And what you’re doing, making everyone’s stories get out there, is amazing!

    btw for other folks reading this in the future:

    a) I only ordered fries at White Castle, but here the burgers are awesome no matter what you say and remember ^ ^
    b) I am not a stoner but they are such great material for funny comedies
    c) I really like John Cho, and the film Harold and Kumar has it’s merits, but it’s also grappling with homophobic jokes without being complex and reflexive about where it wants to go with that. I’d say inclusion works best when it’s across the board. To do that with comedy would be even better so I look forward to Asian American films doing that : )

    I think that, and a bit more interesting stuff is covered here

    Enjoying all your interviews on the blog, and happy reading!

    • Thanks for the follow-up thoughts, Indi, and I’ll take a look over the article you posted. Looks interesting! And thank you generally for all that you do! You’re a rock star!

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  1. Towards a world where marriage is available to all, and is seen as just one of many ways to live in love with others by Indigo Willing | Land of Gazillion Adoptees

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