- Claiming Others: Transracial adoption and national belonging by Mark C. Jerng
Mark C. Jerng's book is an important and eloquently written literary and cultural study of US transracial adoption and national belonging that spans the early nineteenth century through the present. Situated at the forefront of adoption studies, an expansive literature that engages scholars across fields, Claiming Others already demonstrates influence within Jerng's home discipline,1 and reminiscent of the impressive breadth of Jane Jeong Trenka et al.'s pioneering edited collection,2 the author provides an integrated narrative that engages both domestic and international adoption, takes seriously the perspectives of adopted persons, and whose multidisciplinary span of sources and methodologies engages the complexities of transracial adoption on a multitude of levels. Claiming Others tackles both the metaphoric-symbolic and institutional-structural practices and representations of US transracial adoption, whereas, Jerng argues, "the interlocking rules and norms of kinship/citizenship/race manage political membership, belonging, and the status of persons" (xi). As argued by Jerng, transracial adoption both appeals to and challenges these normative interpretations, at once legitimizing, contesting and redefining the holds of independent parent-child bonds, the bond of the nation to these kinship formations and the ensuing productions of racialized citizen-subjects.
Demonstrating impressive multidisciplinary research, Jerng integrates judicious readings of American literature with compelling analysis of important historical and contemporary texts. Critical readings of such influential authors as Lydia Maria Child, William Faulkner and Chang-rae Lee, alongside the author's historical specificity and other textual analyses, allows Claiming Others to illuminate the direct relationship among adoption literature, law and policy, and to assuredly debunk a more narrow assessment, that representations of adoption in American literature reveal inherently positivist qualities regarding American liberalism in US history. Instead, Jerng's carefully selected texts and periodization place American empire and colonial history at the center of his analysis, allowing him to connect early national anxieties about Native American removal and African American emancipation, with more contemporary anxieties concerning transnational transracial Asian American adoptees and global human rights. In particular, it is Jerng's sophisticated theoretical framing, through the lens of intergenerational personhood, that allows Claiming Others to span time and space, and productively elide false binary conventions that oftentimes place antebellum and twentieth-century history, domestic and transnational adoption, into different intellectual conversations.
As Jerng historicizes, the 1851 Massachusetts statute legally removed consanguinity as essential to the formation of American families, thereby legally displacing the centrality of birth to American notions of self-identity and individuation. However, as Jerng explicates, "Persons adopted within this modern conception challenge fundamental expectations and assumptions about personhood because they highlight the ways that birth situates the origins, continuities, genealogies, and histories that provide the conditions for legibility within political society" (ix). In particular, Jerng highlights four specific frameworks of personhood at the center of what he calls the "familial nation-form": legal-territorial, built on the securing of borders; liberal-political, produced through the conjunction of freedom and citizenship; psychological, regulated by norms of proper individuation; and human rights, that aspires toward personal and moral recognition (xv-xvi). Throughout Claiming Others, Jerng tracks the simultaneous, constitutive and contradictory formations of American family, race and nation, and the ways in which transracial adoption has developed and (re)conceived notions of personhood from, within and against these multiple meanings and ever-changing constructions.
Claiming Others begins in the early nineteenth century and examines the racial, cultural and national anxieties produced at the borders of American colonial settlerism and Native American resistance, as expressed through crises in kinship, and revealed through unredeemed captivity narratives. Reading this popular trope in such literary forms as fictional narrative, historical novel and memoir, by such authors as John Tanner and Lydia Maria Child, alongside the emergence of early adoption policy, Indian removal, and concurrent legal rulings that defined Native Americans as "domestic dependents," Jerng illustrates how early nineteenth-century writers of literature, law and policy used notions of kinship to reframe white American and US relations with American Indians along more manageable psychic, social and...