Laura Briggs, a UA Department of Women's Studies professor, is interested in things that don't often come to mind when discussing foreign policy. An author of 12 articles and a book, Reproducing Empire: Race, Sex, Science and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico, Briggs has focused primarily on questions of sexuality and reproduction. Her latest studies probe the conflict between movements, particularly among gays and lesbians, to expand adoption rights in the United States and Europe on one hand, and a Latin American outcry over the expropriation of children on the other. This outcry has taken the form of rumors that foreigners are seeking kids to harvest their organs. Briggs will talk about all this Wednesday, Nov. 30, at 6 p.m. in room 451 of the UA's Modern Languages Building, 1423 E. University Blvd.

What are the adoption numbers like in Latin America?

From Latin America, it's not the hugest number. From Guatemala--that number I do have in my head--we adopted about 2,300 kids last year. ... From Mexico and other countries in Latin America, the numbers were much smaller. And that actually has a whole political history. A lot of places in Latin America have been sort of opposed to U.S. adoption and put in place stricter and stricter laws governing adoption.

Why is that?

It's a combination of things. The best way to answer that is to say that the adoption from Latin America started during the Central American civil wars of the 1980s. And some of that was legitimate people from the Red Cross trying to get people--kids--out of war zones whose parents might have been killed. Some of it was not so legitimate. The tactic of the military was disappearance; disappearing adults, soldiers, guerillas--leaving their bodies by the roadside. But they also disappeared kids. So they'd go into a village and collect kids, and a lot of them wound up adopted in the United States and Europe.

Are there other reasons for opposition?

... (B)ecause it's seen as U.S.-American privilege. You know, we get to go to Latin America and save their children, and it's insulting. ... It bothers you. And that's been part of it. So there's been this back and forth with different countries about laws governing adoption. And there are also rumors--and some evidence--that some kids come to be available for adoption illegally. They're kidnapped; their parents are coerced and so forth. Guatemala is weird. The United States is the only country adopting children from Guatemala at this point, because the rest of the world sees Guatemala as a place where adoption is fraught with illegitimacy and kidnapping and coercion. ... Guatemala has the highest rate per capita of adoptions. Most adoptions in the United States--inter-country adoptions--are coming from China and Korea these days.

How do gays and lesbians fit into the debate?

The full question that I've been talking about--about Guatemala--particularly affects gay and lesbian people, because China has strict limitations on who can adopt. So gay and lesbian people, at this point, cannot adopt from China--neither can African Americans; neither can people who are above a certain age. Gay and lesbian people are sort of the most vulnerable to restrictions on inter-country adoption. They're, like, sort of canaries in the coal mine for how adoption gets restricted. ... So the talk's going to look at that conflict between those two political movements and suggest that some of the ways that gay and lesbian people have been able to get around restrictions on adoption have been because adoption--at the same time everything else has--has been getting increasingly commercialized. If you have enough money, you can adopt at this point.

What impact has commercialization had?

Adoption, like a lot of things--like being able to be safe in a hurricane, like after Katrina--has become a privilege only of wealthy people. And from everything that we're seeing, changes in the economy are changing our relationship to adoption, are changing our relationship to citizenship. We're getting transformed from citizens by virtue of being born to citizen-consumers.

Do you see any good coming from the commercialization of adoption?

I think that adoption is a good thing in certain cases. I don't think that all children are wanted. I think that anything that facilitates adoption under the circumstances of what the parents want is a good thing. The commercialization of adoption has made it easier to relinquish a child, and it's made it easier to adopt a child. The bad side is (that) it's taken away protections for birth families who might not want to give up their kid. ... It's made it harder for a lot of families to keep their kids.

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