I am a product of the Vietnam war in which America treated my birth country as a chemical laboratory with pesticide warfare. Many of my people suffer to this day from the lifelong impacts of the decision to spray thousands of hectares with the deadly chemical cocktail.
I have witnessed a high proportion of my fellow Vietnamese adoptees suffering from cancers at relatively young ages, a proportion of our children born with disabilities, mine included. Whether we can categorically say it is caused by agent orange being sprayed, is unclear but we know it was an airborne contaminant that would have impacted our mothers with us while in utero and in environments we may have been exposed to as young children.
For the newer, younger generations of Vietnamese adoptees, they are born in a country that still suffers the effects of the contaminated land and waters from agent orange. How many of them suffer from generational impacts of agent orange?
One of the most confronting realities I experienced whilst visiting Vietnam’s orphanages was meeting with the children who live with serious deformities and disabilities, those who are not able to be looked after in family homes because their complex needs are too overwhelming.
Agent Orange awareness month reminds me of the power differentials that precede intercountry adoption. I see the American war veterans and their families can get free testing for exposure to agent orange and recognition of the impacts and support for what agent orange has had on them, yet too little is done for the people of Vietnam and others like us, the collateral damage .. Vietnamese adoptees sent abroad.
Maybe the American and other adopting governments think it was enough to “save” us from their own acts to wipe out our country and have us airlifted to their lands, where we can grow up to whitewash the acts of war and the perpetrators because after all, we should be grateful to be adopted shouldn’t we?!