International Transracial Adoption

President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Holt Bill, allowing the adoption, on August 12, 1955. The eight children arrived in Oregon October 4, 1955.

The first international transracial adoptions happened after the Korean War. The Holt family, was the first White American family to adopt from Korea. The Holts lobbied for the Holt Bill, which legally allowed them to adopt eight Korean babies. They then founded the adoption agency Holt International, which still exists today.

Video About The Holts’ Story

We can trace some of the problems associated with international transracial adoption to the portrayal of the Holts’ adoptions. In the video of the Holts’ story, Bertha Holt frames the adoption as divinely inspired.[1] Professor Liz Raleigh found this framing to be prevalent today. Many modern day families explain their adoptions with “notions of destiny to explain how ‘the universe conspired’ to connect them with their children.”[2] As Raleigh notes these visions of fate obscure the consumer aspect of adoption and the active role of the adoptive parents.

The video says the Holt family, “Proved that a family’s love is not limited by differences of race or nationality.”[3] The Holt narrative of love conquering all has allowed White adoptive parents to continue to believe that they don’t have to address American constructions of race to adopt transracially.

           Harry Holt went to get the adoptees from Korea, 1955

The discourse around the Holts’ adoption perpetuates the White savior complex part of international transracial adoption. The Holts’ adopted children were born out of the US imperialist Korean War, to Korean women and male American soldiers. Bertha Holt describes how she and her husband have so much compared to the “smallest casualties of the war,” “who didn’t have anything and were helpless babies.”[4] This portrayal erases the Korean mothers and Korean people from the picture. The Holt solution is to have a White-run organization serving White American families come in and “save” the children.

Videos About Adoptees’ Experiences

The supposed testimonials of children adopted by the Holts continue to forward the savior narrative. They reflect the gatekeeping that Raleigh identifies in the adoption social workers, giving a voice only to those that “expressed their views appropriately.”[5] We see the adoptees as babies, while they express their gratitude to the Holts in the form music where the narrative of the video is created by the agency, or poetry written by others about their experiences. The poem “My Name is Life” by John Aeby (who worked for Holt International) meant to be in the voice of an adoptee, reiterates the themes of love conquering all, salvation, and agency of the adoptive parents. We see these messages in the lines “‘your embrace is my home, ‘your medicine saved me,’’ and ‘you who chose to be my parents.’”[6] These lines highlight the adoptive parents role rather than focusing on the wellbeing of the child.


Harry Holt with the Babies, 1955

Both the baby photos and the lack of photos of older adoptees support the commonly held idea that babyhood erases racial boundaries. As Professor Liz Raleigh mentioned in her talk, a baby’s race can be seen as more malleable because babies are seen as beautiful and non-threatening.[7] Thus where blackness is seen as threatening in older children and adults, a Black baby can be seen as cute by White society and adoptive parents. The Holts set the example of bringing children of color into a rural community, which inherently forces them into an “othering” environment where they are forced to assimilate to White American society. These same problems are prevalent in international transracial adoption today.

[1] “Our Story,” Holt International, last modified 2017, (accessed May 27, 2017).

[2] Elizabeth Raleigh, “An Assortative Adoption Marketplace: Foster Care, Domestic, and Transnational Adoptions,” Sociology Compass 10/6 (2016), 506.

[3] “Our Story,” Holt International,

[4] “Our Story,” Holt International,

[5] Elizabeth Raleigh, “Chapter 5: Selling Transracial Adoption: Social Workers’ Ideals and Market Concessions,” 8.

[6] My Name is Life, Youtube, last modified February 19, 2007, (accessed May 27, 2017).

[7] Liz Raleigh, Talk on International Transracial Adoption, in our Beauty and Race class, Wednesday May 24, 2017.




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