Highly Recommended: Daughter from Danang

During my recent trip to the AAA meetings in San Jose, I scheduled a viewing of the documentary Daughter from Danang during my usual kinship lecture time. The film tells the story of a young Tennessee woman who travels to Danang, Vietnam, to be reunited with her birth mother. Heidi had been evacuated in the denouement of the Vietnam conflict because, as the daughter of an American GI and a Vietnamese woman, she faced a life of possibly violent discrimination. The film tells the story of ‘Operation Babylift,’ which sought to evacuate nearly 2000 children of American GIs. It is an incredibly vivid and moving portrait of families riven apart by war, of the complex forms of belonging engendered by the enmeshing of personal and national destinies, of the problem of cultural difference within kin relations. The film tacks between attention to the American context and the Vietnamese one, and so offers contrasting perspectives on each. Race, kinship, nationality and other forms of identity appear performative in the context of transnational adoption even as they also run up against the putative importance of natal/natural ties. What makes the film especially effective, and indeed heart-wrenching, is the immediacy with which these concerns are brought to life in the story of this young woman’s sense of longing, loss, and dashed expectations. Although I think it is a text that demands careful handling, I think it is in some respects an ideal documentary for teaching purposes, whether the subject is kinship or simply cultural difference.