By Arturo R. García
Finding Fernanda is a sobering story–even more so when you stop to think that it focuses on two women out of thousands at opposite ends of a corrupt system.
Journalist Erin Siegal’s book stretches across the continent: it examines the notorious child adoption business in Guatemala via the ordeals suffered by both Guatemalan native Mildred Alvarado, who loses two of her children not just to kidnappers but to her country’s legal and political processes, and Tennessee resident Betsy Emanuel, an American lured in by a Christian adoption agency when she begins the process of adopting one of the children, not knowing the dirty business behind her wish for another child.
Working with a local journalist over the course of three years, Siegal sheds light on the various players: the American agencies and their in-country networks of handlers and attorneys; the medical professionals and court officials who are either on the take or willfully negligent, like the Guatemala City pediatrician who sees his practice expand as he becomes a go-to resource for adoptionists:
On a child’s first visit to his office, Dr. Castillo would ask about his or her background and felt he had no choice but to take the answers provided to him by cuidadoras (caretakers) at face value. Every time one of the women hesitated, he felt chilled. More than half the children examined at his office didn’t have proper paperwork, such as a birth certificate. Sometimes the names would change. It wasn’t his responsibility to investigate, the pediatrician told himself; he was just there to make sure that the kids were being cared for.
Over time, cases like Mildred’s become a cause celebre in Guatemala, attracting more and more attention from the press and the underfunded authorities before a human rights organization represents her in court. For her part, Betsy also feels her own betrayal at the hands of the agency, pushing her to ask questions of her own, culminating in an encounter with Mildred.
In an e-mail interview with Racialicious, Siegal shared more details about the women at the heart of Fernanda, the industry that brought them together, and her own experience as an American journalist working in Guatemala. The transcript, which includes some spoilers, is under the cut.