Rachel Nolan at Harvard Book Store


Until I Find You:
Disappeared Children
and Coercive Adoptions in Guatemala

in conversation with SYLVIA SELLERS-GARCÍA 


February 15, 2024
7:00 PM ET


Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138


This event is free; no tickets are required.

Harvard Book Store welcomes RACHEL NOLAN—contributing editor at Harper's Magazine and assistant professor of International Relations at Boston University—for a discussion of her new book Until I Find You: Disappeared Children and Coercive Adoptions in Guatemala. She will be joined in conversation by SYLVIA SELLERS-GARCÍA—Professor of History at Boston College and author of The Woman on the Windowsill.

About Until I Find You

In 2009 Dolores Preat went to a small Maya town in Guatemala to find her birth mother. At the address retrieved from her adoption file, she was told that her supposed mother, one Rosario Colop Chim, never gave up a child for adoption—but in 1984 a girl across the street was abducted. At that house, Preat met a woman who strongly resembled her. Colop Chim, it turned out, was not Preat’s mother at all, but a jaladora—a baby broker.

Some 40,000 children, many Indigenous, were kidnapped or otherwise coercively parted from families scarred by Guatemala’s civil war or made desperate by unrelenting poverty. Amid the US-backed army’s genocide against Indigenous Maya, children were wrested from their villages and put up for adoption illegally, mostly in the United States. During the war’s second decade, adoption was privatized, overseen by lawyers who made good money matching children to overseas families. Private adoptions skyrocketed to the point where tiny Guatemala overtook giants like China and Russia as a “sender” state. Drawing on government archives, oral histories, and a rare cache of adoption files opened briefly for war crimes investigations, Rachel Nolan explores the human toll of an international industry that thrives on exploitation.

Would-be parents in rich countries have fostered a commercial market for children from poor countries, with Guatemala becoming the most extreme case. Until I Find You reckons with the hard truths of a practice that builds loving families in the Global North out of economic exploitation, endemic violence, and dislocation in the Global South.

Praise for Until I Find You

"A staggeringly brilliant work of the heart and the head. One can’t read Nolan’s story of forced adoptions in Guatemala and not come away both shaken and intellectually challenged. I’ve read many books on Cold War political violence—but never one that pulls you in, that makes you feel as well as think, as much as this tour de force." —Greg Grandin, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America

"Like a dark historical fairy tale pulled from a bewitched archive, Until I Find You illuminates the Guatemalan international adoption trade’s cruel corruption and heartrending complexities in a boldly original way. Nolan’s meticulous research and her beautifully lucid, empathetic writing show how the seemingly benign event of the foreign adoption of an innocent child leaves behind an invisible trail of personal, economic, political, and essentially imperial horrors." —Francisco Goldman, author of The Art of Political Murder and Monkey Boy

"Important, compelling reading. Nolan has interviewed countless people, obtained access to adoption files, read the human rights reports, and sorted through the legal history. This will become a key, authoritative account of the deeply corrupt state of Guatemalan adoption from the 1970s to the 2000s." —Laura Briggs, author of Taking Children: A History of American Terror

Masking Policy

Masks are encouraged but not requried for this event.

Rachel Nolan
Rachel Nolan

Rachel Nolan

Rachel Nolan is Contributing Editor at Harper’s Magazine and has written for the New Yorker, the London Review of Books, the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, and the Salvadoran investigative news outlet El Faro. She is Assistant Professor of International Relations at Boston University.

Photo Credit: Sharona Jacobs

Sylvia Sellers-García
Sylvia Sellers-García

Sylvia Sellers-García

Sylvia Sellers-García, Professor of History at Boston College, is a historian of colonial Guatemala. Her most recent book, The Woman on the Windowsill: A Tale of Mystery in Several Parts (Yale U. Press, 2020), was the recipient of the Bolton-Johnson Prize from the Conference on Latin American history and the James P. Hanlan Prize from the New England Historical Association. Her other books include Distance and Documents at the Spanish Empire’s Periphery (Stanford U. Press, 2013) and When the Ground Turns in Its Sleep  (Riverhead, 2007). She is also the editor, with Karen Melvin, of Imagining Histories of Colonial Latin America: Synoptic Methods and Practices (University of New Mexico Press, 2017). Her articles and essays have appeared in the American Historical Review, Mesoamerica, Sewanee Review, and Virginia Quarterly Review.

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