Precious Cargo

Genre: Documentary
Ethnicity: Vietnamese American
Themes: Cultural Crossing/Return Visit, History, Immigrant/Refugee Experience/Diaspora, War & Military Service
Date: 2001
Running Time: 56 min.
Director: Janet Gardner
Producers: Janet Gardner and Pham Quoc Thai
Availability: Filmakers Library
DVD $295 Purchase
In 1975, in what became known as "Operation Babylift," the US flew 2,800 mostly mixed race South Vietnamese children who had been living in orphanages to America, where they were adopted.  Interspersed with historic footage tracing the events of the latter days of the Vietnam War and presenting conflicting views of the airlift ranging from broadly humanitarian to purely political, Precious Cargo follows a small group of adult adoptees as they travel back to their native country on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Operation Babylift.

The camera follows each adult adoptee as they encounter a Vietnam foreign yet familiar, with all their unexpected emotional reactions to the orphanages, hospitals, and streets where they once lived — and where many of their birth mothers and relatives undoubtedly still do.  For many, the visit brings relief and peace; for others it is profoundly disquieting and brings up issues surrounding the war, US policy, and their families’ decisions to give them up.

Leonard, John.  "Precious Cargo."  New York.  December 24-31, 2001.

Salamon, Julie.  "When Those Orphaned by War Return to Vietnam."  New York Times.  December 22, 2001.

Supplementary Material
Precious Cargo, Public Broadcasting System
Includes the history of Operation Babylift, additional resources, and more.
"Operation Babylift Through Film: Suggestions for Classroom Use of Precious Cargo and Daughter from Danang" (Sue Gronewold)

Transnational Adoption: Further Reading for Instructors
Asian American Filmography ExEAS