ExEAS Teaching Unit
Teaching Daughter from Danang
Bakirathi Mani, Department of English, Swarthmore College
Sue Gronewold, Department of History, Kean University
The Film
Daughter from Danang. Directed by Gail Dolgin and Vincent Franco, 2002. 81 minutes. VHS and DVD. Available for purchase from PBS Home Video (VHS: $19.99, DVD: $24.99). Available for rent from Netflix. Official website: www.daughterfromdanang.com.
This moving documentary follows the life of Heidi Bub, a Vietnamese-American woman in search of her birth mother.  Adopted by a single mother in Pulaski, Tennessee (birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan), Heidi’s removal from Vietnam to the United States was conducted through Operation Babylift during the last years of the Vietnam War.  Now an adult, Heidi returns to Vietnam to meet her birth mother, but discovers much more than the family she left behind.
See also: Daughter from Danang in the Asian-American Filmography

Audience and Uses
The film can be used in a wide variety of courses including but not limited to:
  • Asian American Studies
  • Introduction to Asian American Literature
  • Asian American History
  • American History
  • Asian or Vietnamese History
  • Nation and Migration
  • Postcolonial Literature and Theory
  • Social Work, especially addressing adoption
  • Intercultural Communication
The film can be used to address topics such as:
  • histories of Asian American racial formation
  • gender and sexuality
  • the changing face (and space) of Asian America.
  • postcolonial theories of identity – diaspora, hybridity, and multiplicity
  • studies of racial formation
  • histories of imperialism and colonialism
  • cross-cultural adoption
  • intercultural communication
Discussion Questions
Divide the class into three groups and assign each one of the following discussion topics:
  • What is the relationship between Heidi and her birth mother?  Between Heidi and her adoptive mother?
  • What is the role of the filmmakers in creating this documentary narrative? (Note: the filmmakers are never visibly present in the documentary)
  • Besides Heidi and her birth mother, who else has an investment in this reunion, and why?  (Heidi’s siblings, the San Francisco journalist, us as viewers, the US and Vietnamese governments, war veterans and those involved in commemorating Operation Babylift, etc…)
Additional Discussion Questions:
  • How does the film address issues of biracial identity?  Note that the Vietnamese children airlifted in the film are brought to the United States specifically because they are mixed-race.  What do these children symbolize for Americans who are adopting them? 
  • Given her diverse cultural background, how does Heidi’s experience make us question notions of cultural or racial “authenticity?
  • How do histories of U.S. foreign policy and war in Asia impact contemporary Asian American identity, and histories of Asian American immigration?
  • What visual tropes of the contrast between and West do the filmmakers use?
  • How do you respond to the film?  With which character do you most identify? What do you think will happen next in the story — both in Vietnam and in the US?  Will Heidi ever return to Vietnam?
See also:
  • “Operation Babylift Through Film: Suggestions for Classroom Use of Precious Cargo and Daughter from Danang" (Sue Gronewold)
  • Transnational Adoption: Further Reading for Instructors