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Primary Sources: New Kid in Town

When Mai Thi Hiep was airlifted to the States and adopted by a South Carolina woman, she was big news. Renamed Heidi, the six-year-old girl merited this profile in a local newspaper.

Vietnamese Orphan is Home
By Jane Lareau
Record Staff Writer

Ann Neville, single, has just adopted a beautiful six-year-old Vietnamese orphan. It may seem like an unlikely combination and, in fact, it was almost an impossible one. But now they are together and Ann doesn't forsee any problems for the two of them.

"I've wanted to adopt a child for about three years now, but since I was changing careers, I knew it was not a good time. When I settled into this job I started writing adoption agencies all over the country. They were not very receptive to the idea of a single mother," she said.

Ann is Dean of Student Affairs for Midlands Technical College, Airport Campus. She received her undergraduate and graduate degrees in History and Political Science from East Carolina University. She also has a Specialist Degree in Student Personnel Administration from the University of Georgia.

"It really was hard for me because there are so many traditional two-parent homes waiting to adopt, most agencies will give them a child before they will a single parent. A two-parent family was once the traditional family. Today I wonder just how many home have one parent," she mused.

But one agency responded to her affirmatively, and though Ann expected to wait about eight or nine months before she received a child, "all of a sudden there was Baby Lift and wham they called me to come to Chicago to pick Heidi up."

While we talked, Heidi rang the doorbell time and again and Ann explained that she is fascinated with the bell and also with the light inside the refrigerator.

"It's like a three ring circus around here," she said with a smile that showed she'd have it no other way.

Indeed it was.

The Record photographer came to catch some shots of Heidi and it took him, Ann and the Terminix man, Bud, to round her up.

Camera Shy
"I don't know if she feels the camera is a threat to her because she runs from it, but I took her to a studio to have her picture taken and she behaved well," Ann said.

If Heidi thought the camera was a threat, her giggles belied it. She made it a game of hide and seek around the cars, dodging every time the photographer clicked the button. She speaks virtually no English, so on one was able to explain to her what we wanted.

"She takes to some people immediately, and with others she falls into a shy act," Ann said. Heidi was immediately attached to the Terminix man, whom she followed around chattering constantly in Vietnamese.

She has also become fast friends with Sam, the cat. Sam's a little wary of the new turn of events though, enjoying his new companion, but missing the undivided attention he got from Ann.

Sam's Turn
"He moves in from 9 to 11 every night because he knows Heidi's asleep and he can get all the petting and attention he wants," she said.

Ann was told very little about Heidi's history. "I know that she is half-Vietnamese and half-American, that she is six and comes from a Saigon orphanage. Even with routine adoptions, they do not give you much of the child's history.

"She is in excellent health and we are learning to understand each other quickly. A lot can be communicated by smiles and gestures. Then again, I've agreed to some things by smiling and nodding that I didn't quite realize I was agreeing to. We were eating breakfast one morning and she had a juice drink in her hand. She asked me something, I smiled and nodded, and plop, she poured the whole drink in her cereal," she said, laughing.

"I did it again this morning, too. She pointed to Sam, then she pointed to where we normally keep the cat food. I nodded my head, thinking she wanted to feed the cat. Instead, she picked Sam up and put him in the dishwasher."

But what about all the things that are supposed to go wrong when Heidi grows up? How does Ann feel about the dire predictions that have been made -- that Heidi will feel alienated, that she will resent being taken from her native land?

"I read a columnist, some one from the west coast I think, who said a lot of those things. First, he said we were doing ourselves a disservice by not adopting American children. He pointed out particularly the Indian children that could have been adopted rather than taking a Vietnamese child out of its homeland.

"Well, I'd like to talk with him. He apparently hasn't tried to adopt a child in the United States.

"I wanted an older child because I knew I would not be able to stay home with an infant -- we have to eat you know. Besides, there are virtually no infants to be adopted any more. But the legal ramifications are such that these children are just not free of adoption.

"And as for the Indian children -- I tried, and the Sioux Nations sent a list of their tribal regulations. They simply will not let a child be adopted out of the tribe.

"I wish I could get hold of that columnist and give him some information," she said.

She adds that for Heidi to have stayed in Vietnam would have been tragedy. "She wouldn't have fit in over there. Those people discriminate horribly against the half-American, half-Vietnamese child, especially if they are half-black. Her existence there would not have been pretty."

And Heidi herself? Sure there are problems. "The same problems you have with any six year old. She cried for three nights because she has to sleep by herself. She had to learn that there was one bed for her and one for me. Now she's learned. She's a normal beautiful little girl and she's going to have the problems a normal six-year-old would have.

"I don't believe in all those artificial barriers that man has put up," Ann said. "This business about separate nations -- we're all part of the human race. Who drew the lines between nations in the first place? Man imposed them, he can take them away."

Jane Lareau, "Vietnamese Orphan is Home." The Columbia [South Carolina] Record, May 8, 1975.

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