UC Irvine Professor Erika Hayasaki Shares the True Story of Reunited Twins

In her new book, Hayasaki tells the true story of twin sisters born in Vietnam and raised worlds apart, reconnecting as teenagers.
Photograph by Emily J. Davis

In “Somewhere Sisters: A Story of Adoption, Identity, and the Meaning of Family,” Hayasaki recounts the journeys of identical twins Loan and Hà, born in 1998 to an impoverished mother who was forced to give them up as infants. Loan was adopted by a wealthy white couple, who renamed her Isabella and raised her in an affluent Chicago suburb with another Vietnamese adoptee and their four biological children. Hà was raised as a much-loved only child by an aunt and her partner in Vietnam. After years of detective work by the American mother, the sisters were brought together. Hayasaki, the mother of identical twin sons, interweaves the sisters’ stories with explorations into the troubling past of twin studies, the histories of transnational and transracial adoptions, and issues around adoption today. 

What impact did having your own twin sons have on the book? 

I’ve always been interested in different aspects of identity, and certainly nature versus nurture has been part of that. Also, racial identity—with my own experience of growing up in the Midwest as an Asian American who is also mixed race. While I’m not an adoptee, I have these crossover experiences that I could relate to. 

When did Hà and Loan learn they are twins? 

Hà has a moment in the book where she’s quite young and her adoptive mothers put her on a motorbike and take her to the orphanage. They
tell her she has a twin, and she’s going to meet her. When they get to the orphanage, Loan has been adopted. So she knew. She also grew up with a very happy life. There were moments when she thought about what it meant to have a twin, but she wasn’t obsessing over it. Meanwhile, the other sister in America had a full life and also wasn’t thinking too much about this until she eventually found out that she had this twin. 

Do you think the urge to reunite twins is a natural inclination?

Adoptees have talked about how it should be the choice of the adoptees to reunite. But you can also understand the perspective of the mother. There are deep twin bonds that (Cal State Fullerton professor and twin specialist) Nancy Segal has written about. I see it within my own twins. You can see that perspective, that feeling that they should know each other. But according to the research and the adoptees and the psychologists I talked to, it doesn’t always go the way they thought.

What were the most memorable moments of your research trip to Vietnam?

Meeting the birth family was very emotional for everybody involved. It goes back to the narrative that we have about adoption in the U.S., that a child is adopted into this better life because the birth family might not have had the resources or the ability to care for them. We’ve been told stories about adoption that paint it in a very positive light. But when you see the pain of the birth families who love these children and let them go for whatever reasons … there are much more complicated realities there. It’s also not to condemn adoption; it’s just the reality that when you hear the different perspectives, there’s a lot more to consider.