Researchers acknowledge that parent-infant separations such as these can take a toll on relationships; some have found that children of immigrants who spend significant time apart from their parents can go on to suffer from behavioral problems and low self-esteem. (These studies looked at separations over a variety of time periods, from less than three months to more than three years.) However, there has yet to be a conclusive study of the long-term well-being of satellite babies. Kwong argued that generalizing about such outcomes is unfair: “While I have seen adjustment problems due to this practice, it may not occur in all these families. And where they occur, there are other factors that play a part,” such as how parents maintain communication with their children while apart, how old the kids are at the time, and the children’s personalities.
Some parents’ goal in sending their children overseas is to acquaint them with the culture of their home country. Most, however, see it as a difficult but necessary logistical choice. Ouyang Dachun, Misty Ouyang’s dad, lamented to me in Mandarin: “If I had the means to take care of my kids, I wouldn’t have sent them back. Who in their right mind would delight to be separated from their flesh and blood?”
Tina Yeung’s father, Yang Zhu Yao, provided a similar rationale when explaining his decision to send her to Hong Kong as an infant. “The neighborhood we lived in wasn’t very safe. We were new to the country, couldn’t speak English, and didn’t know the ropes to applying for child care,” he told me in Mandarin.
Yang and his wife were also keen on having Yeung spend her earliest years in their homeland so that she could be immersed in Chinese culture and values. During the three years they were apart, they kept in touch via weekly calls, and Yang and his wife each made a visit to Hong Kong.
Many kids, though, don’t understand the reasons they’re being separated from their parents. “I don’t remember them explaining it to me at that time, and I never thought of it as any different [from how my classmates were raised],” Misty Ouyang said. “I only figured out as I grew older.” The same was true for most of the former satellite babies Wang, the sociologist, interviewed; even in adulthood, few spoke openly with their parents about the experience.
Read: American immigrants and the dilemma of ‘white-sounding’ names
Parents across the U.S. struggle to find affordable child care, but the search is especially challenging for immigrant parents who are new to the country, have little in the way of support from friends or family, and might want their child-care provider to be familiar with Chinese language and culture, narrowing the pool of possible candidates.
Yoyo Yau, the programs director at the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center, says that the long wait lists for subsidized child care in certain cities have prompted many immigrant parents to opt for the transnational option instead. A 2008 report from the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, an advocacy group, noted that many immigrant parents were afraid that applying for subsidized child care would label them as “burdens on the government” and jeopardize their immigration status. The report added, “In all cases, the forms to fill out are not translated at all or into enough languages, often stopping the eligibility process before it has a chance to begin.”