Defining Diego is the story of one Guatemalan adoptee and his mother, a reporter who documented their journey from his earliest steps, as they try to understand how international adoption boomed and busted, and what it all means for families like theirs, with feet in two worlds.
When Laurie Stern set out to adopt a baby from Guatemala in 1999, she thought the process would be pretty straightforward. Lots of people were doing it.
But the adoption was held up just as she went to Guatemala to get her son, Diego. That began a journey of discovery. What unfolds is the story of why international adoption peaked — and then collapsed — in Guatemala. It is also the story of how Diego, now 24, learned to be a Maya man with deep roots both in his birth village and Minnesota, where he still lives.
Now, Diego has questions about his adoption, too — like why tiny Guatemala was such a popular choice for many adoptive parents in the U.S. and Europe in the early 2000s. As one of more than 50,000 Guatemalan adoptees, Diego’s still figuring out what it means to be Guatemalan, American, indigenous Tzutujil, and an adoptee raised by white parents in St. Paul, Minnesota.
At its heart, Defining Diego is a deeply personal narrative: of a mother and son grappling with big questions about identity and health, and the meaning of home and family. Using 20+ years of the family’s archive recordings, we hear Diego grow up — and begin his own journey of self-discovery.
Season 1 of All Relative — known as BioHacked: Family Secrets — focuses on the fertility industry and how the now-adult children of anonymous sperm and egg donors are trying to change the baby business.
Defining Diego | 1. My Two Mothers
It’s 1999, and reporter Laurie Stern wants to adopt a child with her husband. At the time, international adoption seems pretty straightforward — Laurie wants a baby, and there are babies who need parents. But once she arrives in Guatemala City to meet a five-month old boy named Diego, she realizes that nothing about adopting a baby from Guatemala is that simple.
23 years later, Diego’s an adult, and he has questions of his own.
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Defining Diego | 2. Where I’m From
Laurie takes three-year-old Diego back to Guatemala for the first time since his adoption. While Diego bonds with his birth mother Isabel, Laurie starts talking with birth mothers all over the country. Many are young, live in poverty, or are survivors of the Guatemalan civil war. Despite how much adoption costs for families in the U.S., Laurie begins to realize how little birth mothers receive in exchange.
Meanwhile, Diego is growing up as an indigenous Mayan kid in St. Paul, Minnesota — loving hockey, hating Spanish lessons, and navigating what it means to have family in two places.
Defining Diego | 3. Baby Boom
Adoption has become a booming industry — the price is soaring, and Guatemala has become a top exporter of babies for adoption, second only to China. But when making families becomes secondary to making money, the cost to Guatemalan birth mothers is incalculable — and babies are treated more like products than people.
Meanwhile, on a trip back to his birth village, six-year-old Diego receives tragic news — and Laurie and her husband Dan face a tough decision.
Defining Diego | 4. The Fall of International Adoption
The international adoption racket is surging — and it’s gotten way out of control. All over the world, ugly stories begin to surface: of stolen children, shady adoption lawyers, and birth mothers pressured to give up their children. So in 2008, under increasing pressure from human rights activists, the Guatemalan government shuts the whole thing down.
And on a trip to Guatemala, Diego’s curiosity is sparked by seeing a photograph of his birth father for the first time.
Defining Diego | 5. When Everything Changed
When Diego turns 12, he’s diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, and his entire world turns inside out. The family goes into survival mode. Sick and angry Diego acts out — and Laurie and Dan struggle with how to parent him.
Defining Diego | 6. Resist and Release
We hear from a family whose adoption was in-progress when the Guatemalan government shut everything down.
A few years after his fateful diagnosis, Diego is a surly teenager. The family’s figuring out a way forward. Laurie takes Diego back to Guatemala, where he learns about the meanings behind his birth names — Xicay and Petzey. Diego asks Isabel more questions about his birth father, Cristobal.
Fascinating, well researched, interesting. Great balance of narrating and interviews. Very well produced and narrated.
I’m really enjoying this podcast; the history, the interviews, the secrets revealed , the humans impacted by the science of DNA. Well researched and presented.