Associated Press - November 30, 2008 3:15 AM ET
CHONGQING, China (AP) - 9-year-old Anna He is an outsider in China.
This small girl was at the center of 1 of the longest custody battles in the U.S. in recent times. On one side were the Bakers, a white family in Memphis. On the other were the Hes (pronounced HUHS), Chinese immigrants scraping by.
Last year the Tennessee Supreme Court ordered her returned to her Chinese family, and the family moved to China in February. While the legal fight is finally over, a new story has started for Anna.
After her parents' marriage fell apart, she was sent to boarding school this fall and goes home on weekends. She can't talk to her schoolmates because she grew up in America.
WRCB Channel 3 Chattanooga News, Weather Child in US custody fight adjusts to new country
Child in US custody fight adjusts to living in China
This is a very different situation than what one normally see in these cross border custody battles. Many times the conflict comes between one forigen national parent and a parent that is a U.S. Citizen.Imagine how hard it would be for you to be set down in a strange land as an adult and try to survive.
Imagine loosing a loved child to the legal system that, right or wrong, tells you that a child need to be with their natural parents. There are many questions and so much sadness in this story.
(11-29) 13:48 PST CHONGQING, China (AP) --
Nine-year-old Anna He stands quietly amid the chaos in her boarding school dorm on a Sunday night, a frenzy of little girls chattering in Chinese as they change the linens on rows of wooden beds.
Anna is an outsider here. Her parents are Chinese, but she cannot talk to her schoolmates because she grew up in America.
This small girl with watchful dark eyes was at the center of one of the longest custody battles in the U.S. in recent times, a high-profile seven-year dispute marked by racial and cultural undercurrents. On one side were the Bakers, a white family in suburban Memphis, Tenn. On the other were the Hes (pronounced HUHS), immigrants scraping by with low-paying jobs before they returned to China.
The legal fight is finally over. And a new story has started for Anna.
Last year the Tennessee Supreme Court ordered her returned to the Chinese couple, and the family moved to China in February. Since then, Anna has lived in two cities and attended three schools. After her parents' marriage fell apart, she was sent to boarding school this fall and goes home on weekends.
"I really don't like living at school," Anna murmurs in English, buttoning and unbuttoning her sweater absently as the other girls flutter bed sheets in the air.
Anna was born on Jan. 28, 1999, a few weeks after her father was accused of sexual assault by a fellow student at the University of Memphis. Shaoqiang He lost his scholarship and graduate student stipend, although he was ultimately found not guilty.
With very little income and no health insurance, the Hes asked an adoption agency to find a foster family until they got back on their feet. Anna went to live with Jerry and Louise Baker when she was less than a month old.
In June that year, the Hes signed court papers that transferred custody of Anna to the Bakers so she could get health insurance. The Bakers eventually sought to adopt Anna, saying the Hes had abandoned her.
Anna's parents wanted her back, and the case wound through four different courts. One judge suggested the couple only wanted to keep Anna to avoid getting deported, calling Anna's natural father deceitful and the actions of her mother "calculating, almost theatrical." For five years, the courts did not allow the Hes to see Anna.
The Bakers in turn questioned the quality of life for little girls in China, where families have a traditional preference for boys.
By the time Anna returned to her Chinese parents last year, she was no longer a baby but an 8-year-old American girl. She was unable to speak or understand Chinese, and American classmates told her the country would be "weird."
Anna's parents, also known by their American first names Casey and Jack, fell out just five months after returning to their native country. Her mother, Qin Luo, took the kids from the city of Changsha, where He had found work, to her hometown of Chongqing in southwestern China.
The mother and children — Anna, 8-year-old Andy and 6-year-old Avita
now live in a simple two-bedroom apartment on the outskirts of town.
Here at home, everybody talks to Anna in English. Her brother and sister are perfectly fluent in English and Chinese. Everyone calls her "Anna," instead of her Chinese name "He Sijia."
After nine months in China, Anna still does not speak much Chinese, a notoriously difficult language to learn. She says she can understand some things "if it's really easy."
Anna is short for her age, but has a round tummy that she and her mother attribute to her "meat-atarian" diet. Like many other 9-year-olds, she has front teeth too big for her face.
And what are three things she likes about China?
"Well, let me think ... well, I have made a friend but now she is gone. Her name was Sarah. That's one thing. I'm trying to think of a second thing. Second thing I like about China ... is ... well, I don't really know. I don't know ... There's so many cars and a lot of people smoke. I really hate that."
"At school, on my report card, I always had A's, never one B," she says. "In China I maybe got too many B's and C's."
Anna says she does not miss her father, whom she has not seen since July.
"No one knows where he is. One time, this one day, maybe nighttime, he was just gone and we never seen him again. And he took away his computer," she explains.
He, who teaches at a tutoring center in Changsha, says that he left the family's apartment after a fight with his wife and that she took the children away.
The Bakers renewed contact with Anna after her parents separated, and they call every Saturday afternoon. They send care packages filled with Anna's favorite things: stuffed animals, macaroni and cheese, chocolate.
Louise Baker wonders if it's common for young children in China to go to boarding school. In fact, many parents who can afford it send away children as young as 5 or 6 because they think a structured setting is better for education or they are simply too busy with work.
"Things have gotten really good," Baker says in a telephone interview. "At first she was real quiet, standoffish, but now she chitter-chatters a lot."
Baker won't talk about Anna's current situation. All she will say is, they're happy Luo has the children and "grateful" to her for allowing the telephone calls. They are discussing the possibility of a visit.
"We just want her to be happy and to grow up and to continue to love the Lord," Baker says, unable to hold back her tears. "We're just happy she's got the love of two families."
Child in US custody fight adjusts to living in China
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