her name was maité, su nombre era maité

blossoming almond branch in glass by vincent van gogh

i have been told
of a sister
i have never met
she died at sixteen
in an accident
her name was maité

i dreamed of her
last night
soft, gentle
everything it seems
a sister might be
she was to me
through the night

i felt the feeling
one must feel
when they have such a one
as her
the not alone feeling
perfumey girl presence
it was a beautiful dream

she stayed with me today
in my waking hours
i smelled her
through the two thousand pesetas of
super
i pumped into my car

and when i worried about money
she reassured me
it will all work out
dear brother
she said

i stopped by the side of the road
on the way home
and picked her
a wildflower
that i know she’ll love
i’ll give it to her
tonight

her name was maité, su nombre era maité
mi boreal interior collection
j. alonso el pocico, españa
(c) j.alonso 2019

Poems by j.alonso may not be reproduced, copied or distributed without the written consent of the author.

 

Digging in the Dirt

#NotMyNAAM

If you want a garden to grow, you need to prepare the soil and tend the earth. Removing weeds is essential prep and maintenance work. Without weeding and fertilising, your flowers and vegetables can’t grow properly.

If you want a wound to heal, you need to clean it our before you stitch it closed or bandage it. If you leave debris inside the wound, it will become painful and infected. And it will need to be re-opened, cleaned, and treated further.

Sometimes, when I tell people I attend a support group for adoptees and first moms, they ask why I would want to be around people who just sit there and talk about their sad stories. Aren’t we all just dwelling and being downers? My answer is a strong No. The times in my life when I felt the lowest were the times when I was completely alone in my trauma, before I found an adoption trauma-competent therapist, before I found a local support group, before the internet and the creation of FB groups, before I became active in the intercountry and transracial adoption community. Having a community around me of people who share the same primal wound and learning and working together to move forward in a healthy way, is very healing, though it can be painful.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, post-adoption services are critical for all adopted people. And I’m talking about the provision of FREE adoption-trauma-based therapies; local, adoptee-run support groups; access to OBCs and DNA tests; travel budget set aside for trips back to the country of origin; language lessons and translation services for intercountry adoptees. Without adequate, available, and competent pre and post adoption services, we are expecting lush gardens to grow on unprepared land. We are expecting wounds to heal without first helping to clean them out, or worse – by not even acknowledging them in the first place.

To all of my fellow adoptees who are out there, getting down and dirty in the trenches, pulling out those weeds and planting new seeds, I dedicate Digging in the Dirt, by Peter Gabriel.

About Abby Hilty

NAAM 2019 AdopteeVoices #7

At ICAV, we invited members to share during National Adoption Awareness Month what they would like the public to know. Here’s another of what some of our members are happy to share to the public.

I am adopted from Spain. Terrible experience. I hope any family adopting in America now receives an independent thorough home study, including military.

As a retired social worker I have approved quite a few adoptions. I am a lion for kids, so I know they were in very bad unrepairable situations and those families were golden.

There is absolutely a time and place for adoption, in my opinion. Also, shame on our country for allowing Mexican children to be stolen!

by Jesse Lassandro

The loneliness that comes from the separation of our culture and family creates a pain so unique that some survive and others get torn apart. Through awareness, education, and understanding, this can change.

In my own experience not knowing my identity was a huge problem that held me back from making healthy decisions when it came to choosing friends and making big life choices. That pain always reminded me, I was never good enough.

It wasn’t until I met my birth family that I felt a connection to something that was my own and I felt something inside me heal.

I’m not opposed to adoption but adopting is a big undertaking that will come with trauma so if you want to be an adoptive parent and reading this, don’t lie to yourself. If you’re not ready then wait. For any adoptee reading this, I feel your pain and please know you’re not alone.

by J Aucayse 

I Don’t See Colour!

#2 ICAV Blogger Collaborative Series for Adoption Awareness Month 2019

A common comment made to intercountry adoptees. Our responses?

When someone says “I don’t see colour,” to me this means they don’t see me. They will argue that they see me as a “person,” just like we are all people. But I counter that view because my personhood, my identity, my humanity, cannot be uncoupled from my brown-ness.

Pretending not to see colour has the effect of negating everyone’s ancestry, personal and familial history, and their lived experiences in the racialised society we all live in – no matter where we live. In intercountry adoption (ICA), this “colourblind” view can be absolutely devastating because ICA is dominated by white people adopting brown and black babies from all over the world. If white adoptive parents refuse to see their child’s skin colour or their own skin colour, how can they fully parent and love their child unconditionally?

For, it would seem, being colourblind is only possible under certain conditions: (a) I don’t have to see your colour; (b) I don’t have to acknowledge my colour; (c) we never have to talk about what your colour or my colour means; (d) we never, ever have to talk about how those colours exist in relation to each other within the larger context of culture and society.

From the perspective of a brown intercountry adoptee like me, I feel a mixture of sadness and anger towards anyone who espouses a colourblind mentality because they essentially negate the history of my brown ancestors.

If you refuse to allow that humanity has attached certain assumed behaviours and levels of privilege and importance to different skin colours, how can we possibly have a conversation on why these structures are in place, who’s benefitting and who’s being harmed by them, and why it’s important to create a truly level playing field?

When white adoptive parents pretend to be colourblind, how can they help their child be proud of the skin they’re in? How can they recognise their child’s need for racial mirrors? How can they help their child understand the beautiful and rich aspects of the child’s ancestry and culture as well as the pain and oppression their race has experienced and continues to experience, and how those dynamics relate to each other? How can they help nurture a racially competent child who grows up into a racially competent adult – even if that means their son or daughter is racially competent in a race that doesn’t match their own? How can they see the role that their white privilege has played throughout their own lives and via the intercountry adoption of their child? How can they decide how to use their white privilege going forward?

None of this is possible if we are teaching and encouraging people, including white adoptive parents, to pretend not to see colour.

by Abby Hilty

Congratulations you’ve just completely erased my first culture, my birth family, my genetic history, my country of origin! Look I know you meant well, but underneath this, there’s an insensitivity or lack of awareness about everything that I was and still am before I was adopted. It’s kind of like you’re saying, “Good job – you have assimilated so well that you’re just like me/us now!” But I’m not.

One of my fellow intercountry adoptee friends joked about how we are coconuts – brown on the outside and white on the inside. It’s funny, but it’s also not funny.

My adoptive parents tried to show me books and documentaries about Vietnam when I was growing up, but I wanted nothing to do with anything that highlighted my difference. When I got sunburnt on my nose, I asked mum if I’d be white underneath. So I got caught up in the “not wanting to see my colour thing” either.

I was very good at being a chameleon, it’s like I had to become one to survive. I was so desperate to fit in and to belong that I learnt fast about how to adapt my personality to be loved and liked. I still do this to this day, but I’m learning that I’m enough as I am and I don’t need to perform to be worthy of being loved.

by Kate Coghlan

The popular TV show This Is Us wowed audiences again with its coverage of transracial adoption. I don’t watch the show, and a lot of adoptees can’t bring themselves to watch it either. And yet it’s immensely popular with adoptive parents. The supposedly “mic drop” scene is as follows:

Jack: When I look at you, I don’t see colour. I just see my son.

Randall: Then you don’t see me, Dad.

During NAAM, it’s particularly biting to see this interaction getting mainstream attention. You see, many of us adoptees of colour have had this exact dialogue with our colourblind families and friends (myself included). 

This isn’t an original line, and dare I say, I wouldn’t be surprised if the writers lurk in adoption spaces and stole this from the stories of adoptees, co-opting our stories for better ratings. 

This isn’t some TV script for your entertainment; this is a painful part of our real lives. It hurts us in deep, existential ways to be denied access to our birth culture and traditions and then to be unseen by our adoptive families. It is actively rejecting us a second time. 

If you refuse to “see” the parts of me that are a brown Indian, then you are actively refusing to support me on my journey to discover who I was born to be. Your choice to take the easy road to claim, “I’m not racist” actively isolates me and in turn plays into its own racial problems. Take the harder road with me, with any of the people of colour in your lives, and learn how to unlearn racial biases. This work requires you to see, so take off your (colour)blinders. 

The fact that it takes a network TV show to get this concept to take hold rather than the direct words of real adoptees should disgust anyone and everyone who loves an adoptee. 

I challenge adoptive parents and allies who support the adoptee attempt to “flip the script” during NAAM to think about how prioritising entertainment over the real words of adoptees is its own form of silencing; to be more intentional about whose voices you choose to uplift; and be more critical of the media you choose to consume.

#NotMyNAAM
#NAAM
#FlipTheScript
#adoption

by Cherish Bolton

Somewhere along the way in my life, I got the message that I’m not a real Asian. As a mixed race adoptee I don’t even dare try to join Chinese adoptee communities or Indian ones for fear of not being enough in some way. I can’t make sense of what it is to be a Malaysian Chindian — I don’t know any others, I’ve never met one. There are no books I know of, no museums or movies. Even if there were, I would be reading them the way an outsider learns about history.

Something I resent is the suggestion I should do something in order to belong. Belonging isn’t a citizenship test!

As an intercountry adoptee brought to England by a white couple with no friends of colour, all the markers of my culture have been erased. Except my skin colour, my hair, it’s texture, my eyes. Each time someone says, “I don’t see colour”, or simply behave as though they don’t, this implicit message that I don’t belong in my biological culture is reinforced and I’m erased a little more.

I don’t forget that my gay friends are gay, I don’t forget their struggle to belong or to feel safe holding hands or kissing in public. To erase that would be a failure of empathy and allegiance. Of course it isn’t the only part of their identity and I’m interested in all the other parts too. The ones that are like me (or not), the parts that amaze, amuse or confuse me — I love them all.

Everyone just wants to be seen. I wonder what makes you feel unseen?

When we experience ourselves differently to how we are seen, there’s a disconnect, a disruption to our identity which isn’t resolvable with free will alone.

Belonging is relational – by its very nature it demands the acceptance of others.

by Juliette Lam

Since the later years of coming to terms with my identity, fitting in between my two worlds (adoptive and birth), understanding the impacts of being relinquished and adopted, I have shared many of my experiences to wide audiences but one situation close to me, never ceases to frustrate me the most. This is when my own adoptive family make this comment, “But we see you as one of us” or “We don’t see you as being different” after trying to explain how I’ve always felt so different and out of place.

I acknowledge, in their eyes, they are trying to say to me that I am accepted and embraced by them as being one of their “clan” despite my skin colour and outward obvious differences. But without any in-depth discussions about the complexities of being intercountry adopted, these types of comments just made me feel even more disconnected and isolated from them. What it showed me was they had very little understanding of my intercountry adopted journey. When they don’t have these important conversations with me, they are oblivious to how their comments make me feel even though I know it is not what they intend.

What would I prefer my family to say? I would prefer them to acknowledge my differences and really try to understand where I’m coming from. For me it’s about the discrepancy I experience on a daily basis because strangers throughout my life meet me once and make basic assumptions that I am NOT one of them (white Australian) based on my appearance – my skin colour, my eyes, my hair. The internal battle I face as an intercountry adoptee, is that whilst in my private family circles I might be fully accepted, it is NOT the experience I have in public outer life.

The constant jarring reminders of “not belonging” in my wider adoptive society leaves me with a lot of unresolved questions of who I am, where do I belong, who are my clan, and how did this reality eventuate. Are my adoptive family even aware of these impacts? No because they are so blind to what everyone else can see and received very little education on race, culture, and the importance of open discussions. Ignorance is not bliss in this case.

So when my adoptive family says, “I don’t see your difference, you’re one of us” when clearly I’m not as clarified by many strangers, this comment only acts to shut down the conversation instead of opening it up and allowing me the space and love to process competing realities.

Being intercountry adopted is not a reality we adoptees can ignore for too long!

by Lynelle Long

I don’t know if it’s the fact that I didn’t grow up in an English-speaking country, but we don’t use the word “colour” to describe a person. In Sweden, we use “foreigner” as opposed to being Swedish. So instead of saying “I don’t see colour”, people would say “I never think of you as anything but Swedish” or “I see you as the same as us”. They say that to be nice.

When I grew up there were very few people in Sweden with a darker complexion. Most didn’t speak the language well and some of them (of course, a small minority) appeared shady. Swedish mindset is to question if they (dark complexion people) could be trusted.

To tell me that I don’t appear foreign means I am a person they trust. But … when I go on dating sites strangers viewing my profile, only see colour. I get less guys who write than my white peers, less matches with white skin but more super likes from “foreign” men.

One time I wrote in my profile text that I was adopted so as not to appear scary. Then I thought adopted might also sound scary, because in Sweden that implies psychological problems. So I deleted it again and had to come to terms with being less popular online.

My close friends have never said these words to me about not appearing foreign but I do things said like this occasionally and every time, I am offended. As if that random person has a right to put an approval stamp on me. As if I were to do anything untrustworthy, he or she would judge me much harder and say, “Hmm, I guess she wasn’t like us, after all”.

by Sarah Mårtensson

NAAM 2019 AdopteeVoices #6

At ICAV, we invited members to share during National Adoption Awareness Month what they would like the public to know. Here’s another of what some of our members are happy to share to the public.

I too feel the pain of adoptees who have to wonder if their child or grandchildren would need to contact them in a foreign country because of facing deportation, or prison — a result of an adoption that did not include citizenship.

This situation would only make me hate what adopters can do to us, from the time we’re gifted (of course for the right fee), till even later in our lives.

The governments, adoption agencies and adoptive parents are able to control what our futures may hold, so we are never living our lives, only what we’re allowed by society and their laws.

We get labelled “ADOPTEE”. To me this label ADOPTEE = SLAVE. Always someone owns us 🤬😭😢 🤬😭😢

At this point, even though I have my citizenship now, I do not rest or feel free. I wonder will laws be changed that may once again cause me the fear of being deported, or what if I were to lose any of my papers, ( kind of like a papered animal) or what if .. so I never feel safe or free.

I have a constant fear, constant anxiety😓😥😰😨🥵.
Adopted = Prisoner in my mind.

by Kim Yang Ai

Whenever a person or a couple tells me they have dreamed of adopting, I know that they haven’t thought beyond themselves. No child dreams of losing their parents and much more. The fulfilment of their dreams comes at the cost of another’s family.
No God that I would want to believe in, would give a person life long trauma in order to fulfil another’s dream.

by Hea Ryun Garza

prince of spain

i am a prince of spain
i stride across the land
in full view of the people
my identity not in question
the strength of it’s source
as sure as the continent
sits upon the sea

i am a prince of spain
i look through the eyes of ages
i obey the call of my heritage
she blows in my hair
like the june wind 
her song is a tide
throughout me each new day

i am a prince of spain
i am tall, like my king
the red and yellow waves
and my heart along with it
the riches, these wild expanses
adorn the good people
of which i am one
yes, i am one

 prince of spain
 (principe de españa) 
j. alonso
lubrin, españa 
(c) j.alonso 2019

Poems by j.alonso may not be reproduced, copied or distributed without the written consent of the author.

                                  

NAAM 2019 AdopteeVoices #5

At ICAV, we invited members to share during National Adoption Awareness Month what they would like the public to know. Here’s another of what some of our members are happy to share to the public.

I’m not a tree whose roots have been cut off. That’s what others want me to believe. The ones handling the chainsaw to cut me off.

I’m not feeling guilt for having interest in my own story, the truth.
And no, I still don’t have access to full and correct information about myself.

I’m a Belgian guy, carrying my heritage with me. I don’t have to choose which country I belong to. It’s all part of me.

I’m not ashamed to say I’m not grateful for adoption. Not ashamed to say I remember feeling miserable as a child, and lonely most of my life. Because that’s the truth and denial used to be a way to try to cope with those feelings.

No, I’m not a bottomless pit.

It is believed there is trauma from the beginning, from the separation of the birth mom. But even then I did not start with the incapability of bonding or returning love. 
That others can’t feel it or recognise it, is their lack of knowledge or interpretation skills. 

Yes I have trauma mainly from my adoptive parents. Yes, I know many adoptees who were abused.
So I’ll start taking care of trauma and stop trying to rehabilitate. 

I stopped being afraid of hurting my adoptive parents’ feelings a long time ago. And I’ll stop being a people pleaser soon.

Yes, I grew up with racism. Adoptive parents trying not to be racist don’t change that, except for making the topic undiscussable.
And no, my white culture doesn’t change my colour of your skin.

Yes, adoption is about people paying money for someone else’s child.
And drawing the stakeholders in adoption as a triangle will make you forget about the squares and circles in and around it.

No, I can’t tell if it’s better to be adopted or not, because I can’t compare to an unexisting life.
Neither can you.

by Less Lee

But He’s Not Your Father!

But he’s not your father, he’s just someone who shares your genes

This is a statement that came from my therapist when I shared my grievances about my biological dad, who I recently connected with for the first time in my life.

The backstory is this:
In 1977, when I was born my mother felt she couldn’t take care of me thus gave me to my dad to be raised. This happened minutes after my birth. My dad lived at the time with his parents and they didn’t want to take care of me either. So my grandma decided to anonymously leave me in a Muslim holy place. This happened the same day as I was born.

The next day I was found by a kindly man who worked at the holy place as a janitor. Thankfully I was alive because it was mid-winter.

A couple of years after this tragedy, my dad married his first wife – it was a traditional wedding where one doesn’t get to know each other first. This woman, who turned out to be severely mentally ill, now controls my dad and four younger half-brothers.

So, here’s another backstory:
About 35 years ago, his wife learned about my father’s illegitimate relations with my mom and has since been obsessed with him possibly cheating on her. So, when I recently arrived on the scene, it was bound to cause even more problems for their family, spilling over to me and the relationship with my biological father. In essence we have to keep our relationship the same way as a mistress does to a married man, i.e., like a dirty secret! But I am not up for that challenge. It’s too much for me to expect to be shown any compassion, especially in the light of the passiveness he showed on the day of my birth.

“You live in a patriarchal society, you are a man, you don’t have to adjust to her!”, I’ve said. But my dad doesn’t want to cause problems in his family.

“I am your family. I am your only daughter. I am your first born”, I reply. My dad says he doesn’t want to abandon his other children the way he abandoned me.

“But they are grown men. They are not children. I was an infant”, I cry. My dad says there is nothing he can do and there was nothing he could have done different on the day of my birth. The amount of anger this creates in me is deafening. I start hearing a strange noise and losing my vision just thinking about it.

At the same time, my biological dad wants to do whatever he feels he can for me. In this case, it means calling every single day to hear my voice and to say he loves and misses me. That’s about all I can understand in my native language Farsi. When we sometimes talk with translators, he tells me more elaborate things, like how I’m the love of his life, the most beautiful girl in the world, how he never knew how much he could love his daughter, how I’m the only happiness in his life, etc..

At first, I played nice but after a while, these words and the phone calls started to ring very hollow. Being treated like the mistress of my dad, I can never visit his house, I can’t call him – he can only call me. Still he gives me all these declarations of love. It’s cowardly.

One of my brothers, deeply affected by the family dysfunction tries to blame this on culture and says, “In Sweden, perhaps family isn’t as important?” I reply, “In Sweden we don’t give away babies”.

At times I’ve felt it’s impossible to go on with this relationship. Maybe I just need to be grateful that I got to meet my dad and learn my story. It’s something I never expected to happen.

I shared these concerns with my therapist and she said that I don’t owe him anything, that I can dismiss him the way you dismiss a bad boyfriend.

“But he’s my dad! We will have this bond forever now”, I replied. And that’s when she said, “He’s not your dad”.

Not even professionals can be expected to understand the bonds of both biology and history. I hear my voice in his voice. When I touch his arms I feel my skin, we are both intelligent, we can both sing. I even got personality traits from him – like the fact that I can’t lie and that I’m a survivor. This man is the origin of my life. In a place far away, in a time that seems like hundreds of years ago, I was conceived. My mother gave birth to me, she says I was the biggest of all seven that she has pushed out. I’ve been back to those places – to the house where this labour took place, to the Muslim holy shrine where I was left. That was me. This is my story. These were my people. And after having reconnected with them at age 42, there is no question that they are my people of origin. Even my laughter is identical to some of theirs.

I shared the thoughts about possibly cutting my dad out of my life in an adoptee group. Some were supportive but others (especially men) completely in the dark. Their biggest issue with me was the point of view that my biological parents are to blame for what happened to me.

Apparently, there’s an ongoing perception among some adoptees that we should be grateful that we found our biological families, not blame them, and look at the situation from their point of view. This is laughable because it’s the same narrative that we are tethered with when it comes to our adoptive parents.

The fact that I have issues with my biological father has shown me some of the flagrant misconceptions about adoption and in this case, from the people you would least expect it.

My whole adult life my bio dad has been watching poor women in the streets, women with lots of babies and married to horrible drug addicted men. He looked for familiar traits in their faces, worrying that I would be one of them.

My biological father is very grateful to my adoptive parents. He thinks I should be, too. He says the more I love them the more I love him.

About Sarah Mårtensson

NAAM 2019 AdopteeVoices #4

At ICAV, we invited members to share during National Adoption Awareness Month what they would like the public to know. Here’s another of what some of our members are happy to share to the public.

I’m hurting.

Something that is a deep part of me has clearly been pushed so far back into me that the words, “I’m adopted from India” gather as a lump in my throat. They hijack Harley because they recognise the girl who lived before she was Harley.

The words stop my breath and overwhelm my senses so much that my eyes fill with tears and I feel I cannot SPEAK.

This is foreign to me, as I know how to speak.

I know my story and I’ve said it many times without this reaction.

Only NOW, close to 30 years after my arrival, am I able to feel the weight of this story.

It’s heavy and I’m allowed to feel it.

I’m allowed to be in this place.

It was bound to happen since the story isn’t beautiful.
It’s only beautiful on the outside. 

by Harley Place

I think that the first priority is to educate people who want to adopt, because there is a better way. Support the child to stay in their birth country, educate birth families that there is always another option, adoption is the last resort.

If adoption does occur adopting families should commit to searching for birth families or keeping in contact would be ideal.

Maintain a connection to culture is vital to our wellbeing.

by Gabbie Beckley

The Caged Soulmate

by Jonas Haid, South Korean adoptee raised in Germany

The eyes are the mirror of a human’s soul where, if you look deep enough, you will see the deepest pain and trauma from our big loss. This loss is what connects intercountry adoptees from all over the world. Some of us have the ability to strengthen others through positive energy, but when we doing a deep dive into ourselves, the inner pain is omnipresent.

Even if happiness and joy is in front of us, we tend to see the bad in the good. With this artwork I want to show that if we release ourselves and turn our head to the right side, we can see the good things better i.e., use the sunlight in the right way and we can free the shadows which are caged in ourselves.

Artwork (c) Jonas Haid 2019 who created it for ICAV.