Yasmin Mahan

Yasmin Mahan (1985 – 2019)

Yasmin, I remember driving you to your part-time job at Albertson’s on Mercer Island. I knew of your story, which is to say I knew what I had been told by others at the agency. I think I asked you how you were doing on the way to the store. I’m sure you said, “fine”, like any other adoptee whose rivulets of pain flow deep and gather in dark pools; all you could do was float in temporary suspension until something else in your life led you down another fateful decision. They said that your adoptive parents had had enough and that they finally decided that your adoptive father would fly you back to your orphanage in Kolkota, India. But you came back to the U.S. You returned, despite the best laid plans. Yasmin, only you knew where you went, where you belonged, where you would end up. Your passing is just that: you’re past the pain; you’re past the recriminations; you’ve simply passed into each of our thoughts to rest your weary soul. And we’ll keep you safe. You’re safe now.

About Kev Minh

Imaginary Mothers: Review

About the Documentary

Imaginary Mothers is a feature-length documentary about four mothers from Costa Rica: Crescencia Maria Castro Chaves, Helen Xiomara Barrantes Mora, Xinia Sancho Viquez and Doris Benavides Morales. These women’s lives have been forever changed by adoption. They bravely reveal the heart-breaking impact that losing their children has had on their lives and as they fight to be reconnected with their children, they also struggle against the myths about young single mothers in Latin America.

The director of Imaginary Mothers, Jacqueline, is an intercountry adoptee from Costa Rica and she tells the story of her mother, Angela Arias, who never gave up hope to see her again. In making this film, Jacqueline learns about her Costa Rican family’s grief over her disappearance and their longing to understand the true circumstances around the adoption.

This film brings to light the circumstances surrounding intercountry adoption in Latin America during the 80’s and 90’s, and the many warning signs that were ignored about corruption in intercountry adoption.

This film is not just about women in Costa Rica, but also about women all over the world who have lost their children through adoption. The mothers in this film speak out for recognition for the wrongs committed against them and their children. This is the first time these women tell their story and, in doing so, they reveal a universal truth about the need for redemption and validation for mothers in this situation. Together, these women find a voice in the film to tell their stories and encourage social and political change.

Lynelle’s Thoughts after Viewing:

What an amazingly emotional journey Jacqueline has been on! I can only imagine how hard it has been to experience the heartbreak of the mothers of Costa Rica. My soul hurt for their situations; so alone with no-one to empower them or even let them know of their rights, let alone options or support. What saddened me was to see how they are still treated. They are downtrodden enough from the past, and it is awful when they turn up wanting to know information about their child and are denied. This made me, as a child separated at birth, wonder how my dear mother is coping. Was she also in situations like these mothers? It was a real eye opener to understand she probably doesn’t have the resources to find me and that the structures in her society probably block the way, even if she wanted to find me.

I especially loved the artistry in how this documentary is presented. Unique and an artful representation of the mothers.

I recommend watching this documentary to anyone who is interested in hearing the experiences of mothers in intercountry adoption situations, like Costa Rica, and the realities they face, past and present.

Well done Jacqueline! You have made an outstanding contribution to helping people better understand intercountry adoption – the inequities, the injustices, the structures that reinforce to mothers that they often have little choice. You captured well their grief, anger, despair, hopelessness for they have had no-one to speak up for them until now. This documentary is their light, their hope!

I really hope this documentary about the Costa Rican mothers opens up the hearts of people around the world, to become motivated to help put an end to the injustices that mothers like this face. Jacqueline is an amazing trailblazer for this is the first I’ve seen that gives voice to the mothers of Costa Rica. Jacqueline has done a wonderful job to expose and give voice to what is really going on for these mothers.

You can visit the Facebook page to find out how to view it.

Yes, we love this country.

Are you a maid, au pair or prostitute? I have heard all this through my childhood and professional career in Norway.

A Norwegian chronicle by May Martinsen, CEO of IRMI Group. Written in collaboration with the Norwegian Adoptionforum organisation and translated from the original article published in Norwegian newspapers.

I started writing this text nine years ago, but it was filed and stored because I didn’t dare stand up. Have we managed to break the code and have a country without racism?

According to Norwegian People’s Aid, job seekers with foreign names have a 25 percent less chance of being interviewed, and 43 percent of immigrants from Africa, Asia and Latin America were overqualified in the positions they worked (2012). In Norway, we have section 185 of the Criminal Code, also known as the racism section, but it may seem that we have not been able to solve the challenge.

ALSO READ: Speaks up after writing about racism for ten years

It is often talked about that Norway and Norwegians are so friendly and inclusive and that there is hardly any racism in this country. But the concept of racism also encompasses attitudes and discrimination that impose on people traits based on race, religion and culture. I was born in Korea and adopted by ethnic Norwegian parents from the West Coast. I would say we were mutually fortunate; they were resourceful parents who wanted a child, and I was a child who needed parents. You’d think I was Norwegian.
But society and individuals have often reminded me that I am not.

I recently met another resourceful lady with a Chinese background, but she is Norwegian like me. She wrote a post in Drammens Tidende on April 5, 2016 about what it is like to be an entrepreneur and a woman with an immigrant background who faces the daily racism in Norway. Although I was adopted by Norwegians, held leadership positions for 15 years, I have also not been able to escape racism.

Arrival with my adoptive parents

The Visible Racism

As a young child

I grew up in a village where almost everyone was ethnically Norwegian. Because of this, I had rough parts in my childhood. My parents probably also experienced racism early on. They told me about an episode where I, as a young child, cried on a flight. One of the passengers had told them that “people like her” belongs to Emma Hjort, that is a home for mentally disabled children.

As a child, I had to get used to getting comments like negro pussy, negro whore, fucking yellow geek, etc. Children make pranks and strikes, and it belongs to everyone’s childhood. But if something went wrong, the blame was put “on the yellow one”. I got grounded and more often blamed than what is deserved. It did something to me as a little kid. And I was never a whistleblower. I chose to “suffer in silence”.

I learned early on to acquire the attitudes “if you are going to accomplish something in life, then you must ‘fight twice as hard’ and ‘it’s never about how you feel, but how you take it’.” Instead of getting sad and bitter, I focused on finding a solution for a better everyday life.

My solution was to become a Tomboy with a touch of humour.

But it never stopped entirely. The worst episode was at a church service and we were confirmants. Before the service, several people forced me into the school toilet. They put my head down in the toilet bowl saying, “If you are to be confirmed, you must be baptised first” as they soaked my head with toilet water.  I arrived at the church sticky, and some shouted, “I think yellow sewage smells in here!” The statement was followed by scornful laughter from the whole rural school. This was the day I felt I had two choices: to commit suicide by cutting up my artery or drowning; choice number two was to stay focused on the school and think about getting away from the village. I chose the latter.

According to school surveys conducted by the Olweus Group, over 40 percent of those who have been bullied have thought about suicide.

The Youth Data Survey February 2017 says that 10 percent of 16-year-olds have tried to kill themselves. Some, unfortunately, “succeed” with it, so bullying and racism, combined with isolation, have fatal consequences for many young people.

For me, a major turning point came when one of the leading bullies, after many years, apologised to me and acknowledged to their parents and me what I had been exposed to as a child. Not everyone gets the opportunity to forgive as I did.

The Silent Racism

In the book Plausible Prejudice by anthropologist Marianne Gullestad, she writes about invisible racism – the discrimination we do not notice because it is based on beliefs that many people think are perfectly normal. Many seem to think that identity is something to do with descent.

I was of the belief that society was improving. But in adulthood came a new lesson – I have chosen to call it “the silent racism”.

I had given birth to my second child and was rolling around my little blonde daughter when people on the street stopped me and asked, “Whose child are you looking after? Where are you a maid?” Men would frequently approach and asked how much I cost for one night. I have always had a classic and conservative style, so I was surprised. I quickly learned not to get too offended and accept that this society is “just like that”. It is again about attitudes, ignorance and stigma.

As an Asian-looking woman in Norway, I have the impression of being seen as an international commodity: A maid, au pair or a prostitute. When it was tempting to get angry, I let it be. When the “offers” have appeared, I have used humour and responded with a clear West/Midcoast dialect and a smile saying, “Sorry – I’m way too expensive for you!

Digital Racism

Already in 2012, the United Nations expressed concern about rising digital racism. Our children are now learning about online web behaviour through school. But what about the adults?

On digital dating sites, people meet in search of possible boyfriends, girlfriends and future life partners. I know several people who have married, as a result of contact through digital platforms.

Although I have been skeptical of these arenas and thought it best to meet people in real life, I was curious about established and used dating sites while I was single in the early 2000s. Unfortunately, I then drowned in requests for prostitution and bedroom activities, both the visible and invisible explained that I was an Asian. I concluded early on that this arena was most suitable for ethnic Norwegians, and quickly signed out and terminated the account.

Has there been any positive development here in this area for the last 15-20 years, I wondered recently and established a profile to take the test. The conclusion is that fortunately it seems to have gotten somewhat better. But unfortunately it is not entirely gone.

Societal Development and Responsibility

After spending some years in Tokyo as a diplomat for Foreign Ministry, my husband and I moved home, and I started a new director job in Oslo in 2011.

On the first day of work, a colleague asks during a closed program with a guided tour,
“Where are you from?” A logical question and the answer was simple: “I just arrived back from Tokyo, but grew up outside Namsos” (a local city in Norway). But the colleague gave me a look as if I should have fallen from the planet Mars: “That is not true!” I laughed before connecting that it was my ethnicity that suddenly came into focus. Given that I was the only woman in the management group and also had a different ethnic background, maybe it wasn’t strange? I politely replied that I was adopted from Korea by Norwegian parents.

The reaction was unforgettable. “No, it’s not called that. Such people as you, are not adopted. You are imported.” I couldn’t help but laugh, also because I didn’t believe my own ears. Had we really not come any further?

In a fiftieth birthday celebration, I was in a conversation with a senior director in a Norwegian directorate, who spoke about the challenges Norway is facing with all the Somalis. I became curious and had to ask more about what that person meant, explaining that I myself was adopted and had Norwegian parents. The answer was, “Oh, you’re from Asia. Yes, people such as you, are so hardworking and sweet.”

 “People such as you“?

I thought I was Norwegian!

I travel a lot at work. Amongst all the airports I visit, OSL Gardermoen stands out. 9 out of 10 times, I and my luggage must be inspected. It’s called “random control.” An interesting observation is that this happens all the time, whereas it rarely happens in other European cities when I arrive. I have done sports of it, so when I am with others in the traveling party I tend to say: Keep track of what’s happening in security checks now.

I will not claim that these everyday episodes are racism, but they are my observations. Two weeks ago they tried to be expel me from the EU / EEA queue in passport control, citing that I was Japanese. When I showed my Norwegian passport with a smile, the person who had approached was quite upset and embarrassed.

Travelling with my daughters in South Korea

When it comes to immigration policy, integration and prevention of racism, do not forget the “invisible” Norwegians who are adopted or born in Norway. My daughters have an ethnic Norwegian father and are born in Norway. New generations, young promising adults, will not have to find themselves in comments, prejudices and discrimination. As a mother, I can teach my own children to include and care for, and strike hard when others are subjected to bullying or racism. But we can never manage the battle alone.

We need to increase knowledge and clarify the responsibility we all have for helping to change attitudes. Do not let those who are exposed suffer in silence. The work must be rooted in the politicians and the state as part of an important social responsibility. It is a disappointment that we have not been able to improve any further.

Telling My Mother

Maria Heckinger today

I am Maria Heckinger and at age 66, I am one of the older adoptees posting on this site. I am honoured to be asked by Lynelle to share a couple of stories unique to my adoption.

First, a little history about the Greek adoptions. It was the early 1950’s and WWII had taken a huge toll on Europe, leaving no country unscathed. During the war, Greece was occupied by armies from three countries; Germany, Italy, and Bulgaria. The Nazi Occupation was followed by a protracted Civil War, which left the Greek economy and infrastructure in ruins. Mass adoptions from Greece to the United States started as early as 1950. Then, in a humanitarian gesture, the United States passed more broadly conceived refugee relief legislation in 1953, allowing the immigration of European refugees and foreign adoptions to proceed. It is a little-known fact that Greece was the first nation in modern times to open its borders and allow intercountry adoptions.[1] And proceed they did, in remarkably large numbers.

Hariklea Voukelatos, my birth mother

In 1984, I was 30 and back in Greece for the first time since my 1956 adoption. While on that trip I found the orphanage where I spent my earliest years. Overlooking the coastal city of Patras, it was a massive building. Sitting in the director’s office, I did not expect to find such detailed records—or the director’s willingness to show them to me. All the notes, religious charms, and legal or informal documents left with babies were saved and were kept in big ledgers. When the director showed me the note written by my mother, and the declaration she filed at the local City Hall asking the orphanage to take over my care, I was left stunned. After the tour, I returned to Patras and, within two days, I found my birthmother, Hariklea Voukelatos. At 30 years of age, my life changed in an instant. I spent a joyous week with Hariklea and my half-sister, Katina. It was the beginning of a 36-year relationship that led to meeting uncles, aunts, and cousins. My elation at finding my birth family was tempered, however, by anxious thoughts of how to tell Ellen Pace, the only mother I knew and loved.

The following excerpt is from my book, Beyond the Third Door Based on a True Story. Vancouver, WA (2019).

I was happy my story had touched people so profoundly, but there was one person I worried about telling, Mom. Dad had passed away the year before, and she was alone after 43 years of marriage. I did not want to add to her pain. Having to tell Ellen about finding Hariklea was a scenario I never dreamed I would face. Ellen had wanted a child so badly I didn’t want her to think I was ungrateful, disloyal, or she was losing me to my real Mom. Ellen was the most selfless person I knew, and I loved her more than anyone in the world. She had adopted and loved me unconditionally, and I would take this secret to my grave rather than hurt her.

Ellen Pace, my mom as a young woman

With my San Diego plans complete, the only thing left was to put my photographs into an album. Unlike Mom, who was motivated by love when she selected my album years before, my motivation was fear as I chose one with easily removable pages. I was still undecided on what to tell Mom, so it gave me options. Upon arrival, I picked up my car and headed to Mom’s home in San Diego’s backcountry. The baseball-sized knot in my stomach was a constant reminder of what lay ahead. I tried to ease my apprehension with thoughts of how receptive Mom had been about adoption – not just mine, but my three siblings as well. She had spent countless hours making scrapbooks filled with their adoption artifacts too. Richard Jr. and Deirdre’s albums even included their mother’s name. In the past month, I had found a mother and a sister, discoveries I was still processing. I was excited to know my new family, but I wanted to protect the one I had. It was a delicate balance I struggled to maintain. My fears of hurting Mom took on a life of their own and nearly blinded me from believing she could accept such a truth. With her house in sight, the knot in my stomach was now the size of a basketball. I pulled off the road and gathered myself before I continued. Mom knew I was on the way, so there was no turning back. With no guidebook on how to handle this type of situation, I had only one choice. Face the music and trust the Mother who loved and raised me. Pulling into her driveway, Mom came outside to greet me, and I hugged her a little longer than usual. Her arms around me felt like home; safe and familiar.

I was putting my luggage in the spare room when Mom came to the door and asked a question that stopped me cold. “So, did you meet any relatives while you were over there?” I busied myself with my suitcase, and after a long pause, I managed a weak, “Yes.” Her next question was the one I dreaded: “Who did you find?” My throat constricted and I could barely speak, so I deflected with a question of my own. “Mom, guess — the most unbelievable relative you can imagine?” “You found your mother, didn’t you?” I mumbled, “Yes.” “Oh my God, you found your mother? I want to hear all about it,” Mom proclaimed. Stunned, I stood there like a statue, unable to move or speak. The weeks of angst had been for naught, and my fear of hurting Ellen had consumed me unnecessarily. Mom’s questions made this more comfortable than I could have dreamed. Relaxing a bit, I wondered what had prompted her initial question. Had Mom suspected I was hiding something during our telephone conversations? Could she sense I was carrying an emotional burden? I knew it was now or never, so I went to the bedroom, grabbed the album, and set it on the kitchen table. I patted the chair next to me, invited Mom to sit, and began. The photos were invaluable as I led Mom through my two months in Greece. I moved through them at a deliberate pace, hoping we wouldn’t spend too much time on the pictures of Hariklea. As we neared the photographs of her, my fears returned, and I was overwhelmed by feelings of betrayal. I looked away and questioned my decision as Mom examined the woman who had given birth to “her” child. I hope Mom doesn’t think I look like Hariklea. Should I have included the photos with my arm around her? What about the pictures of Hariklea, Katina and me, arm in arm at the taverna? “She looks like a nice woman. What’s her name?” was all Mom asked. “Her name is Hariklea, and she is nice. The young woman is her daughter, Katina.” Mom was surprised Patras still had an orphanage with such good records, but she was bowled over when I described how we found Hariklea. I didn’t know much yet, but I shared what she had told me about her life. When I told Mom about my week in Hariklea’s home with Katina, she was happy for me and wanted details of our time together. Mom couldn’t imagine dining by the sea with your feet in the sand, but she laughed when I shared stories of Hariklea’s bossy personality. I concluded with a comment about her generosity but did not mention the soul-crushing guilt she still felt over losing me. Mom didn’t need to hear that. We finished looking at the album and enjoyed the meal she had prepared. After we washed the dishes, I went for a walk along the stream running by her house. I knew Mom needed some private time with her thoughts and the photo album. I was gone for a half-hour but returned to the back of the house so I could peek through a window and see if she was finished. There she was sitting at the table, hunched over the album and staring at the page. I knew which photos Mom was glued to, and I couldn’t imagine how she felt right now. Did she feel threatened by my birth mother? Was this the day Mom feared might come? Would she worry I loved her any less? I felt happy, sad, and vulnerable as I watched her study the photographs of Hariklea. Tears sprung from my eyes and ran down my cheeks as I quietly watched her. I wanted to give Mom all the time she needed, so I went for another walk. The second time around, I made a noisy entrance via the front door to announce my arrival.


[1] For more information on these early waves of international adoptions from Greece, see Van Steen, Gonda (2019). Adoption, Memory, and Cold War Greece: Kid pro quo? (U of Michigan Press), 77-78.

Orphanage photo of Maria Heckinger

About Maria

Biology doesn’t matter?

#4 ICAV Blogger Collaborative Series for Adoption Awareness Month 2019

An adoption myth

Do you have any family members who you would never have anything to do with if they weren’t family?

If you discovered your baby had been switched at birth and you had been raising another person’s baby, would you look for your child?

If you discovered you’d been switched at birth and had been raised by another family, would you want to meet your biological family?

Do you love to hear stories of family members who share interests or talents with you?
If there is a hereditary medical health problem in your family, do you feel you have a right know about it?

If a mother loses her baby before she gives birth and never meets the baby, will she grieve it?

Is a relationship with step family different to a relationship with biological family?

If you want to have a family, is your first choice to have a biological child?

If your answer is YES to one or more of these questions, then never tell an adoptee that biology doesn’t matter.

by Juliette Lam

My father was admitted to hospital yesterday as he had tightness in his chest and pain across his shoulder radiating down to his shoulder blade. The first question he was asked was, “Is there any family history of heart disease?” He was able to say, “My father had a heart attack, my brother had a stent put in and my sister also has heart disease, so yes there is.” This was then able to inform the medial team assessing him that there was a high possibility that this was heart related and so they could act accordingly.

When I was diagnosed with hip dysplasia back in 2010 the first thing I got asked was, “Is there any family history?” This of course was not the first time I’ve been asked that question. I’ve been asked that question my whole my life when I’ve presented for menial whatever’s. I’m adopted … oh right … sometimes awkward silence …. and therefore I don’t know.

The first thing we did of course when we found out that I had hip dysplasia, was get my daughter tested and bingo – guess what ?! It’s genetic!! She had it too. I was pleased but also sad that I had passed this on to her. I was pleased that for the first time in my life my newly discovered diagnosis meant I could help her catch hers early enough for her to still need surgery but not as invasive as what I needed to have. And there is the case in point, from a medical perspective on why biology matters.

by Kate Coghlan

Biology doesn’t matter. But they say blood is thicker than water.
Biology doesn’t matter. But more than 26 million people have taken a genetic ancestry test.
Biology doesn’t matter. But you have your grandma’s eyes.
Biology doesn’t matter. But I’m so happy you got your dad’s musical talent.
Biology doesn’t matter. But most states in the USA seal original birth certificates. Permanently.
Biology doesn’t matter. But DNA carries the genetic instructions for development, functioning, growth, and reproduction of all known organisms.
Biology doesn’t matter. But 406 episodes of Forensic Files kept TV audiences enthralled using biological evidence to catch violent criminals.
Biology doesn’t matter. But ‘Finding Your Roots’ is a primetime hit for public television in the USA.
Biology doesn’t matter. But an estimated 8 million children have been born worldwide using IVF and other reproductive technologies.
Biology doesn’t matter. But all I ever wanted was to know who my mother is.
Biology doesn’t matter. But mothers and the children they lost to adoption are desperately searching for each other, all over the world.
Biology doesn’t matter. But it does. It really, really does.

by Abby Hilty

Một giọt máu đào hơn ao nước lã / A drop of blood is worth more than all the water in a pond.

In the house I grew up in, on the second floor, there was a formal dining room and then a hallway leading to a large bathroom, a sewing room, the master bedroom and lastly my bedroom. On the wall opposite the dining room there was plenty of space for my adoptive parents to hang framed black-and-white photos of distant relatives who stemmed from both their family trees. In order to go down the hallway to my bedroom, each day and night, I had to pass by this orderly array of photos. Sometimes I passed right by them, sometimes, usually when I knew I was alone, I would look deep into the subjects’ eyes, so much so, that I’d start to believe they were staring back at me.

It was at these times, and in so many other ways, that I wanted someone with facial features, hair colour and physical stature similar to mine to peer back at me and explain the strange dissonance in which I increasingly felt trapped. But no help was coming because I was beyond help in some odd excommunicative aspect. No matter how much I tried dampening my distinguishable appearance, it carried me right back to my peers who generally judged me to not be wholly compatible with their cliques. As far as my adoptive parents and immediate family were concerned, I was theirs, for all intents and purposes, but when it came to innocuous remarks about familial traits or good-natured physical comparisons between cousins I was set aside and ignored. It was as if they were letting me know that this was “family business that doesn’t concern you.”

When you don’t resemble the people you’re forced to swim with in the big pond of The World, then you lower your body temp and try to cope and always look for an escape.

by Kev Minh

This is the last in the ICAV Blogger Collaborative Series for Adoption Awareness Month 2019.

We hope you enjoyed these and all the posts shared during Adoption Awareness Month.

A massive THANK YOU to all the ICAV members who contributed to elevate our voices this November. They are:

Anonymous
Joy Alessi
Kristen Anderson
J Aucayse
Gabbie Beckley
Cherish Bolton
Kate Coghlan
Jasmin Em
Kelly Foston
Marie Gardom
Mark Hagland
Jonas Haid
Abby Hilty
Tim Kim
Juliette Lam
Jesse Lassandro
Less Lee
Lynelle Long
Sarah Märtensson
Kev Minh
Pika Pika
Harley Place
Hea Ryun Garza
Bianca Salai
Daniel Walsh
Christina Williams
Kim Yang Ai

NAAM 2019 AdopteeVoices #11

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.

I am Pradeep Wasantha or Philippe Mignon. I was adopted when I was 4months old by a Belgian family. There are many things the world needs to know about the world of adoption. For example, know that if you have an adopted person in your entourage, she is not an alien. She may not have a name or be given a name that matches her but pointing her out with an ill fitting name, may hurt her deeply. You must also know that finding our bearings is sometimes very difficult. Which leads me to say that there is a lot to know and understand about adoptees.

Finding one’s place in society is all the more difficult for some adoptees because we must build an identity without having any reference – no basis. Sometimes our adoption papers are fake – no biological starting point.

It must be understood that we adoptees are very strong and fragile at the same time. Mainly because in our adopted country we are strangers (usually because of our skin colour) and if we return to our country of origin, we are also strangers because we don’t know the national language nor customs. In short, we are strangers wherever we go. So we cling and hold to what we can. Friends. The adoptive family. You.

Pradeep (Philippe Mignon)
Founder of Empreintes Vivantes for Sri Lankan adoptees – Belgium

Identity, Lost & Found

It wasn’t until I was in my 40s (yes, you read that right), that I started making friendships with Latina women. By this I mean Latina women who grew up within their Latina families, language, and culture. Non-adopted Latina women. 

Why? Why did it take me so long to be able to make connections with other Latina women? Because from the moment of my adoption at age 2.5 months, my Latina identity and environment were replaced by a white, Jewish one. Now, there is nothing wrong with having a white, Jewish identity – if you are white and Jewish. But what if you’re not?

I grew up with so many truly wonderful people and things around me. There were hard times for sure, but there was always love, friendship, family, educational opportunities, vacations, warmth, food, shelter, etc. All feelings and things that no one can or should take for granted. 

Yet, still, something was missing. Not only the figment of mi mami in Colombia, but me, myself. My identity as the Latina I was born to be, thanks to all that had transpired in the lives of my ancestors.

It’s crazy hard to say these things, to say that I got hurt even though I was raised by people who loved me, who had the best intentions, but who wanted me to be – and who were erroneously told I could be – the product of their ancestors and not mine. 

Again, it all leads back to the damaging, majority viewpoints that have dominated the system of adoption since the late 1950s.
Telling adoptive parents that they don’t need to see color, that they should fully assimilate their intercountry transracially adopted child into their family, along with name change, new language, new religion, new environment, is to tell adoptive parents not to see all of their adopted child. It’s how it was done back in the early days of intercountry transracial adoption, and, sadly, much of this continues today even though experts – the adoptees who have lived this whitewashing – have started speaking up on how the impact has been harmful despite the intent being good.

I speak not to be hurtful but that, hopefully, guardians, foster parents, and adoptive parents of children of a different race and ethnicity than theirs can understand and learn to do things in a way that helps raise racially comfortable and competent individuals.

It took me decades to start breaking down my internalized whiteness. And it is an ongoing process. It started with legally reclaiming my original last name, Forero, about 20 years ago. This was NOT done to deny or disrespect my (adoptive) parents. Absolutely not. It was done to respect myself. To recognize I have always been here, that I have always been Colombian, that I have always been part of another family as well as my adoptive family, and that I have always had worth just as I was and always have been. 

My light brown skin has never been white. And that’s OK. 
My dark brown eyes have never been blue. And that’s OK.
Spanish filled my brain from within the womb. And that’s OK.
My ancestors didn’t come from Eastern Europe. And that’s OK. 
I was racially incompetent. And that’s NOT OK.
I am still surprised when I look at pictures of myself and see an Indigenous Latina woman. And that surprise is NOT OK.

Recognizing differences amongst people is not problematic. What’s problematic is discriminating against people based on visible and invisible differences. What’s problematic is pretending not to see people fully. When we put our blinders on to others, we put our blinders on to ourselves as well. Every child, every woman, every man has history that is carried in their genes. No one is less than anyone else. Everyone deserves to be seen. 

“Time’s much too short to be living somebody else’s life.”

Today, I dedicate I Ain’t Movin’, by Des’ree to my fellow transracial adoptees. May you all walk with dignity and pride.

(Originally posted on my facebook feed during NAAM2019)

NAAM 2019 AdopteeVoices #10

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.

I believe that the world needs to know that adoption occurs because society is broken and from this broken world comes the NEED for adoption. If only we could remove the need for adoption, we would fix a lot of the world’s problems. 

The only way to stop adoption is to remove the NEED for adoption and address the causes such as help single mothers financially to be able to raise their child.

Some mothers are not well enough to raise their child and there are many more causes that create a need for adoption.

by Tim Kim

Families who come together through adoption deserve the same rights, privileges, and security as biological families including citizenship and nationality, which are the fundamental human rights of all individuals.

Citizenship is critical to economic stability, family preservation, and social legitimacy.

Legislation is needed to ensure that citizenship rights are equally applied to all children of American citizens.

Adoptees who join American families as children, grow up with American values and contribute to our nation’s communities in every way.

Equal citizenship rights will also strengthen our national values by empowering adoptees to fully participate in American democracy.

by Joy Alessi, Co-director of Adoptee Rights Campaign

Not Helpful

Uh oh .. did you write a review like that? Perhaps you bought something based on a review like that? Or like me, did you groan when you saw it because the review just isn’t actually helpful?

We’ve come to increasingly understand that representation changes the conversation through the different experiences that inclusion brings. We are seeing that when the writers’ rooms of Hollywood include women, people of colour and LGBT writers our understanding can dramatically shift altogether and deepen. Seth Myers team have shown this in great comic style with their White Saviour Movie Trailer.  

However, it hasn’t yet become expected that adoption stories should have adoptee advocates representing adoption. Adopting parents continue to dominate the narrative of adoption over adult adoptee voices both in Hollywood on social media and within our families. As Angela Tucker pointed out on Red table talks – “For me to talk about transracial adoption is to hurt somebody”. This creates an unusually weighted dynamic in which may adoptees remain silent, maintain the status quo or even promote adoption.  

I use amazon reviews as an analogy because you’ll often see gift givers reviewing products based on the fact that someone they gifted it to “loved it”. When I see that, I groan inwardly. This person is either humble, bragging or completely dismissing that many of us will feign delight over gifts we don’t like out of respect for the kindness of the giver. It doesn’t make the giver credible as a reviewer. This kind of review tells us nothing about the product itself in a thoughtful or useful way. Did the product deliver what was expected? Did it break after four uses? How does it fit?  

I wouldn’t claim that being a dancer is easy because I know someone who’s a dancer and they seem fine. Try asking a five year old to explain how to drive a car and you’ll get much the same level of coherence and reliability as a non-adoptee talking for adoptees. There are layers and layers of things you don’t even know you don’t know. Even adoptees need time, reflection and validation, to get clear about the experience. I myself have much greater clarity about how adoption affected me now that I can look back over nearly fifty years of patterns of behaviour. How can anyone expect to talk helpfully about it from the outside, when even adoptees can struggle to articulate it from the inside until they’ve processed it.

The only way to even begin to comprehend what adoption is really like is listen to adoptees. Quiet your minds while doing so, resist the urge to listen or argue. We are well used to talking with people listening while finding ways to discount with comments like, “but lots of people feel that way”. If I recounted an assault and the feelings of powerlessness, would you really think it was helpful to tell me lots of people feel powerless in their lives? Or would you consider the context?

Listen to understand, explore and most of all to validate. You can offer healing, you can find ways to empathise, you can be a part of the solution. If you don’t want to offer relief and healing to an adoptee, you really need to ask yourself why you don’t want to do that, what’s in it for you to avoid it?

About Juliette Lam

There Is Only Me

“All those moments will be lost in time like tears in the rain.”

I’m reminded of that line from the movie Blade Runner that was set in November 2019 and spoken by Roy Batty, the replicant who was fighting against time and against his creator who doomed him by installing a kill switch. Those words weigh heavy on this adoptee because I have chosen to stop my clock by not looking into my origins or searching for any blood relatives. Any memory of roots or of faces or events that would connect me to my own origin story I have chosen to forego because no one can claim me. I am no one’s son. My biological existence and furtherance are all now under the aegis of my force of nature. I know my face and other physical features are not reflected in anyone else on this planet, so I am free to take control of my own story, to tell it to myself without deceit, without manipulation. My name is in a passport within another passport, within another. My tree of blood is a stump in the backyard of a tenement where my body was found in Saigon, lost, then found again in a two-level suburban house in northeastern America that couldn’t keep me forever. Because forever is a fallacy to my adopted body. In my own body is where I belong.   

About Kev Minh