My realities of being adopted from China

by Xue Hua adopted from China to the USA.

Hi everyone! My name is Xue Hua and I was adopted as a 1 year old from Hunan, China. I live in Indianapolis in the USA, where I’ve grown up. My (white American) parents had 3 biological children and then adopted me when their youngest was 7 years old. About a year after adopting me, we adopted another girl from China, and then another about 3 years after that. So we are a family with a total of 6 girls – 3 biologically related and white, and 3 adopted and Chinese.

While it’s definitely been nice having siblings who are also POC and adopted (which I know many do not have), it’s also been quite hard having siblings that are white. Over the past 2 years, there has been some serious family fall-out, and on my part, much because of how we have communicated/not communicated about race and adoption. It’s hard because I had really looked up to my older sisters, and they have prided themselves on being very “woke” and social justice-minded, but yet, they have largely refused to acknowledge how they have contributed to my experiences with racial trauma in our family, and that’s been a recent big breaking point in our relationships. Fortunately, although my mom is fairly conservative, she has been much more understanding and willing to look at herself honestly.

Another major theme in many adoptees’ stories is abandonment issues, which I am no stranger to. In addition to obviously being put up for adoption and living in an orphanage as a baby, my adoptive father, who I was very close to, died when I was 8 years old. While my mom and I have always been close, she had the tendency to shut down when conflict and stress increased, so I spent a lot of my childhood (especially after my dad died) feeling emotionally abandoned as well. I see many other fellow adoptees in our social media groups who share similar struggles!

One thing that’s helped a lot throughout my adoption journey is becoming friends with other Asian women. While there are moments of feeling “more/too white,” I have, more often than not, felt very included and welcomed. It has also been a great outlet to discuss race and racism with fellow adoptees who truly understand what I’m talking about / experiencing.

Another thing that’s been helpful is writing. I recently wrote a personal creative nonfiction piece on being a transracial adoptee and it won “best of” the nonfiction category at my college’s literary & art magazine! It was so cathartic telling my story to others and being so generously recognized for doing so. I highly recommend for any other adoptee writers out there to share your story – whether for personal or public use!

Being Truly Seen as a Filipino Adoptee

by Arlynn Hope Dunn, adopted from the Philippines to the USA; presented at the 16th Philippine Global Consultation on Child Welfare Services on 24 September, 2021.

Mabuhay and good morning! My name is Hope and I’m joining you from Knoxville, Tennessee, in the southeastern United States. Thank you to ICAB for inviting me to be a part of the Global Consultation on international adoption. I am grateful to access the post-adoption resources of ICAB, which have been significant in my process to reconnect to my birth family. I emphasize that my story and reflection today are my own and am not speaking for the lived experiences of other adoptees. I hope everyone who listens to our testimonies today will be open to various perspectives on adoption as it influences us across our lifespan.

My Beginnings

I was born in Manila in December 1983 and in July 1984, I was flown from the Philippines with my social worker, to meet my adoptive parents and six year old sister who was adopted from Korea. We had an idyllic, quiet suburban life, my mom was a housewife and my dad was a geologist, who often traveled around the country. Our family most likely would have relocated west to accommodate my dad’s work but we never left Tennessee. My dad had juvenile diabetes and developed pneumonia and passed away three days before my 1st birthday. My mother, a polio survivor, which left her with nonuse of her right arm, was suddenly a single mother of two small children without nearby relatives. The unresolved grief of losing my father reverberated through our family for years through the emotional withdrawal of my sister, who was very close to our dad .. to my mother who cycled into prescription drug abuse so deeply at times she was unable to look after me and my sister. As for me, I oscillated from the role of  comic relief to absorb tensions between my sister and mother to self-regulating my own emotions by hoarding food as a child and bottling up my emotions, to make myself scarce and small. While I grew up in a home that verbalized love, I now recognize patterns of neglect and codependency that  impacted my development. I was also raised in the era of the early 90’s where social norms and media reinforced color blindness rather than offer race as an opportunity to discuss and celebrate unique cultural diversity. 

Unlike the large Filipino communities in California, there was little diversity where I was raised, as the majority of my school and community was white with a few Black students. I was one of three Asian students and we were all adopted. Rather than gravitate towards each other, we leaned into different friend groups as a natural part of assimilation. Of the three of us, I was more quiet and painfully shy, which made me an easy target of bullying. At the age of seven, I was called the “N” word on the school bus. I was told my mother gave birth to me in a rice paddy. Ironically, at the return of the school year in Fall, girls would flock to touch my skin and ask how I got so dark. Those times, I was so proud of my dark skin and I never learned about colorism until I was an adult. Eventually the bullying declined until after the attack of the twin towers on 11 September 2001, where racism resurfaced and another student told me to get blown up with the rest of my people. In response, my teacher made me hug the other student because at 17, “he was just a boy”. My family’s response was to remind me that I am American as though that alone is enough armour to withstand and deflect the verbal violence. I internalized so much shame of being different, which I equated to less than, that I became complicit in my own cultural erasure and plummeting self esteem.

Young Adulthood

As a young adult, I struggled with milestones that came naturally to my peers. I failed most classes in high school but my principal liked me and let me graduate on time. I dropped out of college without a vision of who I wanted to be by 21. I ended a six year relationship and engagement and  couldn’t hold down a job by 23. I was active in the evangelical church but was told by elders that my depression  and suicidal ideation resulted from my lack of faith. Eventually, I gained experience by working with children. I went back to college at age 27 while working multiple jobs and  was accepted into the occupational therapy assistant program, where I  gained mental health tools and later graduated with honors and delivered the graduation speech.

As an outlet from my busy college and work schedule I enjoyed going to the movies alone and in 2016, I saw a movie that was the catalyst for my journey to find my heritage.  Lion is a movie about the real life Saroo Brierly, who was raised by his adoptive Australian parents and eventually reunited with his first mother in India. As Saroo is gathered in his first mother’s arms, a dam of emotions broke within me, primarily guilt that somehow I had misplaced the memory of my first mother. Something deep within me, awakened as I witnessed this tug of war on his emotions, played out on a cinema screen. I saw a mirror that illuminated myself  as he ran interference between two worlds that rarely saw him and the complexities of adoption and how he was left to reconcile this unbearable weight alone.

Reclaiming my Philippine Heritage

I began my journey to reclaim my Philippine heritage through my name. For the last four years, I’ve transitioned from my adoptive name Hope back to my birth name Arlynn which is Gaelic for “oath, pledge”. It feels empowering to return to something that I now know for certain was given to me by my first mother. Before I formally began my search into my history, I told my sister, who supported my decision. It was several months before I asked my mom if she knew any other details about my birth family other than from the correspondence that she had given to me in a binder. I felt I had to protect her feelings as if me wanting to suddenly know about my first family would hurt her. She told me there was no other information.  Later, I would find out that was a lie.

Throughout my life, my mother continued to struggle with her misuse of prescription pain medication. As a child, I recall my mother pointing out which medication bottles she used in case she didn’t wake up for me to call the police. At times, I slept  on the floor by her room to ensure she was still breathing. I was 32 when she required hospital intervention for withdrawal symptoms, she told me in her anger that she wished she had left me in my birth country. It hurt more than if she had slapped me because she never lashed out about my adoption when I was younger. I walked out of her room feeling like I lost another parent.

Eventually, my childhood home was sold and my mom went to a nursing home for care following a brain hemorrhage. My sister and I recovered our mom’s safe deposit box at her local bank, which unbeknownst to me held my full case study. My sister told me I was never supposed to know and our mom made her promise not to tell me, when she was younger.  I sat alone in my car sobbing as I read the name of my first father for the first time as he was not listed on my birth certificate, which I always had access to growing up. It detailed how my parents had seven children and five of them died during childhood from sickness. My parents separated while my father stayed with their surviving children and my mother stayed with her nephew refusing to reconcile with my father not knowing she was pregnant with me. Over time, my mother began to wander away from home and was institutionalised. After I was born she wondered away from home again and found singing to herself.  After my birth, I was recommended to be placed at a temporary child shelter as my mother was unable to care for me. A purple thumb print in lieu of a signature directed her deed of surrender for me to the social welfare authorities.

Long lost family

Searching for Biological Family

Thanks to  the resources of ICAB and Facebook, I was able to locate my surviving brother and sister and learned that my birth parents  have passed on. In early 2021, I was able to find my first mother’s relatives including her only surviving sister. I’m still astonished and grateful that my siblings and extended family have embraced me and I ache with the longing to meet them, to be touched by my people. Before the pandemic I had goals to travel to the Philippines, but during the closing economy, I lost two of my jobs, my mental health suffered from the isolation of living alone during the lockdown, and I eventually lost my housing, and the money that was raised by friends and family to go to the Philippines had to keep me from living in my car, until I could stay with friends. Since last November, I’ve been able to gain a full time job and this summer, I found a therapist, also a transracial adoptee and she has been working with me to process my grief and the survivor’s guilt I’ve felt knowing I somehow outlived many of my siblings. As I slowly rebuild my life, a renewed energy to return one day to my motherland to meet my siblings motivates me further.

While my quest to reclaim my motherland, my lost language, and my siblings has carried profound heartache, there has been tremendous joy in connecting with my nieces who are teaching me Waray Waray and Tagalog phrases. I have curated my social media so the algorithms draw me toward other Filipino adoptees, artists, writers, and healers. This past December, I turned 37, which was the same age as when my first mother had me. On my birthday, I was able to meet with a Baybaylan priest who prayed over me and my ancestors. During all this time since I rediscovered by case study, I was trying to grapple with the grief and at the very end, he began crying. We cried together and that small, kind gesture touched me so deeply because for the first time I felt like someone was sitting with me in my grief, and it was so intimate because I felt truly seen in that moment and worthy of love. 

Thoughts for Adoption Professionals

The practices of the adoption industry have changed drastically over the years since I was adopted. I hope that the conversations around adoption continue to shift toward adoptees to include our stories that illuminate this wide continuum of lived experiences that point not only to the good or bad experiences but hold them all to a critical lens by adoption professionals. I hope practitioners of this industry recognize and acknowledge the degree to which trauma from early child separation from our first mothers and the role of assimilation and the loss of cultural association impacts adoptees. Are prospective parents trained in this and also in grief counselling? Consider looking toward practices which ensure family preservation, if possible. If adoption is granted, how will you ensure that a child has resources to find community if they live in places not culturally diverse? How will they find community? A final question for reflection: when a child is relinquished from your country, what practices will be ensured to support that adoptee who wants to return to their country of origin, without that person to feel like an outsider, a tourist, or intruder?

I have a short video of a photo collage I created that spans across my life from the time I was a baby ’til now.

Thank you so much for listening to my testimony.

Maraming Salamat po.

Music Inspired by my Bolivian Origins as an Adoptee

by Jo R. Helsper adopted from Bolivia to Germany.

Inspiration for my Music

I’m interested in music since the day I was adopted to Germany. I like to say I was born with music in my blood . I started playing classical music instruments and tried many other instruments, like piano, clarinet, guitar and so on.

During my childhood, we had a twice yearly meeting organized from our German adoptive parents, where us Bolivian adoptees could meet each other, getting to know our same roots and also so the parents could talk about the themes of adoption. When I was about 6 or 7 yrs old, our parents invited a Bolivian music group for our meeting. That was the first time I heard Bolivian folk music in concert. Before this, I had only ever heard it via MC’s or CD’s so I was absolutely fascinated from the singing and playing the cultural instruments and that was the time when I decided to play the instruments as well.

I’m absolutely happy being adopted to Germany but learning my native instruments made me feel like I have a connection to my land, where I come from even though I’ve never seen it before. So I went on with playing, writing and singing the songs from Bolivia.

When I grew up I also learned Spanish. To understand the meaning of the songs was also important for me because singing alone was not enough. I wanted to also know what the songs meant.

My inspiration into my music is the connection to my land where I was born and the fascinating culture of Bolivian Indians and the mountains.

I still haven’t visited Bolivia. I hope that any day I will go and visit my old orphanage and the city where I was born. When I play music, it’s like I’m closer to Bolivia and I can imagine how the sunset over the mountains starts and how the wind blows over the fields. It’s also a good method to relax and forget about the stress sometimes.

Listen to Jo’s music of Bolivia:

Community Building in Adoption and Adoptee Spaces

The Way to Lift Your Activism

By Melissa Ramos / Brita Melissa Botnen Søreng adopted from Guatemala to Norway.

The American student protester, poet, and advocate, Eva Maria Lewis, defines the two interchangeable terms of societal and political influence such as advocacy and activism like this, “To be an activist is to speak. To be an advocate is to listen.”

Referring to the more active-based form versus the institutional form of influence—activism is protesting and opposing a social cause or political reform, whereas an advocate is supportive or suggestive. Both with the intent to educate and bring awareness to one particular topic but at different volumes and reach. Where the advocate operates more institutionally within a system, gathering relevant actors around the decision-making table, the other uses public spaces to be seen and heard with a more person-based focus. The individual activist approach is more aligned with community building as action-based efforts surrounding injustice and inequality matters are perceived as more aggressive to create change.

This article is solely part of my perspective on adoptee and adoption communities from a local perspective of Norway, but also my thoughts on it globally. Having contributed to different projects, small and big, in adoption and adoptee-led communities in Norway and abroad—I have gradually become aware of the need for greater collectivity when it comes to advocacy and activism concerning the topic of intercountry adoption. In my view, equally important as pushing legal cases, publicly sharing a personal backstory, and educating the ignorant—focusing on the community itself as one in a long-term perspective can strengthen each specific task and role, separately and collectively. This is my take on community building from the perspective of the work of intercountry adoptees based on experience(s).

What is community building?

Aside from building a community presence on social media and in closed groups, which make up the majority of adoptee communities and organizations online, community building in practice (and offline) refers to activities, practices, and policies that support and foster positive connections among individuals, groups, organizations, and geographic and functional communities per definition (Weil, 1996). A community is founded on a shared identity and is the space where practices and policies are met on behalf of a population group such as marginalized groups as intercountry adoptees.

To illustrate, Intercountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV) appears to be an online community-based entity catering to smaller umbrella organizations despite not having a set physical operative function in practice. Like other organizations, institutions, and actors in a society, each adoptee-led organization also belongs to a certain societal level based on size, reach, and the organization’s objectives. By placing an organization and group and better understanding how it relates to others, will create an awareness of the lay of the land and the scope of the actual work.

Community action organizes those affected by public or private decisions or non-decisions where the goal is to challenge existing political, social, and economic structures and processes. To do that, it is necessary to first explore and explain how power realities impact the adoptee life and to develop a critical perspective of the status quo and alternative bases of power and action (Bryant, 1972).

A growing trend: As more people demand their voices be heard, advocating for a cause has gradually become the norm. In the image, a quote by Amanda Gorman and a photo of Ewa Maria Lewis.

Based on the definitions above on community building and community action, perhaps we should refer to active and present adoptees as community activists to create togetherness and take individual activism and advocacy further. Not to at least move the focus from individualism and competition to political engagement, systemic familiarization, and legal understanding. Maybe then we will see real impact and tangible results faster under one —by not only building and growing a community but a community of activism and advocacy, namely collective action.

Community building and legal advocacy

The building of the global adoption community to bring about structural changes is in many ways still much developing. With few legal cases of (first-generation) adoptees, much work is still to be done community-wise and across countries. There is a clear relationship between community practice and policy directions as mentioned, meaning the key to advancing petitioning, filing legal cases, political campaigning, or changing the existing narrative or storytelling lies with strengthening, exploring, and expanding community practices also, not just the specific tactic.

Collectively, a community activist strives to gather forces at the local level for communities to alter the status quo. He/she/them takes strategic action, individually or with others, as a member and on behalf of a community. Community learning and development is about empowering a group of people for them to participate and be involved in a case or event that is of common concern. Fighting for a peculiar case as the topic of intercountry adoption regardless of approach, you quickly realize that it comes with many strong voices and strong presence by choosing to engage. It can be easy to lose track of principal movements and come to terms with what you stand for yourself in a (still unfamiliar) field and environment with so many different opinions, knowledge, and approaches.

From the standpoint of observance and the choice to not take a more prominent role than I have in the communities I have been a part of—the will to match and gather the right people, thus bringing the necessary tools to the right stakeholder(s) grew naturally. Subconsciously, growing the community and environment I was part of myself. You most likely have HR representatives, a coach, or a mentor figure responsible for tracking your overall personal and professional development in your daily job. What I found missing when entering the adoption and adoptee space was someone doing this advising beyond advising on the topic of adoption itself. In other words, contextualizing lived experiences, our experiences.

Remember that general views and perceptions of the communities and the topic itself (from a legal, social, or political standpoint) from the outside world have much value. The voices of the public should be taken advantage of to map the lay of the land instead of being seen as a hindrance to understanding. It’s when we map the public narrative of adoption; we uncover what the actual challenges are and what those challenges entail when it comes to knowledge dissemination specifically. And it is much needed, especially in a space where prominent stories and bold voices are easily misguided, wrongly framed, or even exploited.

In Norway, prominent adoptees have begun to leverage public spaces and cultural scenes to get our message heard, as well as navigating the political system and affecting policies. This has all been based on dialogue and involvement with relevant actors such as ministries, directorates, the state child welfare and family welfare services, adoption organizations, country groups, public representatives, and others with an interest in the topic of international adoption, etc. Now, the climate is moving towards ombudsman’s offices and organizations of equality, immigration, and racism topics equally relevant for adoptees and adoption communities in Western countries. This is how we make intercountry adoption relevant and how we best tackle complex topics.

Adoptee-driven arenas: In Norway, intercountry and domestic adoptees have found various forms of gathering forces to advocate for accountability and to educate the public about adoption.

One global community long-term

I often think to myself how many more adoptees or adoptive/biological parents would come forward if they had the right tools to do so. Maybe a push in the right direction or a meeting/dialogue with a person having done the same is all it takes. For first-generation adoptees that never had role models or someone to mirror; this can not be underestimated being intercountry adoptions are still facilitated to and from many countries such as China, Colombia, and India (41% of all sending countries being Asian), as well as European countries such as Ukraine and Bulgaria being amongst the top ten sending countries. The point being, there is much to gain from each other and across borders as it is through online forums. If you don’t find your place in the community where you live, look elsewhere. Look for adoptees from the same country of origin as yourself but in different parts of the world and engage across countries of origins with like-minded adoptees. Most importantly, think about what you know about the topic and what you can bring to others, whether it’s your own experience, about the topic itself, or knowledge about your country of origin. Think about the network you have built, and who could benefit from it? What the message is and who the correct recipient is. This is how we grow and create progress, folks, also across borders!

In a space, we are much in control of ourselves without frames or guidelines; this approach is of the utmost importance to bring relevant actors together and get results. What is asked of you is to put your pride away. In unfamiliar terrain, which much of the communities are to the majority of (younger) adoptees, comparisons, jealousy, and insecurities can bring out the worst in a person as this is the only space where one meets and gets in touch with those personal elements that are usually untouched in daily interactions. Tangible results serving a whole group are only achieved when differences are put aside, and each individual competence is recognized as opposed to the majority voice paving the way.

What is worse than exclusion, exploitation, or unethical working methods directly in and from adoptee-led communities? When the outside world is what it is in terms of familiarizing with intercountry adoptees as a group, keeping the communities as safe and pure as possible should be a given. Not everyone can be fully updated about their country of origin, the adoption topic, and legal movements in the communities, which are not expected. However, engaged and active adoptees usually focus and are concerned with adoption topics to some degree throughout their lives in addition to the daily concerns of the average person. And with different expertise and competencies of the adoptee experience, the utopia in a community sense would be a broader organization where experienced activists and advocates from groupings across countries focus on what they do best, whether it be on legal or political matters. The point is that each adoptee’s engagement level and involvement needs to be respected, especially amongst peers, and can be utilized better in some shape or form to grow a community presence long-term.

The collective approach

It is a known fact that everywhere in any society—the wrong, unpassionate, and unfit people inhabit the wrong positions, yet have the power to decide matters concerning yours and mine’s lives and livelihood. Those with the power to control policies and implement measures that beneficiaries, victims, or affected individuals are often more knowledgeable about, such as adoptees. There is a reason why there are ambassadorships and mentor programs in specific sectors and industries or as part of an organization’s outreach and profiling. With this approach, I am trying to demonstrate the need for greater collectivity in adoption and adoptee communities, amongst and across all stakeholders such as lawmakers, bureaucrats, adoptive organizations, adoptive and biological families, social and health care workers, etc. And with having this mindset, you, as an adoptee advocate or activist, can still influence decision-making processes. To put it simply—you influence by influencing others!

With this, I hope to inspire others to use their network to the benefit of others and to connect with their peers, whether it is a resourceful adoptee parent, an adoptee activist, or a professional working for an adoption-related entity. Many heads surround the intercountry adoption case in one way or another—and we need them all; we just need to systematize it. To increase critical knowledge and attitudes on the one case we all care about.

To hear more about how I think you can grow your community or individual advocacy, please reach out via melissabrita@gmail.com

Educational Resource for Professionals

Launch Day

I am proud to launch our new adoptee led educational video resource for professionals designed to help doctors, teachers, and mental health professionals better understand our lived experience as intercountry adoptees.

This project has been a huge effort over the past 6 months in Australia to gather adult intercountry adoptee voices and share what we would like education and health professionals to know, so they can better support us on our complex life path.

Overall our project included a production team of 6, direct input into the film scripts from 18 adoptees who auditioned, filming of 8 adoptees, provision of music from 5 adoptees, a feedback/review team of 10 professionals, translation support from 3 adoptees, and emotional support throughout the project to the film participants from Relationships Matters – Gianna Mazzone. This has truly been a community collaboration!

I look forward to hearing feedback on what you think after you have a look. I would also appreciate you sharing the resource link to any doctors, teachers and mental health professionals whom you feel would benefit from this resource.

Huge thanks to our project funders:

Relationship Matters who for the past 5 years ending June 2021, did an incredible job of providing for our community a free mental health psychology based counselling service to intercountry adoptees and our families under the federally funded ICAFSS service (currently awarded to Relationships Australia for the next 5 years);

NSW Committee on Adoption and Permanent Care  which brings together government and non-government agencies, support groups and individuals interested in, involved in, or affected by adoption and permanent care or related aspects of Out of Home Care within New South Wales (NSW);

and supported by the Australian Government Department of Social Services, Australia’s Central Authority for intercountry adoption.

Adoption and the Impact on our Partners

by Brian who is married to an intercountry adoptee, who has lived an illegal intercountry adoption. We have changed the names and places in this story to protect identities.

My name is Brian and I’m married to an intercountry adoptee. I am sharing my story to help people understand how sensitive and hurtful adoption is, to everyone involved, particularly the adoptee.

Merely telling the adoptee story does not tell the whole story. Adoption is like the detonation of an atomic bomb. The fallout from adoption adversely affects others who surround the adoptee.

How We Met

I met Melissa in the latter half of 1998, in the capital of her birth country. When we met, I was a First Officer (Co-pilot) flying Boeing 747-200 jumbo jets. I did my lay-overs in the same hotel where Melissa was. At that time, she was in the hotel being interviewed by a media scrum in the hotel lobby. I was merely curious on what all the fuss was about. Two weeks earlier, I had seen her being interviewed on television. I thought to myself, “What a sweet, well-spoken, pretty girl. Why can’t I meet someone like her.” Little did I know then.

So I knew that she was there, in the capital of her birth country, to meet her biological parents. But I didn’t really know all the background to Melissa’s adoption or the complications and her turmoil.

I have spent a lot of years flying throughout Asia and staying for varying lengths of time.  Asia has so many unique cultures and each one mysterious. I have always liked visiting smoky Buddhist, Confucian, or Taoist Temples. My first visit to Asia was in 1985 to Hong Kong, twelve years before it came under the hammer and sickle and the five star trademark of Communist China. I taught Melissa how to use chopsticks.

That said, I was aware of the dirty deals, the corruption at the highest levels, payoffs and other forms of guanxi (关系), smiles, relationships, respect for and some knowledge of their languages and cultures by foreigners and knowing that money gets things done. For example, a Tourist Visa converted to a Work Visa by an employer’s handler/translator.

Melissa and I saw each other over the next six months during my lay-overs in the capital of her birth country. Sometimes we could only see each other for 5 minutes but it was rejuvenating and it sustained me whilst I flew off to some other part of the world.  Melissa was always in my thoughts. I remember I would buy her some unique gift from some country and mail it to her. On our last meeting, we walked to the park where I proposed marriage to a shocked Melissa.

After that, I began my Captain upgrade and transition training at Boeing to fly new Boeing 747-400 aircraft. I could not see Melissa and I did not fly to the capital of her birth country again until after I became a Captain. She was not there anyway. She had returned to Australia with her adoptive Australian parents, John and Jane. 

I eventually got to be with Melissa again to continue our relationship. I attempted to get to Australia but our plans we made were frustrated. When I did arrive, I was shocked to learn Melissa had moved out of her parents home. She was living on her own for some time. She was renting was some cold, damp, back room with no real privacy, and all sorts of unsavoury characters visiting, smoking and looked like druggies to me. Melissa’s landlord was renting the place, so I am not sure if sub-renting to Melissa was even legal. But that is the position Melissa was in. When I was in Melbourne, I had a nice suite downtown. I stayed there every month, thereafter. Eventually however, I rented an apartment – and truthfully, it was only a little better than where she had been staying, but it was our nest and it was convenient to downtown. I had also been renting a car so we could go for drives, visit her parents and do whatever.

It was a bit puzzling and concerning why Melissa left home but I never got the full story.  

Immigrating to her Adoptive Country

Sometime after I arrived in Australia, I learned the letters and packages I had mailed to Melissa were simply discarded or hidden by Jane, Melissa’s adoptive mother. Her younger sister recovered some. Perhaps Melissa thought I lost interest, while I was away in other parts of the world or when I was in training at Boeing. I can absolutely assure you, she was always on my mind and I was eager to see her as soon as my training was completed. Jane’s actions were unfair for both of us because it left Melissa more vulnerable.  

An Immigration Officer commented that I was visiting Australia so often that I should consider applying for Permanent Residency, so I did. In July 2001, filling out the paperwork myself and paying the fee I merely trusted the process because I was a Boeing 747-400 captain, a professional with a decent income, self-funded, a former Army officer and a Native English speaker. I assumed that immigrating to Australia would be a walk in the park. Make no mistake about it, the Department of Immigration are true bastards. They made our life hell unnecessarily. I was issued an 820N Spouse Visa with No-Right-To-Work.

Melissa and I married on 5 March 1997 in Los Angeles. I started a contract with another airline, flying the older versions of the Boeing 747 as a Captain. Sadly I lost my job as a Captain because of the dirty games the Department of Immigration play. I will NEVER forgive them for that. They played every dirty trick in their playbook to win. They claimed they lost my entire case file (including electronic copies?) just before going to the Migration Review Tribunal. Fortunately my Migration Agent and I had all the documents and submissions, either in original or Certified True Copy. I finally earned Permanent Residency in 2003 and I became an Australian citizen in 2005.

This was an extremely stressful period of time for both Melissa and I. It was deliberately made that way, by Department of Immigration. I lost my career. Lost my dignity. Lost my income. And, I believe like other Spouse Visa couples we had come to know and who could not stand up to Immigration’s bullshit, they expected us to fail. When we saw those couples separate, it made us worry about our future, but it seemed to make us more resilient and determined. We lived in a small, one bedroom room apartment and drove an old Volvo 244DL. We lived very frugally. I had to appeal to the Migration Review Tribunal because my application was rejected, even though we were legally married, because I lacked 11 days out of 12 months in the country and there was just no way I could make them understand that travel is a big part of an international airline captain’s life. They were just bloody-minded obstructionist.

Dealing with Adoptive Family Dynamics

Add to all that, Melissa and I were under duress from her adoptive mother, Jane. I remember phone calls that started out calmly and would become argumentative.  Melissa would be in tears when she got off the phone. I would discourage her from calling in the future, but Melissa seemed compelled. It was usually the same scene when she would go to visit. It was hard for me to just sit there without defending her but I had to. At one point, I threatened to file a law suit if Jane did not desist with her bullying and abuse. There was a point in time when I was unwelcome in the house. I would sit outside, waiting for Melissa in the Volvo. Jane always had some form of psychological control of Melissa and Melissa always seemed to go back for more abuse. Almost like self-flagellation. It feels so good when it stops.

I got my Aviation career partially back on track 2006 when I was offered a contract as a Captain flying Boeing 737-800 aircraft in Hong Kong then in China. We were away five years, but Jane would call. She even came to visit! Even China was not far enough away. When I decided to buy a house, I decided to buy a house in Western Australia.  Yes, it is scenic and I love my photography but it was a necessary move to remove Melissa from the grasp of her adoptive mother. But Jane has visited a few times already.  The years from when Melissa was a tender young girl to present day have flown by.  She is now in her 40s, is stronger and stands up to her adoptive mother, but it has been a hard, rough, uphill road.  

Being supportive and sympathetic is not enough. Finding ways to make Melissa a stronger person and have the courage to stand up for what she believes in has given her a sharp edge that sometimes cuts me. I feel Melissa is unable to move on, towards normality. There’s something missing. It is some internal conflict. It’s almost like an illness, not the same as schizophrenia, but a bit of detachment from reality, sometimes she can lie in bed most of the day, not wanting to face the day or wake up to her life. 

Racism and It’s Impacts

Also, I think the innate racism in Australia has had a hand in Melissa knowing she is different, even though she speaks with a natural Aussie-girl accent and has spoken English at home since she came to Australia as an infant. Most white folks cannot tell a Korean from a Thai. And her Asian face has inspired some racists to come forward with “Go home Chink bitch!” Melbourne is home. Western Australia is home. That is all she has known. Even when Australians hear her speak, they cannot get beyond the Asian face. The best the ignoramuses can come up with is, “You speak good English” instead of correctly stating, “You speak English well” or saying nothing at all. When she tells them she is Australian or from Melbourne or Western Australia, the idiots retort with, “Where are you really from?”  They just cannot simply accept.

But it gets worse. During the five years we lived in China, twice she was physically assaulted by Chinese men because she only spoke English. Even there in China, they did not recognize her birth country origins and would ask her if she is Japanese or Korean. Worse, they just could not get their heads around her being adopted. In China, they would often remark that Chinese do not have freckles. But, they do in fact. The Chinese are about as racist as Australians.

I feel Melissa is in a no win situation. She is not accepted as an Australian and she is not accepted by her birth country. This contributes to her internal conflict. I have a foreign accent and I receive discriminatory remarks as well, but I deal with it differently.

Melissa is conflicted because she has two sets of parents and two versions of herself, neither reconciling with the other. In fact, she has had a DNA test that only adds to the confusion. 

I have spent a lot of time flying throughout Asia, staying for varying lengths of time in all the major capital cities. I know the reality of Asia i.e., that underhanded business occurs, like her forged documents. I remember one day examining her various identity documents and birth certificate. To me, the information looked suspect. I would doubt her name, birthdate, where she was born, etc. But suspecting this information to be false and being able to help Melissa do anything about it in reality is very hard, because who will tell the truth? Will her biological parents for whom saving face is so important? Or her adoptive parents who probably knew that what they were doing was questionable? Child-trafficking is a way of life and it is common knowledge that daughters are not valued as highly as a son in Asian cultures, even Western cultures.  I feel Melissa is lucky that she was not simply discarded, left in the rubbish, drowned, or trafficked for use and abuse by perverts. Often the child-trafficker will assure or falsely promise a birth-mother the child will go to a good home, a childless couple in another town or village. We all read the stories or watch the evening news.

Truthfully, had I known all of these complications and the loss of my career that I worked so hard to build, prior to meeting, I probably would not have pursued a relationship with Melissa regardless of how sweet and cute. But I did not have a crystal ball, did I? I just soldiered on.

Australia’s Lack of Response to an Illegal Adoption

I believe that the Australian government, the adoption agency, and Melissa’s adoptive parents were all complicit in her illegal adoption. There were no thorough investigations to check everything was genuine. Compare this to the rigorous investigations which occurred in order for me to become an Australian Permanent resident and then a Citizen, yet I have all manner of first class evidence to prove who I am. It seems as if the Australian government deliberately had one eye closed with Melissa’s adoption.

Regarding Melissa’s adoptive mother, Jane, I believe she is manipulative, conniving, and has her own mental issues, some of it wrapped around not being able to have her own biological children. I also felt all along that Melissa may have been sexually abused. Her adoptive father is somewhat spineless. He never seems to defend Melissa against Jane’s attacks and nasty words. Though I cannot prove it and have nothing to base it on, I have my suspicions and observations of Melissa’s behaviours and reactions. Melissa told me a story once, that she used to wrap her breasts to disguise them when she was young. I believe Jane precipitated this.

It has been 20 years of battle, protecting Melissa from her adoptive mother. This is why we live in Western Australia and not in Melbourne where Melissa grew up and where her adopted parents remain, although they’ve separated.

After I became aware of Melissa’s illegal adoption and before I really understood the clash between her and her adoptive mother, I decided that I would not bring Melissa to my homeland. I did not want to separate her from the only family she has known and also because I did not want her to change. Maybe that was a mistake. I also feel it is wrong for Caucasian adoptive parents to adopt non-Caucasian children. In my opinion this plays a large part in impacting an adoptee’s mental self-image.

Melissa remains the sweetest girl I have ever known and I love her but I wish she was not so complicated and conflicted.

I Am Here

by Naomi Mackay, adopted from India to Sweden, residing as a documentary film maker in Scotland; currently producing her memoir and film. You can follow Naomi at Linktree, Facebook, Instagram.

I AM HERE!

I pass you in the hall.
I pass you on the streets.
I pass you in the shops.
I pass you on the beach.
I stand next to you when you brush your teeth.
I stand in front of you at the bus stop.
I stand on the balcony.
I stand behind you in the queue.
I sit in front of you on the bus.
I sit opposite you in the waiting room.
I sit at a table in the café.
I sit on the grass in the park.
I smile from under my hair.
I smile from across the counter.
I smile to hide my tears.
I smile to make you feel better.
I talk to those who need it.
I talk to myself.
I talk to you in the queue.
I talk to your dog while your face is in your phone.
I wait for you in the rain.
I wait for the bus.
I wait, while you do.
I wait patiently, for you to see me.
I AM HERE!

Lately I’ve felt like why whole life I’ve been talking into a void, where others have been heard but it’s like I’m not even there. Sometimes I’ll get an awkward smile, often I get told “You get what you put in!” I’m useless, obviously I’m not putting anything in as I get nothing.

Maybe they’re right, I’m a spoiled brat who can’t see it. Maybe they’re gaslighting me.

Whatever the truth is, I’m still invisible, speaking into the void.

Read Naomi’s other ICAV post: Don’t Tell Me to be Grateful

Thriving in These Shifting Times

With all this unpredictable change, it’s more important than ever to manage and conserve your energy because you fuel your entire life with it. You have four sources of energy: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. When we get triggered emotionally, we lose a lot of energy.” – Alice Inoue, national award-winning author and life expert

These are the words from my job training yesterday morning at the Hawaii Convention Center. Alice Inoue was one of our public speakers in our presentation.

I’d been a newly-employed temporary Adjudicator in the Unemployment Claims sector of the Department of Labor for the State of Hawaii. That day, I was training in the art of communicating with clients especially when they’re emotionally escalated. Little did I know, this training would be coinciding with adult adoptee life as well as the public in this time, as I’ve had to cope with emotional triggers all my life.

Now it seems emotional triggers is something we’re all dealing with on a larger scale. Spanning and intermingling with larger demographics of society.

Emotional Triggers of the Unemployed

Covid-19 is affecting all of our lives in seen and unseen ways. Unemployment to date is persisting with over 100,000 issues in the state of Hawaii. I was hired to help alleviate some of these issue. It is a full-time job.

One day is not enough time to even put a dent in this situation.

I talk to customers at work who are struggling in hard times. It can be difficult since as governmental workers we are also living in these Covid times. It is a challenge working with emotionally-triggered people who have fallen unemployed.

Especially being vulnerable to triggers as a person living in these shifting and uncertain times too. From state workers to the public, everyone has more stress, pressure and anxiety than ever. Additionally, as an adult adoptee, I find myself working with my own emotional triggers along with everyone else’s.

So, I sat with my friendly team of adjudicators who were hired on in June and listened.

What I first realized was a pre-conceived notion: that emotional triggers are mostly reserved for people with PTSD. What I learned from the presentation is that triggers also develop with people with any hurt in their childhood.

Emotional Triggers

“Growing up, we had pain that we didn’t know how to deal with,” stated the slide, with a photo of a crying baby on the screen. “As adults, we become triggered by experiences that are reminiscent of those old painful feelings.”

I listened and gulped down my coffee.

In the hour, I learned how triggers are not just in the land of adult adoptee post-trauma but also interweaves broadly in the scope of the world’s social terrain.

Another slide stated: “(Triggers are) the super-reactive places within you that become activated by someone else’s behaviors or comments.”

The Best Advice to Dealing With Emotional Triggers

“Whatever you feel compelled to do, don’t,” Alice Inoue said, as she explained the golden rule for all emotionally triggering situations. “Put your focus on your feet and toes. Feel the ground beneath you. Take yourself out of the visceral experience of threat so you respond rather than react consciously.”

More Tips:

  • Create a “counterfact” or reframe a scenario of a current situation that could be worse, so you can feel better about it instantly.
  • Control what you do have control over: your perspective, decisions and actions. Calm yourself with a “4-7-8” breathing technique.
  • Apply logic to irrational fears when something happens. And, remember the 3 As: Accept, Adapt and Allow.

Thriving with a Post- Adoptee Skillset

The world is changing everyday due to Covid. Amidst this time I have found untraditional footing in the world because of my own life’s experiences.

As an adult adoptee, I am armed with all of the therapy and coping I’ve done in my past, to where I am educated. Additionally, I can extend my practices into a profession where I work with an emotionally-triggered public in this time of Covid-19.

It was like an epiphany, training in how to thrive professionally and personally as one. My adoptee solutions coincided with serving the public together. Thus, in this time, I have been seeing how each of our own rivers can one day meet the ocean. While learning, how life’s challenges can also become our greatest tools of transformation.

“From every crises and challenge emerges blessings,” Alice Inoue said, at the end of the presentation. “You have a lot of blessings coming to you.”

The Ocean, My Mother

by Allison Young adopted from South Korea to the USA.

And on those days when we walked to the sea and found Mi-ja waiting at her usual spot in the olle, Grandmother recited common sayings in hopes of comforting us two motherless girls. “The ocean is better than your natural mother,” she said. The sea is forever.” 

~ The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

One year ago on September 11, after a lifetime of waiting (and one devastating almost-encounter in 2003), I finally met the woman who carried me for 9 months and gave birth to me.

I would like to say it was a happily-ever-after situation, that it was cathartic and I’m so thankful for the meeting but due to her circumstances, I was told we could never have a relationship or even further contact. 

Although I have compassion, this hurt more than I could allow myself to feel. At the time I allowed myself one day to fall apart and then I put those feelings away. I had 3 kids in a tiny apartment in a different country and was soon going to adopt my son. I knew it would probably come back for me later — because that’s how trauma and grief work.

To be rejected by one mother figure broke my heart and then a few months later, to be scorned by my other mother nearly broke me.

Sometimes it takes a life-altering event to realize what love is, to see who is actually loving you and who is kicking you down, while calling it love. I have learned so much in this past year, by far the hardest year of my life. I am learning the meaning of self-love, self-care and boundaries. I am mothering myself, decolonizing my mind and body and allowing the ocean to heal me.

I did seek professional help and am working with a therapist. I am making changes to my life for the better, for my own future and so I can break the cycle for my kids.

When I look at my 4 beautiful children, I hope they know that while I’m far from perfect, I will try so hard to be a good listener — to learn, grow and change; to value what matters most to them and see them for who they are.

백절불굴 (baekjeol bulgul) is a saying which means “indomitable spirit.”

My birthname,수은 (Soo Eun), means “grace of water.”

I will be okay. And I am ever grateful to those who helped to keep me afloat this past year.

For more from Allison, check out her thoughts on What’s in a Name? Identity, Respect, Ownership?

Connecting with People of Colour is Not Automatic for Transracial Adoptees

by Mark Hagland, adopted from Korea to the USA, Co-Founder of Transracial Adoption Perspectives (a FB group for prospective and adoptive parents). Mark originally wrote this for his Transracial Adoption Perspectives group.

I had an absolutely wonderful, hour-long phone conversation today with a fellow person of color (POC) with whom I connected some months ago via Facebook. We had originally connected in a very “Facebook” way–through friends of friends of friends–you know, that Facebook way of connecting.

In order to protect her privacy, I’ll just call her “X.” X is a Black-biracial woman who’s close to my age (I’m 60); we’ve connected very strongly around racial justice and political issues. She’s an absolute delight. We’d love to meet in person someday soon (we live quite far away from each other), and we talked about a wide range of subjects, including racial justice and politics, but also about our lived experiences as people of color; and I shared with her about some of what I do in the transracial adoption world. She was extremely supportive and encouraging. And that prompted her to share some deeply personal experiences around racism, colorism, and challenges as a biracial person specifically.

I’m sharing this here because I want to share about the fact that, growing up in near-total whiteness, I was essentially disabled intellectually and culturally when I first entered young adulthood, in terms of connecting with fellow people of color of all non-white races. I absolutely knew that I needed to connect with fellow POC, but it was difficult at first, because I had been raised in near-total whiteness and absolutely inside white culture–even though white people had never allowed me to “be” white. In other words, I only knew how to connect to my fellow POC in a very “white” way, and it showed.

So it took me years to “break into” POC society. Over time, I was introduced to more and more people, and I acquired cultural fluency with individuals from the various non-white racial groups. Of course, every single person on earth is an individual; that goes without saying. But the ability for a transracial adoptee raised in whiteness to break out of learned whiteness is far from an automatic thing. Indeed, a young-adult transracial adoptee raised in whiteness can inadvertently send signals to individuals of color that can make them hesitant to engage, if one presents oneself as not understanding fellow POC; but it’s like anything else in life–until one has certain kinds of experiences, one lacks the fluency needed to pursue those experiences.

My conversation today brought something to mind for me. For several years, I privately and confidentially advised a particular white transracially adoptive mom. I’ll call her “Y.” She and her husband had raised two Black children, one male, one female; I’ll call her daughter “Z.” Y and her husband raised their children in near-total whiteness in a smallish Midwestern city (around 100,000), and when Z moved to a large city to try to integrate with fellow young Black adults, she was devastated by the rejection she experienced. She was so culturally white that people mocked her and dismissed her out of hand. She had several years of painful experiences before she was able to reach a level at which she was socially and culturally accepted. She’s OK now, but she had a rocky several years (which is why her mom had reached out to me for advice).

One of the biggest stumbles I see happening over and over again in transracially adoptive parenting is what happened with “Y” and “Z.” The parents in that family were loving and supportive of their children, but their daughter hit a wall when she tried to penetrate birth culture as a young adult, and was emotionally devastated by the initial non-acceptance and dismissal that she experienced. But it doesn’t have to be that way. White transracially adoptive parents need to prepare their children to try to integrate with their birth culture and also to become adept at interacting with people of color of all races. It took me a while, but I’ve been so happy to be able to interact with people of color of all non-white races, and to be accepted by them as a fellow POC. And no, that’s not automatic at all. I can tell you that I’ve had countless experiences with Black, Black/biracial, Latinx, Native, and Asian (East, South, Southeast) individuals, in which they saw and affirmed my POC-ness. And I want to make it absolutely clear that my referencing that fact is in no way a boast; instead, is simply my reporting that it is absolutely possible for transracial adoptees to be able to navigate society in ways in which other people of color perceive them as POC and interact accordingly.

Some of this is a bit nuanced and difficult to explain, but I can assure you that there are subtextual communications going on all the time, and there’s a world of difference between interacting with fellow POC as a POC and interacting with fellow POC when they’re putting you at arm’s length. I’ve experienced both, and know the difference.

In any case, if your child of color is not seeing daily mirrors of her/himself in adults and children of their specific race as well as adults and children of all non-white races, and if your child is not actually interacting with POC on a daily basis, it will be far harder for them to begin to integrate with people from their birth race and with people of all non-white races, as they approach adulthood. Please absolutely make sure that early adulthood doesn’t come as a terrible shock, as it did to “Z.” They’ll definitely blame you for leaving them in the lurch in this crucial area. Don’t make them have to figure all of this out by themselves; begin building the needed bridges when they’re young children, so that the connections happen fluidly and organically, and so that their competence evolves forward fluidly and organically as well. It’s a huge element in their lifelong journey, and cannot be ignored. Surrounding your child with media and culture that reflect them is essential, but so is helping your child to be able to interact easily and naturally with members of their race and all non-white races. Both are incredibly important.

In any case, thank you for reading and considering this.

For other articles which Mark has shared:
Coming Out of the Adoptee Fog
Can We Ignore and Deny That Racism Exists for Adoptees of Colour?

For Mark’s new book:
Extraordinary Journey: The Lifelong Path of the Transracial Adoptee