Forgiving and Moving On

My adoptive aunt passed away two days ago and when the grief of this additional news struck, I took space to mourn, and while embracing more of life’s inexplicable changes, I discovered a new and unexpected change in my heart.

In this time, I’ve been home a lot, staying comfy and quiet in Aina Haina, not wanting to go out. I didn’t know this would happen or that my anger would ever subside. But I came to find myself able to forgive in the end, and let bygones be bygones.

I know when my heart changed.

It happened after I’d been doubling up on my therapy for weeks, and specifically, at the moment when I was sitting in a pew, at a new church a few Sundays ago. This is when it happened.

It was probably the most hilarious and beautiful Sunday mass I’d ever been too, in this chapel, with glass windows that reached this vaulted ceiling, overlooking the ocean, on the beach. This guy came in with beach trunks, and no shirt, and every time the musical accompaniment played, he’d stand up and read really loudly out of the bible without being prompted to do this. My seriousness broke into a giddy smile watching this. I started taking photos of him on my phone like a tourist, and that’s when I just felt better.

Understanding dawned on me. Life. Love. Heartbreak. Dissapointment. Loss. Hope. Resiliency. Ke Akua. God. People. Acceptance. This story of my life, where I never got my family, I was never born with culture. But I always knew the values of the world we live in today. Why values are the only thing that keeps us all alive. And I talked to my therapist after that and I told her, I was ready now.

Ready to forgive it all.

It’s Sunday evening. I’m ready for tomorrow too.

I spent all day today reading student poetry and replying to their writings. Outside, it is dark. I can hear the cars passing by my window. And inside me, I feel okay with my adoptee relations and all that’s happened. Inside, I don’t hold resentment.

After reviewing my students’ poetry, I visited a favorite beach of mine and took a photo of the water. After that, I went and got some poké at a nearby food store. I snacked on the poké at the side of my house, overlooking the water as the sun was setting. My kitty was next to the window beside me, watching me through the screen.

For a while, I’ve been questioning what what kind of genre my life is. I used to believe my life was a dark dystopian horror where I was a victim to unfortunate events. That my life was littered with raw, dark situations and characters. It was just today, where I realized, my life is not a horror genre! It’s in fact, been a coming of age story all along.

In the end, I live a quiet life on Oahu. I live humble, alone on my own, in a quiet side of the island. I have my kitty and I’m spending my summer teaching students how to write, watching movies at home, visiting a few of my favorite places each week. I started a new Instagram that I hope might make some new connections.

Even though I get bored at times, I know that the worst is over.

I’m happy to not be in love. I’ve been living my dream of living next to the ocean. I’m reaching a newfound conclusion with life and how my adoptive relations all turned out. I don’t feel the need to block anyone anymore, and these days. I am ready to be authentic and have healthy relations universally, with the boundaries from my commitment to healing and overcoming everyday. And I’m ready to learn more about native cultures and Hawaii, and teach today’s multicultural youth on how to be their own voice in this world.

Now , these days, I’m mostly just wanting to have my own home where it’s affordable to live.

And that’ll be a whole new adventure.

Read Desiree’s previous blog: Adoption can be a Psychological Prison and follow her at Weebly or Instagram @starwoodletters.

Adoption Can Be a Psychological Prison

How do I start over?

The question echoes in my brain every day here in Hawaii, now totally away from the relations of my former adopted life.

How do I live anew as one person in this world?

I left my adoptee ties that were technically governmentally bonded relations that I had no control over as a Filipino orphaned child circa 1980’s. For me, they had been total strangers and I didn’t have any oversight or support in post-adoption.

As time went on for me, I wasn’t able to have the fortune to get to know my biological family as after my reunion in 2012 in the Philippines, I decided to go my own way once I discovered our language barriers and my inability to confirm any facts on them.

So yes, fast-forward to current times and it is Sunday, and I have relinquished my bond of my adoptive ties for various reasons, and it hasn’t been easy but for me, it was necessary.

This break action has been mental, emotional and physical. Slamming this lever down included making physically strategic distance by moving far, far away on my own to the Pacific islands in 2019, re-establishing dual citizenship to my birth country in the Philippines in 2021, and civilly sending a kindly written email to my adoptive parents this year after my adoptive brother’s jarring and untimely death.

Additionally, the extended adoptive ties I’ve noticed can also naturally deteriorate with time itself after years of peaceful but gently intentional non-communication.

What happens after you’re on this path of annexation, you wonder?

For me, I’ve arrived at an interesting intersection in my adulthood when I’ve sort of returned to a former state of orphanhood with no real station in life, no bonds, all biological history, heritage and economic status obsolete all over again.

Doesn’t sound that appealing, I know! Tell me about it.

The perk is that instead of being a vulnerable child, I am a 36-year-old woman living in Hawaii. I have rights. I am in control of my wellbeing and fate. I have responsibilities. I drive my own car, I pay bills, I have funds; I have a job and I am not helpless.

I can take care of myself. So to me, the biggest perks are in being healthy and reclaiming my life, identity and sovereignty needed over my own needs and wellbeing.

So quickly the adoptee bond can turn into toxic relations if the parents are narcissistic or emotionally or physically abusive.

After the death of my adopted brother, who was also a Filipino American adoptee and died of severe mental issues and alcohol poisoning, I had a stark wake-up call of how these adoptee relations were silently impacting me too.

And I had to make better choices for myself, I would be risking too much if I ignored this.

It is like leaving a psychological prison, I told Lynelle on a weekend in May.

After some reflection, I realized that as a child and having to make structured attachments from being displaced, this legal bond fastens.

And as a displaced, vulnerable child, I think one falls privy to co-dependency, the need for a family structure overrides even the need for safety for his or her own wellbeing, like if abuses arise in this domestic home.

Or other aspects might not nurture the adoptee, like when the child isn’t being culturally nurtured according to their birth country.

Or when the parents or family members are financially and socially acceptable as to meeting criteria of adoption, but possess narcissistic personalities which is also detrimental to the child’s personal, emotional, psychological and cultural development.

A child stays glued and psychologically devoted to their family ties through development stages and on past adulthood because the need for foundational attachments is paramount to one’s psychological upbringing and success.

And if these ties are in any way bad for the adoptee early on, I think these relations that were once saving can quickly turn into a psychological prison because you are truly bound to these social ties until you’re strong enough to realize that you have a choice.

And you can break out of this bond, this governmentally established bond, although possibly later on as an adult. And, with some finesse.

As an adult adoptee, from my experience adoptive ties that develop healthily or dysfunctionally, after a certain amount of time both types transitions into permanence to that adoptee. Adoptive ties mesh and fuse just the same as biological ties, once you’ve gone so long in the developmental process.

This adoptive relation is totally amazing when it’s good, like any good relationship.

The spin is that when there are issues plaguing the adoptive unit, which can be subtle, interplaying with the personality and culture of the adoptive relations, these issues can go totally disguised, unreported, and it can be toxic and the affects can last a lifetime.

From experience, I see that it is because the adoptee child is vulnerable and doesn’t know how to report issues in the relations, because the option isn’t even granted to them.

No one is really there to give or tell the adoptee child that they have these rights or options. When it comes to post-adoption, there isn’t much infrastructure.

Sadly, if dynamics are not supportive to the adoptee, in time, it can cost an adoptee the cultural bonds to their own birth country or the loss of their native language.

It can cost an adoptee their sanity and mental health.

It can cost an adoptee their self-esteem, which all bleeds and returns into the social sea of their placement or back out into other countries.

And, it can cost an adoptee their life.

On the upside, if the placement is good, it can save a person’s life as well! And it can allow this adoptee happiness and joy forevermore.

Each side of the coin both instills an adoptee’s human value and the toll the placement takes on every child who becomes an adult in society is also expensive, leading to exponential advantage and success in society, or potential burnouts.

For me, my adoptive placement was costly in the end. However, I was still able to survive, work and live. I was materialistically taken care of, thankfully.

I honestly think much was due to my own faith, offbeat imagination and whatever blind luck I was born with that all carried me through this.

Overall, this has been a total trip and my journey has been very far from embodying the traditional fairy tale adoption story.

So now, it’s time to do the hard work, an adoptee mentor messaged me today. But I can do it, we all can do it! It just takes good choices and regular upkeep.

Nearing the end of this post, I will share to my adoptee community that we have a choice especially once we’re of legal age. I’m sort of a wildflower in general, and a late bloomer, so I’m coming out of the fog and becoming aware now in my mid-thirties.

Yes, we have a lot to rear ourselves depending on the economic status we find ourselves in without our adoptee ties. But like other adoptee peer support has shared, you should not do this kind of thing by yourself. You can have support structures the whole time in this.

And yes, it is terrifying, because you will have to rebuild your sense of identity when leaving toxic family relations. As yes, it can be like rebuilding your identity all over again from when you leave them and start anew, as a now a self-made, sovereign person.

From a Hawaiian private school I work at now, I have come to find that cultural identity building begins in the present and it is built upon values, history, education and the wisdom of the past. Now that I have found a home in Hawaii, maybe I can learn more about it.

I will also be working on weekly goals that I hope to share to the community as I continue on this never-ending journey.

In conclusion, if you are in a good adoptive family, God bless your fortune and I have so much love and happiness for you! However, if you are needing to split away from the ties, like if your adoption wasn’t that healthy, then please know it isn’t impossible.

Professional and peer support is here for you, every day on your way to freedom. You can create your own sovereignty, it will just take work.

Read Desiree’s earlier post at ICAV: What I Lost When I Was Adopted and follow her at Weebly or Instagram @starwoodletters.

Finding Strength in the Darkest Hour

My brother, adopted 2 years before I arrived in our adoptive home, died homeless and mentally ill in the Philippines last week. He was an intercountry Filipino American adoptee, just like me.

We don’t know what happened. He was involved with bad company. I have a feeling that the death was assisted. Neglect was involved. It was in Mindanao, in a rural area, where it’s dangerous for Americans to travel into, I hear. Real kidnappings happen there if they find out you’re American. I couldn’t go to see if this was real. The only person informing was a lady who was bad news from the start. She always asked him for money. Hounding my brother to get a hold of my adoptive mother. And she was a part of this death, taking photos of my brother days before he died homeless of suspected alcohol poisoning.

The news hit me and the grief process has been real and harrowing. I had trouble giving the news to my co-workers. The first day back at work, I cried in the last hour.

What I want to write is what I’ve learned from my life and world as a Filipino American adoptee. This life has never been easy. It hasn’t been fun. I was never comfortable with my white, adoptive family. And I had a mentally ill brother who was from my birth country, brown like me, and only two years older than me, and I loved him with all my heart.

However, he was never healthy. He was abusive to me growing up. He was mentally ill and his abuse grew to where he inflicted it on himself. And he tried to involve me with that too, so I had to have boundaries. I waited for him to get better. I thought he would, but he only got worse. And it made me feel worse as the years went on, carrying this pain. Not knowing where to put it, who to blame, why it was there.

After everything, I want to say that there comes a time when you just need to choose. Where instead of reacting as you had before, you look up and take a new breath because it’s all just gotten to be too much. You notice new details in the clouds and realize that you’re still kicking and you can’t keep having the same thoughts, or the same habits. You feel a shift. You see the need to face the adversity and want to grin in its ugly face instead. You see the need to give yourself the space to be the real you. Because there’s no going back.

I spent so many years hiding in the grief and trauma of my past and I guess I’m writing this because those times are over.

All I know, is that from here, I am going to be strong.

I honor my experience as a Filipino American adoptee with reverence. I will never be ashamed of what I’ve gone through. I will not be embarrassed of my suffering, which I caught myself feeling today, around my co-workers. I will not carry the burdens of my brother’s pain anymore either, which I had. I will love myself. I will forgive myself. I will be gentle on myself. I will no longer be so hard on myself, as before.

All this time, I’ve been carrying around the burdens of a life I never had. I held on to the pain of a love I never got to hold.

Of a family I never got to know.

But my brother died, the only person in the world that I probably ever loved. The only person in whom I ever saw to be real family. And something changed in me.

I breathe, writing this. I am alive, writing this.

I am here in the present. I have survived all of this messed up shit. Being orphaned as a baby in the Philippines. Having to traverse the American life I was given, because that’s how the cookie crumbles. We are given what we’re dealt with and you have to deal with it. You have to adjust. And sometime in adulthood, you learn the importance of being kind to yourself and others in the process because wellbeing is a part of one’s survival.

After all of this, I feel a sense of palpable resolution in the bones of my being. It is to be strong. It is to love what I have in this world today. And it is to not give up.

My resolution is to keep working. To live a healthy life. To be authentic. To live true. I am still here in this world. And I am alone, but I made it out with my faculties in tact.

I haven’t made a lot of friends on this path but I was stern in working hard, turning to a world of art, libraries and schools for an outlet.

I lead a life of reserved strength. I developed my own expression of creative media, wild in my own intellect and undertakings.

And I am just starting out in this world even at 36-years-old.

I don’t know if anyone will relate to this blog but if someone does, just know that I am never going to give up and I don’t want you to ever give up either. Because I’ve been blessed with hearing the stories of just a few of you, and having met a few of you on Christmas, and it has been something to treasure. And you are so vital in this world, you truly are.

I will believe in you and in love as I did when I was younger and I will never stop. Just the way I believed in God as I did when I was younger and I never stopped either. I won’t stop believing in the human race. I won’t stop working towards a higher purpose because that is what gets me up in the morning.

I am here today to say, that the pain and the trials and the struggles will serve a purpose in time.

There is a reason for living and you will find it.

In the darkest hour, you will find strength.

Or strength–will find you.

Read Desiree’s previous blog at ICAV: What I Lost When I Was Adopted

What I Lost When I Was Adopted

I look around me today and I have no family in sight. I was torn at the roots when I was born in the Philippines in destitute poverty in 1985, orphaned at birth and adopted in 1987.

Dually, my intercountry adoption process had systematically erased my entire heritage and knowledge of my ancestors. While also permanently bonding me to people that had no interest in preserving or keeping in tact my birth nationality and culture.

I don’t know why that had to happen in the adoption process.

Why the past needed to be so efficiently erased as if it never existed.

Why did any of this have to be erased?

The narratives of my grandparents, the narratives of my great grandparents, the voices of all the flesh and blood and bones that made my DNA today.

Why did their stories have to leave me?

Was it because I was brown?

Was it because I was born from the Philippines, which in history has always been a developing, marginalized country with a colonized past?

Was it because I was a vulnerable child who didn’t have a say or rights to my own life at that time? Was it because my memories and my identity didn’t matter?

Did I have to be separated from my own birth country and my own birth country’s mother tongue to be saved by a more privileged family?    

And why was the remaining biographical information so unbelievably useless and irrelevant? And why did I have to wait until I was 18 to receive even that information, which parts of it, I later found out from a reunion with my birth mother—was not even true.

Am I complaining because I was orphaned?

Or am I complaining because there were parts of this adoption process that was systemically inhuman including adopting me to a Midwestern Caucasian couple that had shown no interest in preserving my cultural heritage or keeping myself connected to my own birth country’s language. As it shows, even in that adoption documentation, they had no interest in my heritage.

Little did I know—that if I had kept this connection when I was a vulnerable brown child and basically purchased by a privileged white family, I would have been able to return to the Philippines in my adulthood, my birth country, and I would have been able to speak fluently, which would have given me a much easier pathway in reclaiming my citizenship.

Even my birth name, why did my adoptive parents who never met me, suddenly have the right to change my birth name when they adopted/purchased me?

Why kind of rights had been given to them?

What rights were taken away from me in this dual process?

Where did my citizenship in my birth country go when I was adopted?

Why did any of this have to leave me—when I was adopted?

You can read Desiree’s article: On the Road to Recovery, follow her at Weebly or Instagram @starwoodletters.

Spending Thanksgiving on My Own

Holidays have always been a bit of a bugger, at least for me. And to make things worse, I’m spending Thanksgiving alone this year but I’m happy to at least have a couple days off this week because of the holiday! I have some new goals I will be occupying my time with too. Like for one, I hope to start taking local photographs of Hawaii. I think this goal is great because it can motivate me three-fold:

  1. My goal would encourage me to learn more about beautiful Hawaii.
  2. It will motivate myself to meet new people.
  3. I can also refresh my portfolio.

Life in Hawaii as a new single has been peaceful but I do have to admit, it can be lonely. It was tougher in the beginning but I’ve actually had some small periods of joy in passing moments these days.

My List of Little Things That Bring Me Temporary Joy (as a Newly Made Single Person in Hawaii)

  • Listening to Bhutanese pop music on Spotify
  • Sitting at my Favorite Secret Spot overlooking the ocean
  • Junk journaling at home with a movie on
  • Going for jogs next to the highway
  • Eating pokē at any time of the day
  • Talking to friends
  • Checking in with my support groups or creative workshops

Next month will be Christmas.

I’ve been thinking about what it’ll be like visiting my adoptive family in Arizona during that time. It’s been years of estrangement and I haven’t even met a handful of my cousin’s children yet too, so it’s definitely good that I meet them this year.

It will be also nice not being alone, and I hope to also blog in that time.

I’ve also been thinking about my plans in Hawaii. If I should try to move back to the mainland to live and work in a more affordable place. Right now work here keeps me going on Oahu but it’s still fickle. Another idea struck me too: I think it’d be awesome to plan a trip to the Philippines with a few Filipino-American adoptee friends who might want to explore our home country together!

Anybody interested?

Not much else to write about right now, so I will sign off. Please feel free to find me on Instagram if you’d like to get in touch!

On the Road to Recovery

I am a 36-year-old Filipino American adoptee and my road to recovering from being orphaned as a baby has never come easy. I didn’t have the resources to return to the Philippines to restore my heritage. I never had the resources to mend the problems I had with my intercountry adoption placement. So, I had to find creative solutions to recover from all of this.

I can’t promise any tips to save anyone from the complications of being adopted or adopting. What I can do is give a few personal solutions that I found in my own adoptee life that helped on my road to recovering from my intercountry adoption journey.

5 Things I Did to Reclaim My Adoptee Life

  1. Creating. I first studied writing and then library and information science. My interests led to making mixed media art and information products that helped me voice my transracial life’s losses and restructure a new sense of identity in innovative ways. I could transform my grief with art and education. For instance, I made a digital archive showing my adoption process and the biological identity that I lost when I was born as an orphan in the Philippines in 1985. You can view my archive here and my Instagram here.
  2. Retreating peacefully. In-between a rock and a hard place, I had to choose what was best for me psychologically and emotionally. I started retreating from the norm in my early twenties. I separated from my adoptive family through geographic and social distancing. I retreated from all of the past relations that failed me in the past and the bad relationships I had. I moved to Hawaii in my thirties, a place I had been mysteriously called to for years. There, I let go. But despite letting go, I never gave up on myself, or the love I have for life, my ideals or the world around me. And to keep myself well in Hawaii, I continued my meditation practices and holistic therapies.
  3. Focusing on Work. There are pathways in Buddhism where one can practice meditation optimally and achieve liberation through intensive work and labor. Work has been the best practice for me. Work caters to my studious personality. It is the best physical, emotional and psychological outlet. I can rebuild a sense of identity in work as well.
  4. Being Involved in Communities. I got involved with supportive communities and support groups. I gravitate towards people that practice meditation, people that are devoted to art or learning, or nonprofit endeavours. I enjoy being a part of supportive networks with people. I ask questions. I volunteer. I like to believe that I restructure the broken bonds of my history by being involved today. Being a part of communities helps me cultivate a sense of belonging. I build a positive foundation around me and support structures.
  5. Taking Care of My Relations Today. Relationships keep me regulated in my daily life. My relations include unconventional ones like taking care of my plants, my cat, work relations and with myself. I’ve started adoptee counselling on a regular basis to cultivate a better relationship that I have with myself and my adoptee world. I am also returning to my adoptive family this Christmas to visit and help heal my relations with them. My relations help me keep well in life today.

Yes, I still feel echoes of my broken bonds affect my life today. I still ache from having been born into destitute poverty in the Philippines so long ago. I still dream of the older Filipino American brother whom I lost in this intercountry adoptee experience. I still carry the void where my biological family’s voices are forever gone. There is no easy answer to recover from these paradoxes.

Despite it all, I do know that I am finding my way day by day. I have been coming out of the fog, and it has been a good thing.

Read more from Desiree:
Reconstructing Identity & Heritage
A Filipino Adoptee’s Plea not to be Erased

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.”

Sunday Junk Journaling

Today was a difficult day. It was hard picking myself up after falling down. It was harder still, to do the task I had set for myself which was to finish this junk journal spread on this Sunday in Hawaii. Gravity felt like weights pulling down on me. Gradually I felt lighter with each layer of mixed media I applied onto the page. Paintings, a doily, an envelope reconstructed, a little space for handwritten poetic thought written in cursive, cut out images of yellow flowers, Victorian art and pieces of vintage book pages. I finally published it and although my work is never perfect to me, I feel a sense of exultation when my secretive mixed media gets posted, shown for the world to see. I don’t feel as lonely when that happens. I show myself in the most beautiful of ways, showing all the best parts of me. So I try to junk journal on a regular basis, at least one post a week if I can. Today was difficult but I published one spread and that helped me keep going.

What was one thing that helped you keep going today?

Please comment here or write me at starwoodletters@gmail.com

The Here and Now

One of my local beaches in Hawaii

It’s been a while since I’ve last posted at ICAV and a lot has happened. But I’m okay. I’m living in a small studio apartment across from the beach now. In a coastal town next to Honolulu. After a pandemic school year of substitute teaching at Kamehameha Schools, teaching Digital Photography and creating a Yearbook for the 8th grade, I’m now a full-time adjudicator at the State of Hawaii, helping out the claims backlog that happened due to Covid. It’s a conditional job, supposed to end in December, but there’s a chance it’ll be extended for another 6 months. I had to take what I could since the field of substitute teaching everywhere is simply not stable anymore.

I’m newly single although I don’t know for how long as I’ve already met someone who makes me laugh which is great. I recently broke up with my ex-fiancee in whom I’d been with for about two years in Hawaii. It was good for me to separate from him although hard, it’s always hard letting go of someones I once loved even though he didn’t treat me well. I think it was the pandemic and all the unexpected variables that brought up behavioral patterns he didn’t know he had. I guess I can’t give excuses for him not treating me well. I just had to leave and I’m not on speaking terms with him anymore.

Life is full of the sounds of the highway, the sight of a glittering ocean, beaches, Aloha Aina. My kitty, Pualani, has been my rock and cord connecting me to this earth as a 35-year-old Filipino-American adoptee. My studio is full of plants, junk journaling materials, penpal letters, flip flops, basic necessities. I have certain stones and crystals that keep my energy grounded, balancing the chaotic cosmos within.

Life these days has been a whole new chapter, working full-time, making ends meet in Hawaii on my own. I started playing Dungeons and Dragons on Monday nights, and Fallout 76 with my new next door neighbor in whom I’ve been hanging out with almost everyday. He’s been inviting me out and keeping me productive, meeting people, exploring Hawaii, beach-going and supporting my secret nerd hobbies simultaneously. I can’t thank him enough for being able to get me out of my shell even just a little bit, which is miraculous.

I sometimes wonder where my life went. I sometimes feel like a failed attempt at a normal adult because I should be married with kids by now. I should own a home, going to parent teacher meetings, I should have found a place to belong in by now, but haven’t. I’m surviving in Hawaii with all these unwritten books inside me, waiting to be let out. I still haven’t found that job I can grow in for the rest of my years to come, but I want to. It’s a constant conflict here in Hawaii because it’s too expensive to own a home. But, it’s a beautiful place that is constantly in flux with all the right kinds of elements that keeps me on my toes everyday. Keeps me trying, everyday.

The city is awe-inspiring. The ocean, a constant mystery and companion to my soul’s never-ending quests. The Hawaiian culture is one that I respect and connect with on an unspoken, intrinsic level. I love living next to a highway where the library is in walking distance and so is a beach. I see the beach everyday now, waking up. It is magnificent. Giving me a profound sense of relief everyday.

In Hawaii, my adoptee past looms ever-present as a silent, disenchanted world of loss that lives in the heart of me, no matter how beautiful the day is. But, more and more, I feel like I can come to grips with my past out here. Somehow, I’m just doing it, moving through it maybe, without knowing why or how. Somehow, I found myself here, living on my own and doing okay, despite the heartache.

A Filipino Adoptee’s Plea to Not Be Erased

Dear Intercountry Adoption Board (ICAB) of the Philippines,

I’m a 33-year-old Filipino American adoptee and I refuse to be erased. I refuse to be ignored. I was born in the Philippines and it was not my choice to leave. But it is my choice to return as an adult and to regain my citizenship. Because, ICAB, I am still here. And I am a human being with civil rights and I deserve this choice.

To date, I’ve been requesting your assistance for dual citizenship and to also retrieve my Filipino birth certificate, but I haven’t heard back from you nor received support for my requests.

Why you, you ask? Why do I keep reaching out and consulting you? And, why is this important, you wonder?

I seek you out, ICAB, because you have been the keeper of my biological records. You have been the storehouse of my Filipino history and the last remains of my Filipino identity. You are the legal witness to my orphaned situation. You have been the writer and transcriber of my last remaining Filipino past. You have been the watcher, overseeing my welfare as I’d lived in an orphanage in the Philippines from infancy until I was two years old. You have been the manager of my international adoption process from the Philippines to the United States. You have been the selector, approving my very adoptive parents and sole caretakers.

You have been the landlord switching over my vacant Filipino estate to another country, transferring me to Holt International’s adoption process in the United States, for me to be naturalized. You are now my living treasury of the last of me, holding my human files, history, heritage and remaining rights of my birth country. So, please don’t ignore me now, when I need you most, to help me recover my history. You are the one that knows best, of what was lost. Please, don’t abandon me now.

I know I am just one adoptee, sharing a plea to not be erased. But one adoptee is vital to the Philippines, because one erasure, is an entire lineage of Filipino heritage and descent. One adoptee, represents all Filipino adoptees because neglecting one, is allowing a different administrative direction to take shape, and human values will be lost with this attitude and transaction of erasure. Neglecting one Filipino adoptee’s needs–will be lowering the bar for others. This action will degrade the virtues that all our adoption agencies, global humanities and civil rights reflect.

Please, grant me access to my Filipino birth certificate. Please, allow my information to be retrievable in an expedited manner, please don’t give me obstacles in my requests. Please, endorse me for citizenship since you are the only one who can prove my Filipino heritage. Please, support me. Please, listen to my needs today, and tomorrow. Please, assist me in trying to make a new pathway to citizenship and a better relation with immigration in the Philippines, because of what this action stands for. For, I am not just one Filipino adoptee, but all Filipino adoptees. And you are the last remaining world and glue holding all of our remains, together.

You, ICAB, are the keeper of all of our futures in the Philippines, and nobody else can govern our past and future citizenship but you.

Thus, today, I push for another step in reunion. Today, I push for more recognition of my human history. Today, I push for regulated acknowledgement of my civil rights. And today, I push for a pathway back to citizenship in my homeland, my motherland, my birth country from where I was born, in the Philippines.

This to date, is a vital goal as to why keeping all Filipino adoptee birth records and information legitimate, accessible and retrievable at all times is important. As in this collective, positively goal-minded action, we, together, keep ICAB erected with the intrinsic values that our global community and sense of Philippine Kapwa is built off of.

Dear ICAB, we will need to work together now, to be able to knit identity back together in the Philippines because the goal of adoption is not to give away, nor to erase, but to restructure, and to rebuild. Adoption is a positive solution, and so is this request, which aligns with the goal of all international adoptions.

The very nature of all adoption efforts combined, is compassion.

On a positive note, I can imagine Filipino adoptees able to give back what we’ve learned on our journey abroad. We are not entirely lost to the Philippines. We can relearn what it is we forgot having lived away from our birth country for so long. We can build new connections and relations with the culture of the Philippines, and regain a new sense of repurposed identity to help the Philippines become a stronger leader in diversity. We can help the Philippine and global economy. We can learn from each other. We can heal the past and that painful separation, with hope.

So please ICAB, don’t erase me. Please, don’t ignore me. Please, see me as still a part of our country, the Philippines, the homeland that had shaped my fate and the country I had been born into as a citizen, long ago. I implore you. Please, don’t forget what it is you’ve been responsible for, taking me in all those years ago. Please, don’t see my requests and questions today, as trivial. Please, don’t ignore my emails. Please, don’t ignore my heart’s calling to reinstate my civil rights to my birth country. I know I’ve been away for quite some time, but I’m still here, and I haven’t forgotten where I come from. Please, don’t give up on me, Philippines.

Because I refuse to give up on you.

Sincerely,
Desiree Maru

Birth name: Desiree Maru
Birth country: The Philippines
Relinquishment: Day of birth in Cebu, Philippines
Orphanage circa 1985: Asilo de la Milagrosa
U.S. Adoption Agency used circa 1987: Holt International

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