Adoptee Citizenship

citizenship for immigrants.jpg

The Anti-Immigrant Climate in the United States of America

An Intercountry & Transracial Adoptee’s Perspective

by Rachel Kim Tschida

Special Guest Blogger on ICAV

I am currently pursuing a master’s degree in public affairs, and I’m taking a course on immigration policy. A recent question that was presented to our class was, “How has the anti-immigrant climate in America affected people you know?” I immediately thought of the impact it has had on intercountry (and often transracial) adoptees.

Speaking from my own lived experience, it was actually startling for me when I first realized that I was an immigrant. This might sound crazy but growing up in an American family with American parents, it just never crossed my mind. Yes, logically I knew that I was born in Korea and came to America when I was 6 months old, and my first passport was issued by the Korean government for my first plane ride aboard Northwest Airlines from Incheon to Seattle, and then Seattle to Minneapolis-St. Paul. I have photos and newspaper clippings from my naturalization ceremony when I was 1 year old (my mom dressed me in a red white & blue dress for the occasion). I even received a hand signed letter from U.S. Senator Rudy Boschwitz, congratulating me on becoming a citizen (and how he also immigrated to the U.S. as a child). However, “immigrant” was never part of my self- identity.

This all started to shift a few years ago, when I heard about a Korean adoptee who was in deportation proceedings. At first, it didn’t even make any sense to me – how could an adoptee, someone who was adopted by Americans like me, be deported? At the time, I didn’t realize that not all adoptees were naturalized – either their parents didn’t know or for some reason or another, just didn’t complete the process. After reading the case of this adoptee, and going down a Google rabbit hole, all of the pieces started to come together. The next time I stopped by my parents’ house I thanked them for following through on all of the steps of my adoption and naturalization. I also asked to get all of my documents, including my certificate of naturalization and adoption file, just in case.

ARC photo.png

Through conversations that I have had within the intercountry adoptee community, I have realized that I am not alone on the complex path of self-discovery around adoptee/immigrant identity. There are some intercountry adoptees who do not identify as immigrants, while there are others who proudly and adamantly claim their immigrant status. I have also realized that I had one of the better possible adoption outcomes, with regards to how seriously and diligently my parents went through the adoption and naturalization processes. In the massive folder of adoption paperwork from my parents, I found notes in my mom’s handwriting with reminders like “call attorney” or “don’t forget to file naturalization paperwork”.

Throughout the past 2 years, I have seen an increased level of fear and anxiety within the community. As anti- immigrant policy proposals have increased in number and frequency, related discussions within intercountry adoptee community groups and online chats have proliferated. Everything from whether or not we need a certificate of citizenship AND a certificate of naturalization, to stories of naturalized Asian American citizens who have been de- naturalized for spelling mis-matches in their application (which can be prevalent when translating Asian names from their native characters into Romanized letters), to the impact the proposed removal of birthright citizenship would have on the American-born children of non-naturalized adoptees. This particular issue adds even greater distress around family stability to adoptees whose very lives were impacted by the separation from their birth families. Adoptees have given each other advice such as carrying proof of citizenship at all times, having copies of adoption certificates and naturalization certificates when traveling abroad and re-entering America, immigration and border control, and hiring immigration attorneys.

america

This has also led to many philosophical debates around the positioning of intercountry adoptees on the immigration hierarchy – especially Asian adoptees. In stark contrast to the exclusion of Asian immigrants through the 1875 Page Act, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the 1907 Gentleman’s Agreement with Japan, the Asiatic Barred Zone Act of 1917, and the quotas of the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952, the adoption of Korean children by (usually) white American families began in 1953 – more than a decade before the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. This exceptionalism narrative – that adopted children of American parents are “good immigrants” yet at the same time almost never viewed as immigrants by their families, the immigration process, or society at large, is probably why I also did not identify as an immigrant myself. There was the assumption (and expectation) that we would be easy to assimilate into American society via our American families. It poses an interesting question; how can America view an Asian, African, or Latino child who has crossed the border with his or her Asian, African, or Latino parents so differently than an Asian, African, or Latino child who was adopted by (white) American parents?

Adoptive parents and adoption agencies successfully lobbied for the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, which granted automatic and retroactive citizenship to some (but not all) intercountry adoptees. Now, adoptive parents would only need to ensure the adoption was legally finalized based on the type of visa issued, and they would no longer need to go through the naturalization process. This seems in theory like a clear victory for the adoptee community that would close a gap in our immigration system. However, it continues to reinforce the exceptional immigrant narrative.

That said, even in 2000 concessions were made to the Child Citizenship Act in order to get it through Congress. The most notable and damaging was that it excluded adoptees who were already 18 on the day the law was enacted- February 27, 2001. There was an assumption that adoptees over 18 could easily navigate the immigration system and apply for citizenship themselves. Despite the “forever children” narrative that is also often placed on adoptees, this was an abrupt shift in suddenly viewing us as adults and transferring the responsibilities (and failures) of adoptive parents onto adoptees. This also seemed to define the shift toward placing adoptees in the same category as all other immigrants, at least in the eyes of immigration enforcement.

US Citizenship Certificate.jpg

Unfortunately, there are many intercountry adoptees who have no viable path to citizenship, for various reasons. They may have entered on a non-immigrant visa, or their parents did not keep their adoption files which are the only proof that an adoptee entered the country legally via adoption. Despite the air of “exceptionalism” in the passage of the Child Citizenship Act, one could also argue that adoptees had no agency or self-determination in their adoption whatsoever – they didn’t choose to be separated from their birth family and be sent from their birth country, nor choose to be adopted by Americans. Therefore, those who hold the most power within this adoption system should also bear the responsibility – American parents, adoption agencies, and the American government. For better or worse, the premise of adoption is built upon the promise of offering a “better life” and “creating a family” – and the denial of American citizenship is a complete contradiction to this promise. For many adoptees, their American families, homes, and lives are all they know.

Since 2000, there have been numerous attempts to amend the Child Citizenship Act, in order to grant retroactive citizenship to those who were excluded. The most recent attempt, the Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2018, has not yet passed despite being bipartisan and bicameral. The Adoptee Rights Campaign (ARC), a national organization led by adoptees without citizenship, will continue to advocate for a legislative solution. Other adoptee organizations and community organizations such as Korean American or other Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) social justice organizations have also mobilized around the country, in an effort to raise awareness and engage with their local, state, and federal elected officials. It is worth noting that the Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2018 has been specifically positioned as a family and human/civil rights issue, and not an immigration issue – and that previous attempts to add adoptee citizenship to other immigration reform bills failed.

A small group of us in Seattle have come together and formed a joint committee between a Korean American nonprofit and an Asian Adoptee nonprofit organization. We continue to discuss how, when, and where we can contribute to these efforts and what our sources of funding will be. We have had many late-night debates about the framing of adoptees as immigrants, not as immigrants, as adults, as children of American parents. We have struggled with the implications of positioning adoptee citizenship as an immigration issue, family issue, and/or human rights issue. We have debated if we should try to build alliances with other impacted immigrant groups, such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, or if we should proceed separately.

We are at the end of November – National Adoption Awareness Month and the anti-immigrant and xenophobic climate has forced many of us to have uncomfortable conversations with our families and even ourselves, as we process what it all means for us as the adopted, immigrant, (people of color) children of our (white) American parents.

NAAM.png

To keep up to date and support the work of American adult intercountry adoptees fighting for their right to automatic US Citizenship, see Adoptee Rights Campaign.

Four Murdered Chinese Adoptees

in memory

On 15 October 2018, four Chinese intercountry adoptees were brutally murdered in their home by their white adoptive mother in Columbia, Tennessee. We honor the deaths of 14 year old Bo Li, 14 year old Meigin Lin, 15 year old Lian Lin and 17 year old Kaleigh Lin.

In light of National Adoptee Awareness Month, I assert the mantra:

Adoption creates a different life, not necessarily a better one” for adoptees.

This is a re-imagining (fiction) of the final hours from the perspective of Bo Li, one of the Chinese adoptees murdered not so long ago.

A sound like a firecracker went off. I instantly looked up from the game I was playing on my phone and turned my head around looking for the sound. A couple more bangs followed as if a fireworks show was beginning. But that seemed highly improbable and I wondered where the sound was coming from. I thought maybe they were coming from outside, but they sounded closer. Maybe one of my siblings was just slamming the door really loudly. Our house was rather large and we could each hang out in a room without anyone else and the sound could have come from anywhere. I wasn’t too concerned though and returned to my phone.

BANG! BANG! The same sound echoed through my ears and I began to feel a sense of fear as the same sounds rang out again. A sense of dread came over me. For some reason this feeling of fear felt familiar, as if I’d been really afraid before in my life but I couldn’t remember. My body was in its own fight or flight mode. What was happening in our home? Would the sound happen again? I paused my game and it grew surprisingly quiet. I listened carefully for any sound in the house. There was some rustling and what appeared to be footsteps, but I wasn’t too sure. I texted Meigin and Kaleigh to see if they heard something and then went back to crushing my game.

BANG! BANG! Yet again the sounds pierced the air and I knew for sure they were coming from our house. My siblings didn’t return my texts and fear was beginning to beat in my heart more rapidly. I knew my mother had two guns in our home but couldn’t for the life of me imagine what was going on. I was confused and didn’t want to get up and check. It felt like there was something wrong, like an alarm was going off that just continued to ring louder inside my head. As quietly as I could, I closed my bedroom door and hid under the bed because I didn’t want to leave my room. My limbs felt like giant pieces of stone. A cold sweat broke out over my body as I shivered in fear. An eerie silence filled the house as I couldn’t hear anything. Minutes passed and then, I heard a sound. Footsteps were approaching and growing louder as they came nearer to my room. The pit in my stomach immediately dropped and became empty as anxiety and fear filled it from top to bottom. Were my siblings dead? Was my mom dead? Was this the end for me? I wasn’t even old enough to drive, or to go to my first homecoming dance. I don’t know my birth parents and I also feel like I have lost my adopted father. Will I lose even more? Why was this happening? Was this our mom or one of my siblings? Was it a complete stranger? 

The footsteps were now walking outside my room as shadows began to show from beneath the door. I heard the doorknob turn and the door swung open. The shoes of the mother I loved were entering. What happened to my siblings, I thought? Why would she do something like this? She loves me, right? The footsteps came to a stop a few feet inside the room and I heard a voice say, “Bo, it’s me, it’s okay. Bo, come on out. I won’t hurt you, I promise.” The same voice I had heard for years that had provided me so much comfort, now gave me so much fear. I wanted so badly for her to be telling the truth but my gut told me otherwise. I was so confused. Did she love me? What was this sinking feeling in my stomach? However, my body betrayed me. My muscles began to move of their own accord in response to the mother I loved, who I knew, deep down, loved me. But was this love? Before I knew it, I got up from under the bed and stood shakily.

There was a look I had never seen before in my mother’s eyes, as if something had gotten loose and made her crazy. I glanced at her hands and saw a gun in them. My gut told me this was the end but I wanted to believe with all my heart that this wasn’t going to happen. Was my life going to end so quickly? Was this why I was adopted? To be killed by the people who claim to love me, to protect me, to be there forever? My heart was bursting with sadness, confusion, and anger. My brief life was flashing rapidly before me.

With tears in my eyes, I looked back up into hers and whispered so softly, “Mom, why?” Without missing a beat and probably before she changed her mind, she quickly raised her gun towards me and said with a pained look and tears in her eyes, “I’m so sorry.”

BANG! BANG! My eyes glazed over as my focus could only see the barrel of the gun pointed at me. I was falling, losing sight of the lights in my head. My head grew heavier and heavier and the ringing in my ears grew louder. As I drew my last breaths I hit the floor and thought, “Goodbye dear world, to all the memories I shall never know nor have. Alas, my time has come. Farewell”.

Rest in Peace

About Joey Beyer

Dear Belonging,

You.jpg

Perhaps to some, You are a dear friend and a faithful companion. To others, You are found in spurts and moments, and still to others, You are an elusive dream in their nightmares. To me, You are a far off figure standing still in the distance. Throughout the years, I have caught the sparkle in your eye on more than one occasion. And yet, I long for the day when I shall stand before You, face to face for more than a moment.

You are a whisper in the wind. You are the tiny speck of ash fleeing into the night sky. You are the warm blanket on a cold winter’s day.

Was it fate that tore us apart? Was it destiny that would strip me of my identity, family, ancestry and heritage? Was it life that would transport me to a new world, family and culture?

still lake.jpg

You are the sound of silence on a still lake. You are the leaf that tumbles during fall. You are the majestic mountain in the distance.

Are You merely a feeling inside of me or are You the people and circumstances around me? Are You the actions that I take?

Different than my family, different than my friends, different than my church, different than my culture, different than my place of birth: You are a foreigner to me. Are You and I even compatible?

You are the receding wave on the shore. You are the rare diamond in the sand. You are the seashell hidden in the caves.

Is the distance between us my own doing or has fate seen fit to keep us apart? Are You simply a word or are You always the emotion I feel towards You?

You are the dream that I chase. You are the comfort that I long for. You are the melody that I live for.

Are You the confidence I should have in myself despite my surroundings or are You the feeling of talking to a kindred soul on a midsummer afternoon? Are You simply the summation of both?

You are the mountain I gaze upon. You are the island I venture to see. You are the distant horizon I peer at.

Would I cry in your presence? Would I scream for joy at beholding your face? Would I fall to my knees before You?

You are the candle that flickers in the darkness. You are the lone star in the galaxy. You are the silver lining in the tunnel.

sunset

Every day the sun sets and I get one last chance to catch a glimpse of your face before the darkness invades and I lose sight of You once more.

And yet, each day the sun rises anew, shining on your beautiful features once more. Would that every day bring me one step closer to You.

by  Joey Beyer

A Picture Is Worth 1000 Words

Burden of Mother
Burden of a Mother by Jonas Haid

Sometimes I meet adult intercountry adoptees who have amazing talent to capture the intercountry adoption experience in a more powerful medium than words.

I’d love you to meet Jonas Haid, a South Korean adoptee raised in Germany. Here is his life journey along with the artwork he creates that says so much more than words! Together with his own personal experience and art he provides a powerful testament to the impact relinquishment and adoption has on our lives.

Thank you Jonas for being willing to share with us!

At the “Core” of Adoption

Sometimes I imagine the different members of the adoption triad like a raging fierce three way battle with heroes and villains on either side — each vying for supremacy, and ultimately believing their view is right. Orphanages, adoption agencies and lawyers, and the evangelical right are the weapons suppliers and war profiteers. Too far? A joke? I kid, I kid .. mostly … well ya know, sidepoint. And granted, there are voices who attempt to bridge the gap and learn about the viewpoints of the others and these should be acknowledged, but these attempts are more often than not drowned out by the constant battles that loom large.

battle lines.jpg

Battle lines drawn over issues like anti or pro adoption, abortion, ethical adoption (illegal trafficking etc), rehoming, open birth records, adoptee rights (citizenship, permanency in identity/name), non-policy issues like good adoptive parenting (racially sensitive and trauma informed), birth parent searching, what’s “best” for the child, orphan crisis or lack thereof, baby marketplace or not, saviorism, and I’m sure a host of other issues I forgot to mention.

If this was a real life telenovela, there is no doubt it could run on for twenty solid seasons without running out of episodes for a lack of content or drama. Labels and name calling take center stage: “You’re too sensitive!”, “You’re just an angry adoptee,” “You should be grateful!”, “You’re a saint for being selfless and giving up your baby to a deserving family!”, “Your birthmom was probably on drugs!”, “You’re only a baby factory and nothing more!”, “You’re not my real mom!”, “Adoptive Parents are so ignorant, arrogant and condescending!”, “Only my adoptive mom is my real mom, my birth mother isn’t!”

This is Us, an American TV family drama is cashing in big time on this. Adoption agencies can’t be the only ones to profit, haha! A lot of times I find it easy to get lost amidst all the intense emotions, name calling, back and forth boxing match, Facebook blocking and long message screenshotting about, “Can you believe this (insert name) said this (insert screenshot).” Expressing emotions, of course is extremely necessary and valid for all sides, so this is not a knock on seeking validation from others and having them sympathize, but rather to argue that this can become wearing over some time and depressing to think this is all it’s ever going to be. And of course there is some debate over to how to express emotions healthily or otherwise and to whom, but that is a sidepoint. How people find any sanity in adoption is a wonder to me. But come to think of it, no one ever said they did. How morbid!

Let’s be honest for a second. Adoption is deeply personal. Let me repeat that.

Adoption is deeply personal!

It produces a lot of feelings if you choose to allow it. If you disagree with this, then you’re either a robot, or some alien life form without emotional IQ. Not to be too dramatic because people can of course disagree. Some people will argue they never think about adoption or that it has zero effect on their lives, but that doesn’t mean it’s not personal even if everything was great. Adoption preys on our deepest fears and perhaps greatest joys in life. Fears of losing a child, fears of being abandoned and rejected, fears of not being enough, fears of the same thing happening again, fear of not being able to move on, fear of not loving a child that wasn’t originally yours, fear of being a good mother or father, the joy of gaining a child, the joy of having a family, the joy of reunification, and the joy of discovering yourself. Adoption produces intense emotions positive and/or negative, and whether one numbs their emotions or not, I have no control over this. There is plenty of anxiety, anger, loss, fear, tension, and confusion to go around.

Screen Shot 2018-07-16 at 11.05.58.png

I am not perfect at this and I struggle to connect to my adoptive parents because of how differently we see things, but largely because we both have deep feelings attached that make things all too personal. I understand why my parents say and do what they do, and it doesn’t necessarily make it hurt less, but gives me more empathy for them.

Acknowledging that adoption is personal for all of us doesn’t lead to a kumbaya moment, and I am not asking for it, but it has to be the start. I understand why some adoptees say very hurtful things to their adoptive parents and I understand why adoptive parents may not say such kinds things about adoptees. Does this make it right? No. But if we all acknowledge adoption is personal and tried to dig deep within ourselves to see why and how comments become triggering for us, and why they might trigger others, then maybe, we could get somewhere. If we cut through the crap and said, “I’m afraid your birth mom is going to take you back because I might lose someone I love very much”, in my opinion this is much better than,  “I was doing what’s best for you” (not seeing your birth mom), or, “I am really angry at my birth mom because she left me!” instead of saying, “She’s not real!” Maybe we might forge bridges instead of digging trenches and maybe we might even feel better when we express what we are really feeling.

So much of what we really think goes unsaid and needs to be said in the right context and hopefully in constructive way that is more about how we are feeling than what someone said or didn’t say. Otherwise our battlefields are landmines with children playing soldier at every step, rather than adults talking about issues in constructive ways. Change will never be effected with intense emotions and trigger points, otherwise we simply further entrench ourselves on our side of the battle. I’m not promising we will all agree on issues but rather, we can work towards healthier conversations that could potentially accomplish more than adding layers of hurt. It takes nothing to call out someone else, but it takes true courage to do the hard work within ourselves!

Screen Shot 2018-07-16 at 11.10.22.png

by  Joey Beyer

What If

1505.m00.i125.n006.p.c20.180768896-three-roads-and-question-mark.-choosing-the-right-path-concept-

Two words. If one lets them, they produce countless thoughts and a potential rabbit hole so deep it feels endless. In sports, an inch in the game of football (American) can be the difference between a win and a loss, a playoff win or a ride home. For others, what if can mean the difference between life and death. Yet for adoptees, the what if is tantalizing, even if it is only presented in a binary, without any nuance. What if adoptees weren’t adopted? Well, people say, they would definitely either be dead or aborted as if that ends the debate and thus confirms how lucky we were to be saved. Either dead or adopted. Maybe that’s too extreme and we can tone down death and expand it to include either be adopted, or grow up in an orphanage and/or foster care system and see how terrible our life is — afterall, we all have our preconceived perceptions of kids stuck in the system. What if for adoptees has been transformed to “your life would suck if you weren’t adopted.” With adoptees best intentions, of course, at heart.

Surely however, there is more nuance to what if, especially as it pertains to adoptees. Nevermind the miracle of a specific sperm and egg that germinates to create each one of us. Had it been any other sperm or egg, the person might not exist or be an entirely different person. What if in each of our lives has the potential to change it in numerous directions at each stage of our life. For me personally, maybe there was a way for my first family to keep me, maybe I could have been raised by a relative, maybe even though I was in an orphanage, I could have survived the system without being adopted, maybe another Chinese family could have raised me, maybe another family could have raised me internationally, and yes, maybe I would have died in the orphanage, and maybe I would have died in a car accident.

It is amazing the confluence of factors that make something happen, but when one of those factors is changed, who is to say what the outcome might be. Yes, maybe people might concede that anything is possible. But those things didn’t take place. We can’t speculate or wish for something different, when it didn’t. People always say, “No point in playing what if games! What is fact is that you were in an orphanage starving”.

Absolutely correct! I can speculate and wish something was different but it didn’t happen. I will never know what it might have been like had something changed.

what if 1.png

In the same vein however, people can’t say adoptees would have died or been aborted if they weren’t adopted because anything could have happened. People will never know because they were adopted and therefore they can’t know for sure what might have occurred if they didn’t. One can speculate, but that’s it. People don’t get the right to choose to play what if in a person’s life if they are unwilling to look at the entirety of that person’s existence or even their own — without also seeing the many different possibilities that life could unfold.

Some Christians make the argument that adoptees would not have known God unless they had been adopted into Christian homes. This binary of the what if suggests adoptees had to be adopted in order to be saved and would otherwise not have known God. I hate to break the news, but God does and has used any number of means to bring people to Him. To suggest otherwise and limit God is to deny His sovereignty. Maybe God used a Christian home to bring some adoptees to know God, but many equally reject God because of this same Christian home. Not every Christian comes from two Christian parents. I might have not been adopted and still known God in China. In fact, there are more Christians in China than in America (numbers are a little shaky in either place), so who is to say otherwise?

We all like to simplify complex ideas and notions to make them more digestible. But when we fail to address the nuance, we leave something out, and often to the detriment of ourselves and others. What if should not be just a tool for saviorism but should at least be presented with nuance. Maybe if we saw the world less in binaries and more in shades of grey, perhaps what if wouldn’t be such loaded two words. Maybe, just maybe, it could lead to a world of possibilities, not only in our past but hopefully and even more so, into our future.

by  Joey Beyer

infinite possibilities.jpg

A journey through space, a journey divided

By Sunny Reed, Korean intercountry adoptee.

Intercountry adoptees speak often about the return to their birth country, a time defined by searching and finding. Lynelle’s recent post made me consider my relationship with Korea, the land that, over three decades ago, released me to a country made of dreams. We speak of “the return” as a journey of healing, confrontation, and conflict. Today I’m sharing my perspective on what “the return” means for me and how that phrase is set against my experience with adoption and my parents.

joseph-pearson-273638-unsplash

An ocean and several continents occupy the distance between myself and an invisible past. A past that suffers me its opacity every time I hear the word Korea.

For many years, Korea was a Bad Word, something spat out, a noun formed in the back of your throat where phlegm collected. It was shameful. It was ugly. It was full of people with flat faces and squinty eyes and coarse dark hair like me. But Korea was the country, my home in only the metaphorical sense, that I was instructed to embrace.

Many families encourage intercountry adoptees to go back, to find the place that let them go, suggesting a return trip will erase an adoptee’s discontent and otherness and experience with racism. A trip to the homeland might replace those evils with the satisfaction of a curiosity fulfilled. Perhaps this helps some adoptees. I certainly support them and I hope a trip serves those purposes and more. It has, for many, and I’m proud of them. But I have never returned, for either lack of money or desire. Here’s why.

On her deathbed, my mother urged me to Go to Korea. She had pushed for this trip my entire life, pressing me to return while things like I’m going to kick your eyes straight and Chinese people can’t be punks competed for space in my developing self-image. My mother shoved Korea at me as my Asianness became a liability, weaving her misguided request into our relationship’s growing divide.

One late afternoon, my mother sat across from me in our breezy kitchen, perched on her backless padded barstool while I did homework and complained about teenage life. Somehow, either adoption or race came up, topics we fit the criteria for but on which we ourselves boasted ignorance. She fixed her bright blue eyes on me and in that wide open kitchen asked Why don’t you like Korea? Is it because it gave you up?

I gathered my things and raged into my bedroom. Her carefully hung family portraits shook when I slammed my door. My teenage self couldn’t articulate anything but anger in response to her accusatory question. Today I understand my reaction.

From my mother’s perspective, my lack of curiosity was a flaw. She died never realizing that I couldn’t accept a country not because it “gave me up” but because years of external conditioning taught me to hate it.

But we can undo this damage. Adoptive parents eager to change the public’s one-sided adoption narrative can support adoptees struggling to find their place, to accept what fragments of a heritage they assemble as their own. We must allow adoptees the room to grow into whatever culture they choose—or not—to inhabit. Or maybe an adoptee will embrace their freedom to float freely between worlds, content in independence, drawing strength from ambiguity.

In the end, it doesn’t matter. As long as the adoptee makes the choice to visit their homeland, we must consider them independent human beings. We can operate separately from our adoptions, finding ourselves on paths we finally forged ourselves. If this happens with or without a homeland visit, it’s because the adoptee chose that way.


Sunny J. Reed is a New Jersey-based writer. Her main body of work focuses on transracial adoption, race relations, and the American family. In addition to contributing to Intercountry Adoptee Voices and Dear Adoption, Sunny uses creative nonfiction as a way to reach a wider audience. Her first flash memoir (‘the lucky ones’) was published in Tilde: A Literary Journal . Her second piece (‘playground ghost’) is due out by Parhelion Literary Magazine in April 2018. She is currently at work on a literary memoir.

Birth Country Cultural Immersion for Intercountry Adoptees

By Sunny Reed, Korean intercountry adoptee.

what is culture.jpg

When I was adopted over thirty years ago, there were significantly fewer outlets for a transracial adoptive parent (TRAp) to expose their child to his or her birth culture. Books, culture camps (of which I never attended), agency-sponsored gatherings, and other passive events formed the bulk of options available.

Today, in our information-rich climate, simply reading articles, watching videos, and listening to music counts only as superficial immersion for a transracial adoptee (TRAd). Online forums and other media provide a sense of community, but even still, socialization relies solely on the parent’s concentrated efforts.

In this post, I’ll be discussing a 2010 article by M. Elizabeth Vonk, Jaegoo Lee, and Josie Crolley-Simic about TRAps’ current cultural socialization efforts and my perspective on their research.

Cultural Socialization Practices in Domestic and International Transracial Adoption
Vonk, Lee, and Crolley-Simic

Article Summary

The authors sought to uncover the impact (if any) cultural socialization had on a transracial adoptive parent’s (TRAp) relationship with their child. Additional research is needed to concretely answer that question, but data uncovered during their investigation contributed fascinating insights into how race influenced a parent’s decision to incorporate their child’s ethnicity into their lives.

Key Points

  • Appearance may dictate how much emphasis parents put on cultural socialization
  • TRAps rarely associated with adults of their child’s ethnicity and frequently lived in undiversified areas
  • Cultural socialization efforts diminished as the child aged

Discussion

What’s interesting about these findings is how parents – all of whom identified as white – gravitated toward superficial cultural activities. Cooking ethnic food, reading books, and celebrating unique holidays were most common and I surmise it has to do with novelty and ease. These activities are the least threatening for white parents and can be undertaken in the privacy of their own homes, without criticism from authentic sources. Combined with the findings that white parents rarely socialized with adults of their child’s race, this makes sense.

Particularly damning is the parents’ failure to relocate their families to culturally diverse neighborhoods. My own family settled in a homogenous white farming community in New Jersey and refused to acknowledge that the demographics had profoundly negative repercussions on my development. Even after repeated incidents of school-based racism (at all levels), they couldn’t or wouldn’t consider changing to a diverse school.

The authors also found – sadly – that parents of European children engaged in cultural activities less frequently than those of Asian and black children. I find this ironic, since the shared background should make it less foreign to the parents. But if socialization is largely based on appearance, then race is no doubt a catalyst for how involved a parent feels they should be.

The authors muse that cultural socialization highlights the obvious differences between parent and child, making caregivers feel “inadequate.” They also wonder if cultural activities make them “realize their responsibility to their children and are unsure how to proceed.” I would argue that yes, this is likely what is happening, since confronting the reality of their complex situation may destroy their original expectations for the adoption.

My parents’ own ideas of “getting [me] cultured” included, early on, hosting Korean egg hunts and going to Korean Christmas parties. Nothing was uniquely Korean about these events. They were just a bunch of white families getting their adopted Korean kids together and celebrating Christian holidays. Ironically, we never acknowledged Korean events and – like the research suggested – these activities dwindled down to nothing after we all began elementary school.

Although my experiences occurred over the past several decades, this relatively recent article shows that – despite additional resources available – little real progress has been made in the practical application of cultural socialization. We’ll keep talking about this in future posts, since the goal is to help TRAps assist their child in developing a secure racial identity.

Your turn!

Do your experiences align with this article’s findings? If not, what do you think you or your parents did differently?

Please feel free to discuss in the comments!

MOVEnSHAKE for Young Adoptees

Anna

Hello! My name is Anna and I am a Filipino intercountry adoptee who came to sunny Queensland (QLD) in Australia at eighteen months of age. I’ve been very blessed to have been raised in one of the most multicultural hubs of South Brisbane, so I can’t recall experiencing huge amounts of racism or discrimination.

For my adoption journey the biggest struggle was trying to make sense of the anguish of rejection and hiding the constant fear of the uncertainty I had experienced so early in life. My adoptive parents did everything they could, firmly believing that love could fix everything which compounded my debilitating guilt to be a “good” and “happy” child – when beneath the surface every fake smile would send heartbreaking cracks through my internal shell.

When I turned five my parents adopted another daughter from the Philippines. I had a secret hope that having another brown baby in our family might help me feel less alone but I quickly discovered she would be completely the opposite to me. This extremely cute and bubbly toddler, even to this day, will often be at the centre of any social gathering filling the room with laughter, whereas I still struggle with an unfortunate combination of social anxiety and self doubt. When I use to run to my sister’s room in tears needing someone to talk with about my adoption struggles, she would leave the room before I could finish a sentence or just silently glare at me with a blank expression. It wasn’t until recently that I realised this inability of others to just sit and be with me in my time of need, led to me developing a fear of reaching out to other people including other adoptees because of fearing further rejection and abandonment.

So, over the course of time, and as I do more of my own journey I have learnt to be braver and to fear failure and rejection in the right way. I started to turn up to adoption gatherings and wanted to become more involved behind the scenes with Intercountry Adoptive Families of Queensland (IAFQ) and International Adoption Day. Through this support group I’ve met some beautiful adoptive families and incredible adoptees. I’ve found encouragement and hope in the connection with other people who know by experience what it is like to loose family and friends because they simply do not understand the indescribable difficulties of adoption.

As I continued to push the boundaries of my comfort zone I connected in with ICAV and formed wonderful friendships with Lynelle, Lan and other incredible adoptees. Now I can attend adoptee support groups without feeling petrified of finally being seen and heard for who I am. It’s been liberating to be authentic me, to own my imperfections, flaws and quirks, as I continue to piece my identity together.

With a bolder perception of myself and the world that I inhabit, a passion grew from the place that once only generated oppression. One of my things I loved as a kid was blasting music in my room and trying out some funky dance moves. Thankfully at the time no one had to witness my ‘unco’ groove therapy, but that’s totally what it meant to me. After considering the similarities intercountry adoptees have with one another I began to see an opportunity for an adoptee led group. I realised there are different cultural adoptee dance groups in Brisbane which are primarily parent led and organised – so I thought this could be the ideal link of us adoptees to connect with one another from across the borders of ethnicity.

From here, MOVEnSHAKE began to take form and rhythm. What was originally going to be just a teen group for intercountry adoptees, has now led to two seperate age groups. The Juniors group, for ages eight to twelve and the Teen group from ages thirteen to seventeen. The maximum age gap in any one group is five years to help nurture connection. Both groups are run back to back on the first Sunday of the Queensland school holidays as a way to connect with adoptees and to have a heap of fun experiencing different dance styles.

In April 2017, we had our very first MOVEnSHAKE session with an incredible turn out of almost fourteen participants for each age group! The dance studio atmosphere was full of energy and excitement for the Hip Hop theme. Although I am by no means a professional dance instructor, there is an intentionality and structure to the sessions to help cultivate confidence, connection and input from all the participants. We start with a fun introduction game and I spend time planning and practicing a dance routine to share with the group. We spent time working with the routine and as a group we learnt and adapted moves from one another, even spending time being amazed by each others slick moves. I gave the groups opportunities to decide if they wanted to have some time to put together their own dance set, which we all later got to showcase to one another.

MnS_a.jpg

As time goes on the plan for MOVEnSHAKE is to invite adoptees along to share their cultural dance style and genres with the group.

To date, I have only run two MOVEnSHAKE sessions and both have been fantastic! I am amazed at the incredible talent and energy of all of the participants and I continue to be encouraged by each of their courage and willingness show up and get involved. There’s an immense joy knowing kids are being encouraged and supported by their parents to come along and participate in MOVEnSHAKE. Some families travel up the coast and across the state border as a massive testament to the parents dedication and appreciation for the adoptee led connection group. There are already requests to start an even younger age group, for kids as young as six.

The space and the environment to nurture these invaluable adoptee connections is exactly what I grew up desiring and needing but also fearing. Witnessing the potential for life long friendships which have already begun to develop is a huge motivation for me to keep maintaining and evolving MOVEnSHAKE. The simplest way to explain my crazy passion and heart to help other adoptees, is that I got to a point in my own journey where I didn’t want adoption to continually impact me. Instead I set out to find ways to impact adoption. So I am super excited to continue this journey!

MnS_b.jpg

Below are some of the comments and feedback from a few of the gorgeous MOVEnSHAKE participants:

What I love and enjoy most about MOVEnSHAKE its the diversity of the kids who participate in the fun activity. The adoptees come from places like the Philippines, Ethiopia and Taiwan which leads to a great range of people altogether enjoying themselves. The freedom that we get from MOVEnSHAKE is always amazing. Everyone’s able to express themselves without fear of criticism and judgement from the other adoptees.”

Alex

“It was a lot of fun and we could do some free style dancing which is awesome. The best thing is that all our friends came and could choose a style for next time. We also learnt different dances to songs and if I could describe MOVEnSHAKE in two words it would be “energetic” and “fun”. I don’t know how Anna did it but it was fun and cool to hang out with friends we don’t really see very often.”

Mitia

“Move n Shake is awesome!  It is a good way to get together with my friends and have fun.  I think it is important for me to be able to connect to other adoptees to know I am not alone and I have friendships that understand me.  It also allows me to meet new friends.”

Sorayut

For anyone interested in participating or being involved in MOVEnSHAKE, please contact Anna.