Today I want to share a powerful life experience of an Indian intercountry adoptee raised in Belgium, a member of ICAV, willing to share about her desire to know the truth of her life before adoption.
Being adopted from India, it is usually very difficult to search and find one’s genetic family. This is for a variety of reasons such as the Indian intercountry adoption laws that do little to promote searching and reunion, coupled with the lack of documentation, and/or truth of the documentation from either the birth or adoptive country.
What Serafina’s story demonstrates is that because she was willing to question everything told to her, sometimes the outcome is unexpected.
Enjoy reading Serafina’s story to find out for yourself how her journey unfolded and the message she wishes to share!
Last week, I was fortunate and privileged enough to attend a 3-day Adoptee Self Care Retreat funded by the Australian Government for adoptees from the Forced Adoption era and for people who have been in State care.
I want to share my thoughts of what I gained from attending as I found it to be such a positive experience. I have always advocated and requested a retreat like this, but sadly, to date, I have not seen or heard of one specific for adult intercountry adoptees.
I went not knowing the other dozen adoptees who attended and all were domestically adopted in Australia. The retreat focused on self care via yoga and meditation with amazing home cooked and grown food. I was raised in my adoptive family as a vegetarian because of their Seventh-Day Adventist beliefs so I loved being served food that was wholesome and nutritious. At home, I’m so busy with kids, dogs, family and school life with adoption thrown in when I have time, that often I go without barely eating.
The yoga, meditation, massage and facial was just awesome! I had needed to get away from life’s busy chaos and give to myself. I normally spend a lot of time nurturing other people and forget to nurture myself – but this retreat was a great way to remind me to do daily self care and to understand by living it for 3 days, the massive benefits when I do. I came home so much more relaxed, at ease, at peace and most importantly, connected back to my body. Being in this state helps me deal more positively with the daily challenges of life.
I loved meeting fellow adoptees from such a variety of life paths, all with different experiences, but fundamentally to whom I shared so much in common. Attending the “adoptee focused” sessions run jointly by the NSW Post Adoption Resource Centre (PARC) and Relationships Australia, Wattle Place was healing, validating, and connecting. In these sessions, we shared in depth about the impacts of being adopted. We did this in an environment where we were supported and validated for the variety of experiences we have lived throughout our journey so far. It was humbling to receive my fellow adoptees validation and empathy, to hear their journey’s, and as a group, to encourage and support one another.
The power of group healing is so deep! The retreat reminded me of my journey in my early 20s when I first began healing from sexual abuse. I attended group therapy hosted by Wesley Mission and met other women survivors for the first time. I have never forgotten the impact I felt upon hearing their experiences, receiving their validation for the impacts we all suffered, and ultimately, for the sense of connection in being with others who had travelled a similar path, were looking for healing and a way to move forward. It made such an impact on me that I began this network for intercountry adoptees. I wanted to replicate the healing that can come from finding those who have travelled a similar path and struggled with similar issues. Validation, support, and empathy from those who understand, can never be underestimated in it’s power to help us heal.
The retreat also reminded me to honour my path and where I’ve come. Over the decades, I have shifted from being powerless to turning my experiences of adoption into something that can hopefully benefit others. I also now regard my adoptive status as a privilege because without it, I would never have met so many amazing people who carry such deep scars but who display resilience on a daily basis. I hold my hands in that heart place position which we practiced in yoga and thank the powers to be that I was able to find healing. I hope in some small way, the work we do within ICAV will help to empower the healing and connection for many fellow adoptees around the world.
I encourage fellow adoptees to find a way to give to yourself, take the time to do self care even in tiny ways each day, and reach out to connect with others of us who can understand, validate and provide peer support. My utopian wish is to have these types of retreats for us and for future generations of intercountry adoptees around the world.
I wrote an email to the Intercountry Adoption Board (ICAB) in the Philippines yesterday introducing myself and requesting my birth certificate. It turns out, this significant birth document hadn’t been with my adoptive family my entire life. And, it turns out, I need this birth document for dual citizenship to prove that I was born in the Philippines. So I can re-assert my citizenship in the country of my birth which I feel is an inherent right.
After I sent my email, I received an automatic reply that stated:
Your email has been duly received and recorded. It will be referred to the proper party for appropriate action. Your message is important to us and will be responded to as soon as possible.
Records Section Intercountry Adoption Board
It’s been almost thirty years and it’s taken me this long to ask. When I did, I found out that my family possessed a certificate of birth facts. When I went to the Philippines Consulate in Los Angeles last summer to show them my legal documents and apply, my certificate was denied with a momentary glance at the papers and old Philippine passport that I had. I had to go back to Arizona to find my birth certificate and inquire about this to my adoptive mother, who I’ve been trying to gain distance with for years. It was stressful and disconcerting, that I wouldn’t have this document in my possession. I angrily wondered why my family didn’t have this item that was so intrinsic to my identity and proof of being born in the Philippines.
I also didn’t understand why I have to re-apply for my citizenship.
Yesterday after I sent my emails, I thought, does being adopted into another country for a child strip them from their own citizenship of their native place of birth? Why did this happen to me? Why does this happen to any vulnerable child in their birth countries? Why do I have to re-apply to citizenship? Why was that taken away in the first place? My questions led me to realizing how this administrative process has a lot of cultural and social implications that would create grievances for an adoptee later on.
After requesting my birth certificate at ICAB, I went out to my favorite place in the open ranges to meditate. I realized then, how much I missed my natural connections to my birth country, to my heritage and native culture. There are ancient mysteries and missing stories hiding in my brown skin and my soul longs to recollect this. I also realized a grave, quiet and devastating silence within me, that has been lifelong, which echoes from this systematic, governmental erasure of my human past.
Step by step, I will continue to find my way in this world. I will rebuild my identity by recovering what it is I’d lost so long ago. This process takes time. Psychological, emotional and spiritual healing. Patience. A support network of other adoptees. It takes perseverence to see past the cloud of my own mind and find clarity. I hope I receive my birth certificate soon so I can apply for dual citizenship in my birth country of the Philippines. There is so much to do in recovering from my intercountry adoption process.
Have you ever had a goal or a dream that you’ve aspired to since you were a child? For me, it’s always been the same one. My dream was to start my own life in a coastal place in an environment similar to my native place of birth. Finding a place I could call, “home,” and be happy.
I had never found that home on the coast. Instead, I’d mostly been an Arizona resident, living in a small town in the mountains.
I wonder, why hadn’t I lived my dreams yet? Maybe because of my circumstances?
Being born in the Philippines, orphaned, and later raised in the Midwest of the United States could have had its limitations! Of all places my adoptive family could have chosen to relocate to, it was Phoenix, Arizona.
For whatever reason, instead of living my dream of finding that home on the coast, I spent my teenager years in the Southwest. I lived in the Sonoran desert for years surrounded by saguaro cacti, shrubs and yucca plants–trying to find out who I am, and what to do with my life.
After high school came college and a need for in-state tuition. My choices for universities were limited to nearby places that were cooler in temperature. I chose Flagstaff, a small town that had a charming, historic downtown. It was smaller than ideal but reminded me of the Midwest. It was two hours North of Phoenix so it was much cooler too. And the nature there was beautiful, tucked away in Ponderosa pines and old, volcanic mountain ranges.
Little did I know, I’d be spending all of my twenties in its university–roaming degree programs and careers, trying to find myself more than anything else.
I’ve been living in Flagstaff for ten years now which hadn’t been my plan. I’d gone to visit so many coastal regions of the United States too. Even recently, I just returned from a trip to California where I had some job interviews.
I looked at housing, the cost of living, jobs and libraries. I could sort of envision myself there, but something was missing.
I recognized it was my own lack of connections there.
So, I vacationed at a some amazing beaches at the end of that trip and I returned, realizing a lot. Feeling humble, slightly sad, but content.
I have one more job interview waiting here in Flagstaff. Now that I’ve returned, I see that it might be more practical living where I am and working on what I’ve recently found I love to do–at libraries.
I could gain more library experience with this potential job and finish my Master’s of Library and Information Science degree in December.
And shift my focus to maybe not fulfilling my dreams right away, but working on what I love to do here, and maybe that will lead me onwards.
From all that I am and come from, I can admit that life as an adoptee for me has been different from the norm and challenging. I’ve struggled with identity and finding a sense of direction in life since I’d had such a conflicting past. Still, I’d grown into myself in the Southwestern region of the United States.
One main challenge here in the Southwest is that I’ve felt stranded and alienated due to its demographics, but the best things here are aspects that everyone of all backgrounds can learn to love. The nature, beauty, decor, art, culture and history are treasures we can all connect with in society.
I think that I’ve arrived at a happy medium in this time of job searching and trying to find ways to live my dreams as an adoptee with my own battles. By simply loving myself in the place that I’m in, and finding something that I love, I hope I can become more of who I want to be, wherever I am.
A tiny bird found its way into the library on Tuesday. It spent the whole day fluttering around, flying and swooping in circles and ovals around the ceiling. We left a window open for it. The next day on Thursday, which was also my last day of work, a custodian asked if the bird was still there. “No,” I said, “It looks like the bird found its way out the window.”
Accidentally Messing Up my Last Day of Work
I accidentally left early on my last day of work yesterday. I was lying in bed after having driven back into town, after I’d dropped off a laptop computer to tech services and a book that I’d borrowed from a different school during Adoption Awareness month back in November, A Koala for Katie. I was lying in my bed dazed and exhausted when it hit. That the school’s calendar read, Early Dismissal, so I had thought it was a half day for me too. To my horror, I realized I probably was meant to have a full day out there.
“Oh my God,” I said, sitting up and putting a dramatic hand on my forehead, “I totally messed up my last day of work.”
While downtown with Janek, I emailed the principal a long-winded apology and inquired if I should make up the work on Friday, the next day, but he never replied. So I spent all day today mostly lounging around my house since my roommates are gone for a little while. Resting and processing my experience out at Leupp Elementary School.
Friday in a Hammock and Sending Emails
It’s Friday today and I spent most of my morning lying around in a purple hammock in the back yard of my rental here on the East side of town. I stared up at the leaves, thinking about the mixed media art that I’d like to start making all over again and start selling if I could, the dual citizenship that I still need to apply for this summer, and the writing I’d left behind since my library studies began two years ago. Listening to the breeze shivering through the twinkling green leaves above me. The birds chirping, the cars driving by.
I continued to rock and rest, and later, I sent out an email out to the principal of a different school that is also out near the Navajo Reservation.
I told him that I was still looking for a full-time library position and that I was going to be in California next week, but I could work part-time at the school at least this summer to help with setting up this new library for them. For as it stands, their library is basically a room full of piles of books in dire need to be organized, weeded, and supplemented with materials. It needs a lot of work but I can envision that place looking exceptional and native to the desert environment. It’d be fun for me to work on this, I think. I don’t know if I’d be successful at it, but it’d be worth trying to do what I can for the school and community.
The Accidental Run In
I’d accidentally run into this principal about a month ago, when there was construction down on the main road that you take to get to Leupp.
I was absently driving my Toyota Camry to work and found myself stationed in the middle of a popular intersection, blocking traffic at all angles, and this principal went walking up to my car window and politely asked me to pull my car up so that others would have room to go. I had Jamaican roots reggae music playing, as Marcela, a substitute teacher, was sitting in the passenger seat staring idly up at him since he was on her side of my car. The man peeked into my car and recognized me from Leupp, and that’s where he told me about a library position that was opening at his school due to recent grant funding.
I told him that I needed to know a few details, so I’d email him when I could.
A Mysterious School Called, The STAR School
The principal works at The STAR School, a small and mysterious school that is situated on the corner of the Navajo Reservation; it runs completely on solar power and is an elementary and middle school. He emailed me today and said his goal was to hire me as a full-time TA/Librarian. I replied on my iPhone trying not to sound too eager or too neutral: “Great! I will be in Cali from Sunday through Thursday, and after that, I should have open availability. Thank you!” An email where I tried to sound casual, but in reality I wrote, erased and re-wrote about twenty times before finally pressing send.
After working as a library media assistant at an elementary school on the Navajo Reservation for a school year, it looks like I’m back to the drawing board. Back to job searching, since the school I’d worked for lost critical amounts of funding during the RedforEd strike and I won’t be able to return next year. What happened was unexpected for me. But I guess budget cuts happen a lot to small, high-needs elementary schools and other organizations in rural areas.
Now I’m facing new hurtles since I might have to move away because of limited library jobs and spiked housing costs. As an intercountry adoptee, I wanted to blog in this taxing phase because so much of my adopted life has been freckled with transitions like this. I thought it might be interesting to share. That maybe instead of pretending my life is perfect right now, maybe these chronicles could meet someone in their own transitional times too, adopted or not.
Traversing Life as an Adoptee
My life has been immersed with transitions like this so I guess this challenge isn’t new to me, although it’s still terrifying. In a way, maybe I’ve become accustomed to sink or swim circumstances ever since I was adopted and flown to the U.S. to live with white parents whom I’d never met. As a brown-skinned adoptee, I’ve lived mainly in Arizona and have had to navigate a tricky web of socio-economic terrain within the demographics of the Southwest too.
So in my adopted life, I’ve learned to view phases like this as an adventure despite my internal struggles from my complicated upbringing. Needing to view unexpected changes like this as opportunities in disguise.
Two Interviews in Southern California
I’ve been invited to two interviews since my job search started. One in National City. Another one in El Segundo. Both in California, which is awesome but jarring. Mainly because the high cost of living.
One reason why I’ve applied to these areas is to be in a city. To broaden my perceptions since I’m used to demographically limited areas. I grew up in a small Midwestern town. Later, moved to a metropolitan suburbs in Phoenix, and recently I’ve been in a small, mountainous college town in Northern Arizona for ten years. Still not making an adequate living after all these years.
Working for my own Dreams
As an intercountry adoptee, I feel I don’t have Filipino dreams or American dreams. I have maybe an adoptee’s dream, to one day have a home of my own. An idealist’s dream, to better the world. My professional dream is to work at a library and facilitate the progress of all demographics. I want to work with individuals of all ethnicities, build connections, help the youth and others like me to identify with who they are. Push society forward. But it’s scary to think of leaving my comfortable Arizona bubble behind.
These past weeks have been frustrating to say the least! I received an official letter from the Australian Government – Minister Tehan’s office, Minister for Social Services, one of the Federal departments responsible for intercountry adoption. Our stakeholder community has been actively writing and contacting the Minister to request a review of the decision to end the funding of our much needed Search service in intercountry adoption. But we have been denied.
After only 2 years, the ISS Australia Intercountry Adoption Tracing & Reunification Service (ICATRS) which was granted less than AUS$500k each year, with an uptake of over 200 adult adoptees and adoptive families, will be closing and the cases handed back to the States/Territory Central Authorities. Historically, the States/Territory governments have provided minimal resources to post adoption support in intercountry adoption, and even less to searching and reunification. Since becoming a signatory of The Hague Convention, Australia devised the Commonwealth-State Agreement which separates the responsibilities between States and Commonwealth. The Commonwealth owns the relationship with our sending countries. This means, for the States/Territories who largely assess prospective parents, they have little day to day communication with our birth countries, hence are not always well placed to conduct searches for us – years/decades after an adoption has occurred.
Australia moved from making history in providing a much needed national and free search service for all adult intercountry adoptees, to now re-joining the rest of the world governments who participate in intercountry adoption but do little, to ensure positive outcomes by providing comprehensive post adoption supports. It is a requirement as a signatory of The Hague Convention but not one country around the world has stepped up to provide a comprehensive service – and especially not targeted to support adult intercountry adoptee needs.
I would understand if the Federal Government decided to close intercountry adoption altogether AND remove the search service, but to continue conducting intercountry adoption without comprehensive post adoption supports, in my eyes is unethical and just plain wrong!
Since 2014, the Australian federal government allocated a budget of AU$33.6m across 5 years to spend on facilitating intercountry adoption. Out of that budget, little to nothing has been given to those who are already here – the adult adoptees and their adoptive families. For those who are impacted by the lack of intercountry adoption policy from the late 1960s era, post adoption services are so much more important. Adoptees of my generation were, for the good majority of us, adopted with poor documentation and questionable procedures. Funding the loudest and most powerful stakeholder has seen a blatant skewing of tax payer money. I ask where is the conscience and ethics of the Australian Government? How can they justify spending AU$33.6m on services for prospective parents but do little to nothing for those of us who are already here, asking for help and support?!
We live in an era where apologies are given and past policies recognised for the harm done. The Stolen Generation. The Forced Adoption Apology. The Forgotten Australians. Now the Royal Commission into Sexual Abuse. Well, one day, our small minority of intercountry adoptees, who have been left out of all these similar scenarios, will have to be acknowledged and recognised. Our day of reckoning will eventually come. But we may have to force it instead of speaking nicely and being politely grateful for our adopted lives. We are adopted to a country that treats us as a symbolic gesture to “help those less fortunate”. Intercountry adoption policy prances about in disguise as being “in the interests of the child”. Yet overtly – the rhetoric is clearly not true. Actions speak louder than words. The actions are for those wanting a child, not for the child itself.
In the past weeks, I also submitted a letter to the Australian Human Rights Commission for their annual report on how Australia is tracking in Children’s Rights. In my submission, I point out the many breaches that occur under Children’s Rights in intercountry adoption from the lived experience perspective. Past and current intercountry adoption practices and the variety of outcomes dating back to the late 1960s, goes against 13 of the 41 Part I Articles under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Around the globe, I see adult intercountry adoptees speaking out enmasse – BUT, we are continually being ignored. The Dutch adoptees are now suing their Dutch government for their illegal adoptions in which their own birth countries are acknowledging illicit practices. Ultimately, this is what it will come down to. Clearly when we ask politely, nicely, respectfully to listen to our experiences and do the right thing, governments all over the world will only take reponsibility when it comes to the legal crunch. It won’t be until many of us start finding ways to seek justice through litigation around the world that we will no longer be ignored. This is the reality of intercountry adoption.
I observe closely the harsh debate going on in the USA between pro adoption parents and adoption agencies who are criticising the US Department of State for implementing tighter controls in accreditation of adoption agencies and standards. These lobby groups are sending around petitions to ask the US President to support the increase for international adoptions and are attacking the US Department of State for bringing in much needed reforms to prevent illicit practices. It’s interesting how these same lobby groups will push to bring in more children who need saving around the world, but do nothing to ensure those already here, are granted automatic citizenship.
These lobby groups and agencies clearly do not speak to deported adoptees who sink into depression and are hard hit by being uprooted yet again, with no choice of their own. Do these lobby groups take any responsibility for children being placed into families that were not suitable under previous regimes with loose procedures? No. They don’t speak out about the rights of these children, now adults. They don’t care that America ships these people back the same way they were bought into the country. Yes my choice of word is correct. Bought – meaning purchased. It shows the truth of their motivations! Lobby groups and adoption agencies promote and advocate for their own self centred needs but at the same time conveniently turn a blind eye to these same children (now adults) who are being ignored, unsupported, and treated unethically. Where is their lobbying for these children who grew up? For those still fighting for automatic citizenship, adopted to the USA prior to 1983? I dare to judge and say, they are not interested in the “needs of the children” … only to satisfy their own needs and interests.
Adoption break downs, illicit practices, deportations, human rights abuses – these are not words adoption lobbyers and agencies use or want to acknowledge. I suggest before they promote further adoptions with laxer processes, they need to sit and listen to the hundreds of adult intercountry adoptees whom I meet every year around the world, in every adoptive country, from every birth country.
It breaks my heart time and again to hear our experiences. They are not just stories. They are our realities. We are a minority amongst minorities. Our experiences mean little to governments who make decisions as to what they will fund because we are not on their radar to appease or acknowledge.
For those who naiively think ICAV is a melting pot for a minority of angry/embittered adoptees who suffered in their adoptive families, think again. We have just as many members who have been loved and given a great adoptive family as those who have suffered within not so positive environments. We are not against adoptive families. We are against the processes of intercountry adoption, the governments, the stakeholders who make decisions that impact our lives without our say and who are consciously choosing not to learn from the past.
At a certain age and maturity in understanding the phenomenon of intercountry adoption and opening themselves up to learn the politics involved, many adult intercountry and transracial adoptees can’t help but wonder. We question why the system is so skewed towards adopting without taking any truthful responsiblity for ensuring all people impacted by the adoption are better supported.
Our rights and needs remain ignored. The money trail does not extend to us, the children who grow up. It’s only there for those who want to gain a child with little foresight as to whether that child experiences a positive or negative outcome in the long term.
I’ve been around for 20 years now, actively speaking out, supporting intercountry adoptees and creating much needed resources to prevent the reinvention of the wheel for many of us who struggle in the journey. In my early years, we were alone. Now … we have created something different altogether. We are harnessing our energies and working together.
I will use this reality to continue to encourage fellow adoptees to keep pushing, keep demanding change, keep trying, keep speaking out. One day, something will have to give and the changes we ask for will happen.
The truth of intercountry adoption cannot be silenced forever.
The ICAV website provides alot of information for a variety of audiences – fellow intercountry and transracial adoptees, adoptive/prospective parents and professionals. One of our main goals, is to provide a platform so can you hear from those impacted the most, the adoptee. I say “impacted the most” because we are the one party out of them all (biological parents, adoptive parents, lawyers, social workers, government workers) who isn’t usually an adult at the time of the relinquishment and adoption decisions. We are impacted by the very fact that we are children with no mature voice for ourselves or understanding of what is happening.
Here we provide our voices at an age where we speak for ourselves. We share our journeys honestly in the hopes it will help others better understand how complex it is to search for our identity and find our place in this world.
At the ICAV website, in the Individual Stories section, we provide a wonderful collection of personal experiences. It may not be the same as our parents, but it is our unique perspective.
Today, I want to bring attention to our newest contribution. It is a beautifully written piece by a Vietnamese adoptee, Paul Bonnell, raised as an American growing up in Malaysia, Philippines and the USA.
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.
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.