Adoptee Review of Ra Chapman’s K-Box Play

by Kayla Curtis, Korean adoptee raised in Australia, social worker and counsellor specialising in adoption.

I want to share some reflections from going along to the K-Box Adoptee Takeover Night at the Malthouse and seeing Ra Chapman’s K-Box play in Melbourne, Australia on 9 September.

Personally, I am feeling an excitement from seeing K-Box because it captured so much of my personal adoption experience with confronting and emotional clarity. My comments to Ra afterwards were: “They could have been my parents on that stage, the set was my family home and the script was very close to the conversations I have navigated with my family over the years. Thank you for shining a light on some of what we have to navigate and including some of the uncomfortable and confronting issues that are so covert and invisible to others, especially our families”.  

K-Box is written and directed by Ra Chapman, a South Australian Korean adoptee, currently Melbourne based. This play is one of a kind and is the first to shine a bright light on the complexities and nuances of the intercountry adoptee experience in Australia and to have an intercountry adoptee as the leading protagonist. Ra wrote the play based on hers and other adoptees lived experiences of adoption. Feedback from adoptees who saw the play on Friday night was that the portrayal of the adoptee’s experience was not only relatable but a provoking and truthful representation of their own adoption experiences.

The play was about a 30+ year old Korean adoptee navigating relationships with her adoptive mother and father and was also about her journey of coming to understand the impact adoption has had in her life: how it has influenced her identity, her internal working model and sense of self and connection with her adoptive parents. It touched on many of the core themes of adoption including identity, belonging, loss and grief, race, the life-long impacts of adoption, racism, stereotypes, attachment, belonging, white privilege/white washing, ‘dangers of single stories’, family as well as how we talk about adoption issues and navigate these difficult discussions with our families. What the play did well is to explore the impacts on the adoptee and family relationships when these core issues are not understood, validated, explored, or supported. As is normal for many adoptees who begin to explore and pay attention to these issues, there can be a destabilising effect on the family relationships as the adoption ‘fairy-tale’ or ‘happy adoption’ narrative begins to come apart. 

L to R: Jeffrey Liu, Ra Chapman, Susanna Qian

For any professionals working in the area of adoption, this play is a great resource, providing a deep and valuable insight to the dynamics, relationships, interracial experiences, and challenges intercountry adoptees have to navigate within their adoption experience and adoptive families. Of course, this was delivered extremely cleverly with the play using comedy/satire as well as emotionally intense and beautiful monologues and symbolism complimented by outstanding acting from an intimate cast of four performers. 

It was powerfully delivered and received, leaving many adoptees who attended feeling emotional and unsteady but also connected, seen, and supported. Likewise, it may also leave adoptive parents feeling unsure, confronted, and curious about their role in their child’s adoption. In the end, I think it brings everyone together: adoptees and parents, opening up possibilities of how we can partner up around the adoption experience and do better for the journey of the adoptee.

Following the play, I valued the emotive speeches and other performances by adoptee’s sharing their creative work and projects. In addition the evening mentioned some other exciting adoptee led projects and creative works in development that I will be following closely with anticipation.  

The main takeaway for me from the evening was the amazing way adoptees were able to come together through this event, which I think highlights the collective healing power for adoptees when surrounded by community, elevating the adoptee voice in a safe and supported way and feeling a sense of strong belonging by being seen and heard. It is great knowing that the Australian adoptee community is going strong!

I hope that we can continue having open and welcomed discussions together as a community so we all can benefit in learning from those with lived experiences especially from adoptees.

Dearest Ra, please know the powerful impact you have had and how your creative work is helping to shape all of our learning and better capacitate the adoption community in Australia.

I encourage all to see Ra Chapman’s play K-Box showing only until 18 September; adoptive parents, adoptees, adoption professionals and the broader community.

Check out our Photo Album from the evening.

The 9 September K-Box Adoptee Takeover Night at the Malthouse event was proudly presented to us by Malthouse Theatre, supported by Relationships Australia Intercountry Adoptee and Family Support Services (ICAFSS) small grants, InterCountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV), International Social Services (ISS) Australia, and hosted by our wonderful adoptee led organisations and community-based groups – ICAV led by Lynelle Long and Ra Chapman from Korean Adoptees In Australia Network (KAIAN).

Coming Next at ICAVs blog is some of the Adoptee Artist performances from our Take Over of the Malthouse Night and artwork from the ZINE magazine which was handed out at the event.

Ra Chapman and some of the Korean adoptees who attended the evening
Photos by Lynelle Long

Resources

Deep Regret or Great Love? Adoptee play showcases desire for connection

K-Box: Questioning middle class Australia with blitzing comedic flair

Being Illegally Adopted and a Forced Reunion

Most people assume that our adoptions are all legal and legitimate. Most people assume that adoptees want to meet their first mothers. Aimee’s story highlights the harsh reality that not all adoptions are legal and that media involvement is not always helpful or kind to the adoptee who may not even want, nor be ready, to reunite.

The worst part of Aimee’s story which isn’t shared in this video, is that even though the Taiwanese government prosecuted the traffickers responsible for her illegal adoption, to date, nothing has been offered by either the Taiwanese nor Australian governments to help Aimee in any specific way in dealing with the ongoing impacts of being illegally adopted. There is a whole cohort of Taiwanese adoptees in Australia with Aimee who were a result of the Julie Chu trafficking ring in Taiwan that was prosecuted. No-one has followed up on these adoptees to check on them, to let them know of how their adoption came about, nor to make any specific supports be made known to them.

How is it ethical that Australia and Taiwan still be allowed to continue to facilitate intercountry adoptions today, without any recognition of the past wrongs nor an attempt to address the impacts on these victims? THIS is intercountry adoption with a complete lack of duty of care to the person impacted most, in the worst case scenario.

Click on Aimee’s picture to listen to her share.

Aimee

Resources

Lived Experience of Illegal and Illicit Adoption webinar which includes another of the Taiwanese trafficked adoptees, Kimbra Butterworth-Smith

Does Justice and Accountability Happen in Illegal Adoptions?

The Lived Experience of Illegal Intercountry Adoption

Voices Against Illegal Adoptions Speak at the United Nations

ICAVs Perspective Paper: Lived Experience Suggestions for Responses to Illegal and Illicit Adoptions in French & English

Governments Finally Recognising Illicit and Illegal Adoption Practices

The Feeling of Not Belonging Anywhere

Michelle is one of our most eloquent adoptees in the video series. She is so open and honest about the challenges and I love her courage to speak up about the topics most hidden in adoption – eating disorders and suicide attempts and what underlies these; and the struggle to find a place to belong and need to know the truth of our origins.

Click on Michelle’s image to listen to her video.

Michelle

Resources

Read Michelle’s other blogs: Mother and Letter to President Moon.

Adopted Families and Eating Disorder Recovery

Risk of eating disorders in international adoptees: a cohort study using Swedish national population registers

Eating Disorders in Adopted Children

Do I have an Eating Disorder?

Behavioral symptoms of eating disorders among adopted adolescents and young adults in the United States: Findings from the Add Health survey

The Link between Childhood Trauma and Eating Disorders

Adoption and Eating Disorders: A High-Risk Group?

Issues in Attachment that may contribute to Eating Disorders

Identifying with our Genetic Mirrors

People who aren’t adopted too easily forget that biology does matter – seeing our biology mirrored around us, grounds us in the formation of our identity and our sense of self.

In this short talk from our video series, I love Ben’s comments about looking into his baby’s eyes and seeing himself reflected for the first time and the impact that had on him. I can certainly relate to this too as it wasn’t until I had my own children that I felt a deeper sense of security within myself – a sense of belonging that I’d never had before.

Click on the image of Ben to see his video.

Benjamin

Resources that speak about the importance of Genetic Mirrors:

Thoughts for Adoptive Parents
Free as a Bird

Video: Genetic Mirroring – What it is, How it Affects Adopted People, and What you can Do about it (by Colombian intercountry adoptee Jeanette Yoffe)

You can follow Ben @ Insta on the_quiet_adoptee

A Life has been Lived Before Adoption

I really love the message Meseret shares as another older aged intercountry adoptee in our video series. It provides a message for prospective parents to be respectful of the experiences and life prior to a child coming home to their new adoptive family and country. It reminds us of how difficult it is to expect an adoptee to “trust” their new family, especially when language is a barrier. It helps us be realistic about what supports a family needs when undertaking older age adoptions.

Click on the image of Meseret to listen to her share.

Meseret

Resources

Trauma of Transition for Older Aged Adoptees

The Walk: A true story of Meseret Cohen

Finding Peace after Adoption

I can’t believe it’s been just over a year since I filmed 8 amazing people who openly shared their experience and views of life as intercountry adoptees. In the next few weeks, I want to highlight the individual videos from our video series, that help to share about the complexities of being an adoptee.

Here is Jonas who shares about his journey to find his inner peace, coming to terms with the losses, struggles, and gains from being adopted at an older age out of Haiti to Australia. It’s worth sharing especially for younger male adoptees of colour who often struggle in silence with very few role models or racial mirrors. Being adopted doesn’t always mean an endless struggle. Jonas talks about no matter how tough the journey is, it is possible to reach a place of acceptance and peace when one puts in the hard work to explore our beginnings, come to terms with our realities and find a way through.

Have a listen to Jonas share in the video by clicking on the image below.

Jonas

Resources

Race and Trauma resources specific to intercountry adoption

Haitian of the Month: Jonas Désir

Hope for Haiti: Journey of Hope

Bolivian Adoptee Anthology Book Review

I was really excited when I heard there was a book created by a global network of Bolivian adoptees! I LOVE that we are hearing from them because although they are not as numerous as the Colombian or Chilean cohorts of intercountry adoptees, they are part of the large numbers who have been sent out of South America as children. Their voice, like all groups of intercountry adoptees, is really important!

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Communal Histories of Displacement and Adoption. It covers a wide range of 20 Bolivian adoptee experiences sent to countries in Europe (Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, France, Netherlands, Norway), the USA and Canada. What I immediately responded to was the beautiful artwork that draws you in visually, providing a sense of the colourful, vibrant Bolivian heart and soul within these lives, despite the effects of displacement and adoption.

I feel the choice of the word “displacement” in the title is very progressive, a reflection of the wider adoptee journey of awakening. It has taken the global community of adoptees many decades to come to terms with and find our own voice about being the products of forced adoption, i.e., being removed from our countries without a choice. Adoption is something that happens to us, we had no say in the matter and not always in our best interests as some of us attest to decades on, and some of these voices include this sentiment in this book.

What I also love is that this book is funded by the Belgium Adoption Support Centre – Steunpunt Adoptie, a non-profit organisation subsidised by the Belgium government. They are mainly responsible for post adoption services and in the past few years, they support adoptees via their annual call for adoptee led projects. The Network of Bolivian adoptees twice received funding: for the first Bolivian adoptee meeting in Brussels in 2019; and then for the book in 2020. Let’s hope this encourages other countries around the world to provide funding for adoptee led projects like this anthology!

The book is a nice short read (98 pages) with a wide range of writing styles. If you have a spare hour or two and want to better understand the lived experience of Bolivian adoptee voices, I highly recommend you grab a copy!

You can purchase the book at this link.

Resources

Facebook group for Network of Bolivian Adoptees

Related resource: Colombian Adoptee Anthology Book Review

Embracing Therapy as an Adoptee

by Oleg Lougheed, adopted from Russia to the USA. Founder of Overcoming Odds.

I remember the first time I went to therapy.

I was ashamed of it.

I disliked every aspect of it.

I saw it as a sign of weakness.

Out of all of the things I looked forward to, this was at the very bottom of my list.

I remember the drive over.

“Why do I have to go here?”

“I don’t need this.”

“This is stupid.”

With each remark, I became more and more angry.

I remember exiting the car.

Not a single word, arms folded together, sprinting ahead of my parents in frustration.

“Welcome!” said the receptionist.

I didn’t respond.

“Through the double doors to the right, please.”

As I opened the double doors, my eyes immediately met them.

A room full of kids who were much younger than me.

I scanned the entire room.

Everybody was doing something.

Some were putting together puzzles.

Others were drawing.

“This is not for me,” I whispered.

I made my way toward the spot.

The spot I became far too familiar with throughout my life.

The corner of the room.

I sat there in silence, waiting for the clock to strike 8 PM.

“How are you doing?” asked the therapist on duty.

No response.

It took weeks before I said my first words.

I remember sitting in the corner of the room when the therapist approached me.

I couldn’t hold it anymore. I broke down.

Fighting back tears, I told her everything.

I told her how much I missed my birth family.

I told her that I was being bullied at school.

I told her about the struggles back home.

I felt a huge relief with each spoken word.

Unfortunately, this was one of the last sessions.

I turned back to what I knew best, silence.

It wasn’t until 10 years ago, I spoke the word, “therapy” out loud.

I was a freshman in college.

I needed someone to talk to.

The past was on the back of my mind.

I went straight to the counselling/mental health department.

I wasn’t ashamed of it anymore.

I remember the walk over.

The feeling of empowerment with every step I took.

I accepted therapy into my life, on my own terms.

Going to sessions helped me tremendously.

They helped me process and reframe many of my past traumatic experiences.

They helped me get curious about the subject and the stories I chose to believe in.

The stories of it being seen as a sign of weakness, not a strength.

The stories of therapy as something I should be ashamed of.

Curiosity helped me change many of these narratives.

Curiosity helped me embrace therapy as a part of my identity, part of my life.

For more from Oleg, read his last blog Adoptee Fear and Vulnerability
Follow him at Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn @overcomingodds

Money never makes up for what I’ve lost as a First Nations Canadian

by Jen Etherington, born as a First Nations Canadian and adopted into an Australian family.

It looks like the final payments for the sixties scoop has started going out. I get mixed feelings about it and the process.

I feel a sense of loss of culture, family and country. I’m not saying I’m not grateful for my adoptive parents and all that life has given me here in Australia but it also doesn’t mean that I don’t feel the sense of loss for everything else.

My bio parents died when I was 9 years old and that hope of meeting them was gone forever. My partner and I are currently listening to Harry Potter and I cry because I can relate to the loss of his parents and how he feels, as well as the pining to know about them. People from home in Canada tell me stories about them and I get so happy and so sad at the same time.

I see posts from bio cousins about different cultural events and traditions and I feel sad that I don’t know my culture. People here in Australia get excited when I tell them I’m First Nations Canadian and ask about my culture and I don’t have anything for them.

My bio parents didn’t have any more children because they didn’t want them to be taken away (or so I believe). I always hoped I’d have a long lost sibling out there.

I feel a big sense of loss about my last miscarriage because that was my last chance at experiencing a biological connection.

Anyway, the payment was $25,000 and I know there are people out there where this amount of money will help and make a difference but I also feel like it’s kind of hush money. I don’t feel like it is much for what happened to so many of us.

Further Reading

$25,000 settlement for Sixties Scoop Survivors, a “Slap in the Face”

Where do I belong?

by Charisse Maria Diaz, born as Mary Pike Law, cross cultural adoptee born in Puerto Rico

Pote de leche are Spanish words for “milk bottle”. Where I was born, this is how someone is described when they are too white. Yes, too white. That is what I was called at school when bullied. In my teens, I spent many Sundays sunbathing in the backyard of our home. This was one of the many ways I tried to fit in.

My tendency has been to consider myself a transcultural adoptee and not a transracial adoptee, because my adoptive parents were Caucasian like me. Recently, I realized their looks do not make my experience too different from the experience of any transracial adoptee. I was born in Puerto Rico from an American mother and English father and adopted by a Puerto Rican couple. Puerto Ricans have a mix of Native Taino, European and African genes, our skin colors are as varied as the colors of a rainbow. The most common skin tones go from golden honey to cinnamon. For some, I looked like a little milk-colored ghost.

My adoptive mother told me that an effort was made by the Social Services Department, which oversaw my adoption process, to make the closest match possible. She said the only things that did not “match” with her and my adoptive father were my red hair and my parents’ (actually, my natural father’s) religion. I was supposed to be an Anglican but was going to be raised as a Catholic. This was part of the brief information she gave me about my parents, when she confessed that they were not dead as I had been told at 7 years old. She also admitted that I was not born in Quebec, which they also made me believe. I was born in Ponce, the biggest city on the southern shore of the island. She gave me this information when I was 21 years old.

So, at 21 years of age, I discovered that I was a legitimate Puerto Rican born in the island, and also that my natural father was an English engineer and my natural mother was Canadian. I was happy about the first fact and astonished about the rest. Suddenly, I was half English and half Canadian. At 48 years old I found my original family on my mother’s side. Then I discovered this was a misleading fact about my mother. She was an American who happened to be born in Ontario because my grandfather was working there by that time. I grew up believing I was a Québéquois, after that I spent more than two decades believing that I was half Canadian. All my life I had believed things about myself that were not true.

I learned another extremely important fact about my mother. She was an abstract-expressionist painter, a detail that was hidden by my adoptive family in spite of my obvious artistic talent. I started drawing on walls at 2 years old. My adoptive parents believed that art was to be nothing more than a hobby, it was not a worthy field for an intelligent girl who respected herself and that happened to be their daughter. This did not stop me, anyway. After a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication and a short career as a copywriter, I became a full-time painter at the age of 30. To discover that my mother was a painter, years later, was mind-blowing.

Identity construction or identity formation is the process in which humans develop a clear and unique view of themselves, of who they are. According to Erik Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development, this process takes place during our teen years, where we explore many aspects of our identities. It concludes at 18 years old, or, as more recent research suggests, in the early twenties. By that age we should have developed a clear vision of the person we are. How was I supposed to reach a conclusion about who I was, when I lacked important information about myself?

My search for my original family started when there was no internet, and it took me more than 20 years to find them. I did not arrive in time to meet my mother. A lifelong smoker, she had died of lung cancer. I connected with my half-siblings, all of them older than me. They were born during her marriage previous to her relationship with my father. Two of them were old enough to remember her pregnancy. They had been enthusiastically waiting for the new baby, just to be told that I was stillborn, news that hurt them so much. Before she passed away, my mother confessed to my siblings that I was relinquished for adoption. Through them, I learned what a difficult choice it was for my mother to let me go.

During my search, well-known discrimination against Latinos in sectors of the American culture gave me an additional motive to fear rejection. I didn’t know I had nothing to worry about. My siblings welcomed me with open arms. Reconnecting with them has been such a heartwarming, comforting, life-changing experience. We are united not only by blood, but also by art, music, literature, and by ideas in common about so many things, including our rejection of racism. It was baffling to learn that my opinions about society and politics are so similar to my natural parents’ points of view, which were different, and sometimes even opposite to my adoptive parents’ beliefs.

My siblings remember my father, their stepfather, fondly. With their help I was able to confirm on the Internet that he had passed away too. His life was a mystery not only to me, but to them too. A few years later, I finally discovered his whereabouts. He lived many years in Australia and was a community broadcasting pioneer. A classical music lover, he helped to establish Sydney-based radio station 2MBS-FM and worked to promote the growth of the public broadcasting sector. His contributions granted him the distinction of being appointed OBE by the British government. My mind was blown away for a second time when I learned that he had dedicated his life to a field related to mass communication, which was my career of choice before painting. My eldest half-brother on his side was the first relative I was able to contact. “Quite a surprise!”, he wrote the day he found out that he had a new sister. Huge surprise, indeed. My father never told anyone about my existence. Now I got to know my half-siblings and other family members on his side too. They are a big family, and I am delighted to keep in touch with them.

My early childhood photo

With each new piece of information about my parents and my heritage, adjustments had to be made to the concept of who I am. To be an international, transcultural, transracial adoptee can be terribly disorienting. We grow up wondering not only about our original families, but also about our cultural roots. We grow up feeling we are different from everyone around us, in so many subtle and not so subtle ways… In my case, feeling I am Puerto Rican, but not completely Puerto Rican. Because I may consider myself a true Boricua (the Taino demonym after the original name of the island, Borikén), but in tourist areas people address me in English, and some are astonished to hear me answer in Spanish. More recently, I have pondered if my reserved nature, my formal demeanor, my cool reactions may be inherited English traits. And getting to know about my parents, even some of my tastes, like what I like to eat and the music I love, has made more sense. But in cultural terms I am not American or British enough to be able to wholly consider myself any of these. Where do I belong, then? And how can I achieve completion of my identity under these conditions? It is a natural human need to belong. Many times I have felt rootless. In limbo.

A great number of international adoptees have been adopted into Anglo-Saxon countries, mostly United States and Australia, and many of them come from places considered developing countries. The international adoptee community, which has found in social media a great tool to communicate, receive and give support, and get organized, encourages transracial and transcultural adoptees to connect with their roots. My case is a rare one, because it is the opposite of the majority. I was adopted from the Anglo-Saxon culture to a Latin American culture. I never imagined that this would put me in a delicate position.

Puerto Rico has a 500-year-old Hispanic culture. I am in love with the Spanish language, with its richness and infinite subtleties. I feel so honored and grateful to have this as my first language. We study the English language starting at first grade of elementary school, because we are a United States’ territory since 1898, as a result of the Spanish-American war. We are United States citizens since 1914. We have an independentist sector and an autonomist sector which are very protective of our culture. Historically, there has been a generalized resistance to learning English. In my case, I seem to have some ability with languages and made a conscious effort to achieve fluency, for practical reasons but also because it is the language of my parents and my ancestors.

In 2019 I traveled to Connecticut to meet my eldest half-brother on my mother’s side. That year, a close friend who knew about my reunion with natural family told me that someone in our circle had criticized the frequency of my social media posts in the English language. Now that I am in touch with my family, I have been posting more content in English, and it seems this makes some people uncomfortable. But the most surprising part is that even a member of my natural family has told me that I am a real Boricua and should be proud of it. I was astonished. Who says I am not proud? I have no doubt that this person had good intentions, but no one can do this for me. Who or what I am is for me to decide. But the point is some people seem to believe that connecting with my Anglo-Saxon roots implies a rejection of Puerto Rican culture or that I consider being Puerto Rican an inferior condition, something not far from racism. Nothing could be farther from the truth! I was born in Puerto Rico and love my culture.

Puerto Rico’s situation is complicated, in consequence my identity issues became complicated. I am aware of our island’s subordinated position to a Caucasian English-speaking country; that this circumstance has caused injustices against our people; that our uniqueness needs to be protected and celebrated. Being aware sometimes makes our lives more difficult, because we understand the deep implications of situations. There was a time when I felt torn by the awareness of my reality: being Puerto Rican and also being linked by my ancestry to two cultures which for centuries dedicated their efforts to Imperialism. I am even related through my father to Admiral Horatio Nelson, a historical character that embodies British imperialism. How to reconcile that to my island’s colonial history and situation? Where I was going to put my loyalty? To feel that I was being judged for reconnecting to my original cultures – something every international adoptee is encouraged to do – did not help me in the task of answering these difficult questions.

Even when they were not perfect and made mistakes, my natural parents were good people with qualities I admire. The more I get to know them, the more I love them. The more I know them, the more I see them in me. If I love them, I cannot reject where they came from, which is also a basic part of who I am. Therefore, I have concluded that I cannot exclude their cultures from my identity construction process.

To connect to these cultures until I feel they are also mine is a process. I am not sure if I will ever achieve this, but I am determined to go through this process without any feelings of guilt. To do so is a duty to myself, to be able to become whole and have a real, or at least a better sense of who I am. And it is not only a duty, it is also my right.

English
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