How transnational adoption practices in South Korea can challenge women’s ability to control their reproductive destiny

by Christla PETITBERGHIEN (Haitian adoptee raised in France), Eunseo KIM, Jiyun JEONG, Jung HEO, Sum Yin Shek, submitted as part of their academic course: The Politics of Values.

Introduction

In our current society, the area regarding the issue of adoptees and social policies related to adoption are pretty much hidden and invisible. There are plenty of reasons for such a tendency; isolation and alienation, emphasis on normal society, less prioritized, and so on. Hence, we became aware of the fact that those issues should be enlightened enough worldwide so that their rights are protected and people are engaged. In order to achieve such a purpose, we should have a better understanding of the family-building value, the identity and rights issue of adopted children and women, so that their rights can be discussed and handled thoroughly.

We have chosen to focus on the practice of transnational adoption in South Korea since this topic, which remains largely undiscussed in the academic field, is an eminent political issue that involves many ethical and conflicting value questions regarding the issue of family-making and the right to parenthood but also because one of our teammates is herself an adoptee who was already interested by this topic. International adoption constitutes a form of stratified reproduction, enabling some to engage in child-rearing while making it impossible for others to do so. The process of adoption relies on family construction throughout the de-kinning of other families, so starting from this observation,
we wanted to understand the way in which a family comes to be destroyed and, in this way, to see how adoption testifies the ideals and the social-political values of societies regarding family-building. In order to understand this, we needed to look at the situation of biological parents, especially biological mothers’ situations and the factors that force them to separate themselves from their offspring, as well as the agency’s degree they have in this process and the contribution of the state to the social and economic incapacity of certain individuals to form a family. We wanted to understand how political values influence the use of adoption by states as a biopolitical tool for population management and reproduction control. We focused on the situation of Korean single and biological mothers as a case study highlighting the more global problems of transnational adoption, as
Korea remains one of the major child donor countries despite its current status as a developed country.

While in search of the interviewee, we came across the work of Hosu Kim, Birth mothers and Transnational Adoption Practice in South Korea; virtual mothering (2016). As an expert who has specialized in child adoption, especially transnational adoption, we decided that she would be able to provide us insights into the questions that we had and therefore chose her as our interviewee. Hosu Kim is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York. She got her Ph.D. in Sociology at the Graduate Center, CUNY and M.A. in Sociology at Indiana State University. Her research interest is mainly focused on transnational adoption and reproductive politics. Her selected publications are Decolonizing Adoption Narratives for Transnational Reproductive Justice, co-authored with Sunghee Yook and The Biopolitics of Transnational Adoption in South Korea: Preemption and the Governance of Single Birthmothers, in which she explains South Korea’s international adoption functioning as biopolitical technology, how the government controlled and regulated unwed mothers and their children to displace the abnormal citizens.

Methodology

The questions asked during the interview are the following: (1) Is traditional social stigma
regarding “normal family” in Korea getting in the way of not only single mothers raising a child on their own but also keeping a child instead of sending them for adoption? (2) What was the reason that made you focus specifically on South Korea regarding the issue of international adoption? How did transnational adoption function as a biopolitical technology in South Korea? (3) Has capitalism overridden the true value of the child-welfare ethics and the right to rear their own child by commodifying the children especially within the overseas adoption industry? Does the growing demand for adoptable children in Northern Global Countries challenge the respect of birthmothers’ reproductive rights? (4) Does a single pregnant woman really have a “choice” when it comes to deciding adoption? If not, what factors put these women into the state of ‘having no other choice’? (5)
Do you believe the political weakness of biological parents serves the interests of other actors of adoption such as adoptive parents and the state? (6) What kind of changes should/could be made about the adoption policy in the future?

In our group, there are five members including Christla PETITBERGHIEN, Eunseo KIM, Jiyun JEONG, Jung HEO, and Sum Yin Shek. The common work of all five of us includes coming up with the interview questions, doing research on each part, participating in the interview process asking questions, and writing each paragraph for the corresponding part. Christla has come up with the topic and found the interviewee, Eunseo did the research on the interviewee’s work and was in charge of contacting the interviewee, and Jung categorized all the possible questions and regrouped them for the finalized set of interview questions. As for the report, Christla and Jung wrote the introduction, Eunseo and Sum Yin wrote the conclusion, and Jiyun finalized the paper by unifying the overall literary style.

Analysis of the interview

  1. The influence of traditional family norms in Korea to single mothers
    The whole single mother issue should not be simply generalized as East Asian culture. Rather, it is a combined issue including economic, social and legal barriers in Korea, which hinders single mothers from raising children on their own. The traditional cultural prejudice plays a huge role. However, it is the legal framework that primarily blocks single mothers from registering their own children under their name. There is a colonial legal system which is called “Hojuk” in South Korea and which acts as a fundamental framework that constructs the family structure. And so often, the structure is patriarchal, meaning only a man has the privilege or prerogative to recognize one’s paternity. As a result, up until its abolishment in 2005, single mothers in Korea could not legally claim their own children as theirs. And when these single mothers decide to raise their own children rather than sending them away, they have often skirted around the legal barrier by registering their children under the name of their male siblings or their own father. Hence, combing with all the wealth gap, gender gap, job availability, all the other social and economic factors, it is hard life circumstances for the women rather than a simple conservative cultural reason.
  2. About the interviewee’s interest in adoption issue in South Korea
    South Korea is one of the largest countries sending children to international adoption. Beyond such statistics, for Professor Kim, personal experience studying as an international student in the US led to the interest in the intertwined history of South Korea and the United States. Frequently meeting people who have adopted and raised Korean children in mundane conversation ended up asking why there are so many orphans, especially sent away to overseas adoption. South Korea’s international adoption practice lasted 70 years, tracking back from the Korean war to today when squid game and parasites are everywhere. The dissonance between sending Korean children and establishing the proud Korean culture can be understood in the term, the biopolitical technology. The Korean government and its norms define what is a normal family, entitling who is adequate to raise children. It included controlling and stigmatizing unwed mothers, forcing those ‘inadequate’ mothers to send their children. Also, it was a consistent operation of normative citizenship removing underserving citizens from South Korea; people with mixed race or born to presumably sex workers in camptown or children from orphanages or single mother were regarded as a typical abnormal sector of the populations. Hence, South Korea’s nation building process, which was very capitalist and patriarchal, included forced displacement of the inadequate surplus population.
  3. Capitalism and the international adoption industry
    Hosu Kim also pointed out how capitalism has supplanted the true value of the child welfare ethic and the right to raise one’s own child by commodifying children, particularly in the international adoption industry. The genesis of transnational adoption is part of the practice of the humanitarian market. Humanitarianism is associated in the collective mind with the idea of virtue yet humanitarianism functions as a non-profit sector of global capitalism. In the 1950s and 1960s, many adoption agencies became not-for-profit institutions, but also seen as child welfare institutions. These agencies had some type of children’s welfare in their name and, as a result, many citizens confused these adoption agencies with children’s welfare institutions, which had nothing to do with this exchange of money. It was a deliberate disguise that allowed many adoptions to take place. The lack of knowledge of the many biological families involved about the exact procedures of the adoption and the amount of money exchanged in return for their children as well as the confusion they make between the name of the agencies and the child welfare was exploited to make them accept the adoption separation. Therefore, not only that, their parenting right, their custody is uprooted, but through the adoption , they become rightless people to ask for any rights (right to information or even to know whether their children are still alive).

    Furthermore, the questioning of the respect of the reproductive rights of the biological mothers is the result of the increasing demand of adoptable children in the countries of the North, because who says a greater Demand requires the necessity to look for more Supply. In international adoption, there is a logic of supply and demand chain. But today the number of adoptions is decreasing with the development of medical reproductive techniques and many feminist researchers have looked at this global reproductive assembly line and the case of surrogacy and the similarities it has with adoption. One can indeed wonder what kind of work all these long-unrecognized biological mothers have done? Have they been surrogate mothers in spite of themselves?
  4. Adoption not as a choice
    Based on the estimate that about 40% of all adopted children in South Korea in 2005 were relinquished at or transferred from maternity homes, it raises curiosity regarding the regulatory functions that maternity homes have undertaken. The research done by Hosu Kim about maternity homes in South Korea for single pregnant women back from 1980s until mid 2000s reveals the reality of rightless single mothers.

    Most single pregnant women face exclusion and hostility from their communities after disclosing their pregnancy, and often coming to a situation where their male partners derail from the relationship or are not able to support them financially. The maternity home is one of very few options to those who are in desperate need of shelter, food, protection, and medical facilities. As a result, many of these women take refuge in maternity homes. However, from the instant of the arrival, they are inquired into their plans for the baby’s future without being fully informed of options and choices, and the screening questions give the sense to the single mothers as if there are only two answers: either relinquishing the baby or taking full responsibility of keeping the child despite their hostile living conditions.

    During their stay at the maternity home, adoption constantly floats not just as one of the options but as the only viable one. Without a very clear idea of what adoptions might look like, and what it would feel like after the birth, single pregnant women face info sessions with the adoption agencies and even potential adoptive parents. They make consultations in which they solicit babies from pregnant women. During these sessions, a lot of catharsis moments and a sense of consolation and reassurance are exchanged, putting the hope into the birth mothers that once they rebuild their life, they can meet the adoptees. The reality that lies in this process is that maternity homes are operated in a very close network with adoption agencies as 40~50% of maternity homes are founded and operated directly by them. Although maternity homes seem as though they help the single mothers prepare to return to society, away from the “shameful past” and difficult memory and back into the normal site, there is no room for birth mothers to acknowledge and to claim their motherhood.
  5. Interest dynamics within the actors of adoption process
    It is now obvious that the political weakness of birth parents serves the interests of other actors within the process of adoption, such as adoptive parents, the state, and adoption institutions. Under the name of ‘children welfare center’, these agencies disguise the seriousness of commercialization of this transnational child adoption industry, and even furthermore, having birth mothers unwillingly become a surrogate to their children. Parenting is considered a basic moral thing as a human, which is naturally expected for parents to raise their children under whatever circumstances they are situated in. While birthmothers, in general, have more responsibility for their children in this gendered society, birth parents being considered “morally delinquent” definitely results in the silence of the birth family. For instance, 10% of adoptees are presumably missing children who lost their way around in their neighbourhood, and moreover women run away from inhumane unliveable living conditions such as domestic violence, leaving behind their children. Often the birth families unexpectedly find their children in adoption later. What’s worse is that the whole secrecy around adoption conceals the uncomfortable yet important truth of it, such as 11-15% of the adoptees experiencing abandonment from their adoptive family and being re-adopted. They way birth families are easily perceived as a morally deprived, indigent people not being capable nor having rights to reproduce serves to their political weakness, or at least questioning their rights. In this neoliberal capitalistic society, self sufficiency and self responsibility is viewed as the norm, which makes people lacking them be taken away from their reproductive rights. All of such problems linked to the transnational adoption requires the clarification of who is responsible for it, and the repair of the framework of reproduction and justice regarding these family issues.
  6. Possible future of adoption policy
    Professor Kim first pointed out that if there is a clear order, no matter if it is ethical order, social order or moral order, if the beneficiary exists, so does the benefactor. However, if there isn’t, rather than reinforcing the power asymmetry between the countries or between involving parties, it actually can prolong and sometimes creates unnecessary hammocks and injuries. For the transnational option in South Korea right now, there are layers and layers of legislation which sort of block both parties, adoptees and birth family, from finding each other. So, by creating a special law or some type of legal framework whereby adoption and all the other related documents can be and should be made available, this means it would no longer just be the property of the individual agencies. The second point that Professor Kim is concerned about is repair. Repair should be thought of upon the 70 years long history of transnational adoption. There isn’t any fine line cutting out who’s fault it is, we cannot really distinguish if it is only one country’s fault or was there any violence involved. Under such conditions, this whole scene created a new ordinance and new imaginations of what to think about for repair and also for social justice.

Conclusion

We have been able to identify and analyze the dynamics within the issue of adoption,
particularly on the international adoption policies of South Korea, throughout the interview of Professor Hosu Kim. Adoption is a political issue as it functions as normative citizenship in the Korean government’s nation building, and also an ethical issue as it defines abnormal and inadequate mothers and children. By interviewing Professor Kim, we deepened the understanding of the biopolitics of adoption policies and recognized the lack of discourse about reproductive rights and capitalism related to the welfare design of supporting single mothers. Like the capitalist hierarchy between the states and the project of nation building brought about by adoption politics, the controversy between neo-liberal ideas and reproductive rights are opening diverse possibilities of a repaired framework of adoption. We hope the ethical and political dimension of adoption policies would further develop to promote the rights of adopted children and mothers.

Longing (Someday) by Luke McQueen

by Luke McQueen adopted from South Korea to the USA. Luke’s Longing (Someday) is one of 6 musical pieces created by an intercountry adoptee to be featured in ICAVs Video Resource for Professionals.

About Me

Some people wonder why I have such a vague answer to “What’s your sign?” Here’s why. I was born somewhere in South Korea, likely near Jecheon around 1972. I was in an orphanage in Jecheon for about 1 year and adopted in 1977 to a loving family in Longmont, Colorado in the United States. Like many orphans and adoptees, I have no idea when my birthday is, hence any Zodiac sign will do. But regarding the Chinese zodiac year, I’m either a rat, pig or an ox.

My Music Journey

My earliest musical memories, lovingly captured by my family on cassette tape (kids go ahead and DuckDuckGo), include a recording of songs I learned at the orphanage. Around the age of 6 or 7, I was regularly singing in my church where my father was the pastor and I did so up until high school. I learned some classical piano (pretty much the extent of my formal training) around the age of 8 and began to compose some simple original work around the age of 10 or 11. Around 12 or 13 years old, I was given a synthesizer by a family friend and within a couple of years was able to upgrade to a real synth (the Ensoniq SQ80) with my paper route job money. I tried to impress girls but with limited success (actually, not so much though as I couldn’t overcome my insecurities and pretty serious acne). Those days I produced some amateurish creations of 80’s synthpop (better known as “music” during the actual 80’s). Speaking of, I’ve got to bring some of those songs back one of these days!

A pivotal moment in my music life came in the mid 80’s when I entered a talent competition and won based on a fairly simple composition. I beat out an extremely talented musician who played Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.” This sparked insight that new and created music is quite different from some of the most complex played/covered music. It was after this that I committed to making my own music — but it would be many years before I would have the maturity to listen to others, judge myself properly and have a learning mentality to be able to fashion an adequate song.

I joined the jazz choir in high school and ended up writing the baccalaureate song. It was called “Changes” and it was about as cheesy as it sounds, but continue reading and you’ll see why! Anyhow, for my prom date in my senior year, out came my trusted SQ80 with candles and fancy pants cake, and I sang my heart out. My date declined when I asked her out again after that, so I’ll let you decide how it went or what it meant :).

When I graduated high school I went to a small Christian College in Lincoln, Illinois, where I joined a music group and also formed a Christian band named “Going 2 Rock U.” And just like that, the cheese increases! There were some proud song creation moments, but no finished or polished production of anything for the public. I do remember I had one song that had Christian lyrics with a Babyface vibe. Honestly, I didn’t know how to craft decent songs, but I thought I was much better than I was, so I did not take any guidance or criticism well, however well-intended.

Nevertheless, in 1996 as a CU-Boulder student, I auditioned for Dave Grusin’s “A Westside Story” with the CU jazz band where I got a taste of world-class performers and saw possibilities in music. [record screech] However, I promptly chose the safety of a Technology Consulting career and put off this music dream for another 17 years. In 2013, I moved to Korea to search for my birth family and also decided to give music a try. As a student, I took a couple of Berklee Online classes in orchestration and jazz improvisation to hone my chops and then began performing in Seoul in various bands, formed my own band, and finally ended up as a solo artist. All along, I was learning how to play live and write a ton of songs, some of which will be on my record this November. To make ends meet, I worked various music company jobs and was given other opportunities to perform my music. A big opportunity came in 2020, when I became an artist in an independent entertainment company in Seoul. It’s true when they say “you can’t make it alone.” So I humbly take steps forward, with a lot of help from friends, musicians, fans and industry professionals, to build a lasting career as a solo artist.

What inspired Longing (Someday)?

Although I’ve been making music since I was in middle school, I haven’t had any songs I was ready to proudly say “this is my song.” But finally in 2013, after visiting Korea for the first time, I decided to write a song about the desire to find my birth family, specifically my birth mother. I have no memories of Korea as a child, so I imagined wandering the streets as a child and feeling the lost feeling of wanting to go home. I tapped into my own mid-life crisis where I felt my life was crippled and falling apart in so many ways–in my relationships and work, and so the feeling of escaping that and longing for the unknown helped to create lyrics. I tried variations of melodic “oohs,” deciding on the current chorus and the song was born.

A Quick Therapy Sesh

As an adoptee, I have been a combination of a chameleon, charmer, escape artist and an under-the-rug-ifier. As a child, I was decent at trying to get people to laugh and often trying to be funny, which I believe was to try and hide or deflect from my insecurity and desperate need for acceptance. Any negative feeling was avoided, unaddressed and lay dormant for many years until suddenly during mid-life, my shielding/protection from my unknown past and unprocessed feelings came back, and there was no way to hide from them anymore. I have also seen how by not addressing these issues, my self-sabotage and critical nature was eating away any opportunity and chance to succeed in music. I was certainly a mess which influenced many decisions, being in wrong relationships, and making many poor decisions for my life. Also, I have had perpetual blindness to my selfish nature, a mark of the immaturity of my character. Luckily, however, with true friends, my loving family, and by the grace of God, I have come out of all of this milieu a stronger and more confident human being. And with the realization of my selfish nature, I am able to better find the path of compassion, kindness and peace from my true loving nature. Although it will continually be a journey of learning, I believe I am more resilient than ever and now I am ready to live again, even during these challenging times of viruses, fear and lockdowns.

Has my perspective of the song changed since writing it?

Since the original writing of the song in 2013, the main thing that’s changed is my perspective on the substance of the longing. Before, I thought it was only my birth family I longed for, but now I realize it was an even deeper longing that I felt. And in 2019, this desire to connect was only truly met when I reconnected with the ultimate birth parent, God, when I became a follower of Jesus again.

Feedback I’ve received for Longing (Someday)

In general, I’ve only had positive feedback, but just like the varied experience of adoptees, it’s likely more complex… for many that have not searched for their birth family, the song may stir up emotions they have locked up for many years. For those who’ve found birth families, the longing can still exist, as unrealistic expectations are not met or worse. In general, I’ve only had positive feedback, however I would completely understand an aversion to Longing (Someday) for some adoptees who are completely avoidant of adoption-related topics. I have heard from those outside the adoption experience that this song reminds them of loved ones that have passed or whom they may be alienated from. I am blessed to have been able to produce the song and have many in your audience hear it. I hope the lyrics and music will touch their hearts as much as it touches mine.

Any new music relating to my adoption experience?

Longing (Someday) is the only truly adoptee-related song I’ve written. I do have a duet I co-wrote with another adoptee who is a wonderful poet and it’s called “The Other Side.” I may release it as a single in the future but it’s not yet production ready. I also had some music featured in an unreleased documentary called “My Umma” but I am not sure I will release the music for that. I do, however, have a song that will be on my debut album in November called “Disappearing” which I wrote from the perspective of a birth family hoping their adoptive child will return home, but with the passing of time, the very real prospect of a reunion diminishes. Now that I write this, this certainly sounds depressing. Hmm, maybe that’s why I have so many happy fun songs to offset and balance these songs!

I currently have a 5-song EP released, and will be releasing my 12-song debut album on 23 November 2021. If you’re interested, please check out my music, which is a mix of poppy fun, groovy and soulful tunes along with ballads like Longing (Someday).

So maybe I don’t have a specific “sign” I can give you, but instead I’ll give you a “song.” I hope you enjoy Longing (Someday).

How to find Luke McQueen

Mental Balance and Art

by Jonas Haid, adopted from South Korea to Germany.

Everyone is talking about work life balance.

What about mental balance?

When I finished my B.A. in fashion design I realized that doing artwork and being creative is my favourite tool to take myself out of this world. At the same time I understood that creativity can’t be a part of my future career. Here are the reasons why:

1. I need inspiration to be creative.
2. If I’m in the creative process there is no alternative, if someone criticises my artwork, I take it personal.
3. If there is too much pressure, there is no way to produce an acceptable result. If the result isn’t perfect, I’m not satisfied as an artist

So, right now I’m earning my money as director of online marketing in a big agency. I protect my creativeness to relax and take my mind into other dimensions. So, I love working with data and building digital strategies, and I still think it’s important to love your job, but it’s also important to protect your personal needs and hobbies.

This special artwork is inspired by ICAV (InterCountry Adoptee Voices), a platform for intercountry adoptees to tell the world about their story. Thank you Lynelle Long for investing your time to start this amazing organisation to help other adoptees around the world heal their souls.

The butterflies at not just random, I tried to find some from Korea, China, Vietnam and Indonesia which are also found in Europe and the rest of the world. These represent the various countries that many of ICAVs members were born in.

My message with my artwork for fellow adoptees:

Be strong, be real, be yourself.
No matter how much we’re craving for all the love we missed.
The old chapter is already written.
So take a deep breath an cheer up your confidence because there are so many chances. Just be open minded, inspired and warmed up from the love of your choice, start the first stroke of your own personal story.
You are one of a kind.

#worklife
#mentalhealth
#minimalartwork
#worklifebalance
#inspiration
#creative

Other pieces of art that Jonas has shared at ICAV: Art from the Heart, A Picture is Worth 1000 Words, The Caged Soul Mate.

The Dehumanisation of an Adoptee

by Kayla Zheng adopted from China to the USA.

I would be so bold to say that the vast majority of, if not all, adoptions are the selfish act of those wanting to, or having already adopted. The result of adoption leaves the adoptee in a perpetual state of dehumanisation. If we look at the word dehumanisation defined by  the Oxford Dictionary, it means “the process of depriving a person or group of positive human qualities.” For the public and individuals who are not well versed in adoption, the adoption industrial complex, and its practices, this can be quite confusing and the representation of adoption and adoptees have, for the most part, been a glamorised sensational plot twist or form of character development. Yet, here lies one of the many ways adoptees, both on-screen and off, are dehumanised and portrayed as void of any critical thought or experience. 

Adoption, as portrayed by social media and film, consistently shows adoptive parents (who are often white) as selfless philanthropic couples whose only intentions are to dote and shower love on a poor child (who are often BIPOC), ever pushing the narrative of white saviours. The consistent and inherent goodness and altruistic nature of whiteness by default shifts both power and racial dynamics in favour of whiteness and the dependent, in need of saving, is helpless without the all-powerful and knowing whiteness bestowed onto the child of colour. When these patterns of adoption become representative and up for societal consumption, it dehumanises the adoptee to be merely a puppet without inherent positive attributes on their own. Any potential is tied and associated to the people who adopted them, leaving the adoptee as a hollow shell used to narrow in the spotlight on the adoptive parents. Through film and TV, adoption is the stripping away of an adoptee (again, predominantly BIPOC), the illumination of adoptive parents (and, again, predominately white), how can society possibly see us as humans when we live in the shadows of those who adopted us? How can we be seen with inherent potential, with the successes of our ancestors running through our blood, and dreams reflecting our truest selves when we are constantly being shown that we are nothing without adoption? That we are nothing without whiteness?

In the continual film and TV portrayal of adoption and adoptees, adoptees are always pitted against one another. When you think of some of your favourite films or characters that are adoptees, who are they? Do they happen to be Loki, Frodo Baggins, Black Widow, Batman, The Joker, Lord Voldemort? The paradox of society’s fascination and indifference for orphans is destructive, the demand for adoptees (and thus, adoption) is binary and forces adoptees to fill the dual desire to save adoptees/orphans and villainize an adoptee/orphan. The loss of biological connection and identity loss is fantasised to create a more contextualised storyline. The need for adoption to contribute trauma and fantasy for character build-up is highly sought after. This is the double dehumanisation of adoptees through film and TV.

The danger with artificial and weak backstories is that it boxes adoptees and orphans into narrow forms and compounds the stigma and expectations surrounding our existence. This forced role of villain or hero does not provide a realistic experience of cohesively incorporating mountainous rage, burdening grief, exuding joy, and love. What Hollywood and the media project of “bad” or “good” adoptees/orphans limits and strips them of their individuality, autonomy, and humanness. The “damaged and broken” adoptee or “overcomer and hero” orphan are roles that are inaccurate and are a weak reality that is far from the nuanced life an adoptee/orphan lives that requires a burden too heavy to carry. Film and TV strips away our humanity and adoptees do not get the privilege to exist as ourselves. We are only for consumption and the limited space provided for us in the binary tropes romanticises our trauma, confines our capabilities, and diminishes us to fit a consumer’s palate. We never belong to ourselves. If we cannot have ownership over our own stories and lives, are we even able to be fully human? 

In my experience, the greatest form of dehumanisation occurs for an adoptee within the church. Growing up in an all-white environment and heavily involved in a white church that preached white Christianity, I had to survive in an ecosystem of whiteness that demanded gratitude to the good white Christians who saved me from big, bad, heathen, communist China. I would find myself, more than once, being paraded around as a token of Christian and white goodness. Of how “the Lord works in miraculous ways” and gave lil ol’ me the “opportunity and privilege to be adopted by a Christian family in a Christian country where I learned about Christ.” What that told me loud and clear was that China was irredeemable unless under the power of the white Christian church or through adoption by whiteness. In other words, I did not possess inherent potential and positive traits without the white man liberating me and providing me access to success under the guidance of white Christianity. 

The dehumanisation continued, as in my early years during conferences I would be brought in front of a congregation or made to stand onstage alongside my adoptive parents, and they would discuss how adoption was a beautiful gift that touched their life. Other times, youth leaders would openly discuss how my adoption is a metaphor for how Christians are “adopted” into the family of Christ. And how my adoption gave me a new father – we have a new father through Jesus! Different variations and versions of these scenarios have plagued my youth and further trivialised my existence into a metaphor that others could benefit from. Not once did anyone question if adoption was a gift to me, if being taken away from my homeland touched my life in a beautiful way or not, or being uprooted twice before the age of three with a group of white strangers benefited me or could replace a sense of family for me.

To have your story told through a white lens as a person of colour that protects the white man while diminishing your autonomy and the multifaceted complexities of your existence, is one of the most dehumanising grievances that can happen. Adoption through mainstream media and the church gave little room for me to feel human but instead made every space feel like an advertisement that others could project their value onto, for their own benefit. Winners have the privilege to write history or speak about it on stage. Losers, those who are not given the same chance to speak their own story, those who are bought…are dehumanised. 

Kayla’s most popular articles: Decolonizing Moses & Atlanta Consequences

My realities of being adopted from China

by Xue Hua adopted from China to the USA.

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

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

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

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

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

Being Truly Seen as a Filipino Adoptee

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

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

My Beginnings

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

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

Young Adulthood

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

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

Reclaiming my Philippine Heritage

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

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

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

Long lost family

Searching for Biological Family

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

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

Thoughts for Adoption Professionals

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

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

Thank you so much for listening to my testimony.

Maraming Salamat po.

Music Inspired by my Bolivian Origins as an Adoptee

by Jo R. Helsper adopted from Bolivia to Germany.

Inspiration for my Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen to Jo’s music of Bolivia:

Community Building in Adoption and Adoptee Spaces

The Way to Lift Your Activism

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

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

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

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

What is community building?

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

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

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

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

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

Community building and legal advocacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

One global community long-term

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

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

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

The collective approach

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

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

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

Educational Resource for Professionals

Launch Day

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

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

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

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

Huge thanks to our project funders:

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

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

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

Adoption and the Impact on our Partners

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

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

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

How We Met

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Immigrating to her Adoptive Country

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

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

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

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

Dealing with Adoptive Family Dynamics

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

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

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

Racism and It’s Impacts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Australia’s Lack of Response to an Illegal Adoption

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

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

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

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

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

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