You Can’t Counsel Yourself into Belonging

Facebook Red Table Talk, Jada Pinkett Smith, Willow Smith, Gammy, Photographed by Michael Becker

Watching Angela Tucker be invited to the Red Table to address transracial adoption from the perspective of an adult adoptee was possibly a landmark moment for many of us. I‘m thrilled that she had the chance and the courage to speak on a subject that adoptees know creates disruption, and frequently outright hostility.

I waited all day for it to appear watching a back catalogue of episodes including one that I couldn’t bring myself to watch before that day, addressing the question “Should white people adopt black kids?” in which the guest is a white adoptive parent and notably absent are any adult adoptees.

It’s not lost on me that one such episode on white privilege the family discuss the meaning and impact of the quote “Prejudice is the emotional commitment to ignorance”. In another episode on relationships between black women and white women, Jada talks honestly about the difficult feeling she gets around white women, especially blonde white women. Later I will think of this and imagine what she would say if she were asked to fit in with a group of blonde white women the way it seems they expect Angela can do in a black community.

Angela expresses things many adoptees will relate to in one form or another, while others may not. For example, she currently feels more comfortable in white communities and parenting white foster children, and I see a lot of criticism online for that, from both adoptees and non-adoptees.

If there’s one thing we know about being an adoptee it’s that we can hold changing perspectives on our own experience over time and offering others the space to be where they are is to offer it to ourselves. 

One moment that touched me was when Angela said “I’m hoping that I live to see the day where people say, when I say ‘I’m adopted’, they say ‘oh my gosh, did someone try to keep you with your family first?’ instead of celebrating her adoption and expecting gratitude for it. When Jada said “I’ve never thought of it that way before” I exhaled, there’s healing in having your experience seen and acknowledged that way. I’ve felt it lately with friends, who told me “You’re really opening my eyes”. In a world where people actively fight to deny my reality, I’m so healed by having people in my life who can and do shift their perspective. Equally, I can see that those moments have often come over several months in which I share openly and not without misunderstandings. So perhaps it’s a lot to expect a 20 minute show to shift perspectives very far in one day. It will take time and more of our voices to build understanding.

Back at the red table, a tonal shift in the conversation occurs swiftly with Angela’s vulnerable admission that she feels fear in the company of black people, in this moment I sense she lost some of her hosts empathy as Gamma tenses and asks her to explain why she chose the word ‘fear’. The fear of black people is so inextricable with a legacy of discrimination and violence it’s hardly surprising the word fear is alarming, I myself held my breath. But ‘real talk’ is at the centre of the show and to understand transracial adoption is just that, real. Gamma had shown evidence of it herself in an earlier show when she admitted she had found it easier to accept a white man into the family than a white women.

As a fellow adoptee what I know is that the fear I feel around people of my own culture is also an implicit memory of my own relinquishment. Around people who look like those who gave me up and those I’ve lived without, I feel vulnerable, rejectable. Can a non-adoptee ever truly understand that feeling? 

Getting into her stride, Gamma soon advises Angela to ‘counsel yourself’ for questioning how she could teach a black (foster) child to be black, Gamma points out that Angela counsels white couples in transracial adoption. Angela however, doesn’t counsel white people on being black, she doesn’t counsel them on fitting in to black culture, instead she uses her lived experience as a transracial adoptee to educate adoptive parents on the hazards, missing racial mirrors and role models. That’s not the same thing as actually being a black person trying to fit into a black culture they’ve grown up without.

You can’t counsel yourself into belonging.

You can’t learn belonging any more than you can learn to be a peacock. You may learn enough to hang out with peacocks without alarming them but try to fly and you’ll know you’re not peacocky enough pretty quickly. Just so with the iceberg of culture. A myriad of secret handshakes lie beneath, unspoken tests and initiations sit between ourselves and others.

Belonging is at the heart of identity. Those who think it’s enough to decide who you are independently of others beliefs, are underestimating the role that being seen plays in our identity. Self-acceptance in our identity is a small, sometimes inconsequential island, validation of our identity is a continent. For transracial adoptees there can be a lot of sea between our island and that continent.

I think about Angela sitting at that table with three generations of black women, secure in their kinship with each other, bound together by biology and a shared history. Across the table Angela sits between a white couple who raised her, and look nothing like her, and the black women who gave birth to her – who looks like her but is foreign to her. I try to imagine what Angela needed from those women across the table chiding her to counsel herself.

I think there could be healing both for Angela and many adoptees who relate to her if they could have said, “I’m sorry you have to struggle to belong with your own people, I completely understand why you feel that way. We want you to know that for us, you belong right here at this table here with us”.

Angela and all adoptees – you belong at our table, your voice is important to us, thank you!

NAAM 2019 AdopteeVoices #2

At ICAV, we invited members to share during National Adoption Awareness Month what they would like the public to know. Here’s another of what some of our members are happy to share.

I am not grateful to have lost my identity, family, birth country, language and culture.

by Daniel Walsh

I would like people to know that they can offer healing to adoptees if they would acknowledge our losses and experiences and take a moment to sit with that long enough to verbalise empathy.

I would like them to know that my pain has healed a little bit each time someone has managed to empathise from a place of imagination or experience. 

by Marie Gardom

I May Not Remember, But I’ll Never Forget

My origins have not left me, my history still lingers in archives and attics, my blood relatives may still be circulating somewhere in the region from where I was scooped up and transported out of South Vietnam and into the United States in 1974.

Sure, as an eight-month-old infant, I had no idea what was going on around me and there was no way I was given any choice in whether I stayed or not.

Being uprooted and re-settled, and re-named and re-homed, all within my first year of life, made not a dent on my infant memory.

The failure of recall of all the micro and macro events and faces behind them who coordinated and shaped my early beginnings was expected and encouraged.

I was trained to not look back at the person I was prior to my transformation into a naturalized U.S. citizen.

My infanthood as an orphaned foreigner was seen as illegitimate; my “real life” was only recognized when I became an American citizen.

But what I cannot remember is still what I cannot forget.

What I do remember are the many times when I withdrew from my community because it became readily apparent to me that I was never going to truly settle quietly and comfortably into the life crafted for me.

What I cannot forget is my adoption was meant to ostensibly wipe the slate clean for me while at the same time wipe my mother and my father and their child off the face of the earth.

About Kev Minh

NAAM 2019 AdopteeVoices #1

At ICAV, we invited members to share during National Adoption Awareness Month what they would like the public to know. Here’s the first of what some of our members are happy to share.

Adoption can be a wonderful and necessary way to provide a family for a vulnerable child.

Adoption begins with loss and that loss may be felt throughout a person’s lifetime despite/alongside the gains.

There is a triad in adoption, and all triad members’ voices are valued regardless of country, culture, race, gender, age, income or education level.

There are ways to parent that promote strong identities and resilience in people who have been adopted.

There are ways to facilitate adoption that are ethical and transparent.

Adoption should be seen as just one step toward the eventual goal of a world where mothers and fathers everywhere are supported in raising and loving their children.

by Anonymous

To the person who said to me, “You should be grateful!”. 

Thank you so much for reminding me how grateful I am for not being you. What do I mean? Well, only a person who suffers from a deluded sense of superiority would imply that not every human being is worthy of the basic human rights: food, education, clothing and shelter. Furthermore, only a fool would assume what my life has been post-adoption and what my life would have been, had I not been adopted. 

So thank you very much, for being you! #adopteevoicesmatter

by Pika Pika

Coming Out of the Adoptee Fog

Guest post by Mark Hagland, South Korean intercountry adoptee raised in the USA.

One of the topics that we adult transracial and intercountry adoptees talk about a lot–A LOT–is the “adoptee fog” and our coming out of it.

I have to tell you that it took me several decades to pull myself out of the transracial adoptee fog. I grew up in near-total whiteness, and intensely internalized racism towards myself, ending up with a massive complex about my own physical appearance that I’m still actively working on healing, even now, at 59.

Here’s the thing: growing up in near-total whiteness in the Midwest of the US in the 1960s and 1970s, even with wonderful, wonderfully loving parents, was incredibly devastating for me. It completely disabled my ability to navigate the racist society we all live in, and, as I say, I totally internalized racism towards myself. What society told me every single day was that it was an atrocious crime not to be white, but at the same time, I was at least undeluded enough to know that I couldn’t ever BECOME white–I just couldn’t. So basically, I felt like some kind of alien and criminal.

I instinctively knew that I had to get away from where I grew up (again, even with very loving and wonderful parents there), and had to find my way to the big city and somehow find an identity that I could live with. But, having grown up in near-total whiteness and having internalized both a white internal identity and racism into myself, it ended up being an incredibly long, complex path. Having had zero access to birth-country culture or to any significant number of people of color, I flailed at first.

I was incredibly, incredibly lucky in one respect: when I came to Chicago for graduate journalism school, I was admitted to a school that was run by deans, a significant number of whom were Black journalists, and who were committed to diversity and to the empowerment of young journalists of color. So for the first time, I actually found myself in an environment in which I wasn’t one of only a couple of or a few people of color, and I began to “get it.”

And, over time, I found friends of color who would accept me. I was lucky in that regard, too, being a young gay man, because it is easier in the gay male subculture to meet people of color and to socialize across races.

Through my 20s and 30s, I began to create for myself a social environment that worked for me, and then when I was 40, I was brought into the transracial adoptee community, and my head exploded, and my development accelerated dramatically. I was able to begin to truly embrace an identity as a person of color through interacting with fellow adult transracial adoptees, all of whom had also struggled as I had, to find our identities, given that we were all raised in significant whiteness, and had had to figure things out entirely by ourselves.

Over time, I was able to build my own social environment, and to learn how to interact successfully with fellow people of color. It took decades, but I managed to do it. And now, finally, in my 50s, I have a proud, relatively integrated sense of identity as a person of color in the world.

And I’m absolutely committed to mission, and that means supporting my fellow adult transracial adoptees on their journeys, and educating white adoptive parents, so that they can learn and can help their children of color to move forward successfully on their journeys.

And in that context, I am constantly, constantly urging and imploring white adoptive parents to move into diversity for the sake of their children. I do not want the littlest transracial and intercountry adoptees to experience what I’ve experienced. I do not want them to have to spend literally 40 years before they begin to feel comfortable in their identities as people of color.

Above all, I want everyone to understand that raising a child of color in total or near-total whiteness is profoundly devastating to that child. It means that that child will grow up inside an intense transracial adoptee fog, and will inevitably spend years struggling to begin to build a successful identity as a person of color. And that is tragic.

So I am absolutely committed to this mission. And I am glad to be fully out of the transracial adoptee fog. It only took me several decades to accomplish it–WOO-HOO! LOL. But seriously–no transracial and intercountry adoptee should have to struggle that long. And honestly, I know a significant number of adult transracial and intercountry adoptees who are still fully in the fog, and don’t even know it.

Please don’t let this be your child. Please.

Listen out for Adoptee Voices this November!

For some time now, ICAV has been sharing a number of voices from all over world as regular bloggers. This is important because each person has a different perspective based on their experiences and we don’t all see intercountry adoption the same way. ICAV believes in the importance of reflecting this reality. We choose not to gloss over the issues or view it through a small lens. Instead, we acknowledge adoption to be a very complex experience stemming from multifaceted social, political, legal and economic causes.

This November, due to the mass promotion of adoption we usually see at this time of the year which doesn’t always come from those with lived experience, we are bringing you a special collection from our ICAV blogging team. We aim to address a few of the usual questions intercountry adoptees get confronted with at some point in our life. Our collection of responses aims to provide a broader perspective on the topic compared to other stakeholders in adoption.

During November, in between the blogging team collective, we will also be presenting you a range of individual pieces from some of the members in our worldwide ICAV network.

I hope you enjoy hearing from a variety of people during this coming month and I thank ALL of ICAVs contributors for sharing! It is so important that the adoptee voice is heard!

Regards

Founder
InterCountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV)

What is in our “Best Interests” as Intercountry Adopted People?

I find it interesting to ponder why the concept Best Interests of the Child in intercountry adoption is discussed and decisions made without substantial research on the long term outcomes in intercountry adoption. When I say long term, I mean decades to show how intercountry adoption impacts us through the various stages of life. Most of the existing research focuses on a short window of time at adolescence to early adulthood, but not much beyond that. Having lived my life now to later-middle adulthood, and reflecting on the changes I went through as a younger adoptee coming to terms with my life, my identity, where I fit, having children of my own, there is no doubt in my mind that the way adoptees view adoption and its impacts, changes over time as we age and experience life.

There is also little input at professional forums on Best Interest of the Child from those who are experts of the lived journey — intercountry adoptees! Intercountry adoption has been happening as a modern phenomenon for more than 70 years if you consider the waves of German, Greek, then Korean intercountry adoptees and beyond. It remains an assumption couched within international adoption conventions and laws, that it is in our best interest to place us with strangers — racially, culturally, spiritually, emotionally and biologically but yet no longitudinal evidence exists to confirm that intercountry adoption IS a positive solution for the children themselves, nor input from those who live it across a wide spectrum of experiences.

At the recent US Department of State Intercountry Adoption Symposium, one of the 5 issues I raised for consideration as an improvement for policy discussion, was the Best Interest of the Child concept to be discussed from the perspective of those who live it. JaeRan Kim also recently wrote a fantastic article asking the pertinent question of why American adult intercountry adoptees until last month, had not been proactively approached to attend policy discussion forums. My guess is, maybe it’s inconvenient to hear our truths? It might mean the industry needs to listen and change!

So given we are rarely invited to the tables to discuss this important concept, I decided to bring to you what some mature age, critical thinking intercountry adoptees believe is in our best interests. Hear for yourself what those who live it, consider is in our best interest. I hope this helps you think more deeply about intercountry adoption as an industry — how it’s being conducted and the changes required to include our lived perspectives.

The Question: What do you think “In the Child’s Best Interest” SHOULD mean in intercountry adoption contexts .. in the context of your own adoption? If you could speak up for your “child” self when the decision to intercountry adopt you was being made, what would you have wanted to say? What was in your best interest — with the benefit of hindsight?

Answers shared, in order of permissions given:

“If my sister/cousin had a baby and there was no consideration for family’s involvement in raising the child, I’d be so irritated. Being connected to family, I would be so much more suitable to raise the child. There’s no way in hell, the baby would get past all of us who’d honour its mother’s presence and guide it with the baby and mother’s actual best intentions. Kinship connection is VITAL.” (Anonymous, Indian adoptee)

“Best interest is not be forced out of our families and countries simply to be taken care of.” (Georgiana-A. Macavei, Romanian adoptee)

“Don’t take away my original citizenship or right to live and learn about my culture while in my country of birth.” (Linzi Ibrahim, Sri Lankan adoptee)

“For me, “in the child’s best interest” is welfare in action, where adults determine what is best — in terms of health, housing, family stability, nurturing care, economic stability, etc. So I, as an orphan via adoption gained this. Or put in another way gain a degree of white privilege. Under the UNCRC (United Nations Convention On The Rights Of The Child) the ideal is continuity of culture, family connection, stability, health, etc. But the “right of the child” is different from the “best interest of the child”.

The best interest is also Adoptive Parent (AP) best interest. That is, the AP by caring for a relinquished adoptee/orphan is providing for the best interest of the child and themselves as a couple becoming a family unit. A child taken from third world impoverishment / institutionalisation to first world-loving home i.e., family separation within the embedded narrative of adoption is in “the best interest of the child” as it fits the modern Western family goal. Thus, in turn, adoptees need to be grateful.

The “best interest of the child” is also a turn of the last century concept of childhood. As industrialised West moved from colonial labour and care of the child via nannies/ or families having lots of children to post WW2 concepts of child play, development and education/childcare. With white women as drivers within the colonial establishment determining what is in the “best interest of the child” (stolen generation, residential schools, adoption, wardship homes, to what we now call foster care and permanent care arrangements) ideas. So adoption needs to be seen as a natural social progression which benefits the child i.e., adoption in the best interests of the child.

My main concern is the best interest of the child is limited by the word “child”. Adoption of children and the act of adoption via childhood agencies/church and family government departments is not about children’s rights, especially as he/she develops into a teenage/adult. When concepts of belonging, community and difference start playing on the psychology of the individual. For a child to be free and loved in a nuclear household and able to be a child under adoption is all well-intended, but the child has no agency as an individual hence the discussions on identity and “who is my family before I came here?”

But the best interest of the child neglects and dismisses the right of a person to know their biological parents and to have continued connection to culture and language.

Adoption in the push of “best interest of the child” actually acts to sever “the rights of the child”.” (Dominic Golding, Vietnamese adoptee)

“I think in context of my own adoption it was absolutely not in my best interest to legally cut ties to my roots and identity and to lose my country, culture, mother and family. The child’s best interest for me would mean either find ways that enable a mother to keep her child and if not possible, then with extended family, friends or a safe children’s home in their country of origin.” (Sagarika Abeysinghe, Sri Lankan adoptee)

“After my recent experience (post traumatic stress symptoms and shock) I believe that the best interest of the child in adoption should be avoided by all means. It would be better in my opinion to support the birth family and to see what the real root causes are behind adoption (from birth family and adoptive family). I believe as long as adoption is allowed, child trafficking will exist as well and it has huge consequences for the child.” (Lidya Booster, Indonesian/Chinese adoptee)

“My best interest is to know that my family and friends are okay. I need not come to a country where I am the one who has to adjust to everyone around me. I have experienced loss of both family and country. Why strip me of my language and memories? For my best interest, I would need to be able to feel I’m not punished for being without parents. I need to be able to love and miss my mom. I need to be able to have a connection to my country that is not whitewashed.” (Angelica Bråten, Colombian adoptee)

“Is this really the last option? That I’m going to grow up so far from my own culture? I don’t know the answer on what was best but I don’t believe in the part ‘in the child’s best interest’ when there was money making involved”. (Dilani Butink, Sri Lankan adoptee)

“Bring me and my siblings back to my mother. I am not an orphan. I am stolen!! And lock these people up who earn money from us by selling me to a pedophile! This would have been in my best interest! Being taken away from my family was the first crime. All children who have been put up for adoption without consent from the families should not have taken place. This is the case for a very big group”. (Maria Quevedo, Colombian adoptee)

“Best interest should mean preserving the child’s birth culture. Denying language, name, ancestral heritage, and so forth denies a huge spiritual and connective component to one’s life. In the Native Indigenous people’s plight to claim justice and an understanding of the impacts on so many levels, this has also happened to many of us intercountry adoptees.” (Kelly Foston, South Korean adoptee)

“The child needs to be immersed and exposed to their birth culture from the start so that by the time they reach a young adult age (20), they are able to decide for themselves whether they want to be involved or not.” (Marc Conrad, Bolivian adoptee)

“The child’s best interest cannot start with adults who are looking for a child because they believe it’s their innate right to raise a child. Once you have adults looking for a child to raise, the child’s best interests are already compromised. A child’s best interest is inextricably linked to that child’s genetic place in their family. Though it’s true that some parents or even families are unable to raise their child for various reasons, I find it nearly impossible to believe that absolutely no-one within that child’s cultural / racial / ethnic / local community can help to raise that child. If this is the case, maybe we need to look at the society that doesn’t value preserving and nurturing its children.

I also find it impossible to believe that a child’s best interest can be protected by erasing a child’s identity and purposefully and permanently cutting that child off from her ancestry. No child’s best interest can be ethically preserved when money exchanges hands for that child, when fundamental papers such as original birth certificates or are falsified or in any way withheld from that child. Though it may hurt and be hard to take, the age-appropriate truth is always in a child’s best interest. Lies and falsifications never are.” (Abby Forero Hilty, Colombian adoptee)

“There never could or would be “in the child’s best interest” when you’re taking them away from the culture they are born to, or family they stand to lose.” (Kim Yang Ai, Sth Korean adoptee)

“Why do you think it is in the best interest to adopt a little girl out of her country to another one with a completely different language, culture, etc? It is not in the best interest to falsify documents to make the child more desirable to the new adoptive family … marketing tactic.” (Ashley Thomas, Colombian adoptee)

“My first thought would be if immediate / extended family is available, then perhaps that would be in child’s best interest. If in an orphanage, is any family in the best interest, or an institution? I consider age a factor (e.g. the older the child, the better ability to make their own decisions, etc)?” (Farnad Darnell, Iranian adoptee)

“It is never in the best interest of a child to remove them from their country of origin, drop them into a different one, and then task them as adults with the job of trying to prove why they “deserve” to stay i.e., I have no citizenship because of how my adoption was done. Beyond the dysfunction and abuse I sustained as a child, and deal with as an adult, for no reason other than being adopted into abuse, to also toss in the knowledge that my adoptive government considers me an inconvenience they would like to be rid of, adds literal insult to actual injury.” (C, Canadian adoptee)

“If the assumption is that an international adoption will take place, then “in the child’s best interest” means to me that placement would involve thoroughly educating prospective adoptive families on evidence-based best practices with lots of support long-term. Prospective families would be questioned about their current relationship with people of the race and culture they are adopting from, and helping them see areas where they hold bias. Prospective families would also be questioned about their expectations in raising a child, and how they would cope if that child does not meet their expectations. Being an adoptee and in the process to adopt, I think there should be less emphasis on income and fees, and more emphasis on parenting skills and cultural understanding. Of course, guaranteeing citizenship and maybe even dual citizenship, if desired by the adoptee, should be a given.” (Anonymous, Sth Korean adoptee)

Of course, this post does not dare to presume to speak for all intercountry adoptees at all stages of life nor views, but is a collection of responses from those who participated in discussions at ICAV as a means to begin the conversation and stimulate thought.

What are your thoughts after reading through this collection of answers from intercountry adoptees? We welcome your comments below.

The King

We don’t know what we think we know.

As a child my dad never tired of yelling, “Who’s the king?” and I’d enthusiastically yell back, “Elvis” as I’d been taught to do, always to hoots of laughter and applause. I was too young to understand the meaning of my words, I only knew what the adults wanted of me.

‪As children, even as adults our words can have a performative nature; we say things all the time to delight others, sometimes to provoke, or just to make people comfortable in order to maintain harmony. We perfect this skill as children, keenly aware of the stated and unstated demands for loyalty, for silence or for allegiance.

I can think of so many ways in which I would speak someone else’s thoughts packaged as mine.  My words had nothing to do with my beliefs and everything to do with fitting in and seeking approval. Something not exclusive to adoptees but particularly difficult for us – as it is for anyone who feels they don’t fit into the community they find themselves in.

If you find this relatable then perhaps it won’t be a leap to consider that the adoptee you know isn’t as fine as you think. Perhaps you see the danger in the viral video of a little girl talking about meeting her adoptive mother for the first time expressing nothing but love and gratitude.

Both the larger scale ethics of using this for pro adoption marketing and the more personal danger to this little girl who must already be in an environment in which she understands on a deep unconscious level what’s expected of her in order to be safe. Spoiler alert, it is not to have curiosity or longing for her birth family or the identity she’s lost.

When I look at happy smiling photos of myself as a baby or as a little girl I feel I betrayed myself, and yet I know I was just a child trying to fit in, I wasn’t an ambassador for adoptees. For the little girl in the viral video, I feel pain for her because I see that possible future for her and more so because of the public nature of the video and how it’s being used. 

If you haven’t yet been in a community of friends and family where the seemingly perfect couple break up or divorce to the complete surprise of you or those around you – give it time. If you haven’t yet stumbled on the fact that one or more of your loved ones have been suffering with depression or mental health problems for decades without you knowing, perhaps even without them knowing, I suspect you’re in a minority. I hope that you never have and never will have to wonder about the true nature of a loved ones’ state of mind after they take their own life.

Even those who pay close attention to the wellbeing and feelings of others can and will be misguided about the deep-seated fears and fragility of others. Our society is a boot camp in emotional armoury, perfectionism and side-lining feelings.

If you’re not an adoptee, I talk about this in the hope that you can recall a time you were mistaken about someone or some part of yourself, perhaps revisit what you think you know about those you care for and learn how to look a little deeper and trust the lived experiences of adoptees instead of discounting them.

If you hang around adoptees long enough with an open mind, you’ll see some universal themes emerge, and likely discover that we don’t know what we think we do.  If you can allow for that, we can begin to be more honest with ourselves and others about what we do and don’t know.  You can listen and inquire with humility, kindness and willingness to learn from those willing to share. Help us do better to define the real issues, recognise the biases holding back progress and build the right support for adoptees.

The Blame Game

A statement was made while at the recent intercountry adoption symposium in Washington DC about “children at the border and how we need to get them adopted into American families“.

That statement combined with articles I’ve seen on Facebook about migrant children who have been separated from their families and are now being adopted into US families certainly stirs up a lot of negative emotions in me. It should — for all of us! These vulnerable children are now going to be further victimized by a broken system that is all too often, fuelled by greed, savior attitudes and politics. 

While I agree that the Trump administration is accountable at some level, I believe there is a LONG list of accountable parties contributing to this very complicated issue. The atrocities indicated in these types of articles have been ongoing for decades under multiple administrations. It’s time we all stop and take note of the many levels in this broken system, including our own participation and how we contribute.

First off, many adoption agencies are more concerned with money, timelines and streamlining rather than the true welfare and interests of the child. I’m sure having prospective adoptive parents who are agitated from a lengthy and costly process doesn’t help, but the desire to appease disgruntled adoptive parents should never supersede the importance of a system that is both thorough and ethical. One of the hardest things for many to come to terms with, is that the adoption process has become a massive money making industry. According to statistics adoption agency revenues in 2015 were over 14 billion dollars and are now projected to reach 16 billion dollars in 2019. 

The State Department is now implementing vital reforms and regulations to hold all agencies to a higher degree of accountability and do you know what I see and hear as a result? People complaining that the State Department is making it harder to adopt children in need.

As a society we tend to do this. Adoption, especially intercountry adoption, is an extremely complex matter — yet we want it to be easy, cheap, quick, and open to our demands. There is no easy or quick fix to this process and there shouldn’t be. Adoption agencies and the process to adopt must be held to a high level of accountability and it takes time and money to achieve this. If we ever hope to see intercountry adoption free from corruption, then holding the agencies and the processes they are implementing to a higher level of accountability is a good place to start! 

Next, there are the government agencies such as Child Protection Services which are often over-worked, underpaid and understaffed, therefore, far too many kids are getting lost in the system or victimized by a broken system. 

Another large part of the problem is adoptive parents who all too often, want to turn a blind eye to the truth. We don’t want to have to answer the tough questions because the act of adoption has somehow become a glorified act – and no matter what losses, corruption or illicit acts exist behind the scenes, the “better life” is a free pass to ignore the child’s “best interests”, which should always be to remain in their culture and with their biological families (minus situations of abuse and neglect). 

Then there is what I consider to be, the largest part of the problem. The Westernized and often religious narrative of adoption. We have learned to see adoption in a romanticized light using scripture and the Christian faith to support this broken system. We use verses like “take care of the orphan and the widow” to adopt children regardless of the need for them to be adopted. We have families raising tens of thousands of dollars to adopt, while at the same time saying this child needs us to adopt them because their biological families are poor and can’t meet their basic needs.

The number one reason children are placed in the system for international adoption is poverty. Poverty should NEVER be the reason to separate a family. There is nothing godly or glorious about using money one fundraised or actually has at their disposal to adopt a child, when that money could be used to empower a family and keep them together.

We continue to support a narrative that says America is better meanwhile what I hear from adult intercountry adoptees, is that it’s not! They are losing their identities, their voices, their culture, their families and their role within those families and communities, as a result of adoption.

There are times in which adoption is the best and last solution to a complicated situation, but what we are routinely failing to do, is ensure that every possible avenue to keep the child in their culture and with extended family or community has been explored. Many times, when adoptive parents come into the picture, their emotions, both in love for the child and exhaustion from the process, tend to overshadow what is truly in the best interest of the child. We continue to ignore the voices that should matter the most because listening to adult intercountry adoptees also means admitting that we ourselves may have done things wrong. 

I really hate confrontation and I truly never want to hurt someone’s feelings. Whenever I speak out on this topic, I tend to hear a lot of negativity, especially from adoptive parents, but I feel like I have to speak up. In fact, we all need to speak up.

There is nothing to get defensive about if we have adopted and have investigated to ensure that this is the best possible scenario for that child. I know many families who have adopted and have done so while truly putting the best interest of their child(ren) first. They get it. Adoption doesn’t need to be this sugar coated, rainbows and butterflies fairytale. It’s a situation brought about from a place of loss. There is nothing beautiful about the word adoption to a child who has been adopted because that word represents everything they have lost.

The real beauty in adoption comes from those who choose to do the hard work on behalf of that child(ren) because they need someone to advocate for them, love them unconditionally and constantly work at putting the child’s best interests ahead of their own.

I feel I can speak to these things because unfortunately in the past, I perpetuated these same ideals. Obviously, I did not realize the damage I was doing with my “good intentions“. Excuse my bluntness here, but my intentions didn’t matter then and they don’t matter now! What matters is my ability to listen, learn, admit when I’m wrong and then change!

My family and I almost destroyed another family, stripped a child from her culture, contributed to the trauma in a child’s life that might never have healed, no matter how great as adoptive parents we were trying to be, all while we were being praised and cheered on for “saving” a life. Not once was I ever challenged on the complicated nature of a transracial and intercountry adoption nor as to my intentions behind adopting a child who had extended family in her birth country.

From the moment I announced the truth of the corruption behind our adoption and our plans to reunite, I received so much criticism and speculation regarding Mata’s family about where they lived, what religion they practiced and the country to which I was reuniting her to. It was unacceptable! Unacceptable yes, but not surprising! Correct me if I’m wrong, but we have become a society that is outspoken, combative and divided. We tend to speak more through clicks on a keyboard and less with action. We know international adoption statistics say as high as 90% children in orphanages have been separated from their families, yet what are most of us actually doing to resolve this tragedy? 

Is adopting the children in these orphanages an act of love? Or is using our time and resources to bring change to the communities they belong to and empowering their families and communities to stay together, the truer act of love?

There’s nothing wrong with sharing articles and opinions on facebook, in fact it is a great way for us all to become more aware and bring about the changes necessary both in ourselves and as a society. But let’s not just post, debate the post and leave out the most important part … action.

While I agree there’s a certain level of finger pointing that’s necessary to stop heinous acts like separating children from their families from happening, this problem is way bigger than one administration. Our desire to pick sides and the anger we feel when someone hasn’t chosen our side has become more important than becoming the difference we long to see in this world.

It’s time for the narrative around Intercountry adoption to change. Let’s not forget, it is children’s lives hanging in the balance and I truly believe we all have to take a long hard look at this complex and broken system, accept our part in it and work to correct it.

Adoptee Activism in America

Listen to Adoptee Voices

Adoptee advocacy and activism for me, is about adoptee healing and claiming back our power.

This week has been so powerful but raw on so many levels. I have travelled to America to attend the Dept of State’s Intercountry Adoption Symposium (Sept 17 & 18) which brought together all the government bodies and NGOs related to, and fulfilling, intercountry adoption processes, the accredited entities which include IAAME and the adoption agencies, and for the first time, representation from the adoption triad. After this ended, some of our American intercountry adoptee leaders and individuals who wished to be involved at government policy and practice level, met with the Dept of State (Sept 19) and had a chat about how we might interact/liaise together in the future and what our goals are and issues of concern.

The following are my thoughts after attending these past three days.

Hearing the same chants for “more adoption” that I’ve read about across the waters but got to experience for real, has been nothing short of gut wrenching.

Getting to personally understand the life experiences of some of my fellow activists has been an honor.

The question was asked to our adoptee group why few American intercountry adoptees in recent years, had until now, not risen to involve themselves at policy level.

After being in America for a week, seeing the level of anger for those who dare to voice any truth that doesn’t match the “we want more children” chant has been a massive reality check. America the land of the free! Well, I see it’s more the land of the free for those who share the dominant discourse — but it can also be unkind and lacking compassion to those who express a different story.

The scale and depth at which intercountry adoption has been conducted in America, that adds avoidable emotional damage to some adoptees, has finally helped me understand why their voices have not been at the table. The ability to rise above one’s terrible reality of adoption is a massive ask. What struck me in coming to personally understand these journeys en-masse over the years I’ve been connecting to fellow adoptees, is how much worse it is here in terms of size and scale. It is not just the historic adoptions from the 50s to 80s. I’m meeting adoptees from the 90s to 2010s and hear the same terrible experiences! I’m also not denying there are probably a ton of intercountry adoptees who have little motivation to make things better because they already had it wonderful. Their reality is not dismissed and neither should the other range of experiences across the spectrum.

Some of the audience responses were so dismissive of our struggles citing that we were just a “moment in time”, or unlucky enough to be a consequence of “a few bad apples”. As I said on day 1 in response to Laura Ingraham’s speech, one terrible adoptee experience is one too many! So please, if you really want to hear what we have to say as adoptees, believe me when I say – “these bad apple adoptions are still happening since the past 20 years”.

Hearing calls and support for “unregulation” and “streamlining” is not the answer in the face of the huge reality. What do we need governments and stakeholders to do differently that hasn’t been done, either at all, or enough? We need them to acknowledge the wrongs of the past to the present. We need full acknowledgement that the decisions made FOR us as vulnerable children, have been terribly painful, terribly damaging for too many .. we need to hear it not just once, but over and over many times so that we know you do not forget the mistakes of the past and those who have been a victim, can feel safe knowing we have learnt the lessons, or at least are trying to.

From my own personal journey of healing, I know how incredibly important it is to hear, “I’m sorry it has been a terribly hurtful experience” from a heartfelt place. Not only do we need to hear that you’ve heard and acknowledged our pain, we need you to give us time to then process that acknowledgement, allow us to move further in our journey — and then ask us to focus and work together on how we prevent it from ever happening again.

For adoptees it is terribly triggering to be dismissed, our reality denied, and our concerns brushed over with “it’s not like that now”. Yes things have changed … drastically, but they need to change more! Support services for the duration of our lifetime, need to be implemented that help us move past the damage. We need reparation that allows out of the box solutions for individual journeys of healing. We need to see that sending children back AS SOON AS WE KNOW something isn’t looking right, is totally a first option that will be supported by all the players who facilitated the adoption. Keeping the child as the only option adds further complications that we adoptees are eventually left to sift through.

People and countries make mistakes .. we are only human. What’s currently missing is the acknowledgement and the sensitivity across the SPECTRUM of players to recognise the trauma from decades (yes, 70 years!) of intercountry adoptions done poorly. The reality that the current and previous American administrations have failed to address intercountry adoptee citizenship, the basic cornerstone of permanence, continuity, and family— clearly demonstrates how little understanding and support exists for the displaced adoptee. This is brushing the wrongs of the past under the carpet on a massive scale!

I realise why adoptees have not been at the table pushing their way in. The depths of pain can be too raw and the risk of receiving further trauma by those who invalidate our experiences, is incredibly high. For a country as religious as America, it sure has little understanding of the need for the power of healing and the acknowledgement of wrong doing. All Americans should be praying not for adoptions to be increased but for the ones who are here already, to be given the right support in order for them to find healing. For the ones deported to be given the supports they need along with their broken up families.

Only once we are fully supported to heal as those who have already suffered, can we truly contemplate ethically adopting more — at least then, we can be confident that despite mistakes being made, the great America has the maturity to help the victims overcome.

My heart breaks for my American brothers and sisters who struggle to rise from out of their ashes. I found it fascinating to see the 9/11 section of the Newseum and the way in which so much compassion is portrayed for those victims, yet in intercountry adoption – I ask where is that same compassion? Is there any recognition of the collective suffering that too many generations of intercountry adoptees have been experiencing in America?!

No! They remain a blip on the radar screen, barely seen, largely misunderstood because they are cloaked with, “You should be grateful to be in this amazing country” banner which denies the tragic realities of so many!

I am compelled to lead by example and demonstrate that adoptees can find their power. My path is but one way to rise above the ashes. I have learned for myself how incredibly healing it is to turn my pains into triumphs and to attempt to make this world a better place and I always wonder what I would have achieved had I been left in Vietnam (my adoptee sliding door/ parallel universe musing). This path of adoptee advocacy is my way to make sense of my adoption and life . Perhaps I was saved to give this message — to be this voice, to truly represent the “child’s best interest” and make sure it is not shoved away?

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I hope that this week has been the beginning of the start, that momentum will flow because …

it only takes one to take a stand for truth, for another to find their courage.

What a week of learning, what a week of connecting! I hope America will come to embrace the mistakes of its past in intercountry adoption and provide a safe space for the many intercountry adoptees who need healing and be given many places at the table, not just one place filled by an Australian/Vietnamese.

I also want to acknowledge the many true supporters of adoptees who came from so many stakeholders groups. It is incorrect to assume all government workers, all agencies, all adoptive parents are against us speaking our truths. Despite the intense and sometimes times painful challenging moments, I was uplifted by the volume of supporters who told us they were so happy to see us and hear our voices. I hope I live to see the day when they will become the majority AND the loudest voice we hear from.

I was told that supportive adoptive parents have sat back from the table, out of respect to allow us adoptees to take the platform, to make space for us — but I want to tell those parents and advocates, please don’t be silent in your support. We are at a critical point where intercountry adoptee leadership is emerging and we need ALL the support we can muster.

What I deeply respected was my fellow panelist, the birth mother representative who demonstrated no fear in telling her truth, nor the consequences for doing so. Whether we agreed with her views or not, I imagine her journey of overcoming the stigma, fear and trauma throughout her life has helped her realise there is little to lose, in having the courage to speak her truth. As two representatives of the adoption triad, we both know “the cost of remaining silent”.

Her ending sentence was so respectful and she said, “It should be the adoptees who you listen to the most”. I can only say how much that meant to us. This is the message we need our supporters to uphold – it will encourage us to rise above our pain and fears. Please don’t be silent — it is too open to interpretation!

Huge thanks and respect to the adoptee leaders who gave of their time, money, and energy to be at these forums.

Joy Alessi – adopted from South Korea, co-director of Adoptee Rights Campaign.

Cherish Bolton – adopted from India, co-director of PEAR, academic.

Trista Goldberg – adopted from Vietnam, founder of Operation Reunite, educator.

Marijane Huang – adopted from Taiwan, social worker in adoption and foster care, educator.

JaeRan Kim – adopted from South Korea, social worker and PhD research academic.

Kristopher Larsen – adopted from Vietnam, co-director of Adoptees4Justice.

Monica Lindgren – adopted from Colombia, barrister in family law.

Reshma McClintock – adopted from India, founder of Dear Adoption, co-founder Family Preservation365.

Patricia Motley – adopted from Peru, member of Peruvian Adoptees Worldwide.

Diego Vitelli – adopted from Colombia, founder of Adopted from Colombia, studying masters in counselling.