Degrees of Being Trafficked in Intercountry Adoption

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As an adult intercountry adoptee, having been outspoken now for 20 years in ICAV, I’ve often wondered whether my intercountry adoption was legitimate or not. That means asking questions like: did my Vietnamese parents really understand the legal concept of “adoption” and relinquishment? Were they offered any other types of support to keep me? Given I came out of war torn Vietnam, was my status really as a true orphan with no surviving parents or family? Was family and kin reunification even attempted before I was adopted out to Australia? And what about any attempts to place me in my own home country first? One day I hope to find the answers to these questions if I’m lucky enough to be reunited with my biological family.

I’m sure other fellow intercountry adoptees ask themselves similar questions at some stage in their life. These are the realities we face as we grow older, mature in our understandings of the complexities of intercountry adoption, and grapple to integrate our realities with the worldwide politics that created our lives, as we know it today.

To consider oneself as trafficked as an intercountry adoptee is challenging because of the legal definition which cuts us out and doesn’t allow any legal scope to take action against the perpetrators.

Human trafficking is the illegal movement of people, within national or across international borders, for the purposes of exploitation in the form of commercial sex, domestic service or manual labour.

Trafficking in intercountry adoption certainly exists but we cannot take legal action because of the fact that no international law or framework exists to allow us to be legally considered as “trafficked” unless we can prove we fit the criteria of “exploitation for sex or labour”.

Yet within intercountry adoption, the degrees to which we can be trafficked can vary immensely. There are those who have:

  • outright falsification of documentation and were stolen from their birth families, sold into intercountry adoption for profit, where legal action was taken against those who profited and it was demonstrated in a court of law, that wrong doing had transpired.
  • documentation that could appear suspicious but at the time not questioned further; demonstrated years later to be inconsistent or incorrect.
  • paperwork that appears legitimate, but at reunion decades later, the story from birth parents does not match in any way the documentation provided by the adoption agency / facilitator.
  • no identity paperwork exists due to having been a “lost” child and with little attempt to reunify back with family, we became sold/transacted via intercountry adoption.

Where does the spectrum of having been “trafficked for intercountry adoption” start or end? Difficult to discuss when the concept is not allowed to exist in law. Even ISS International’s best practice learnings from these types of scenarios don’t label it “trafficking”, but refer to it as “illegal adoptions” in their Handbook. And out of the conclusions and recommendations in that handbook, the question has to be asked how many of the Hague signatories have a process to enable biological family, adoptive parents, or adult adoptees who suspect illicit practices (i.e., trafficking) be given any type of support or process  – financially, legally, or emotionally?

On 7 December 2017, ICAV facilitated a small group of 7 intercountry adoptees representing India, Taiwan, and Sri Lanka to request the Australian Federal Government, via Department of Social Services (DSS), consider providing some financial support to those who have been trafficked in various degrees. For these adoptees, no amount of money is ever going to compensate for their losses and trauma directly brought on by the degree of trafficking they have endured. Not to mention their biological family! But we can at least ask that some forms of restorative justice be provided by the powers to be who facilitate adoptions and allow it to continue.

restorative justice

There is no way of ultimately fixing the dilemma caused by trafficking in intercountry adoption because adoption IS legally binding, despite the existence of cases of successful prosecution against those who falsified documents.

Sadly, the only legal case that can be made in intercountry adoption for known trafficking is for falsification of documents. The perpetrators get a slap on the wrist, some jail time, and a small fine (compared to how much they profited). In comparison, what does the adoptee or biological family get? Nothing. Not even services to help them move through and past this unnecessary trauma.

I want to raise awareness of the impacts trafficking has on those adoptees who have to live it, forever. Their voices are unheard and diminished by those who advocate for adoption. Their experiences go by without us learning from the mistakes and putting in place much needed processes and international laws to prevent further injustices like theirs. For them, even when the perpetrator is punished by law, they as adoptees are left to live the consequences with NO recognition of what they’ve had to endure. There is NO justice for them.

Please read Roopali’s story. Hers is an example of living the lifelong consequences of an adoption in which it appears her first parents did not voluntarily consent, nor was she a true orphan, and she was old enough to be listened to and given a choice. Her story gives voice to the extra challenges endured directly as a result of having been “trafficked” to some degree. She was brave enough to share her story to the Australian Government with ICAV in 2015 when we met the Prime Minister’s Senior Advisors. There was not a single dry eye in the room, we were all so affected by the obvious trauma she endures day to day. Trafficking of vulnerable children via intercountry adoption needs to stop!

I hope Roopali’s story encourages others to speak out and demand from their governments that action towards legal recognition of “trafficking” via intercountry adoption AND restorative justice needs to occur.

Adoptive Parent Decision Making in Intercountry Adoption

By Sunny Reed

With the popularity of This is Us and the New York Times story about the black baby swapped out for a white one, it’s valuable to take a look at adoption’s portrayal in popular media.

In both my work-in-progress and on my blog, I take a retrospective look at the paucity of adoption resources – both professional and general – to paint a bigger picture of what led people to adopt a child outside their race and country. Today’s article focuses on how Russia and China’s portrayals in the media affected an adoptive parent’s decision to adopt.

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Framing Adoption:_The Media and Parental Decision Making
Heather Jacobson

Article Summary

Prospective parents perform research during the adoption process, often based on articles released by popular news media outlets. Jacobson revealed prospective parents’ reactions to these articles and how news stories impacted their decision to adopt.

Key Points

  • Russian mass-media stories are portrayed more negatively than Chinese ones
  • Russian adoption is reported on more frequently than Chinese
  • Negative Chinese adoption stories focused more on logistics than on the child’s potential mental health issues
  • Since the prospective parents interviewed for Jacobson’s study were coming to adoption after risky infertility situation, they showed a desire to avoid additional risk

Discussion

A certain amount of skepticism is healthy when approaching the decision to adopt a child not your own; after all, it is a huge decision, one impacting the life of a child who had no choice. The author found that, regardless of each news article’s overall tone, the general conclusion she made was that adopting a child into a loving home is fine, but prospective parents may be treading on dangerous political ground.

When adoption becomes politicized, there’s a tendency to dehumanize the child. The child is not a political pawn, some poor waif smuggled out of a war-torn country into a loving home. When media articles portray adoption this way, the child’s developing identity is negatively impacted by these prejudices. Not only may the adoptive parents, despite their best efforts, absorb these damaging viewpoints, but inevitably people less emotionally invested in the adoptee will undoubtedly, without any other frame of reference, use these articles as a way to formulate opinions on the topic of adoption.

Adoptive parents reported being influenced by these articles, some mentioning reports that Russian babies have more attachment issues than Chinese led them to adopting a Chinese baby. This is disturbing, because many adoptees are noted to have attachment issues; it’s not a country-based phenomenon. As Jacobson points out, “the majority of adoptees from both China and Russia have experienced institutionalization that can have serious consequences for child outcomes.”  Many of us adult intercountry adoptees reading this can attest to this reality.

Other intercountry adoptive parents used the articles they read, as justification against domestic adoption and in preference for intercountry adoption. They would read of stories featuring local biological parents looking for their child and wanting them back. As reported in the research, in their minds as adoptive parents, this would be intolerable as many experienced their own suffering via infertility or stillbirths.

The views expressed in Jacobson’s research reflect the adoptive parent-centric nature of adoption; the adoptive parents consume the media, the adoptive parents make the ultimate decision to adopt. Obviously adoptive parents need some way to inform their decisions, but slightly concerning is that racial features overrode Russian adoption risks. Adoptive parents persisted in Russian adoptions despite warnings, because they were eager to obtain a child bearing a closer racial resemblance to their own. We need to question that decision, because appearance cannot predict a child’s future outcome.

As transracial and intercountry adoptees, it’s our duty to remain alert to these news articles and ensure the mass media fairly portrays our struggles and political representation. If they don’t, it’s our responsibility to cut through the emotionally-driven bias toward adoption by producing articles that provide balanced accounts.

Vipassana Meditation for PTSD

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Vipassana means to see things as they really are. It is a self-exploratory, observational meditation technique that trains you to navigate your body’s sensations and move through them with objectivity. This technique derives from India and is based on the principle that there are scientific laws which govern the phenomenon of what happens in our bodies. By regularly concentrating on the natural occurrences within, we find the roots of our suffering and can slowly untie ourselves from it.

I recently attended a 10-day introductory Vipassana meditation course, from 17 – 27 December at a retreat center in Joshua Tree, California. This is where I spent my Christmas.

This course was assisted by two amazingly trained meditation teachers, but taught mainly by S.N Goenka (1924 – 2013) with recordings. Goenka is a teacher who started in India, 1969, and taught hundreds of thousands of students his meditation technique which spread to the East and West.

Coming from an orphaned birth in the Philippines and with PTSD from my adoption, I wasn’t sure how successful this meditation would be. I’d researched the technique, plus had previous experience in Buddhist yoga practices and meditations. I believed I possessed enough knowledge and context to allow me to understand the technique. I also realised it couldn’t cure personal issues, deep emotional or mental instability, disease, chronic illness, or depression. What I hoped for was the Vipassana meditation technique might give me the ability to heal myself if I was stable enough. Learning this could help me work with my PTSD on my own. This could give me the mental and emotional tools to fight my dark battles within and cure myself of my own ailments in time, and hard work. So, I went through with my plan.

It was tough. The hardest mental work I’d ever done. It was like using the mental concentration of a Master’s program and applying this concentration to myself. I woke up at 4:00am and practiced meditation trainings until 9:00pm for 10 days straight. All in silence. My breaks were during breakfast, lunch and dinner. Stuff rose up within me. Thoughts about past lives. Romantic fantasies. Burning pain. Frozen terrain. Blissful peace.

I fought within. I struggled. I was overcome with sensations. Fears arose. I submitted. I was restless. But, I was determined. I concentrated my attention of my breathing for three full days, practicing pranayama. In the meditation hall, I sat with 80 strong women and many of us caught a cold during this time. We pushed through together.

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In the middle of the 10 days, I had a vivid dream about my older brother also adopted from the Philippines like me. In my real life, he had slowly gone insane with his own PTSD. I had loved him even though he’d been damaging to me. In my mid-twenties, he’d disappeared and scarily turned into a stranger with an off personality. The pain from losing him the way I had was devastating and these memories of him bled through the currents of my whole life.

In my dream, my adopted brother sat next to me in a booth at a restaurant. He had cuts all over his face which he had done to himself. I scribbled him a note, I will always love you. To my surprise, my brother drew over the note. He drew a large house over my words. I woke up. That’s when it struck me. The house related to an earlier teaching from Goenka. A recording of him spoke about how our suffering can perpetuate and build a house we live in. That day, I processed more emotions and hard sensations.

I bolted as fast as I could the morning of the 11th day. It has been a month and I can say my meditation has improved. I am trusting myself and my process more. I am beginning to work through emotions from the past in a more productive and objective way. I now have a tool to start healing myself of my PTSD and memories. And, I’m beginning to use this tool with more precision.

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What I’ve come to discover is the phenomenon of what happens when training in Vipassana meditation and being committed to efforts towards enlightenment, that is, a seed is planted within. The seed grows in spurts, as our thoughts and actions begin to create a practice in itself towards the goal of transcending. To me, it’s like circumambulating around a stupa, every action becomes more focused, not only of the self but also of our greater humanity. This practice changed me from the inside out.

This is why I’m preparing to learn more about meditation and cultivate a regular Buddhist meditation life. As an intercountry adoptee from the Philippines from the 80’s, having been born from destitute poverty and experiencing not only an inhumanly impersonal adoption process and trauma from my post adoption placement, the pain of what happened cannot be ignored any longer. I feel I’ve pushed this pain away all my life. My healing cannot wait any longer.

So in this new year, I’m making a decision to set a new course that grew from this Vipassana training. I’m deciding to set up my life around self healing first, allowing my work and visions of ‘success’ to come second.

This is why I’m moving to Hawaii.

More Reading

https://www.dhamma.org/en-US/about/vipassana

Bitter Medicine

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For me, the interactions I have within adoptee groups are like taking a spoonful of bitter medicine. The sharing I do, the reflections of my past, and all the things I have learned has healed me. It is a forum where I am allowed to share my thoughts, pains and tribulations. It opens my eyes to current issues and problems within the adoption community and learn about individuals affected by adoption and a place to find atonement, strength, healing, love, and sanctuary. However, when I’m immersed within these groups the conversation can often lead to adoptees being divided into two groups: those who are pro or anti adoption.

The adoptee experience is as varied as shoes, apples, numerous as the labels of medication on the shelves of a local pharmacy. Adoptees have their own view and outlook on what it means to be adopted. Some view adoption as something wonderful with great relationships with their parents, raised in nurturing environments, empathetic parents, and open dialogue. They may have even gone to culture camp, experiencing wonderfully happy lives, living the American dream but they can’t understand why other adoptees can be so bitter and negative about the adoption journey.

We all have a story to tell, we can be successful despite how we individually view adoption and it’s impacts. I don’t deny there are not problems but when some are found it doesn’t speak for all adoptees. Some people rush to stop adoption altogether but are they are essentially throwing away the baby with the bath water?

For some, the adoption experience is like the dented and discarded item you find on sale in the back of the store i.e., unwanted, abused, we are damaged goods. Many of us experience the feelings of rejection, the uneasy feelings of not being wanted, and relationships are to be thrown away. The wounds we experience can destroy our bodies, the words echo inside our minds and drives us crazy and hurtful acts cuts deeper than any knife. When we think the pain could not be worse the intensity worsens when we learn the truth about the adoption. Our life is a mere transaction within an industry of suffering and system spreads shame, guilt and pain as it took advantage of single mothers placed in precarious positions without any other options but to give their child away.  The adoption industry steal the life away to everyone involved – forces us to give up every day liberties to search for our families as our mothers lament long nights to hold their child one more time.  We over represent societies inside mental health clinics, drug and rehabilitation centres, and prisons compared to the non adopted public. Those that investigate their suspicions and confirm these facts, and decide to share, exchange or to speak out against the industry and its problems: we become labeled as angry and illogical. We are identified as malicious.  We are told that we are disrupting the Apple cart.

If we dig deeper, there are more commonalities between the two anti and pro adoption groups of adoptees. Both sides have been stung by unintentional calloused comments made by society in general. Comments like,  “Oh, you’re adopted, you must be so lucky”, “your parents are so wonderful”, or “you were chosen”. These comments infuriate us, hurt us, and overshadow who we are and generalize the issues we have to deal with. I often want to respond with, “Do you think I had a choice in this? No, I don’t feel lucky!”

Therapists, counselors and parents cannot fix our issues and more often than not, they do not have the capacity to understand the issues we have to face. Quite often, we have to suffer alone. Many of us struggle with issues of self-worth, shame, identity, and ill equipped to handle relationships. Relationships may frighten us, we allow others to take advantage of us and others replace the love we desire with intimacy. It goes without saying that our friends and lovers may never understand understand us. However, the one space where I am able to share my issues with are the adoptee groups.

In a few sentences jotted online, I can connect with a total stranger half way around the globe. The understanding can cut across educational, economic and social classes. Together we can immediately identify the faint echoes of pain and suffering painted between the lines of a message shared.

What do you think? Do you think adoptees are really this divided between anti and pro thoughts? Do you think adoptee forums help us or hurt us? Should we express ourselves without fear of ridicule from our own peers?

I have gone through many spectrums of change within my own life. I was once a staunch supporter of adoption and believed we fared far better than the alternatives. After travelling the globe and being involved with adoption issues for over 25 years, I now hold a different view. I share information as I learn it myself and I crack open another bottle of medicine and let the gooey disgusting truth flow out. I share this with other people. I take heaped spoonfuls of it from others for my own needs. I take this medicine to heal my own adoption wounds. Gulp, I swallow more bitter truth. Gulp, I join in to more sites, connect and bare more of myself. Gulp, I ingest this bitter medicine to treat my symptoms resulting from adoption.

What medicine will you share with me? What sites do you frequent to get your daily dose?

Adoption Trauma, Not Always Forever

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Most of us have heard the old saying, “the only thing promised in life is death and taxes”. I’m certain many of us can add one or more items that needs to be included to the list.

One thing I think should be added to this list is trauma. If you live long enough, you will most certainly face trauma. Trauma is a badge of life often carried in our minds, consciousness and even displayed by the scars and bruises exposed on our skin. My belief is we all experience things differently. Some people suffer through life-long debilitating conditions. We may have a crazy uncle who cowers in fear when fireworks go off each fourth of July, due to the PTSD he suffers from war; or we see those we love, suffer with a more benign issue such as profusely sweaty hands when having to give a public speech.

During my 45 years of life on earth, I’ve seen and experienced a lot of trauma. As a soldier, I slipped on the bloody floors of an operating room inside a military hospital that minutes earlier, had been used to save the life of a casualty of the Afghanistan war. As a young student, I pumped the chest of a dying man when I trained as a paramedic. As a nurse I observed the slow gasps of air during the last hours of life, called Kussmaul’s respiration. It was an experience that burned into my memory when I worked on the wards of a hospital.Hilo trauma

The shock of any trauma, I think changes your life.
It’s more acute in the beginning and after a little
time you settle back to what you were.
However it leaves an indelible mark on your psyche.
Alex Lifeson

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When an adoptee criticizes the adoption experience or speaks out against aspects within the current system, they are automatically labeled “angry adoptee”. When a successful adoptee uses their influence, money and time to promote adoptee related issues, it is pointed out they are compensating for something. Successful adoptees have some secret character flaw. Behind closed doors they must be dancing naked to Beelzebub or offering newborn kittens as sacrifices to Odin. In reality, such comments do nothing to enhance discourse and upon closer examination, are just good ole fashioned stereotyping. These thoughts or beliefs may or may not accurately reflect reality.

I’ve seen more of this type of adoptee labeling in recent years and a growing number accept these attacks as fact without allowing anyone to examine or recognise it for what it is: an attack on adoptees.

By smiling, we help them do that. Next time you encounter a “happy” and “grateful” adoptee who had “wonderful” adoptive parents and a “wonderful” life, look a little closer.
Julie A. Rist.

When read in a vacuum, this sounds plausible. There is a growing belief spread by adoption counselors that adoptees are damaged goods because every adoption is about separation and trauma.

Recently, I ran across a self-professed adoption counselor who said “Every adoptee has a trauma to resolve even when they appear outwardly fine”. The same person stated, “Another horrible shooting in Texas in a church. It’s clear, God doesn’t protect those who don’t protect themselves.” In the real world bad things will happen to good people.

Be warned about those who prey on individuals who need. I have a seen a growing number of counselors that linger on adoptee sites and peddle their wares. Self promotion of their books, counseling services and advice. Be careful who you seek treatment from. There are many simply out to make a profit from you.

The reality is, we will more than likely suffer trauma during our lifetime. It is the price of admission to life. The deck is stacked against us. Around 50% of marriages will end in divorce. Roughly 40% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetime. The car insurance actuary companies have predicted the average driver will be in a collision once every 17.9 years i.e., around 3 to 4 accidents during their lifetime. Knowing this, we do see people going around to divorcees recommending a lifetime of counseling. Individuals shaken up after an accident given a one-size-fits-all diagnosis. Cancer survivors prescribed to feel a certain way i.e., they must feel guilty to be alive if they beat the odds of chemo therapy.

When I was young, I had a fear of heights. Climbing tall structures was debilitating. As an adult, I overcame my fears and learned how to repel out of helicopters, parachute from airplanes and bungee jump from structures several hundreds of feet tall. People can get over their fears. There are cognitive behavioral techniques such as constant exposure, done gradually and repeatedly exposing individuals to their fear in a safe and controlled way. I am by no means a licensed mental health professional nor am I suggesting people self-treat for diagnosed issues. Nor am I diminishing or trivializing life-long conditions. I am saying people should not automatically diagnose adoption to be life-long traumatic event for all of us. We come from different backgrounds and experiences and the outcomes will vary, like any of the traumas we face in life.

More Reading:

http://www.radiolab.org/story/251876-inheritance/
https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/parenting/pregnancy-stress-during-1998-ice-storm-linked-to-genetic-changes-in-children-after-birth-study-suggests/article20868841/

All That I Wish I Could Say

I’m sorry that I can’t fully introduce myself. I can’t. If I could, I’d tell you that I was born an orphan in the Philippines. I lived in an orphanage until I was two years old and this set my world on fire, forever altering my life.

I wake in the mornings as an adult and I manage my life’s loss. I confront my adoption. It wasn’t my fault. Now I live without a sense of culture or heritage. Without a biological family in sight – as if they were all dead to me.

You wouldn’t know this because I try so hard to keep myself together. On the surface, I make sure that I present myself in the best of ways.

But in reality, I was forced to live in the United States with strangers. Due to my intercountry adoption process in 1987 and the socio-economic crises in my birth country, all my past relations are unrecoverable today.

What was it like to be adopted, you ask? I wish I didn’t have to say this too. But, my adopted life in the United States of America growing up was traumatic.

I lived in the Midwest with an older adopted brother who slowly went insane. And with parents who would at times make it worse not better.

I endured the worst of life’s cruelties but you don’t want to hear this. It’d be depressing to know that as child and teenager I watched the frail threads of a family that I’d needed so much, break apart. I grew up accustomed to the way the hard edges of the most bitter realities pressed down around me, as I persevered to keep my ideals strong. And that I survived my life carrying a broken heart.

I wish I could tell you all about the real me but I’m afraid you wouldn’t understand. I’m afraid you’d wrongly judge me? Or hurt me, or disappear?

So I’ve stayed mute about this all my life. But now I’m an adult, I see how this silence has become my own prison. And I’m not making any changes by covering this up or pretending this didn’t happen.

Now, more than ever, I want to speak up.

Because now more than ever, I’m beginning to realize that I’m not the only one with a voice here that needs to be heard!

 

Understanding Positive Millennial Adoptees

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I’m not a angry or jealous about positive adoptions. I don’t deny they exist. With more than 25 years experience working in adoption and orphanage advocacy, I have met some wonderful adoptive parents who have reached out to adoptees like myself. I’ve met numerous adoptees that have wonderful lives and adoptive families. Positive adoptive parents are not that much different from naturally formed families where parents sacrifice to give their children love, attention and the support needed to enhance chances of creating the best possible outcomes in life.

Some adoptees are sent to the best schools afforded, given opportunities to attend heritage camps, afforded psychological counseling and most importantly, given committed parent who foster the parent-child relationships that we were robbed of from our beginnings. I will never deny that such relationships can exist. There are deeply committed people with so much joy, love, and care who also have the understanding, discipline and patience to be wonderful adoptive parents. I am grateful that such adoptees are given this opportunity. I am happy for them!

In recent years, I have written several pieces that have looked at adoption under a critical eye. My articles are posted on the internet at InterCountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV), the Pressian online journal, Land of Gazillion Adoptees and other adoptee blogs and forums. After writing these critical pieces, I get inundated with negative emails. The backlash of criticism from the pro-adoption adoptee community has been growing over the years and it comes specifically from Millennial adoptees. What got me thinking aboutt this was the recent viral success of Simon Sinek’s critical analysis entitled “What’s wrong with Millennials in the workplace”. The video went viral on YouTube and has had more than eight million hits. I then made the connection that it was the positive Millennial adoptees who were inundating my inbox. I revisited the comments made in emails and I think I found a way to understand the disconnect between some of the older versus younger generation of adoptees.

Negative Narratives May Not Be Theirs

Even though we have this connection through adoption – the adoptee population is as diverse as any other community. Like any segment of the population, we are comprised of diverse backgrounds. Even amongst a group of adoptees adopted from the same country, e.g., Sth Korean adoptees, I still find diversity. I find diversity even in a group that isn’t supposed to be too diverse. For example, despite the taboo for Koreans to bring up other people’s children, I have found some cases. On my first return trip to Korea in the 90’s I ran into an adoptee raised by a Korean diplomat. This adoptee was the caucasian child of his American colleague, killed in a car accident. During my travels in Europe, I also met a Korean adoptee adopted into a Korean family and another adoptee raised by a Jamaican family. I appreciate the diversity found within the adoptee community.

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Hearing from all sides of the issues is important. When an adoption problem is shared it doesn’t mean the individual is attacking positive adoption outcomes nor does it negate the legitimacy of their complex experiences. I understand that positive adoptees may not identify with negative narratives on adoption but how does a lack of empathy or an inability to validate another person who is sharing from a vulnerable position help them overcome obstacles in life? Experiences that are considered “negative” may not be your narrative but these experiences have a time and location and are just as valid as the “positive” stories.

They Want to be Heard

I had a private conversation with another Chief Financial Officer (CFO) about Millennials in the workplace. He expressed his frustrations about them being vocal without taking time to understand the rules and regulations of an organization. Much of what we do is heavily regulated by Congress and the fast changes they seek are often impossible to implement. I understand Millennials are more vocal in stating they want to have their voices heard. I think bringing them into the conversation is a good thing overall. In general, Millenials are passionate and want to make a positive impact in areas they care about. I know we can mutually learn from this group along with the older generations of adoptees. Millenials have a strong understanding on how to leverage technology and social media platforms to their advantage. I think it is great if Millenials share their narratives whether these be different or similar to the older adoptee generations. I welcome their voices. We all have a story to tell.

Ignoring The Wrongs in the Big Picture

It’s been estimated by government agencies that 30% of Guatemalan children were stolen from their homes. Numerous concerned parents and several watch groups believe the theft of hundreds of children from perfectly good homes have occurred in China, India and other countries. The “happy adoptees” refuse to believe that they could be the victim of such dealings or ignore the issue altogether on the basis that they experienced a great adoption.

Can such positivity erase transgressions in the bigger picture of intercountry adoption?

Attitudes that largely ignore these issues result in human lives being placed below that of merchandise goods. For example, when a computer is stolen and if able to trace the whereabouts of the stolen merchandise, the buyer must give it back to the original owner – regardless of how much was paid. The original owner of the computer is protected by the law. In contrast, a child’s life is not considered as valuable as a computer. When a child is taken away from their families without consent, through coercion or bribery, it is largely ignored by the entire international legal system.

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The notion that goods have more legal protection than a human life also applies to identification. If a VIN number on a car is destroyed or tampered with there are legal consequences if caught. When a person tampers with an a person’s identity and produces fake paperwork identifying them as an “orphan”, the most they get is a slap on the wrist with a small jail term and/or a fine.

I find the systematic erasure of a child’s birth identity via adoption to be fundamentally wrong. Legal systems and governments around the world recognize it is a basic human right for anyone to know who they are and where they come from. Yet an individual’s birth certificate (essentially their VIN number) and adoption documents can be altered, made up and fabricated with very little consequences in place to deter. And most importantly, nothing is done for the child who’s identity has been robbed, nor the family whom the child belonged to by birth.

A car or computer receives more protection under the law than an adopted child. This lack of value on our lives delays personal healing for those impacted. It also contributes to the endangerment of hundreds and thousands of children across the globe because of the message it sends: that their histories can be erased, separation forced and enabled via intercountry adoption with no-one to investigate whether the children were indeed stolen, lost, or fabricated and even on the rare occasion when the wrongs are obvious, there are little to no consequences and certainly no justice for the child who has been removed nor the family who has lost their child legally, forever.

Head vs Heart

Emotion Overrides Logic

Suspicion and fear drove American settlers on the path to annihilation of millions of Native Americans. The movement to relocate and fight the Native Americans was driven by emotion and fear. These feelings led to the genocide movement on American soil. Here is one account:

“On November 29, 1864, one of the most infamous events of the American-Indian wars occurred when 650 Colorado volunteer forces attacked a Cheyenne and Arapho encampment along Sand Creek. Although they had already begun peaceful negotiations with the U.S. government, more than 150 Native Americans were killed and mutilated, more than 2/3 of which were women and children.”

Members of Congress and prominent citizens across America were vocal about the removal and out right war to eradicate the Native Americans. This view remains and is held by some Americans to this day. John Wayne was asked about the removal of Native Americans and he replied, “I don’t feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them … our so-called stealing of this country was just a matter of survival. There were great numbers of people who needed land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.”

Statements made by proadoption movements, many made by Millennials are as equally hurtful and dismissive as the statement above. At the time of the Indian Wars, some individuals firmly believed they were on the morally right side. Many believed they were protecting settlers and companies that advanced the country to greatness. If we were to ask them today, they would not have believed they would be judged so harshly for their actions.

I believe intercountry adoption is the modern version of Trail of Tears. Globally, thousands of Native American children were stolen and killed for the betterment of the whole group. Intercountry adoptees, like the Native Americans, have been systematically moved from their homes and countries and resettled into unfamiliar territory. I understand that some adoptees can only imagine the wonderful lives they have lived and would like others to enjoy the same. We understand their positive intentions, however, we cannot override the logic with emotions to justify the means to an end.

I’m also not suggesting every Millennial adoptee has a positive adoption experience. The point is, Millennials are maturing and becoming more vocal about their experiences. It is possible a larger number of Millennial adoptees are better adjusted to their adoptions and have more positive outcomes compared to adoptees of my generation. I truly hope this is the case because this is why I speak out – in the hopes that others who follow may have a somewhat better experience.

 

ADDITIONAL LINKS

Simone Sinek: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hER0Qp6QJNU
Adoptions in Korea: https://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2015/05/economist-explains-32
VIN: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-drive/culture/commuting/what-your-cars-vin-means—and-why-you-cant-change-it/article625547/
Native Americans: http://www.history.com/topics/native-american-history/american-indian-wars
John Wayne: http://sites.austincc.edu/caddis/great-plains-wars/

Intrusive Interactions

By Sunny Reed

Being a South Korean adoptee in an all-white New Jersey town was tough. Racism was sandwiched between episodic public speculations like “Where are you from? No, where are you really from?” and “What is your REAL name?”

Sara Docan-Morgan, professor at the University of Wisconsin, calls those awkward questions “intrusive interactions.” Today’s article scrutinizes these behaviors and their impact on an adoptee’s racial identity and sense of belonging.

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Korean Adoptees’ Retrospective Reports of Intrusive Interactions: Exploring Boundary Management in Adoptive Families
Sara Docan-Morgan

Article Summary

Visible racial differences between intercountry adoptees and their families sometimes invite unwanted “intrusive interactions,” those comments and inquiries that are uncomfortably invasive and question an adoptee’s race and personal history. Docan-Morgan identifies five categories of interactions and three response methods. The article suggests that intrusive interaction studies are necessary for rewriting the definition of family.

Key Points

  • Intrusive interactions question the legitimacy of an adoptee’s family role
  • Five types of intrusive interactions exist: relational comments/questions, compliments, stares, mistaken identities, and adoptee-only interactions
  • Labeling and explaining, defending, and joking were typical responses
  • Preparing prospective adoptive parents for these interactions can educate parents  pre-adoption

Discussion

Intercountry adoptees want to belong, but continuously addressing their race and family relationships destabilizes their sense of security. Five types of intrusive interactions were identified, with the most common being relational comments/questions. These are the ones best known as, “Is that your daughter?”, “Is that your real brother?” and “How much did she cost?” Since so many of us have encountered these questions, it’s reassuring to see that implications of such prying queries are being taken seriously.

I often bristled at these questions, only to be accused of being overly sensitive to people’s natural curiosity. However, if those same questions were posed to a biological or in-race child (“How was your pregnancy?” or “Did you have a water birth or hospital room?”) it would likely be viewed as inappropriate and wildly out of line. I wonder how appropriate it would be to ask about the couple’s fertility and its influence on adoption;  I’d cynically speculate some people are using the adoptee to get to this highly personal information.

For some reason though, an adoptee’s visible difference from their families makes them an acceptable target for misplaced curiosity. Compliments, a second type of intrusive interaction, objectify the adoptee and for Asian adoptees, keep them stuck as perpetual foreigners in the United States.

Stares were the only non-verbal intrusive interactions and more difficult for adoptees to address, since there was no appropriate way to confront the behavior. Ironically, adoptees were the ones peppered with inappropriate questions their entire lives, yet were too polite to speak up when it would have been warranted.

The most uncomfortable interactions were mistaken identity/relationships. Adoptees reported being mistaken for exchange students, hired help, or romantic partners (one adoptee was even greeted with a hearty, “Welcome to America!” while at a party). Not only were these interactions awkward for all involved, they “highlighted the discourse of the dependent nature of adoptive family members’ bonds. Rather than being unquestionable, these bonds were the source of others’ confusion and had to be reaffirmed through language.”

While some adoptees didn’t find the questioning to be intrusive (only annoying or merely curious), engaging in “boundary management” with strangers and even other adoptees caused understandable discomfort. Regardless of an adoptee’s reaction to the intrusive behaviors, it was common for adoptees to experience frustration at having to explain away their existence with the only family they’d ever known.

According to this limited study, adoptees interpreted these interactions differently depending on how the parents responded. If a parent responded in a joking way, it helped instill a sense of pride and belonging in the adoptee. Most adoptees reported some level of satisfaction with their family’s replies, but expressed an overall negative perception of themselves after each interaction.

Since this study relied on an adoptee’s memories, it is possible some of the memories become distorted or forgotten; however, I’d argue that these questions remain vividly woven into an adoptee’s history. Note the study focused only on Korean adoptees, whose political and historical presence in the United States differs from other intercountry and transracial adoptees. Despite these limitations, this is significant research since it provides prospective adoptive parents with a chance to preemptively address potential challenges.

Detailed demographics of the adoptees’ communities would be interesting for future studies. In a previous article, I discussed my own unfortunate experiences and several commenters mentioned that their communities were more diverse than mine, so future studies should take that into consideration. Still, this doesn’t discredit the histories of these adoptees, as their stories will help shape the future of adoption.

Your turn! Have you experienced intrusive interactions? How did you and/or your family respond? I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

Yellow Snow

yellow snow

I grew up on a dairy farm in rural Minnesota. Minnesota is a state, located in the north central region of the United States and borders Canada. Most people do not know the most northern point of the lower 48 states is located in Minnesota. It should be no surprise to learn Minnesota ranks in the top ten states for being the coldest and having the most snowfall. The Minnesota winters are known for dumping heavy wet blankets of lake-effect snow and its frigid temperatures.

If you live in a Northern climate, you gain experiences that only those who live in that region can understand. One learns to watch the weather the night before to know if one should plug in their car so the radiator will not freeze overnight. You learn to bundle up in loose layers to keep out the cold. As kids you learn not to lick metal surfaces when its below freezing otherwise you freeze your tongue on the object licked. Lastly, one learns to never eat yellow snow.

The straw stain that pops out against the white background is the recording of a human or animal’s presence as they relieve themselves in the great outdoors. This mustard stain that violates the white backdrop symbolizes discarded waste and something that is disgusting. Waste of course, is thrown away because it has no value. Garbage is ugly to look at and is an eyesore to the beauty that surrounds us. We put a lot of effort to hide, throw away and rid ourselves of trash. This is the way I felt during my childhood. I lived a childhood where I was taught I had no importance or value. I was the real living breathing ugly duckling. Worse yet, I was Asian. I symbolized that urine yellow stain in the snow.

The counselor at school insisted I take an IQ test and even though I tested a couple of deviations above the norm, I was placed in a “special” class. In the 5 years I was forced to attend this class, I befriended a boy named Raymond. The general public knew Raymond was intellectually disabled. My friend’s face seemed distorted, his pants seemed bulky due to the diaper he wore and his gait could be described as a stumbling walk. Many children mad fun of Raymond’s speech, his simple, s-l-o-w, slurred replies were the brunt of many jokes. I refused to partake in the taunts because I learned Raymond was a human being and like myself, he had feelings and ideas of his own.

After spending “special” classes with him for nearly 5 years, we grew to become great friends. I learned that Raymond loved collecting baseball cards and he would bring extra candy to class to share with me. Some people have asked me whether attending this special program hamper my intellectual growth. It may have but it also allowed me to learn a valuable life lesson. I learned to have compassion for all people. Black, white, yellow, tan, brown … the color of people did not matter. I believe that individuals who have a strong support network can do anything. Nothing can limit an individual in obtaining their dreams and goals. Little did I realize that Raymond and I had much more in common. Like Raymond, I also had to cope with being different, stared at and labeled as an outsider by society.

There was a kid that tormented me on the school bus. He was in high school and I was in first grade. It started out with threats and then it turned into gut punches. He hated me for being Asian. I hid this shame to myself and it was exposed when he took a permanent marker and used it to spell “gook” and “chink” on my face. The physical torment continued on when I entered high school. I endured an occasional punch, oratory lashings, and the constant fear that I would get beaten up. A kid several grades below me would twist my tiny frame into a pretzel on the long journey on the yellow school bus. My thin, waifish 16 year old Asian 100lb frame was no match for his 6ft 2in frame. He was the corn-fed farmer’s son who took pleasure in bending my small frame into a pretzel in the back of the bus. I was forced to feel the shame alone. I felt helpless, emasculated, and humiliated.

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I felt further castrated by being taught that I was undatable. I was no match for the jocks. They were strong and good looking. I didn’t belong to the geeks because they were at least smart. I was the outsider to the outsiders. Being raised on a dairy farm meant I had to pull my weight with the chores. I had to carry heavy bushel baskets full of feed through manure covered feed lots and clean the calf pens each morning. I was the target of hate as I arrived to school with a distinct smell of cow faeces. I was the smelly kid in class because my adoptive parents did not allow me to shower before arriving to school. Then to add insult to injury, I was also the brunt of all fashion jokes. I often wore old “hand-me-downs”, garage sale and KMART specials. Needless to say, I was not popular at school.

Not only did I feel belittled but I also felt stupid. I had poor grades. I often fell asleep in class and also at night when I did my homework. My parents never helped me with my homework and without a tutor or a peer to  study with, I had nobody to learn from. Many nights I stared into the blank pages of my text books and wondered about the meanings of the literary works or the simple algebraic equations. Nothing made sense to me.

Fear gripped the depths of my soul. Fear of the unknown. Fear for my own future. Later on, when I became an adult I learnt the proper name of the fear that prevented me from doing just about anything. This thing that had a chokehold on my life was called anxiety. My adopted parents described this behavior as being wimpy.

When I did overcome my fears, my behavior could be described as socially awkward. I didn’t know how to act around people because I had little interactions. Other times I would ramble and stay glued to a person because I was so starved for attention. No matter what the scenario, I would act inappropriately and my parents would later reprimand me verbally for my short comings. I never had a chance to be a kid or do simple things such as go to movies, watch popular TV shows, or hang out with friends. It was never an option. I was lacking in personal skills because I was isolated. I had no identity. I was simply a small kid alone in this big world.

boy cryingMy adoptive parents never thought to teach me about my Korean heritage. It never occurred to them to buy me a book about my ethnic origins. When I inquired, they refused to allow me to look at my own adoption paperwork. I was reminded I was American and told to be grateful. I was only taught about their Scandinavian roots. Racial issues that I brought up were immediately dismissed. It was met with the question of what I might have done to provoke someone or it was replied that this was a part of life and I had to toughen up. They called it “tough love”.

When they sicked the dog on me and howled with laughter when the dog tore into my flesh, it was supposedly done out of love too. I never felt like their child. Then again, most parents don’t do these things to their kids. Furthermore, society did not view us as a family either. The mismatch of large, looming Caucasian parents and tiny Asian children looked like the giant bearded lady and dwarf in a circus freak show. I felt awkward showing my face in public. People gawked at us when we entered the room. Our strangeness gave total strangers the courage to walk up and pry into my personal life asking questions like, “Hey are you getting married to your own kind? Are you Chinese? Japanese? Vietnamese?” I have even been mistaken to be Native American, Mexican, and Eskimo. Nobody in Minnesota seemed to know of the existance of a group of people called Koreans. With all this questioning and odd looks I wondered as a child if I was the only Korean left alive on God’s green earth?

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A guidance counselor in my high school year was blunt with me when I walked into his office for the mandatory visit. I answered truthfully when he asked me what I wanted to do after high school. I told him I wanted to attend college and work in healthcare. The man told me in a stern voice that I was not college material and that I would steal an opportunity away from someone more deserving. I wondered if he would have said the same things to a Caucasian boy with poor grades? Did he take into consideration the hand I was dealt as child of being bullied, thrusted into child labor and a person who had all self esteem pummeled out of him? I have always wondered why he never offered any encouragement. Isn’t this what guidance counselors are supposed to do? To give individuals the best route towards the goals they were aiming for? Like the rest of the community I grew up in, he saw no value in me. But I ignored all the negativity I faced through out my childhood and focused on achieving everything said to be impossible.

The best way that I could explain my childhood was to compare it to a prison. A small, cold dirty Mexican prison. I was isolated from people. I was not allowed to pursue things I was curious about. My life was filled with hard manual labor, misery, abuse and filth. Despite these beginnings and the statistical chance of being successful, I persevered. I took remedial college course and taught myself how to write simple sentences. I studied evenings and learned the math I was unfamiliar with. I observed people and learned to shed my social awkwardness. I opened myself up to possibilities and fell in love. After several attempts, I married and was blessed with two wonderful children. I earned five degrees and two were graduate degrees from a reputable university. I traveled to more than 40 countries across the globe. One of the countries I visited was my birth country and I found my biological family. I have dined with presidents and met with dignitaries. I can say that I have had a fruitful life and entered into a profession as the CFO of hospitals.

I hope in telling my story, I can encourage others to take steps to push away their fears. I experienced numerous years of conditioning from others saying I was not good enough, strong enough or capable. I encourage everyone to break free from the chains of violence, hate, and anger. I tried as hard as they did in breaking me and I reached for the impossible. I made it despite the odds!

I encourage you to take a chance on yourself. You are worth the wait!

Reflections on the Navajo Reservation and What a Smile Can Do

The Navajo Reservation looks like this alien, lunar landscape that is perfect but extreme, tough to navigate, but surreal all at the same time.

It glows with eternity on its side, in a realm we can’t enter unless we’re a part of it. There is a trailer beside an unreal hill that is towering, smooth and dark in places. It’s like an underbelly where areas are upturned.

This terrain is tough to know firsthand.

Its expansive world. Ancient canyons. Mesas towering with time.

I can relate to this landscape because to me this vast terrain shows aspects of myself as an intercountry adoptee. As an adult, I can’t take back what has changed over time. However, I can live my life and try to make it better.

And help others, especially the ones I relate to.

At the school library, at first I don’t know what to do. I start munching on these lemon-flavored potato chips hidden in one of my drawers, that I bought on a different on my lunch break at the gas station next door. I recall how these chips first tasted weird to me. Now, I’m totally hooked.

Every bite tastes tangy but good.

After eating some potato chips, I remembered a goal that I’d written in a curriculum map that I made for the school library a month ago. This month in December, I planned to introduce Caldecott and Newbery book awards to the kids. So throughout the day, I made bibliography reference guides.

Throughout the day I also had interactions with children.

One interaction that stands out most was with Lena, a kindergartener with thin glasses and a matter-of-fact tone to her voice. She has long brown hair, is always pointing things out blatantly and has a dry sense of humor.

I swiveled in my chair at the desk around 2 p.m., and there she was, standing there, picking her nose for who knows how long.

And not just picking, but digging.

“Lena,” I said, “I think it’d be good if you gained a habit of using a tissue. We have tissues right there,” and pointed to a tissue box at the desk.

Lena frowned and kept staring hard at me. She removed her finger from her nose and handed me her book. I took her book and checked it out slowly, avoiding the potential danger zones of where her boogers might be lurking.

While trying not to make my efforts obvious.

“This looks like an interesting book Lena,” I said, “Enjoy reading it.”

I slowly handed the book back to her, as she still wore a serious expression on her face. Her expression made me think about things.

In that moment, I contemplated the reasons why I’m here at this library and chose to work on the Navajo Reservation in the first place. I wasn’t here to tell the kids what to do. Or to help Lena stop her habit of picking her nose. She’s in kindergarten and I was being hard on her, the way I’m hard on myself.

These kids are Navajo. Many live out in hogans and trailers that are scattered throughout the miles of open ranges on the Navajo Reservation. Some live with at-risk family members or are at-risk themselves, as alcoholism and drugs are a few issues out here. And, the kids’ literacy levels are effected by having to learn their native language and English too.

I’m a librarian but giving them just books is not the main reason why I’m here. I’m here, to support this community in the ways I can.

I decided to smile at Lena. And this is when Lena smiled. It looked as if she were glowing herself, beaming with this wide, open smile.

“Thank you, Ms. Flood,” Lena said in a chirpy voice, and I could see true, genuine happiness in her facial expression.

“You’re welcome, Lena,” I said, my heart bursting.

At the end of the day, I’d finished my bag of lemon-flavored potato chips and my book lists, and was soaring on the shuttle back to Flagstaff, staring again at alien-looking terrain and upturned cinder hills.

In my mind, I contemplated on my interaction with Lena. I realised all Lena needed, was a smile.

Funny thing is, I think that’s all I needed too.

STEPH’S DISCUSSION QUESTION

Q: How do you feel adoption has changed the way you live your life? Has this changed any views of yourself or the world?