Pop Culture and People of Colour

by Benjamin Kelleher, born in Brazil of African origins and adopted to Australia.

Has pop culture and the thirst for Americanised TV and media viewing, masked, diluted, or interfered with the process of transracial adoptees connecting to their biological history?

What sparked my questioning of the media juggernaut was the recent passing of an important date in my own heritage. 13 May 2022 marked the 134 year anniversary of the day the country of Brazil officially abolished slavery. Being an Afro-Brazilian intercountry adoptee, you can imagine my interest in the civil rights movement, Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and any topic which covers the modern history of the greater African diaspora and this date in particular.

But you may ask, why my initial question? Well, what some may not know, is the fact that whilst estimates vary from source to source, roughly 40% of the Africans forcefully removed and relocated to the new worlds during the transatlantic slave trade ended up in Brazil as opposed to the 10% the USA received. Another fact is that whilst Great Britain outlawed slavery in 1807, the US in 1865 — Brazil was officially the last of the western world to abolish Slavery in 1888. So, in essence whilst the championed President Lincoln was setting slaves free in the US, Brazil had another 23 years of economic corner cutting, on the backs of African people.

With the death of George Floyd and the BLM movement striking TV’s, phones and anything with a screen in 2020, the plight of the black man was again thrust into world view and a talking point for many all over the globe. Many again looked to the USA with raised eyebrows as to the institutionalised treatment of people of colour (POC). Over the next year the BLM movement took shape in many countries. What I certainly don’t remember seeing any reports on, was the fact that in 2021 according to the Washington post, 56% of Brazil’s population were black yet made up 79% of deaths by police in that same year. 2021 also saw 67% of the prison population noted as black people.

Being adopted to Australia, I find at times I am somewhat perplexed that we can have such a plethora of movies, books, documentaries, blogs, and podcasts that will feed a need for knowledge on this topic when specifically talking about the American history. Yet, to find the same level of information on countries such as Brazil, or even the Australian history of how we have treated our own indigenous and POC, one must be willing to do a bit more digging and legwork.

Speaking from a transracial adoptee perspective, I can see how this would not affect my peers of Anglo complexion to any great length. Yet for those of us, who at times may have struggled with or found it challenging to form connections with our biological history and to a degree identity, this seems to form another hurdle on the road of complexities that can be the intercountry adoption lived experience.

So again, I conclude my rant by asking, are we losing a greater sense of world history and narrowing our field of view when it comes to the history of a multitude of ethnicities and POC in a bid to continue to devour American pop culture through media and as a by-product, it’s historical views?

You can follow Benjamin @ Insta on the_quiet_adoptee or check out his short interview at our Video Resource.

Resources

Africa Enslaved

Sue-Yen Bylund on Racism

On 3 April 2022, a group of 19 Australian intercountry adoptees participated in an ICAV consultation for the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) who have developed a Concept Paper for a National Anti-Racism Framework. We believe intercountry/transracial adoptees are under represented in race discussions in almost every adoptive country and wanted to make sure we had a say. The next few blogs will be a selection of the inputs from adoptees who participated to give a more nuanced insight into our lived experience of racism and our thoughts on what needs to be done to better support us.

by Sue-Yen Bylund, adopted from Vietnam to Australia, ICAV VIC Representative

Racism is here to stay. It is enmeshed in the very fabric of society, at every level. It manifests within us as individuals, at a systemic level pervading our policies and practices, reflected in our interpersonal behaviours and is accumulated and compounded in the base structures of our history, culture and ideology.

In order to mitigate the harm caused by racism we must be actively anti-racist. It is not enough to merely be “not racist”, as this, often results in a passive racism, which is as equally toxic as overt racism. Tolerance is a poor substitute for acceptance. Tolerance offers tokenism and indifference. Acceptance offers a place for all voices, a public validation as individuals and a genuine place at the table to self-determination.

Every person carries their racial biases differently. Acknowledgment of these biases on a personal individual level is important, however being open to listening, validating and accepting the experiences of others takes courage. 

My expectation within this forum, is to offer to an opportunity to broaden the discussion of anti-racism to embrace all forms and manifestations of racism within Australian society today. To offer encouragement to address the complex “grey” zones of racism. Through this broadening a more mature collective and inclusive voice will evolve, which I believe Australia is ready to share with the world.

The foundations of my identity lie amongst the chaos of war time Vietnam 1974. Within the first 3 weeks of my life, I experienced my initiation into the full audio and aromatic reality of war, surrounded by screaming and traumatised children and adults. Racial identity did not protect any of us from the horrors, what we all absorbed would remain forever with us as visceral burdens to tame. War and terror are the greatest levellers in stripping even the bravest to the very foundations of humanity. And then in one swift spin of the planet I would find myself a world away in the eerie quiet and calmness of Perth, Western Australia. This journey would also mark the beginning of a life’s self-education of racial fluidity. Being one heart and soul, but a chameleon of racial identities. Born of one culture, raised in another, looking as though I belong to one group, but in at my core, I belong to another, the duplicity and fluidity is complex and exhausting.

The need to feel safe, accepted, understood and validated seems to be a naturally human pursuit. As an intercountry adoptee the journey is complex and confusing. We slip into the cracks of racial stereotypes offering up apologetically a reason for inclusion or explanation for exclusion. Either way no matter where we are in our communities we are an anomaly. We are constantly offered up as a reminder that a book shouldn’t be judged by its cover and if you care to listen carefully, you will hear the simple request for safety and acceptance.

My childhood cultural identity was shaped through the lens of middle class suburban 1970’s Australia. It was fortunate that the primary school I went to attracted a good proportion of Asian immigrant families. This enabled me, at a young age to observe the “other” type of Asian. The Asian person who spoke the language, ate the food, complied with the Asian cultural norms, while they themselves were carving out the unique existence in post “White Australia Policy” era. It was clear to me from the very beginning that I was an “Asian variant”. I was to experience racial prejudice from all sides. My immediate family comprised of a white Australian adoptive mother, a white Dutch (first generation migrant) adoptive father and their two biological white sons. Straddling my home and school environments I began to acknowledge the fragmented racial identity which was uniquely mine.

I would learn to instinctively navigate the pros and cons of racial profiling expressed by adults and classmates. At times it afforded me a shield to hide behind, at other times it just bewildered me at how ignorant and entitled people could be. 

Teachers would regard me with the marginalising stereotype of female Asian student, this meant that no matter what I did, or didn’t do, I was considered polite, conscientious and studious. This enabled me to glide through my studies relatively smoothly. Where this backfired was when I would be herded together with all the Asian “look-a-likes” to be given special instructions in Chinese/Cambodian/Vietnamese. There were always a few of us that would simply shrug our shoulders, knowing it was too hard to explain to the teachers that English was in fact our only language. 

Classmate interactions were more complex. While they seemed to want to flex their insecurities through bullying behaviours, I suspect they would often leave these bullying interactions more confused and with increased insecurities about themselves. They would corner me and spit out racial slurs “Ching Chong!”, “Go back to where you came from!”, “Asians out!” with the standard accompanying slanted eye gesture. I learnt very early to lean into the bullying. To not turn away in shame or embarrassment, I summoned the  airs of entitlement I learnt from my white Australian family. It was an educational opportunity. I would not show weakness. So armed with a vocabulary not generally associated with a small Asian female of 11 years I would lean in and say with a perfect Aussie twang, “Get f***ed you immature ignorant bigot!” While they processed the response in stunned silence, I was already half down the hall or across the oval. When I think back to those times, I know in my heart I still hold a deep resentment toward those who racially vilified me. The fact I could still name those individuals today shows how deeply it affected me. I built a wall to protect myself, a tough persona that would later in life be softened with self-depreciating humour. 

Humour has become one of the most powerful tools for disarming awkwardness though it should be noted that humour can only be genuinely offered by me (the vilified) otherwise it can have the effect of adding insult or increasing alienation.

Australian society in general is getting better at navigating racially blended families. However, there have been times where an awkward visual double take or racial slur has been reconsidered once formal introductions have concluded. 

For example, my adoptive mother is the personified “white saviour” heroine and therefore in this narrative, I embody the role of a grateful saved soul. There is no place in this narrative version for reality and it only serves to perpetuate the stereotypes. This distilled classification of our relationship as an adoptive mother and daughter has resulted in a chasm of empathy where my experience of racial prejudice and marginalisation cannot be reconciled with my adoptive mother’s version of my lived experience. She cannot/will not acknowledge that I have/do experience any racial prejudice. It’s unfathomable and therefore remains a taboo subject between us. I would suggest a classic case of “colour blindness” which is the most common manifestation of passive racism. Let me strongly suggest that racial “colour blindness” is not a positive construct to build a relationship in. I don’t advocate for a monochrome world. It cancels out important conversations that need to be had to build empathy and understanding. It bypasses the integral act of individual and collective validation.

A typical interaction in a social setting with my white husband, would start with a few awkward glances while people assessed my proficiency in English. Once the conversation has warmed up a little, the question is always asked “How did you two meet each other?” At this point all newbies begin listening in the hope to hear some spectacular Tinder dating app story with me gaining Australian citizenship when we married. Sad to say the story takes an epic sad tone when it is revealed I was a baby from the Viet Nam war. The conversation moves very quickly from one set of stereotypes to another. The chameleon game is afoot. We have now moved into the Viet Nam war genre and to be honest the racial stereotypes are just as nauseating. As the conversation peters out, I am left with a very uncomfortable feeling that I might be the daughter of a B-Grade war romance story of a soldier and prostitute but on the positive side, I have ruled out that I am a “mail order bride” from Asia desperate to get my claws into a rich white “sugar daddy”. Either way, I always leave these gatherings feeling like I have shared way too much about myself, simply to justify my equal status at the table of white Australians. Needless to say, it’s exhausting and incredibly invasive. At times my inner evil chameleon just wants to re-enforce the stereotypes rather than use my life as an education case study. In the end I see curiosity is better than fear and putting examples forward and building knowledge is a slow continuous but necessary journey.

With regards to my children, I am conscious that they physically are racially ambiguous. They could have genetic origins from various backgrounds, but once I stand next to them then it becomes evident their dark features come from me and they are of Asian origins. My daughter has experienced racial slurs from having an Asian looking mother. It wasn’t until she spent her gap year in Viet Nam that she developed her own understanding of her origins. She has in fact spent more time in Viet Nam than me. 

School parent social groups are an interesting micro society and navigating them is a full-time job. In the private school my children attended I had two very distinct social groups that I interacted with. One was a group of Asian looking mothers where I felt like an honouree member. I learnt Asian cultural things and etiquette that I didn’t get elsewhere. I did a lot of listening. The other group were all Anglo-Saxon looking mothers and I was dubbed the “token” Asian (humorous chameleon!) These girlfriends understood how I saw the world. It’s in these situations that I reflect on the sophistication of my chameleon gift and in a positive moment reflect on the bridges I can construct between the groups just through listening and sharing.

There is a niche and powerful position that intercountry adoptees have in the conversation around racism and prejudice. It’s borne from the hybrid and fluid nature of our self-identities. We exist in the space between cultures and races. The triumphal story of our survival is in fact a narrative of weaving together of cultures, racial identity, tolerance and acceptance. Intercountry adoptees must reconcile the disparity between the physical and internal nature of racial identity, because at every turn we are challenging the stereotypes and presumptions. As an Asian in white Australia, we challenge the mainstream colonial stereotypes, as an Asian in Asia, we find ourselves challenging the long-held stereotypes in our birth culture. We belong to both yet neither wholly. 

If I was to consider the future of racism in context of Australia, I would continue to raise the challenge to government and individuals to embrace the complexity. Find the words, create the platforms, lead with optimism. Systemic racism embedded in the policies and practices by government and institutions needs to be constantly questioned and reviewed to ensure it leads in activating change. Structural racism that unpins mainstream think-tanks needs to be shaken loose. It is an uncomfortable and confronting task, but I believe Australia is mature enough to take this task on. Interpersonal racism is very difficult to navigate as an intercountry adoptee, but the freedom to express an alternate reality from the stereotypes is a good platform to build upon. Internalised racism is insipid and so very damaging. We want to move from passive tolerance to active validation of individuals. 

Ongoing political bi-partisan support for research and consultation is an essential investment to engage in effective societal change. A firm commitment to reviewing and evaluating key milestones is required for accountability and integrity.  Educational resources coupled with public awareness and youth engagement are core to developing a more mature future for all Australians.

For more from Sue-Yen, read her ANZAC Day Reflections, her contribution to What’s in a Name? and advocacy with Green’s Senator meeting.

Resource

Read ICAVs small collation on Color blindness in Adoption

Gabbie Beckley on Racism

On 3 April 2022, a group of 19 Australian intercountry adoptees participated in an ICAV consultation for the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) who have developed a Concept Paper for a National Anti-Racism Framework. We believe intercountry/transracial adoptees are under represented in race discussions in almost every adoptive country and wanted to make sure we had a say. The next few blogs will be a selection of the inputs from adoptees who participated to give a more nuanced insight into our lived experience of racism and our thoughts on what needs to be done to better support us.

by Gabbie Beckley, adopted from Sri Lanka to Australia, clinical social worker.

Speaking out against racism is everyone’s responsibility

I have experienced many and varied forms of racism in my 40 years of living, walking and breathing in this world. It has impacted me in so many ways, how do I write them all down? I have grown up navigating this white washed world as a proud woman of colour, however being proud of who I am and what I have become in my life are not mutually exclusive. It has taken a lot of hard work, soul searching and conscious reflection many times over to become the most evolved person I am to date, and I am constant work in progress.

I have many family stories of racism, ones which now can be seen for what they were, in the time and place and the generational context from the speaker, not a reflection of my family as a whole.

One of the earliest memories I have is being told that a member of my family said, “No black child is going to carry my name!” But once I was put into my family member’s arms, all the racist bullshit fell away and I was treated like everyone else. As I grew up, I in turn had great love and respect for this person, I forgave their ignorance and focussed on our shared love of cricket and footy!

I have had experiences during my primary school years that I can still remember as if it were yesterday. Being kicked in the shins for sticking up of myself, for getting into physical altercations with racist bullies. For having teachers say to me, “I am ashamed to come from the same country as you”.

I have been called the N word more times than I can count. I have experienced overt, covert, intentional and unintentional racism throughout my life. I have been racially profiled by the police, been followed around in shopping centres by security guards.

I have worked in workplaces where people have said to me “where are you from” and what about your “real parents”.  I have had people say to me, “Your English is so good for someone who was not born here”. I have had a boss not talk to me for months at a time because of something he perceived I had done wrong. But it wasn’t the case, he was just a racist asshole and I was so glad to leave that workplace and step into the workplace of my dreams!

 I have not being given opportunities to further my career because of people’s attitudes, resentments and petty jealousy, which really boils down to, we don’t want to work for a person of colour.

I have been underestimated, dismissed, undervalued and not seen my whole life, which is why I probably am drawn to social work and the fight for the underdog and to try and dismantle the structural inequalities that remain so entrenched in our society.

I am a fighter, I am a social justice warrior, I am a firm believer in the power to make a difference and a positive impact on people’s actions, I believe in kindness and giving people a fair-go.

How has this impacted me? Well I consider myself as a person who thinks and reflects deeply about my actions and decisions. I have had the “what to do if you are stopped by the police” conversation with my children, in the wake of the well published murders of George Floyd, Tamar Rice, Brianna Taylor, and not to forget the tragic tale of our first nations peoples with the highest incarceration rate for young people and all the Black deaths in custody in which no-one is or has been accountable. I am sad, I am angry, I am dismayed that this is the current state of affairs that my children and I live in. Yet I do have hope – hope that we can build a community that brings about change, to work with like-minded individuals who share my passion and drive for positive change.

My experiences of racism have shaped the person I am, the parent I am and the social worker that I am. It impacts on my thoughts, actions and deeds. I am mindful with how people view me, I am respectful in the face of racist pigs, and I refuse to be drawn down to their level. I think it has had an impact on my mental health when I was younger, it caused a lot of self-doubt and searching for my place in this world.

I think that one of my saving graces has been the reconnection with my birth family and culture. Getting to know them is getting to know myself! I have spent the last 22 years knowing, growing and loving my family and I am thankful every day that I sit in a unique position where I am part of two worlds and I can sit comfortably in both. 

What would I suggest be done to better address the racism experienced by intercountry/ transracial adoptees?

I believe that adoption does not have to be the first resort. I believe that keeping family together in their birth countries with support via sponsorship/ education/ income generating activities would be beneficial to adoptees in general but specifically in terms of their mental health and connection to their roots and cultures. If adoptions do have to occur – maintaining a relationship with family is imperative! This includes birth parents, aunties, uncles, cousins, grandparents and siblings.

There needs to be a greater emphasis on the adopter’s thoughts and feelings in relation to adopting a child of colour. Deep dive into their history and experiences, get them to take annual courses on the impact of racism and how to be an anti-racism ally/ advocate. Ask them to look at their friendship circles, is it diverse? Does it represent a wide range of culturally appropriate, socio-economic, gender diverse people?

I think we should try collectively to share our stories and experiences, in the hope that with great knowledge comes great responsibility – and that is everyone’s business!

For more from Gabbie, read her paper shared years ago and included on our Research page: Human Rights & Social Justice in Intercountry Adoption

The Significance of Adoptee Eyes

by Alexis Bartlett, adopted from South Korea to Australia; their adoptee art project can be found at Art by Alexis Bartlett.

YoungHee’s Eyes by Alexis Bartlett

In continuing on with my adoptee portraits and drawing lots of eyes lately, it got me thinking about my own story and history, eyes playing a strange role.

I always hated my eyes as I was growing up. Part of the difficulty growing up as an adoptee is that we just want to be like those around us. It was always disappointing to me when I’d look in the mirror and see these brown, Korean eyes staring back at me because they were nothing like those around me, or those who were meant to be my family. I still go through periods where I really want to get the infamous Korean eye surgery done (to give myself a double eyelid, and hence the illusion of larger, less Asian eyes) because I think there will always be a part of me that I can’t fully embrace for who I am. But I have a little guy looking to me now as a mum; a little guy who I want to have grow up loving himself just the way he is. And I feel it would only be contradictory for me to alter myself while telling him he should love himself for the way he is.

It’s so hard, but self love is so important. And that’s so hard to have when you’re adopted because not only do you know (from a VERY young age) that there was some reason as to why you weren’t wanted, but we grow up around people who look nothing like us. It might seem trivial, but trust me, it isn’t. Representation is important, especially coming from those who are meant to be closest to you. Anyway, YoungHee here, has amazing eyes.

To see more of Alexis’s adoptee portraits, check them out, click on each image.

For those who don’t access Facebook, here are some of what Alexis has shared for these portraits as a reflection of her own journey:

“It’s nice to paint people who are “like me”. I’m only just coming to terms with… myself, in many ways. I’ve been trying to get my head around my adoption trauma all my life; something that’s manifested itself in various ways over the years. I was a terrified, lonely kid (although, to be fair, I love solitude) who wanted to be accepted but couldn’t be because I could never accept myself and just be myself.”

“A lot of people don’t want to hear the experiences of adoptees; they’re too confronting, too challenging to the happy ideals people go into adoption with. Many of us are angry with misunderstanding, having been silenced by the happy side of adoption that people want to believe in.”

“I was a very lonely kid. I’ve always found it difficult, if not impossible, to make genuine friendships with people, and I always knew I was different to my adoptive family; many of whom excluded me from things, anyway. Art was all I had, much of the time.”

“For me, belonging has always been a struggle. I have my own little family now where I finally have a true sense of belonging, but other than that, it’s pretty sparse. I’ve been made very aware recently that I’ll never truly belong or fit in with my biological family, and I’ve never truly fitted in with my adoptive family either. Finding the Korean adoptee community has been immensely important to me though and I feel super honoured that I can share my fellow adoptees’ experiences and stories. Thanks, guys.”

My Father’s Death Anniversary

by My Huong Le adopted from Viet Nam to Australia (living in Viet Nam); Co-Founder of Viet Nam Family Search; Director of Nhà Xã Hôi Long Hài.

My Huong’s father, Elbert

I started the quest for the truth of my life when I was a teenager. Despite being told my mother had died, I sent a letter to an address in Vietnam when I was 16 and amazingly, I received a reply. She told me about my childhood and gave me information on who my father was.

In 1989, I searched for this man who had been an Australian soldier in Vietnam, but sadly he had already died. I did a DNA test with potential siblings, but it wasn’t conclusive as DNA testing 30 years ago didn’t have the accuracy that it does today. Nonetheless, I accepted them as being family and over the years I got to know them well and love them dearly.

In 2004, I returned to Vietnam. Having long lost written contact, I searched for my mother and was reunited with her. 14 years later, I received a text message giving details of another woman to be my birth mother. This was to unravel everything I had believed and sent me on an emotional roller coaster.

That following day, was the first time in 47 years that I embraced my true mother. She stroked my hair and through tears in her eyes told me all she ever wanted was to see me before she died.

My Huong’s mother honouring Elbert

That same day, when I showed my mother a photo of who I thought was my father, she said it wasn’t. It turns out that as my mother lay unconscious after having a severe haemorrhage after giving birth to me, two friends from the city came to visit. One of them told my grandmother she would take me to Can Tho and care for me while my mother was sick. My grandmother had my two half siblings at home, two of her own children and with my mother seriously ill, she agreed. Six weeks after my mother recovered, she went to Can Tho to see her friend to bring me home, but this lady had vanished. My mother then spent years in vain searching for me.

The fake woman stole me, telling her boyfriend that he was the father, to convince him to remain with her. She had me taken to her hometown to be cared for by her parents, with everyone believing that she had given birth to me in the city. Nobody was none the wiser. How somebody can be that cruel and deceiving, plotting such an evil scheme is incomprehensible.

My Huong and her mother celebrating her father’s death Anniversary

Having new information from my mother, I set out to search for my birth father. In October 2019 through doing a DNA Ancestry test, I had several close matches with relatives and learnt that my father had already died. Given that he was 20 years older than my mother I wasn’t surprised. What is tragic is that 6 siblings had also died. My eldest sister died four months prior to me finding the family and the remaining died too young. I am fortunate that one sister, Joy, is still alive.

I am very blessed to now be in contact with cousins, nieces, nephews and their children. A week ago, I got to speak to my Aunt Gloria. What she said touched me deeply and afterwards I was filled with a lot of emotion and cried tears of joy and grief.

I could question, why, why, why forever, but what good would that do. The fake women’s web of lies has caused deep wounds. All she ever wanted was financial gain. I always forgave and supported her, believing she was my mother, but she is nothing but a master liar, deceiver and manipulator and has no remorse or regard for anybody. As a result of her actions, I have been robbed of so much time that could have been spent with my true mother and I could have found my father’s side of the family sooner.

I know though I must now focus on the present and am daily thankful to God. He has moved mountains in my life, revealed the truth, and above all my sweet mother is living with me. I am surrounded by a large loving family in Vietnam and I am building relationship with family in the USA who have all been so accepting of me. I hope next year it will be possible to travel there to meet them in person.

Anyway, my Aunt Gloria is 89 and is the only remaining sibling of my father’s. Through all my new found relatives I am learning about those I never got to meet, my father, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles. I have been given many photos and articles which are priceless gifts.

Elbert, bottom right with his twin brother Albert next to him and two brothers behind them.

My father comes from an exceptional family of 11 children. 9 boys and 2 girls. My grandmother in 1947 was voted “Mother of the Year” by the Naval Air Station as all her 9 sons served in the military at some point. My father joined the navy in 1941 and was at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed. He served 5 years in the navy then enlisted in the Army. My father served in WW 11, Japan, Korea and Vietnam.

According to my mother, my father was a very kind and handsome man. More than anything, he gave her the greatest gift, that of a daughter. Today at my mother’s insistence and according to Vietnamese culture we celebrated his death anniversary. In Vietnamese this is known as đám giỗ.

I have always tried to live a life that is pleasing to God and that would honour my parents.

Today I honour my father on his 30th death anniversary. I also said a special prayer for my siblings.

Read My Huong’s other blogs at ICAV:
My Mother
Evacuation out of Vietnam on 20 April

Sold via adoption on the Gypsy black market in Greece

by Roula Maria stolen from Greece and adopted to an Australian family.

Twin sisters, separated by black market adoption in Greece.

My name is Roula and I was born in Greece with my twin and sold separately on the black market in July 1981. I have only just found my twin in the recent years and hope to meet in person once COVID eases. This is my story.

About my parents

After migrating from Greece in the early 60’s they settled in a small country town outside of Adelaide, South Australia. There were other immigrants that also went to the same town after coming from Greece.

My parents were not able to have children after many attempts and eventually decided to make themselves known to a family who had adopted a little girl from Greece. It turns out that family did not actually adopt the little girl but purchased her from a doctor who was producing and selling gypsy children in an institute in the heart of Athens. They gave my mother the contact details for the midwife in Greece.

My parents made contact with the midwife in Greece and made an appointment to travel to Greece to speak to the doctor. Once they had arrived he told them that there were many babies available but they would need to wait. They agreed and travelled back to Australia.

About 6 months later, the phone rang with good news and they travelled to Greece within the week. My mother’s request was that she wanted a girl but at that time there were no girls available, so they remained in Greece until one was. She also wore a pillow under her belly to show she was pregnant – the lengths my parents went to was phenomenal.

Then I came along.

My adoption

My dad went to the town of Korinthos to sign the paper work. On my birth record my mother who bought me was written as my birth mother, so authorities would not pick up on the falsified documents, then my dad went back to the hospital in Greece and I was given to him. They payed $6000 euro in 1981, the equivalent of around $200,000 dollars Australian back then.

They stayed in Greece for around 40 days as the culture states a child needs to be blessed around their 40th day of birth. They took me to the Australian Embassy and registered me as a citizen of Australia under parental authority.

Then the fear of being caught played on their minds. They knew from the time at the airport ’till the time the plane took off that they were in grave danger of being caught. Once onboard and the plane got into the air, my mother breathed for the first time.

I was flown to Australia on the 24 August 1981.

I grew up with two sides. I was the happy little girl who loved life and everything in it but I was also the little girl who was traumatised by intense sexual abuse and a victim to domestic violence. My childhood was filled with sadness and also happy family moments, it was as though I lived in a time warp between two worlds, the real and the hidden.

Even the Greek kids that I grew up with would tease me about being adopted and when I confronted my mother, she denied all allegations. It was a part of my everyday life growing up with my mother being untruthful about it all. It was not until my teens that a cousin confirmed the truth to me in a state of anger, as the behaviours that I was displaying where the behaviours of a survivor of abuse.

No one knew the turmoil and the hurt I was facing as typical Greek families do not discuss issues and are taught to bottle them up and never spoken about it, especially with the older generation.

It was not until I had reached year 7 at primary school that I finally spoke out about my life but even then, it was dismissed and ignored.

My family sold their land and moved me to Adelaide thinking that it would help me move on with my life, but from what psychologists and counsellors say to me, running is not an option. My parents thought they were doing the right thing but it led me to destructive teenage years filled with drugs, homelessness, violence, jails, and institutions.

If only people could have been able to help me but by then, I had been hurt and lied to, too many times to even want anyone’s help.

At the age 15 in 1996, I started my search, homeless and in the library trying to find information about black-market adoption from Greece. I came across 100’s of articles about selling of babies within the gypsy community in Greece. I was shocked and intrigued at the information available. I put up posts in forums stating that I was searching for my birth mother. I had no idea what I was writing but I tried everything.

For some reason though I knew I was on the right track, something inside me knew what I was doing and where I was searching was real and leading me to where I belonged.

After years of trauma from living on the streets and being a complete drug addict, in 2003, I went into rehab. I got clean and my life started to get better. I still had some very damaging behaviours but in 2010, I moved back to that small country town and found a great psychologist who is today still a large part of my healing and journey.

I ended up marrying a man from that town and we moved away due to work reasons, then in 2015, I had a child through IVF. My son has a great childhood but he has also had some life challenges. Compared to what I had, I’m thankful I was able to change the mistakes that many Greek families have today and we communicate!

Why am I sharing my story?

I share my story because I participated in the early stages of ICAVs video resource project and I wanted to contribute.

Being a product of adoption and black market selling of babies is not an easy life. We children come from all different backgrounds with genetic disorders and family health systems. These need to be addressed and I disliked having to say to a doctor, “I don’t know, I am adopted,” whenever I was asked what my family health history is. I’m sure my feelings on this must be very common amongst adopted people . When a doctor knows you are not the biological product of the family you are in, more tests, more health records and more information should be assigned to the adoptee, to assist in finding out the health answers we deserve.

If it wasn’t for the technology of DNA testing, I would not have known my heritage or my health record. I am so glad I can now got to the doctors and say I genetically carry this, this, this, and this. It is extremely empowering.

With teachers and school counsellors, I believe adoptive parents need to take responsibility for ensuring information is provided to the school, disclosing that their child is adopted. There should be no judgment or repercussions in any way when parents disclose this.  Teachers also need to be aware that the child may be facing or feeling empty from not knowing their identity nor understanding why they may be feeling this way.

These days in schools, there are mindfulness clinics, self-esteem talks, anti-bullying days, and wellbeing classes and they have a different curriculum compared to what I had in the 80’s. Adding a box to identify at enrolment whether adopted or not, should start from early childhood care, all the way through to university. All enrolments should ask us to identify if we are adopted or not. If the student does not know, then parents should be asked discreetly with confidentiality maintained, as some parents chose to wait until their child is old enough, to be told.

I suggest support resources such as social media, jumping in online forums where other adoptees share the same voice. I run 2 groups. One is called Greek Born Adoptees with 450 members and the other is called Greek Sold Gypsy children with 179 members. This group is for sold children and for the gypsy parents to assist them in finding each other. We use DNA testing to match the parents and the sold adoptees.

Thank you for your time and I hope that more people will come forward about their adoptions. I speak for the Greek born sold children of Greece and I know there are 1000’s of us. Here in Australia, there are around 70 who I would like to make contact with when they are ready because we have gypsy parents who are wanting to meet their children for the first time and have given their permission to be found.

I Lost My Mother Twice

by Linzi Ibrahim adopted from Sri Lanka to Australia, founder of Sri Lankan Adoptees.

I miss you every day but most of all today.
The pain never fades.
You were taken from me twice, I have grieved you twice.
You lived the hardest life and still managed to be the most incredible human.
You were kind, loving, fun, confident, and an incredible cook!
From the moment I came back, you were instantly a loving mother towards me, picking up where we left off.
I felt like I was home, I felt fully relaxed for the first time.
Amma, I could see the pain and trauma in your eyes.
I know it was hard to see me and remember all of the trauma you felt many years ago.
I had always felt it too.
I miss you!

Linzi and her Amma, born deaf/mute. Linzi was stolen from her and put up for adoption.

#amma #adopteevoices #adopteestories #adopteemovement #srilanka #intercountryadoption #interracialadoption

Evacuation out of Vietnam on 20 April

by My Huong Lé, Vietnamese adoptee raised in Australia, living in Vietnam. Co-Founder of Vietnam Family Search, an adoptee led organisation dedicated to helping reunite families in Vietnam.

April 20th marks the 46th anniversary since I was evacuated on an RAAF flight out of Vietnam. That day changed the course of my life and the memories of it will forever be etched in my mind.

April in general is a significant month for many Vietnamese Adoptees as it is the month in which over 3000 babies/children were also evacuated. Like myself these children boarded military transport planes bound for adoption by American, Canadian, European and Australian families.

The fors and againsts of having done this have been debated. I would like to say there was no telling what would have become of my life had I stayed, nor was there any telling of what was to become of my life by being removed. The fact remains that I was removed at the age of 5 from a family I knew and placed in a foreign country. This experience was very traumatic and I lost my identity, language, culture and everything familiar to me. In Australia I experienced a different form of hardship and difficulty to what I would have experienced had I remained.

Fortunately, many who left Vietnam were adopted into loving foreign families. I wasn’t granted that right and was adopted into an abusive and dysfunctional family. Regardless that family clothed me, fed me and provided me with a good education and I will always be thankful to them for that. Australia is indeed a privileged country offering endless opportunities and being removed from war torn Vietnam like all adoptees I had a chance to make a better life for myself.

What happened I cannot change, but what I have the power to change is my attitude and the way I react and deal in all circumstances. I know I am the person I am today because of all that I have experienced. It has made me stronger, more forgiving, more understanding and more loving. For this I am grateful.

What I have been through is also in part what propelled me 17 years ago to return to Vietnam to find my birth mother and to work with orphaned and disadvantaged children. Without a doubt God’s hand has been upon my life. He has guided me, protected me, opened doors and put some amazing people in my life. Gratitude fills my heart for all those who have impacted my life over the years.

During this anniversary month for adoptees, my thoughts too are very much for birth mothers. Many birth mothers returned to orphanages to collect their children and they had gone. This time signifies permanent loss for them. I have hugged some of these mothers and seen their tears. As my mother’s tears have been wiped dry, I too hope these mothers can reconnect with their children.

Read My Huong’s previous article My Mother.

Letter to President Moon

by Michelle Y. K. Piper adopted from Sth Korea to Australia.

President Moon,

To you, I may be merely a statistic.

A Number.

Name: 86c-1335.

Born: “bastard”

Abandoned by: Bio Mother

These are the words inked into the brittle pages “cataloguing” my birth, 4 ½ months before I was separated from my mother, exiled from my motherland, sold, and sent overseas via the process of “adoption”.

For 34 years, I have carried the burden of shame and humiliation for decisions of which I had no control over, or voice.

For 34yrs, it has been expected of me by society and the world at large to be “grateful” for being adopted; for not being “aborted” or left to languish in poverty raised by a single mother and ostracised by a society that is unaccepting of such a dishonourable and disgraceful existence.

Expected to be “grateful” to have been “chosen” to go to a “better life”.

Tell me President Moon, how many Korean adoptees actually went to a “better life”, do you know?

How many of us were checked upon or followed up on in the years after our adoption?

Any..?

Have you ANY knowledge or understanding of the suffering and trauma so many of your nation’s children were exposed to after going to “better” lives?

Are you cognisant of the fact we are 4 times more at risk of suicide than the average person, due solely to the trauma of relinquishment? Are you aware of how many adoptees have since lost their lives to suicide?

If our own people, the people who govern our nation continue to portray us as disposable, products for export, how do you hypothesise the rest of the world to perceive us? To value us?

To know who we are and where we came from, to be treated with the SAME decency and respect as any other being, for OUR lives to count, to matter, to be valued for more than just the going price of the highest bidder; can you honestly argue this to be such an immense or unreasonable request?

Why do we as adoptee’s continue pay to the price for the mistakes and failures of the elites who governed generations before us?

Why do our nations children continue to pay the price for a deeply flawed and failed system? A system put in place to “protect” and “care”, to safeguard society’s most vulnerable and helpless, to protect those unable to defend themselves or make their suffering known.

A system which has catastrophically failed to fulfill its duty of care time and time again, a system that cataclysmically FAILED in its duty to protect 16 month old Jeong-In.

My status in Korea as a child born out of wedlock to a single mother without consent or approval from the elders of our family, without the approval of society, meant from the day I was born, my life was of no more value to our nation but for the monetary profit that could be gained from the sales transaction of my adoption.

To you, I am a faceless statistic.

Just another number on a piece of paper; a data entry in the government system, an easy money maker used by Korea in its resolve to rise to the advanced economic powerhouse it is today.

To you, I my be a nothing, a nobody, an abhorrent by-product of the highest betrayal to a nation who’s social, political, and legal structures continue to be governed by the principles of Confucianism.

To you, I may be but one number, but I am one that represents over 200,000 of your displaced children throughout the world.

You seal our records, deny us the very basics of human rights.

You have attempted to keep us faceless, to keep our voices from being heard.

You have watched in reticence as we have been sold, trafficked, abused, and murdered.

You have buried our truths and silenced our voices.

Attempted to censor the knowledge and proof of our existence as effortlessly as you have managed to erase our pasts.

You try to placate us with empty words and blanket apologies, yet time and time again Korea has CLEARLY established how little value it truly places upon the wellbeing and lives of its children.

Not only via the tens of thousands of adoptees scattered worldwide, but through the 250 students it left to die onboard the sinking Sewol Ferry.

250 children who could have been saved, weren’t.

Through the way in which obedience and perfection are EXPECTED and DEMANDED of every child; academically, socially, even physically, pushing Korean suicide rates into some of the highest in the world and the leading cause of death nationwide for ages 9 -24 yrs.

These are YOUR children!!!

Our nation’s future!

If it is to have a future.

You seem to show little to no regard for lives of the young, yet death rates now surpass birth rates, leaving the question how much longer will our people endure?

How much time until our race is no more?

The image of Korea that is so carefully projected onto the world stage, is nothing but a farce.

A nation consumed with pride, greed, and ambition revelling in its technological and economic advancements, whilst continuing its long and profound history of human rights abuse. Revelling in the global phenomenon of K-pop, K-dramas, and flawless plastic surgery turning citizens into life-like anime dolls all of which amounts to nothing but superficial, pretty, shiny, plastic distractions; band aids made for minor cuts, but with which Korea uses in attempt to conceal the extensive, critical, and ineffable wounds scarcely “hidden” beneath the surface.

Deliberately refashioning Korea’s image for the fulfilment and pacification for the global arena while remaining steadfast and loyal to a fundamentally flawed, corrupt, and broken system which continues to extort and profit from the separation, suffering and abuse of its people makes those ruling over the South no better than the tyrannical dictatorship oppressing our people in the North.

To you, we may merely be statistics.

But we are no longer voiceless, and we will no longer be silenced!

We are over 200,000 strong, each with a face, a name, and a story.

We had Mothers and Fathers, Brothers and Sisters, Grandparents, Aunties, Uncles, and Cousins.

No matter how hard you may try to dehumanise us, I can promise you, in this you shall not succeed.

I will no longer be silenced. I will remain faceless no more, for I am NOT a thing.

I was born in Haeundae, Busan.

Daughter of- Kim, Yeo Kyeong (Mother) and Jang, Hyeon Soo (Father).

I have endured racism, child sexual abuse and rape on two separate occasions in my “better” life so far.

I have fought with an Eating Disorder for 21 years, made countless attempts to end my life, all of which I have been brought back from.

My arms will forever bear the permanent, grotesque, disfiguring scars from which my life’s blood has so often freely flown, only to be replaced, time and time again in the desperate attempts to save a life that in your eyes, seems of little to no value, and not worth saving at all.

Tell me President Moon, what will you do when there is no longer a population to sustain our race?

When will you and the people who continue to govern our nation admit culpability, take responsibility for their duty to safeguard our people, to protect the vulnerable and the voiceless?

To guard, secure and preserve our nation’s future and the future of its children.

We are NOT objects!

We are NOT inconsequential!

WE are YOUR children!!!

We are NOT COMMODITIES!!!

We are NOT a product to be labelled and packaged for sale!

We are NOT replaceable, exchangeable, refundable goods for export no matter how hard you have tried to dehumanise us.

President Moon, We are NOT THINGS!!!

어머니 (Mother)

Eomeoni

by Michelle Y. K. Piper adopted from Sth Korea to Australia.

Artwork by Michelle Piper, 2021

Two years today, they told me you were dead.

15 years from the day I turned 18 until the day I officially began that dreaded, infuriating, dehumanising, grievous process of trying to trace you; 15 years of constant internal conflict, a fierce war raging within.

Remain loyal to the family, society, culture, and country I had been relinquished to; remain obedient to the process of forced assimilation, never questioning or asking why? (at least never out loud) and ALWAYS “grateful” for the privilege to be alive and living in one of the greatest countries in the world (Australia); continue to ignore the ever-deepening awareness of agonising turmoil and grief consuming my soul borne from the empty, rootlessness of my erased past.

Or…
Face what I have always so desperately avoided.

Questions…
All those questions.
So many, many questions.
Impossible to voice out loud even to myself in secrecy and solitude, yet impossible silence within the confined walls of my Psyche.

15 years to amass enough courage to search for you; I searched, and a year later I received “the call”. A call I’d been on constant edge waiting for, a year of repeatedly checking my emails and phone. It came from a stranger in a government office, who had only just been transferred to my case. A transfer I was neither asked nor informed about.

On the 2nd January 2019, a strange, unfamiliar voice explained who she was and why she was calling.
You were dead.
You died exactly 2 months after my 23rd Birthday.
You died on the 6th July 2009.
2009, I was 10 years too late.
My father could not or did not want to be found.
That was it.

For over 30 years, being adopted meant nothing, or at least I told myself it meant nothing. Just a word to explain away the inevitable whispers of confusion when people crossed us.
“Did they just call her mum?”, “Maybe the dad is Asian…? They don’t look like half/half’s though.”
I was used to these comments, my entire life’s been layered with racism, some out of ignorance, some without doubt intentional.
But being adopted was not something to be dwelled upon, simply a fact; accepted and acknowledged only when unavoidable.
But unavoidable became impossible.

That call, that damn call; no matter how fiercely I fought back would demolish the foundations of every wall I had established; a myriad of walls forming the incomprehensible and impenetrable maze of protection I had completely encompassed and lost myself within.

15 Years to find the courage to look for you, but a lifetime of wondering….

Was I ever in your thoughts?
Did you ever think of me?
On the day of my birth? When that inevitable date once again came full circle, a date that would forever mark each year we have spent apart.
Another year gone; another year of life missed. Another year of what has been a lifetime of separation.
Did you think of me at Christmas?
At times of family, cultural and traditional celebrations, when milestones should have been reached. When recipes, secrets, and the stories of our ancestors should have passed from Mother to Daughter.
Did you ever wonder as I do now if or how much we look and are alike?

Did the same irrevocable, emptiness, loneliness, grief, and self-loathing consume you as it has me?
…..Did I mean anything to you?

Did you, on the day you gave birth simply walk away and never look back? Erasing every memory, every moment, every emotion. Erasing me.
Did you reject me from the moment we ceased to be one, refusing to acknowledge the life you had so painfully bore into this world?
Did you even once, hold me in your arms?
Was my existence always a disgrace?
A corruption in the flow and purity of bloodlines. The product of the worst kind of offence one can commit against a culture and people whose social, ethical, political and legal systems are fundamentally embedded in the principles of Confucianism.
Was I always perceived as an abomination?
An ignominy, an abhorrent consequence of defying what is so vehemently indoctrinated in our people from birth, so fiercely prized and expected from each child from every generation.
Obedience. Respect.
Respect of your elder’s and absolute obedience in following directives. Know your place, in family, home, and society, in culture and country. Fail to comply; step outside the social norms and be condemned to a life forever tainted by shame, rejection, and dishonour.

Or, on the day you gave birth did your gaze fall upon me, desperate to memorise every detail that time would allow?
Did your arms find me, enfolding me close, tightening your embrace? Did you memorise my scent, that beautiful, sweet baby scent while your mind commenced an onslaught; vivid recollections of the 9 months passed?
The pain, terror, love, bewilderment, and confusion. The internal struggle of a decision impossible to make yet impossible to disregard.
Did your mind force upon you the memories of my first movements you felt within? Undeniable proof of the life growing inside?
Did you remember all the times you found yourself cursing me for the morning sickness, or when it became impossible to move around freely?

Did you recall all the times you had spoken to me, and soothed me? Patting your stomach and smiling with happiness and contentment when my restlessness ceased at the sound of your voice?
Did you recall all the one-sided conversations you had with me, admonishing me for your weight gain, bloated ankles, constant need to pee, and general discomfort?
Did you remember thinking none of those things mattered when you finally beheld the face of your newly born daughter in front of you?
Did you remember and retain these precious moments with as much desperation as I did the day my daughter was born?
Did I remain an only child? Or were there future children that were deemed “worthy” to keep?

You left endless questions with no definitive answers, not even in death.
The agency who sold me insist you are dead, while the government itself cannot seem to confirm this.

What am I meant to do with that? Please 어머니, tell me.

Do I hold onto hope that somehow you are still alive..?
Cling desperately to the childish, naïve dream that MAYBE, just maybe, you are?
That maybe you’re not dead, but looking for me, maybe I was one of those children never willingly relinquished.
Or take the word of the agency who trafficked me, sent me overseas and accept you are gone?

Will it ever be possible to heal if I tell myself you’re dead?
How am I supposed to mourn you?
How does one weep for a face it cannot remember?
How do I release myself of someone who, no matter how much time and distance was placed between us, is still everything I am, yet everything I don’t know?
How can I be free when your faceless form haunts my dreams? When each day I am struck by a renewed wave of painful understanding of all that has been stolen.  All that’s been lost. For all that has been erased.
For my parents who will forever remain faceless strangers, parents I will never have the opportunity to know or meet. For the brothers and sisters I will never know. For the Aunty and Uncles, the cousin’s, and grandparents.
For the history of my people, I remained so ignorant towards until now; for the heart-breaking and brutal history of our country; still at war after 70 years, divided, literally torn in two, poisoned by political corruption, military coups, and slavery. Of trafficked children, The Forgotten Generation; a generation who fought, died and rebuilt our country, now languishing in poverty pushed to the fringes of society living in isolation and squalor, afraid to ask for help for fear of “burdening” the country they fought and died to protect. For the enslaved comfort women abused, raped, tortured, and murdered by the Japanese. For the Sewol Ferry Tragedy, which began to sink on the morning of the 16th April 2014, where 304 of the 476 passengers on board, 250 of them students perished; trapped on a sinking ferry, while the captain and crew escaped, telling the passengers on board to stay where they were. Obeying their elders (that prized attribute ingrained from birth), the students placed their trust in the orders given, they remained where they were, waiting to be rescued. A rescue that was never attempted, a rescue that never came.
Parents, family, teachers, classmates and survivors alike hysterical, stranded on the shoreline, still receiving messages from the remaining students trapped inside that they were still alive in what was an almost completely submerged vessel. Parents helpless to do anything but watch as the last visible section of the ship sank in front of them.
And then nothing.
Silence, as the shock and magnitude of tragedy that had just unfolded before them set in.
A moment of disbelieving silence before the blood curdling, guttural cries only a parent who has just lost their child can make.
Footage later released, revealed to the world the last 20 minutes of some of the students trapped inside. The memories of which will haunt me forever, faces I won’t ever forget. Messages of love and apologies to loved ones, that still produce physical pain to hear.

To watch my people suffer, to die in the most horrifying ways, to feel the overwhelming outrage, and unbearable grief that has consumed our nation time and time again but to be unable to be there with them, to grieve with them; did you never consider how painful these moments would be?
Did you ever imagine how much agony it would cause just to observe my native language? When everything appears, sounds and feels so natural, until you remember, none of it makes sense to you. You can’t decipher it. You don’t understand it. You can’t speak it.
Did you ever consider just how high a price your baby girl would pay, for that “better” life you were so sure she was going to?
If you, my own Mother could not find it in yourself to raise me, whether from the shame, dishonour, or just for being a “bastard” (YES, my adoption papers actually use this word!), if you feared for me, for the prejudice, discrimination, and stigma I would have endured had we remained together in Korea, how could you think that throwing me into a world of white where I was one of maybe 5 Asians for over 18yrs of my life would be to my benefit? Did you honestly think that those of the western world wouldn’t reject me? Debase me, use my status as a Korean adoptee against me in the most humiliating and degrading ways conceivable? If you; my own mother, my own family, my people and country viewed me as nothing more than a product for export, why would anyone else?

If you did in fact die in 2009, you died at the age of 46.

I’m aware you never looked for me, never once tried to find out where I was.
And now you’re gone, (maybe), I don’t know.
The fact that I don’t know enrages me, consumes me with a desperate hopelessness and despair.
But, if you are gone…
How could you leave and never say goodbye?
How could you leave without ever reaching out, never once trying to find me?
Didn’t you care how I was or where I ended up?
How could you leave me with so many unanswered questions?
No photo for me to remember you, to study your face, to memorise.
No last parting words of wisdom or advice.
No letter of explanation.
Nothing.
Just an endless, hollow silence.

And so, inside the now grown adult, still remains, the frightened, confused, rejected, abandoned little girl, who will never grow up. Who will never know why you didn’t want her, why you didn’t keep her? What it was it you saw in her that repulsed you so much you cast her aside and across the seas; keeping the existence of the baby girl you once bore so many years ago a shameful secret, you literally took with you to your grave.

Michelle has published other articles about her experience as a Korean intercountry adoptee at Korean Quarterly.

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