Don’t Tell Me to be Grateful

by Naomi Mackay adopted from India to Sweden.

My Journey

I was adopted to a white family in the south of Sweden from north India in the late 70’s and as soon as I arrived in Sweden, I was told to stop speaking weird and that I was now Swedish. We never spoke about India growing up. If I did ask, I received short answers then a lecture on how horrible India is with crimes, rape, child marriage and killings of baby girls. Because that’s all India is, right? Thank colonisation! I had a packed bag next to my bed with the clothes and jewellery brought from India, just in case.

The trauma of growing up like this invited self-hate and suicidal thoughts and I can’t tell you what stopped me, but animals were my best friends who I would seek solace from when low. There was never a mention of race, only how lucky I was to be brown and my eyebrows and hair would be ridiculed to the point that I would pluck my eyebrows to near extinction and colour my hair to breaking point. I heard talk about race hate but since I’m white, why would this apply to me? I was a white person on the inside who didn’t like to get her photo taken or look at herself in the mirror, as it was a reminder of my colour. I was a white person living in a white world without benefitting from what this means. People from India are not represented in mainstream fashion, music, films and the media and many think that by using one person of colour, they’ve represented us all.

Growing up without anyone looking like me caused much trauma as I found it very hard to accept myself and to find my identity. I wasn’t accepted as white yet this was what I identified as. I wasn’t accepted as Indian but didn’t identify as such. In my early 20’s, when I started to travel abroad more, I realised how uncomfortable I was in my own skin and if a person of colour walked into the room, or anyone mentioned the word, I found it uncomfortable as I realised they were also talking about me. I would divert the topic to something else whenever possible. I started noticing I was often the only person of colour in most rooms, especially in equestrian training and competition which was my whole life growing up.

I have dreamt and fought to become a filmmaker since I was very young. I pursued this despite my family who didn’t see it as a profession, within a Swedish college who didn’t accept me where university tutors laughed in my face on several occasions, amongst funding bodies who excluded transracial adoptees, with Scottish filmmakers who would not let me in and deleted my credentials on a film crew database. I have read many personal statements by Swedish people of colour who relocated to America for a chance at progression within their field. I too was accepted there when I finally gained the courage to apply to do an MA in filmmaking at their two most prestigious filmmaking universities. Do you still think I should be grateful?

Changes

The first time I met Indian people after being adopted was when I moved to Scotland, I was 24 years old and so intrigued and uncomfortable. In my mindset I still saw myself as white and did not relate what was happening to me to be about race. I was cautious of Black people and saw myself above Asians, just in a way I imagine white people do but can’t explain how or why. It kept me safe, mentally. Sometimes I miss this, it was easier to handle than the truth.

In 2020, I became more active in anti-racism activities as I know others who did and I joined many social media groups. There was one particular Scottish group where I live which made me feel very uncomfortable because I was faced by many people of colour with strong confident voices. I found my own without being shut down or drowned out by white people and I came to realise everything which was stolen from me: my culture, my beliefs, my voice as a person of colour, my dignity, my heritage, my language and my roots, my identity. I was sold for profit to privilege others but for which I would never experience the privilege through the Christian faith which I was brought up with. I felt so betrayed. When I continuously keep hearing from my white acquaintances and friends that “You get what you put in”, I started to believe I was just lazy and untalented. I did not take into account their head start and the extra hurdles I have on my journey as a person of colour. It’s a lot to take in and I’m SO ANGRY!! Do you still think I should be grateful?

(Un)Learning

As I started to strip away the whiteness I inherited via adoption, I came to realise that some things are harder than others to remove. My language still needs altering in some ways and I find myself apologising in horror as I become more aware. A few months ago I was asked why I keep using the word “coloured”. It never occurred to me that I was saying it and I’ve even told others off on many occasions for using it. In Swedish, “coloured” is “färgad” and digging deeper I realise it’s still widely used in media and by people in everyday language. After having spoken to several Swedish people and observing the media, I’ve come to realise that there is no alternative wording, so I have decided to establish it, about time!

In Sweden, the English phrases are used and never translated as it makes it more palatable for white people and puts distance between the person and the issue. I have created a Swedish anti-racism page as I really believe in creating the changes needed with a less interactive approach giving white fragility no space. There’s so much about my upbringing I need to unpack and unlearn. The majority of Swedish social media and anti-racism pages I’ve found so far speak only of the prejudice Jewish people face as it’s what white people feel comfortable with. This is not racism through, it’s antisemitism.

I wear my colour/oppression on my skin for all to see and at no point can I ever hide or change this. Why is all this important when talking about my trauma as an intercountry adoptee? Because it shows the very deeply rooted racist societies in which Black and Brown are sold and the deeply rooted internal racism it creates in us. I hate myself for being like this but I hate the people who did this to me more. Hate is a strong word, I’m making no excuses for using it. It’s mental abuse, violence and rape. Do you still think I should be grateful?

Rebuilding

I’m now re-building myself as an Indian woman. A person of colour. A transracial intercountry adoptee and I’ve found yoga is helping me heal although I feel like I’m culturally appropriating it, I know it’s my culture and I have every right to it. Recently I found out I was born a Hindu, so my deep connection to yoga is natural. The more I decolonise yoga, the more I decolonise myself. The most damaging incidences to my healing process have been Indian people speaking down to me for not having grown up there, not speaking any of the languages, nor knowing the culture or religions well, nor dressing in traditional Indian clothing or cooking Indian foods.

For those who are Indian, you are so lucky to have what was denied me. You’re so lucky to know the smells, roots and the love of our beautiful country. I have as much right to any part of it as you and as I’m still learning, I’m grateful to now have understanding people in my life helping me heal. I have privilege in that my accent and whitewashed ideologies fits into Swedish life and people raised in India have privilege in that they didn’t live through the trauma of losing their whole identity via being sold off, and didn’t grow up with the same level of internalised racism, nor seeing parts of the culture on display and being sold back to them. I believe that my inquisitive nature and yearning to learn is the reason why I’ve been open to change and (un)learning. I’ve educated myself on Black history and the trauma of colonialism.

Moving Forward

I believe that as an adult it’s my responsibility to educate myself and learn what I can do to make this world safe for everyone. I am currently working on a documentary film and a book about my life and journey. I recognise many of us are doing this. Our experiences are unique and they’re ours. We all have different ways of coping and I have big trust issues with white people, especially Christians. I see a lot of white centring in my daily life and white adoptive parents speaking about how transracial adoption affected them and the trauma they faced. I’m healing every day and writing this was a step forward.

I have one question for you. Do you support human trafficking? There’s no “but”, just as I could also ask, “Do you support racism?” There’s only “Yes” or “No”. If you would like to support and help children, have a look at what you can do.

Reflective Memories: Finding My Vietnamese Mother

by Denise Sandquist adopted from Vietnam to Sweden.

At this time of the year, it’s time for reflection! I want to share my story of how I found my mother and why this time of year is so special.

Almost exactly 4 years ago, I found my biological mother in Vietnam!

I was adopted from Vietnam as a baby and when I turned 22, the same age as my Vietnamese mother when she gave birth to me, I started to reflect more about my genes and from where I got certain things. I was very happy with my family in Sweden, but deep down inside, I have always wanted to connect more with my roots.

This led me to travel to Vietnam for the first time in 2013, to visit my birth country and the hospital in Hà Nội where I was born. But finding a person in Vietnam when you have very limited information (name, age, studies, hometown) is difficult, and if you’re a foreigner who doesn’t speak a word of Vietnamese, it’s even more difficult. It was the start of a 3-year journey where I would be spend time to look for her.

I and the people around me, did not give up. With the help of a friend, we decided to start a Facebook page where we explained my situation and that I was looking for my birth mother.

It went viral! Thousands of people shared my post, I was even in the newspapers and news in Vietnam.

Just 18 days after that, on the 22nd of December 2016, I received a phone call. Though my Vietnamese was limited at that point, I knew exactly what she said and meant! She only said 2 words, “Mẹ đây” and I couldn’t keep myself from bursting into tears. It was surreal when she called me. No one had called me before and told me they were my mother!

On the 23rd of December 2016, she flew to Ho Chi Minh City from Hà Nội and the following days we spent Christmas together. Needless to say, it was the best Christmas gift I could have ever asked for.

This experience has completely changed my life and the person I am today. I’m forever grateful to all of the people who helped me during this amazing journey. To all my fellow adoptees who are in a similar situation as I was, I just want to say – do not give up! Thousands of people will definitely be there for you and miracles do happen!

I have now moved to Vietnam since I wanted to contribute even more to my birth country. I have now travelled almost everywhere here, since Vietnam is such a beautiful country. I would love to complete more things in the future for Vietnam, such as charities or starting my own business even, and I would be very honoured to receive your support in this.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year everyone!

Giáng sinh an lành nhé mọi người!

For more from Denise, check out her YouTube channel.

The Right to Identity

by Maria Diemar, born in Chile raised in Sweden. You can access her blog at I Own My Story Maria Diemar where she published this on Aug 23.

The right to one’s identity,
is it a human right?
Is it a human right for everyone?

Where you belong,
the circumstances you come from,
is this important to know?

Is it possible to delete a person’s background?
Would you consider deleting another person’s background?

What is illegal?
What is unethical?
What are irregularities?

In last few years, I have discovered more and more of my history.
From discovering that I am Ingegerd Maria Olsson in the registers in Chile,
to realise that I can vote,
and renew my passport from 1975,
to understanding that it seems like I never left Chile the country where I was born.

According to my Chilean passport,
I live on a street in a business district in Rancagua.
According to other documents,
I live with a social assistant in Santiago.
We are probably more than 400 children living at that address:
Monseñor Müller 38.

I “live” in Chile, and I live in the United States.
I am in the electoral register in Chile,
and in Sweden I have a Swedish passport and can pick up a Chilean passport when I like.

My birth was never registered at the hospital where I was born.
I’m a child of no-one.
Instead of a birth certificate,
a protocol was written in which strangers testified that I was born on my birthday.

In Chile, I am registered as an orphan
because a Swedish woman, Anna Maria Elmgren, arranged and enrolled me in the register in Chile.
I have a Swedish name in the Chilean register.
I’m Ingegerd Maria Olsson in Chile.

I am a orphan
but I have a mother in the documents from the court in Temuco.
In the documents from the court, I have a mother.
A mother who gives me away.

I was 44 years old when I did a DNA test,
then I realised that I’m Mapuche.
I’m from an indigenous people.

To be a child of Indigenous people,
this detail is something that someone forgot to mention.
A detail that isn’t too important.
Or is it?

Is the right to one’s identity a right for everyone?
Who decides this?

#adoptee #adopted #stolen #Ilegal #adoption #Chile #victim #trafficking #Sverige #Adoptionscentrum #Sverige #adopterad #chileadoption #nomassilencio #humanrights #justice #mapuche #Wallmapu

Who am I now?

By Maria Diemar from her blog at I own my Story Maria Diemar

Who I am now, after my life story changed

I always thought that my mom gave me up for adoption
I was an abandoned child
I learnt to believe that adoption is something beautiful
Even though it hurt
Even though I felt abandoned
Even though I felt alone

I searched for my mom for so many years,
it was almost impossible to find her
until I got in contact with Ana Maria in Chile

When Ana Maria found my mom
I learnt the truth
I was stolen from my mom
at the hospital
right after she gave birth to me
My mom wasn’t allowed to see me or hold me
People at the hospital, a social assistant really tried to force her
to sign papers that she wanted to give me up for adoption
my mom refused to sign any papers

84 days went by,
from the day they separated me from my mom
in the small town on the country side in Chile
until I arrived in an airplane to Stockholm in Sweden.

I came to Sweden with documentation
it said I didn’t have any family that could care for me
it said my mom had left me for adoption
I never question that
But I felt abandoned and alone

Today I know the truth
I was stolen and
forcefully separated from my mom

Few people want to see the truth
as society has taught us that
adoption is something beautiful

I have learnt that adoption is filthy
business, and that
people make money
I have learnt that adoption
is an industry

And I am not sure,
who I am anymore
if I am not that abandoned child

I have been forced to go back
to face all my fears and
to look at my choices and experiences

Today when I see the picture of that little girl
in my Chilean passport
I see a sad girl,
all alone in the world
with no legal rights because
no-one took the time to make sure
I came from the situation
that was stated in the documents

After 6 moths I was adopted,
according to the law in Sweden
despite the law in Chile

What does adoption mean to you?

And please, before you answer that question,
Who are you?

Excerpt: First Letter to my Iranian Father

Return visit to my homeland – Iran, Mashhad

In Sweden where I grew up, people like me are called adopted. It’s easy to spot an adopted. We look like we are from somewhere far away but we don’t know our native language or culture. This creates confusion wherever we go. It also creates confusion within ourselves.

Who are we? Who am I?

We grieve our traumas in silence because as soon as we share our sadness, we are told that we should be grateful: to our new amazing country and our kind adoptive parents.

This is something a Swedish biological child never has to hear: that they should be grateful to live in Sweden! This creates a sense of being worth less compared to everyone else; that we exist in Sweden on other terms compared to our peers; that it’s conditional. In many cases, our adoptive parents didn’t take good care of us. They disregarded our traumas. And they didn’t understand the racism all of us had to endure, both as children and adults. We were unprotected. We were fair game.

When you are adopted you sometimes grieve and think about your mother. For some reason you don’t think very much about your dad. I think this is because we are under the impression that our mothers were clueless and young, perhaps drug addicts, perhaps prostitutes. And that our dad was just some dude. The part with the prostitution, by the way, is part of the narrative that adopted girls are handed when they are young. “If you stayed in your country you would have been a prostitute, so why aren’t you grateful?!” Can you imagine what this message does to us?!

Daddy, like most of the other adoptees, I have spent time wondering about my mother, but I don’t know if I’ve ever thought about you in the past. Now, I think about you all the time.

About Sarah

First gift from my Iranian father