by Roxas-Chua, adopted from the Philippines to the USA; author, artist.
For many adopted people adoption is traumatic. I’m not as linear in my story-sharing because I can’t stay very long in breathing that atmosphere. I choose writing, calligraphy, and art to work on my story. Because I didn’t have a good birth, I’d like the chance to have a good death. I’m on a path rebuilding from severed shapes and invisible pieces. It’s a path where you build from your own found illuminations. It’s a place where I am an infant, a boy, and a man happening all at the same time. Writing and making art are not easy although it make look like it is. Here are truths told in two abstractions, two bruises when my senses project a location of pain inside the body. There’s no need to challenge the stories of adopted or infant-abandoned people when it doesn’t fit feel-good narratives of society and media. I ask that you listen, see, and sit with me when I open my body to you.
by JS Lee, adopted from South Korea to the USA, author and artist.
When I was in Korea in 2006, I traveled to Daegu to see the hospital grounds where I was supposedly found abandoned. Wandering aimlessly, I hoped for something to feel familiar, despite how decades had passed. This painting was inspired by the photo I took on my trip.
While painting my infant self there sounds pretty sad, it felt amazing—almost as if I’d traveled back in time to tell her she was now in my safe hands.
You can follow more of JS Lee’s works at her website.
by Alexis Bartlett, adopted from South Korea to Australia; their adoptee art project can be found at Art 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.”
This year I will turn fifty. During seven years and four months of those fifty years, I have looked at adoption from another perspective than I did during my first forty-two years and here is something that I have spent the first hours of 2022 thinking.
When criticizing adoption, you often get to hear people contradicting you referring to other adoptees who do not share your critical view. “I have a friend who is adopted and she is just perfectly happy and thankful”. Well, so?
Another thing that often strikes me is that when it comes to adoption, being older and more experienced does not render you more respect. I don’t know how many times I have seen adult adoptees being pushed back by adoptive parents claiming that their ten-year-old adopted child has never experienced racism or felt rootless, etc..
For years, I was pro-adoption and I even participated in an adoption agency’s information (propaganda) meetings for prospective adoptive parents and social workers. I was never ever questioned and never asked to show statistics of other scientific sources to back up my claims. I was adopted then and I am just as adopted now. However, my words then were never subject for doubt whereas what I say today is always subject of scrutiny and quite often dismissed as sentimental BS. As opposed to what was truly sentimental BS…
Back then, I had not read any reports or seen any documentaries about adoption. I had hardly talked to other adoptees other than my sibling and the other adoptees on the panels at the adoption agency’s meetings. Sure, today one could accuse me for being a bit categorical, but why wasn’t I accused of that previously? And why are the words from my soon to be fifty-year-old self less trustworthy than those from my thirty-year-old self, or my fifteen-year-old self for that matter…
This is not only about trauma. For me, it is about political/ideological statements, it is about insights about privilege and colonial/patriarchal structures, of which I know far more today than I did ten years ago, let alone as a child.
I think it has to do with the way adoption is framed and cast. We, the adoptees are eternally children and as such equals to each other but not equals with adoptive parents, not even when you are decades older than the adoptive parent you are debating. Therefore, in the context of the adoption debate, I hate being labelled “adoptive child” and I don’t like having to refer to people who adopt as adoptive parents. In this context, I would prefer it if we were adoptees and adopters, but since I know what battles to pick, I do respect group rules in adoption forums. However, I do believe that language matters. Words paint pictures and these pictures affect the way a conversation is held.
by Dilsah de Rham adopted from Sri Lanka to Switzerland.
Ink, Watercolours, Pastel
This is also about the dilemma of the dualities in life faced by adoptees in general. The feeling of the blind unconsciousness – the sad, overwhelmed feelings when we are not aware, the awareness about our identity, feeling in-between the white and biological cultures we belong to as intercountry adoptees.
The following artwork is provided by high school guest adoptee, FUYI. FUYI was born in China in 2002 and adopted to America at 11 months old. She completed this portfolio of artwork as part of her requirements for an advanced placement class in high school. FUYI provides a small blurb after each piece to describe what the artwork is about.
This piece is simply about death, loss and all the “unknowns” in my life. The hand of a mother forever reaching for the hand of her baby. The lying figure represents those sacrifices for human harvesting. Chinese Bad Luck symbols noted throughout this piece, clock, the number 4, chopsticks in unfinished food… Bad luck symbols for China are not misfortunate in other parts of the world. Forcefully removing children away from their ancestry kills the future of the culture. It’s all very symbolic.
“An invisible red thread connects those destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but never break.”
A mind map collage of my emotions and thoughts that are on display for everyone to see. A small collection from fortune cookies are pasted that relate to my feelings. The red and blue prints are the silhouette of my biological father. The biological man in my life rips his heart out at his loss. Again, my unknowns.
This piece was my first ever sketch for my advanced placement requirement for review by the College Board, the first time drawing my feelings of being adopted. I’m represented in the middle. Behind me are the silhouettes of my biological parents as well as the road I was abandoned on. The squares are full of identifiers: finger, foot and handprints, and Chinese words that represent me as an abandoned child. My genetics and the possibility of organ harvesting are being hinted at here.
The figure represents both my biological mom and I. I’m floating and somewhat lost. Our fingers wrapped by the red thread connecting us and the “3 month” old baby in the ultrasound. On the right, displays a foetus and its heart that is no longer beating. That could’ve been me, had my biological mother not protected me from the government officials. (Inspired by Peng Wang).
This artwork remains the property of FUYI (c) 2019 and may not be reproduced or printed anywhere without seeking permission.
Sometimes I meet adult intercountry adoptees who have amazing talent to capture the intercountry adoption experience in a more powerful medium than words.
I’d love you to meet Jonas Haid, a South Korean adoptee raised in Germany. Here is his life journey along with the artwork he creates that says so much more than words! Together with his own personal experience and art he provides a powerful testament to the impact relinquishment and adoption has on our lives.
Thank you Jonas for being willing to share with us!
I am a Chinese adoptee, adopted into a white New Zealand family in 1966, who had 8 other children. I have struggled my entire life to make sense of my place in the world. It wasn’t until I was approximately 48 years old that I connected to other intercountry and transracial adoptees online. Since then, I’ve no longer felt isolated or misunderstood. It has been incredibly healing to know that my thoughts and emotions are shared by many in these groups.
As an artist, I communicate some of my life experiences through art. I have had many adopted people approach me sharing a common narrative and I’ve been surprised, humbled and encouraged by this.
I volunteer my time by running art workshops for adolescents from Families with Children from China (FCCA) in Sydney at the Cosydney workspace in Chippendale. I do this because I recognise myself in each of them and am glad they have a support network and peer group who provide support and understands their issues. I learn a lot from them and we always have a laugh!