Gabby Malpas 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. Gabby’s input below is included in our full papers here which we submitted to the AHRC.

by Gabby Malpas, born in New Zealand of Chinese origins and transracial adoptee, ICAV Representative, artist at Gabby Malpas.

Colourblind by Gabby Malpas; watercolour painting

I was born in 1966 in Auckland New Zealand. I am 100% Chinese and at the time of writing, I am 56 years old. I started coming out of the adoption fog at 48 years of age, after meeting my birth mother in 2004. It seems old but to clarify, at 48, I finally connected with other Asian adoptees and found validation, support and the language to express my feelings around my life experience.

I have a huge respect for parents. I am a step parent but have not done the heavy lifting that parents do. It’s hard being a parent. Throw adoption or fostering into the mix and that becomes very hard. Throw transracial adoption into that mix and the challenges become even more so. These are my thoughts around racism. All of our experiences are different.

I am very happy. I see the value of good relationships with friends, peers and family, and acknowledge that all of us have experienced trauma at some point in our lives. However, I have struggled with racism my entire life with my difference pointed out almost daily by classmates, co-workers and friends. Not too regularly, I have also been attacked and harassed on the street and was bullied badly throughout my school years.  Jokes and micro-aggressions seem harmless and it took me decades to understand why I was constantly angry: an innocent question about my name/my origins/my nationality seems innocuous, but day after day, often from complete strangers makes a person exhausted, wary and sad/angry. I often withdraw.

I have this to say – I could not tell you this at age 12, 18, 25, 30 or even 40. It took decades to begin to process, understand and articulate what I am feeling.

Dear adoptive parents

Here is what I would like you to know about my life experience as a transracial adoptee:

  • Please understand my life experience is, was and will always be different to that of my white peers, siblings and parents. Like it or not, quite often we transracial adoptees are treated very differently to our white siblings and peers. I noted a big change in people’s behaviour towards me when they saw one of my parents come into view. Racists are sneaky – they are not going to say stuff with you around. And it comes in many subtle forms: how many brown kids are watched like a hawk as soon as they enter a store? How many brown girls are told they talk too much or are too loud/naughty when their white classmates are termed ‘enthusiastic’ or ‘confident’ for the same behaviour?
  • I was raised colourblind. It was the 60s, 70s and 80s. We knew no better. I was 55 years old when the penny finally dropped about my own family’s response to my experience with racism. An older sister said, “But we just assumed you were one of us,” (therefore, it was impossible for you to experience racism). Another piece of the puzzle solved. However, my 7 year old me would not thank my family for the dismissal, harsh words or outright denial that anything had taken place. Things are different now. We have resources and so much information available.
  • If you are triggered by the terms: white privilege, white fragility and wilful ignorance then think long and hard before adopting a child of different race to you. We are looking to you to teach us, to have our backs and stand up for us. And this includes your circle of friends, your own family and peers. I was raised in the age where children were seen and not heard. I accepted outright racist comments/acts from neighbours, friends, extended family, and later, colleagues because I felt that it was my lot or I was undeserving of better. But think about what that does to someone over a lifetime! Is it any wonder that we adoptees are 4 times more likely to have substance abuse or suicide? Let’s try to change that.
Ching Chong by Gabby Malpas, watercolour painting
  • Believe us. I was 5 or 6 years old when I reported my first racist incident to my parents (and this was because I was scared. I didn’t report the ‘ching chong’ chants, the pulling back of eyes and harsher treatment by certain nuns because I was brown and clearly born of sin – those were a daily occurrence). Two much larger and older boys cornered me and pulled down my pants to see if ‘my bum was the same as the other girls’. Horrific and it still haunts me to this day. In response to sharing what happened, I was punished and told not to lie. So I stopped. It was clearly not safe for me to speak up and I didn’t want to be punished for it (to be fair I think it was the mention of private parts that had them more outraged). I left NZ for good in 1988. I put distance between myself and my family because of the above and some bonds were sadly broken for a while. Do you want this for your own family? If your children do not trust you to have their back they may be reticent to report more serious stuff like abuse, bullying and even date rape/domestic violence.
  • Just because we don’t tell you doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. I finally found the courage to speak up in the last two years. I cut friends, extended family members and suppliers for my own mental health and sanity but also I finally understood that I didn’t have to engage with such people.
  • Words hurt. And the hurt lasts a lifetime. So those jokes you make about other races — their food, shopping habits, hoarding, driving skills … all those lazy stereotypes that the Australian media like to peddle – well, your kids are listening.  When we see racist incidents reported be dismissed or downplayed by the media (especially if it is a footy star/ celebrity accused), how do you think that makes us feel?  We don’t need to hear:
    ‘They weren’t racist to me – are you sure it happened?’
    ‘What did you do to make them act in this way?’
    ‘Rise above it!’
    ‘Ignore it!”
    ‘Can’t you take a joke?’
    ‘I’m sure Xxxx didn’t mean to be offensive…’
    This ain’t it. Do better.
  • Quite often we are rejected by our own race – we are seen as ‘too white’, too culturally ignorant, and our names are white. This can be very confronting.
    We grow up, study, work and socialise generally in white spaces. We adapt to our environments to fit in but can be treated very harshly by our own race because of this.  A heritage camp and trip once a year can’t help with this and if we are living in a white country – it is understandable that we just want to fit in/fade into the background like everyone else. But we can’t. Don’t shame us for trying to survive in our own environments.
  • Racism is hard to process when the perpetrator looks like a member of your own family. An Asian child who grows up with their own cultural background watches how their parents react and behave when they are faced with racist incidents. They see how their parents behave and speak to the offender. Nothing may be said but there is a shared experience within the family and younger members can learn from their elders – and even grow up to challenge passive responses.

Check out Gabby’s amazing Art Mentoring that she does as a volunteer with younger Chinese adoptees.

If the Moon Could Be My Birthmother Now

by Roxas-Chua, adopted from the Philippines to the USA; author, artist.

I thought I’d share this image that sits on my desktop table in my studio. I created it one of those nights when I wasn’t able to tap into shift and movement in my adoption struggle. I find that a balance of story-sharing, self-parenting work, contemplative writing and drawing has helped me in navigating and translating the world around me. In this drawing, I was accompanied by the moon, which in way gave me comfort the way nature does. I hope you enjoy it. It’s a snapshot of tenderness that we seek from ourselves and from others. If the moon can be my birthmother now, I’m alright with that. I’ll take any path that lights up the night.

For more from Roxas-Chua, see their podcast Dear Someone Somewhere and book Saying Your Name Three Times Underwater.

Poetry Reflects My Inner World

by Kevin Minh Allen, adopted from Vietnam to the USA.

I came to poetry late, but it surfaced in my life at a time when I needed it most. Poetry has always been a means for me to collect, investigate, and reflect my inner world, which has been undoubtedly imprinted with the indelible mark of adoption. The following poems seek not answers but to raise questions inside anyone who may be listening:

You can follow more of Kevin’s work at website: Sleep is No Comfort

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.”

Kyleigh shares about Adoptee Anger

This is a series on Adoptee Anger from lived experience, to help people understand what is beneath the surface and why adoptees can sometimes seem angry.

by Kyleigh Elisa, adopted from Colombia to the USA.

Adoptee anger by Kyleigh Elisa

I am angry for sure. I feel like my anger ebbs and flows. Like, some days I’m just ready to burst and others, it’s a slow burn deep down.

When I was first given permission to be angry about my adoption about a decade ago by a therapist, it was like a volcano that erupted inside of me and I couldn’t stop it for months. Back then it was more about always feeling unacceptable. Feeling like I hated how I was different in a sea of white people. That no-one close ever really acknowledged the pain inside me due to adoption. That I was made to feel like I was en exotic commodity, while also being told, “No, you’re just like us. You’re just our Kyleigh”. I feel like that was some kind of unintentional gaslighting trying to make me feel accepted, but it had the opposite effect.

Since then I let my anger out more regularly and I don’t drink to dull the pain like I used to. I am definitely still angry though and I hate being adopted. I hate colonialism. I hate white supremacy. I hate the patriarchy. I am afraid of religious organizations that allow people to justify it all. I believe all these things contribute to why we are all adopted.

Billowing anger by Kyleigh Elisa

I just start thinking about it all and the anger billows. It’s a thought path I have to force myself to interrupt because it does not help me. While I think it’s good to be aware that stuff exists, I also cannot allow it to deteriorate my mental health. So I research and try to give back to our community and participate in adoptee organizations – this reminds me that I’m not alone.

Remembering I’m not alone helps a lot. Taking gradual steps to reclaim pieces of my culture that were taken from me helps too. It’s scary while I try to get back what was lost, and that’s upsetting at times, but in the end I reap the rewards accepting each little piece back to me, as it’s mine to rightfully hold.

My View of Adoption has Changed with Time

by Maria Fredriksson adoptee and artist from South Korea to Sweden.

I will never know exactly how, when or even if I was found. My artwork on this page shows how I decided to create my own scene and I mixed the little East Asian girl with typical Nordic scenery.

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.

Longing (Someday) by Luke McQueen

by Luke McQueen adopted from South Korea to the USA. Luke’s Longing (Someday) is one of 6 musical pieces created by an intercountry adoptee to be featured in ICAVs Video Resource for Professionals.

About Me

Some people wonder why I have such a vague answer to “What’s your sign?” Here’s why. I was born somewhere in South Korea, likely near Jecheon around 1972. I was in an orphanage in Jecheon for about 1 year and adopted in 1977 to a loving family in Longmont, Colorado in the United States. Like many orphans and adoptees, I have no idea when my birthday is, hence any Zodiac sign will do. But regarding the Chinese zodiac year, I’m either a rat, pig or an ox.

My Music Journey

My earliest musical memories, lovingly captured by my family on cassette tape (kids go ahead and DuckDuckGo), include a recording of songs I learned at the orphanage. Around the age of 6 or 7, I was regularly singing in my church where my father was the pastor and I did so up until high school. I learned some classical piano (pretty much the extent of my formal training) around the age of 8 and began to compose some simple original work around the age of 10 or 11. Around 12 or 13 years old, I was given a synthesizer by a family friend and within a couple of years was able to upgrade to a real synth (the Ensoniq SQ80) with my paper route job money. I tried to impress girls but with limited success (actually, not so much though as I couldn’t overcome my insecurities and pretty serious acne). Those days I produced some amateurish creations of 80’s synthpop (better known as “music” during the actual 80’s). Speaking of, I’ve got to bring some of those songs back one of these days!

A pivotal moment in my music life came in the mid 80’s when I entered a talent competition and won based on a fairly simple composition. I beat out an extremely talented musician who played Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.” This sparked insight that new and created music is quite different from some of the most complex played/covered music. It was after this that I committed to making my own music — but it would be many years before I would have the maturity to listen to others, judge myself properly and have a learning mentality to be able to fashion an adequate song.

I joined the jazz choir in high school and ended up writing the baccalaureate song. It was called “Changes” and it was about as cheesy as it sounds, but continue reading and you’ll see why! Anyhow, for my prom date in my senior year, out came my trusted SQ80 with candles and fancy pants cake, and I sang my heart out. My date declined when I asked her out again after that, so I’ll let you decide how it went or what it meant :).

When I graduated high school I went to a small Christian College in Lincoln, Illinois, where I joined a music group and also formed a Christian band named “Going 2 Rock U.” And just like that, the cheese increases! There were some proud song creation moments, but no finished or polished production of anything for the public. I do remember I had one song that had Christian lyrics with a Babyface vibe. Honestly, I didn’t know how to craft decent songs, but I thought I was much better than I was, so I did not take any guidance or criticism well, however well-intended.

Nevertheless, in 1996 as a CU-Boulder student, I auditioned for Dave Grusin’s “A Westside Story” with the CU jazz band where I got a taste of world-class performers and saw possibilities in music. [record screech] However, I promptly chose the safety of a Technology Consulting career and put off this music dream for another 17 years. In 2013, I moved to Korea to search for my birth family and also decided to give music a try. As a student, I took a couple of Berklee Online classes in orchestration and jazz improvisation to hone my chops and then began performing in Seoul in various bands, formed my own band, and finally ended up as a solo artist. All along, I was learning how to play live and write a ton of songs, some of which will be on my record this November. To make ends meet, I worked various music company jobs and was given other opportunities to perform my music. A big opportunity came in 2020, when I became an artist in an independent entertainment company in Seoul. It’s true when they say “you can’t make it alone.” So I humbly take steps forward, with a lot of help from friends, musicians, fans and industry professionals, to build a lasting career as a solo artist.

What inspired Longing (Someday)?

Although I’ve been making music since I was in middle school, I haven’t had any songs I was ready to proudly say “this is my song.” But finally in 2013, after visiting Korea for the first time, I decided to write a song about the desire to find my birth family, specifically my birth mother. I have no memories of Korea as a child, so I imagined wandering the streets as a child and feeling the lost feeling of wanting to go home. I tapped into my own mid-life crisis where I felt my life was crippled and falling apart in so many ways–in my relationships and work, and so the feeling of escaping that and longing for the unknown helped to create lyrics. I tried variations of melodic “oohs,” deciding on the current chorus and the song was born.

A Quick Therapy Sesh

As an adoptee, I have been a combination of a chameleon, charmer, escape artist and an under-the-rug-ifier. As a child, I was decent at trying to get people to laugh and often trying to be funny, which I believe was to try and hide or deflect from my insecurity and desperate need for acceptance. Any negative feeling was avoided, unaddressed and lay dormant for many years until suddenly during mid-life, my shielding/protection from my unknown past and unprocessed feelings came back, and there was no way to hide from them anymore. I have also seen how by not addressing these issues, my self-sabotage and critical nature was eating away any opportunity and chance to succeed in music. I was certainly a mess which influenced many decisions, being in wrong relationships, and making many poor decisions for my life. Also, I have had perpetual blindness to my selfish nature, a mark of the immaturity of my character. Luckily, however, with true friends, my loving family, and by the grace of God, I have come out of all of this milieu a stronger and more confident human being. And with the realization of my selfish nature, I am able to better find the path of compassion, kindness and peace from my true loving nature. Although it will continually be a journey of learning, I believe I am more resilient than ever and now I am ready to live again, even during these challenging times of viruses, fear and lockdowns.

Has my perspective of the song changed since writing it?

Since the original writing of the song in 2013, the main thing that’s changed is my perspective on the substance of the longing. Before, I thought it was only my birth family I longed for, but now I realize it was an even deeper longing that I felt. And in 2019, this desire to connect was only truly met when I reconnected with the ultimate birth parent, God, when I became a follower of Jesus again.

Feedback I’ve received for Longing (Someday)

In general, I’ve only had positive feedback, but just like the varied experience of adoptees, it’s likely more complex… for many that have not searched for their birth family, the song may stir up emotions they have locked up for many years. For those who’ve found birth families, the longing can still exist, as unrealistic expectations are not met or worse. In general, I’ve only had positive feedback, however I would completely understand an aversion to Longing (Someday) for some adoptees who are completely avoidant of adoption-related topics. I have heard from those outside the adoption experience that this song reminds them of loved ones that have passed or whom they may be alienated from. I am blessed to have been able to produce the song and have many in your audience hear it. I hope the lyrics and music will touch their hearts as much as it touches mine.

Any new music relating to my adoption experience?

Longing (Someday) is the only truly adoptee-related song I’ve written. I do have a duet I co-wrote with another adoptee who is a wonderful poet and it’s called “The Other Side.” I may release it as a single in the future but it’s not yet production ready. I also had some music featured in an unreleased documentary called “My Umma” but I am not sure I will release the music for that. I do, however, have a song that will be on my debut album in November called “Disappearing” which I wrote from the perspective of a birth family hoping their adoptive child will return home, but with the passing of time, the very real prospect of a reunion diminishes. Now that I write this, this certainly sounds depressing. Hmm, maybe that’s why I have so many happy fun songs to offset and balance these songs!

I currently have a 5-song EP released, and will be releasing my 12-song debut album on 23 November 2021. If you’re interested, please check out my music, which is a mix of poppy fun, groovy and soulful tunes along with ballads like Longing (Someday).

So maybe I don’t have a specific “sign” I can give you, but instead I’ll give you a “song.” I hope you enjoy Longing (Someday).

How to find Luke McQueen

Mental Balance and Art

by Jonas Haid, adopted from South Korea to Germany.

Everyone is talking about work life balance.

What about mental balance?

When I finished my B.A. in fashion design I realized that doing artwork and being creative is my favourite tool to take myself out of this world. At the same time I understood that creativity can’t be a part of my future career. Here are the reasons why:

1. I need inspiration to be creative.
2. If I’m in the creative process there is no alternative, if someone criticises my artwork, I take it personal.
3. If there is too much pressure, there is no way to produce an acceptable result. If the result isn’t perfect, I’m not satisfied as an artist

So, right now I’m earning my money as director of online marketing in a big agency. I protect my creativeness to relax and take my mind into other dimensions. So, I love working with data and building digital strategies, and I still think it’s important to love your job, but it’s also important to protect your personal needs and hobbies.

This special artwork is inspired by ICAV (InterCountry Adoptee Voices), a platform for intercountry adoptees to tell the world about their story. Thank you Lynelle Long for investing your time to start this amazing organisation to help other adoptees around the world heal their souls.

The butterflies at not just random, I tried to find some from Korea, China, Vietnam and Indonesia which are also found in Europe and the rest of the world. These represent the various countries that many of ICAVs members were born in.

My message with my artwork for fellow adoptees:

Be strong, be real, be yourself.
No matter how much we’re craving for all the love we missed.
The old chapter is already written.
So take a deep breath an cheer up your confidence because there are so many chances. Just be open minded, inspired and warmed up from the love of your choice, start the first stroke of your own personal story.
You are one of a kind.

#worklife
#mentalhealth
#minimalartwork
#worklifebalance
#inspiration
#creative

Other pieces of art that Jonas has shared at ICAV: Art from the Heart, A Picture is Worth 1000 Words, The Caged Soul Mate.

Dualities

by Dilsah de Rham adopted from Sri Lanka to Switzerland.

Dual Face

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.

#artworkfeatures
#adopteeartist
#artist
#artforsalebyartist
#artworkstudio
#indigenousartist
#ink#pastel#watercolour
#duality#face
#paintingprocess
#paintinganddecorating
#paint
#emotion#cry#eye#close
#painting
#queerart
#dilsahthesolution

Tears of Trauma

by Christina Soo Ja Massey, aka YooNett adopted from South Korea to the USA.

Artwork by CS Massey aka YooNett

The Tears of Trauma I cry as a helpless Orphan, I cry as an Adult throughout my Life.

This piece of art deals primarily with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The Trauma of being abandoned, left to fight for my Life, but being unable to do so … The fear, anxieties and hopelessness of the situation. I attempted to convey how this Trauma persists throughout my Life. I have come to my Adopters already deeply scared only to relive old Experience via new Scars.

Read Christina’s previous blog Adoptees Need Mental Health Services.

For more of Christina’s artwork, visit YooNett.

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