One Adoptee’s Thoughts on the UN Joint Statement on Illegal Intercountry Adoptions

Resilience by CLAIR

On 29 September 2022, the United Nations (UN) published a press release titled: Illegal intercountry adoptions must be prevented and eliminated: UN experts which provides a Joint Statement from the UN Committees. While the majority around the world could not have pre-empted this statement, it was not news to me because our coalition Voices Against Illegal Adoption (VAIA) had been talking with the UN to ensure our input was included. I know other experts in illegal intercountry adoption around the world gave input too.

The UN Joint Statement created for me a day of mixed feelings. For many of us, myself included, who are the victims of the past and current practices that constitute illegal and illicit practices in intercountry adoption, we have been speaking up, shouting from the rooftops, demanding attention, help, and support. But usually to no avail. Most Governments around the world have continued to turn a blind eye to the reality that some of our adoptions have been questionable and some, outright illegal with prosecutions of perpetrators. As one adoptive mother and fierce advocate, Desiree Smolin essentially said on her Facebook post, why has it taken the UN so long given the decades of trafficking and illicit practices? Why have so many families and adoptees been left to suffer the same impacts when it has been known to happen for so many decades?

So on 29 September, I felt our voices have been finally heard and validated – that someone in power was listening to us. Thank you to those at the UN who worked tirelessly to make this happen. It felt a little vindicating but at the same time, the reality of this world crushes hope because I know the statement from the UN is not going to put any true pressure on governments around the world to act in our best interest, let alone help us in any practical sense.

I felt personally so empowered by the UN Joint Statement that I wrote another letter to our leader here in Australia, the Prime Minister. In my letter, I ask the Australian government once again, to please do something to help those who are impacted instead of the deathly silence we’ve experienced in the 25 years I’ve spent advocating for our rights and needs.

Have a read of my lengthy letter which highlights the many times I’ve attempted to raise this issue to our Australian government, asking for supports for the victims. I’m as yet to have any response from the Australian Prime Minister. I imagine that the post-COVID economic recovery of the country, the current floods that have hit Australia all year long, and the other more higher priority issues like domestic family violence will receive his attention first compared to my long letter about a topic that impacts only some of the 20,000 of us intercountry adoptees. We just don’t rank up there in importance and unless it was their son or daughter being impacted, there’s just no reason why our Australian government would care enough to act.

I’ve been asked by a few about what I thought the impact would be of this UN Joint Statement. I truly think the best outcome might be that States (governments) will realise the risks they bear in continuing to conduct and facilitate intercountry adoption with all its pitfalls in safeguarding the human rights of intercountry adoptees. When we consider the legal cases being fought around the world by various intercountry adoptees and the revolution in awakening that we can fight for our rights, I would caution any government against participating in intercountry adoption. Legal pathways are slowly but surely being found by adoptees around the world. Governments must realise that if they continue on as they have in the past, there will be a time of reckoning where the abuses to our human rights will finally be recognised and the injustices need to be compensated.

In the Netherlands, the fight for adoptee rights is led by Brazilian adoptee Patrick Noordoven who won his right to compensation due to his illegal adoption to the Netherlands. Dilani Butink also won her court hearing for her case of an unlawful adoption from Sri Lanka. Bibi Hasenaar is also mentioned as having liability claims in this joint report. Sadly, both Noordoven and Butink’s cases are still being appealed by the Dutch State who have unlimited funds and time which highlights the power imbalance and ongoing victimisation that adoptees face. Sam van den Haak has also sent a letter to the Dutch State about her own and 20 other Sri Lankan adoptees whose adoption files have errors that caused emotional damage.

In Sweden, Carlos Andrés Queupán Huenchumil filed an appeal to change his name back to his original, having been illegally adopted from Chile. In France, a group of Malian adoptees are taking legal action against the adoption agency for its role in their illegal adoptions. In New Zealand, Maori adoptee Bev Reweti has mounted a class action against the State for being displaced and adopted out of their Maori whānau. In South Korea, Korean-Denmark intercountry adoptee and lawyer Peter Regal Möller and his organisation Danish Korean Rights Group have submitted just under 300 cases to the Korean Truth and Reconciliation Commission seeking to know the truth about their identities that were falsified in order to be intercountry adopted. Peter openly talks about the legal cases against agencies Holt and KSS that are coming in the future. I also know of other intercountry adoptees who haven’t had published media articles yet but who are progressing in the early stages of their legal cases against States and agencies for their illegal adoptions.

The momentum is growing around the world as adoptees become more aware of the human rights abuses they’ve lived that have been facilitated via intercountry adoption.

It’s not just adoptees who are taking legal action. Some incredibly courageous parents are, and have, also taken action. Recently in France, adoptive parents Véronique and Jean-Noël Piaser who adopted a baby from Sri Lanka have filed a complaint in 2021 for the fraud that involved the stealing of their baby from her mother in Sri Lanka. In the USA, adoptive parents Adam and Jessica Davis have been successful in assisting the US government to press charges against the adoption agency European Adoption Consultants (EAC) for its role in fraud and corruption of theirs and many other adoptions.

In a landmark first, both adoptive parents and biological parents of Guatemalan-Belgium adoptee Mariela SR Coline Fanon are taking civil action in Belgium as victims of human trafficking. The case is currently under judicial investigation. This is not the first time biological parents fight for their rights in intercountry adoption. In 2020, biological father from Guatemala, Gustavo Tobar Farjardo won at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for his sons to be returned to him who had been adopted to separate families in America.

So ultimately, I believe the UN Joint Statement acts two-fold: firstly, it goes some way towards validating the traumas some live in our adoptions and encourages intercountry adoptees and families around the world to stand up and demand action and legal vindication of our truths; and secondly, it makes it clear to States the risks they undertake if they continue on in their current practices of intercountry adoption.

I would personally be glad and celebrate if adopting countries assess the risk of participating in intercountry adoption as too high to continue it into the future. We are long past the time of being blind to the colonial practices and harms of intercountry adoption. We must do more to help all countries become more aware of the responsibility they hold to their own born-to-children. Remember that some of our biggest sending countries in intercountry adoption are our richest – China, South Korea and the USA. It is time we moved past the easy solution intercountry adoption provides to countries who don’t wish to take care of their own and challenge countries to understand there is an inherent cost if they ignore their children by casting them aside, when it suits. Intercountry adoptees do grow up, we become well educated, we are empowered by Western mentality to demand our rights be respected and injustices no longer be ignored.

The UN Statement is long overdue given the decades of generations of us who are impacted by illegal and illicit adoptions. I celebrate that we have been heard at the highest level internationally, but I’m fairly certain that States will not step up to deal with this issue in any practical way. I know they will remain silent for as long as possible, hoping it blows over and meanwhile, as in the Netherlands, they will continue on in their trade of children but in a slightly different way, despite conducting a full investigation; because that’s what countries do. I’m a pragmatist and I will continue to raise awareness and push for much needed change, because I know despite the UN Joint Statement, we are still at the beginning. It will take a huge en-masse movement from impacted people to get governments to act in support of us because for too long, they’ve been able to get away with doing little to nothing. At some point, the cost for governments and participating entities of doing little, will outweigh the cost to stopping the practice.

I believe in its current form and as practiced under the 1993 Hague Convention, governments are unable to prevent and stop the illegal and illicit practices aka trafficking that include human rights abuses in intercountry adoption. Therefore it needs to be stopped. The UN Joint Statement is simply a reflection of where we are at today. Victims no longer need to plead to be heard, we HAVE been heard at the highest level internationally. What we are waiting on now, is for appropriate responses from governments and facilitating organisations — which might be a long time coming.

Resources

Governments finally recognising illicit and illegal adoption practices

Lived experience suggestions for responses to illicit adoptions

Lived experience of illegal and illicit adoption (webinar)

Stop intercountry adoption completely because abuses can never be ruled out

Unbearable how the minister deals with adoption victims

The case for moratoria on intercountry adoption

Child Laundering: How the intercountry adoption system legitimises and incentivises the practice of buying, kidnapping, and stealing children

False Narratives: illicit practices in Colombian transnational adoption

Irregularities in transnational adoptions and child appropriations: challenges for reparation practices

From Orphan Trains to Babylifts: colonial trafficking, empire building and social engineering

Double Subsidiarity Principle and the Right to Identity

Intercountry adoption and the Right to Identity

Exploitation of in intercountry adoption: Toward common understanding and action

Adoptee Artists

At ICAV, we strive to elevate adoptee artists as their works can often portray what words struggle to convey. Consistent with this, at the recent 9 September K-Box Adoptee Takeover Night, Ra Chapman and myself wanted the evening to be a celebration of Australian intercountry adoptee artists. We were able to present some of their work in a printout as a ZINE which you can view here:

Other Adoptee Artists

We’ve had some other incredible intercountry adoptee artists present their works at ICAV over the years. Here is a compilation of what has been shared. Click on the image and it will take you to their blog with artworks.

Meg at K-Box Adoptee Takeover Night

Meg is a Korean intercountry adoptee, raised in Australia and a comic artist. She makes largely autobiographical and non-fiction work that has appeared in The Nib, The Lily, Liminal Magazine, The Comics Journal and anthologies including Comic Sans, Steady Diet, Threads That Connect Us and the Eisner award-winning Drawing Power: Women’s Stories of Sexual Violence, Harassment and Survival. She has exhibited comic, animation and film work internationally, taught comic making to university students, developed and delivered comics programs to high school-aged students from migrant and refugee backgrounds with STARTTS, and art programs to elementary-aged students in Korea. Meg is currently working on a long-form work based on her experiences as the Asian child of white parents in Australia, a recent period of living in Korea, and a failed search for her Korean mother.

She created the artwork for our K-Box Adoptee Takeover Night promotional material and ZINE:

Meg also presented as one of our adoptee artists and you can watch the video of her presentation here:

You can also view it in the web version format for those who prefer to read and see.

Resources

Find out more about Meg
website: http://www.megoshea.com
IG: @even.little.meg

Check out our Photo Album, Ryan’s and Ebony’s presentations from the evening

Coming Next is our adoptee artist ZINE and other adoptee artists

Ebony at K-Box Adoptee Takeover Night

Ebony is an Haitian born intercountry adoptee raised into Australia. She is a talented artist whose body of work speaks to the complex issues we live as intercountry adoptees and exploring our identity. 

As an Australian contemporary artist with an interest in interrogating concepts of individuality, adoption, sexuality, queerness and black identity. Ebony draws on her life experience to inform the creation of her drawings and expressive sculptural forms, employing a diverse assortment of materials to compose her work. Performance is also an important element of her creative practice. In 2000, Ebony created the drag personality Koko Mass. Koko loves to perform songs with soul and is a bit of a badass who always speaks up and is honest about issues they face in society. Koko challenges perceptions head on whilst also having fun with their audience. Ebony’s practice is bold and politically engaged, responding to issues that affect her communities with a strong visual language she continues to explore. Ebony completed her Masters of Contemporary Art at Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne in 2020. 

Ebony contributed this piece of artwork for our ZINE which was a printed out magazine celebrating Australia’s intercountry and transracial adoptee artists, for people to take home.

If you live in Melbourne you can see more of her artwork at Chin Chin & Go Go at 125 Flinders Lane. The bar is decorated with her artwork and her video shown below, is projected onto the laneway. 

She is also participating with a group of Australian First Nations adoptees on the 7 Oct at Melbourne University in an exhibition titled – Adopted.

Ebony’s artist statement about this video:

Divine Make-up, 2019

Divine make-up is an example of my drawings coming to life, putting myself within the frame, showing how I draw and then pairing that with my spoken word performance. Drawing is an important part of my practice; I respect the simple form of paper and textas.

I like the immediacy of drawing; I feel my drawings can be spontaneous and I like to free draw. When I draw, I don’t plan the outcome, I start and see where it takes me, I let the marks guide my direction. My work, as Ebony, is personal and honest. My drawings are a mix of feelings, experiences and specific moments in my life. This videos shows the ideas I have explored recently, coming together to fill the space with my black self.

Watch Ebony Hickey’s Divine Make-up:

Resources

Other artwork by Ebony at ICAV:
I am ME
Born both ways

You can find out more about Ebony at:
IG: @ebony.hickey.7

Coming Next is Meg’s presentation from the evening.

Adoptee Review of Ra Chapman’s K-Box Play

by Kayla Curtis, Korean adoptee raised in Australia, social worker and counsellor specialising in adoption.

I want to share some reflections from going along to the K-Box Adoptee Takeover Night at the Malthouse and seeing Ra Chapman’s K-Box play in Melbourne, Australia on 9 September.

Personally, I am feeling an excitement from seeing K-Box because it captured so much of my personal adoption experience with confronting and emotional clarity. My comments to Ra afterwards were: “They could have been my parents on that stage, the set was my family home and the script was very close to the conversations I have navigated with my family over the years. Thank you for shining a light on some of what we have to navigate and including some of the uncomfortable and confronting issues that are so covert and invisible to others, especially our families”.  

K-Box is written and directed by Ra Chapman, a South Australian Korean adoptee, currently Melbourne based. This play is one of a kind and is the first to shine a bright light on the complexities and nuances of the intercountry adoptee experience in Australia and to have an intercountry adoptee as the leading protagonist. Ra wrote the play based on hers and other adoptees lived experiences of adoption. Feedback from adoptees who saw the play on Friday night was that the portrayal of the adoptee’s experience was not only relatable but a provoking and truthful representation of their own adoption experiences.

The play was about a 30+ year old Korean adoptee navigating relationships with her adoptive mother and father and was also about her journey of coming to understand the impact adoption has had in her life: how it has influenced her identity, her internal working model and sense of self and connection with her adoptive parents. It touched on many of the core themes of adoption including identity, belonging, loss and grief, race, the life-long impacts of adoption, racism, stereotypes, attachment, belonging, white privilege/white washing, ‘dangers of single stories’, family as well as how we talk about adoption issues and navigate these difficult discussions with our families. What the play did well is to explore the impacts on the adoptee and family relationships when these core issues are not understood, validated, explored, or supported. As is normal for many adoptees who begin to explore and pay attention to these issues, there can be a destabilising effect on the family relationships as the adoption ‘fairy-tale’ or ‘happy adoption’ narrative begins to come apart. 

L to R: Jeffrey Liu, Ra Chapman, Susanna Qian

For any professionals working in the area of adoption, this play is a great resource, providing a deep and valuable insight to the dynamics, relationships, interracial experiences, and challenges intercountry adoptees have to navigate within their adoption experience and adoptive families. Of course, this was delivered extremely cleverly with the play using comedy/satire as well as emotionally intense and beautiful monologues and symbolism complimented by outstanding acting from an intimate cast of four performers. 

It was powerfully delivered and received, leaving many adoptees who attended feeling emotional and unsteady but also connected, seen, and supported. Likewise, it may also leave adoptive parents feeling unsure, confronted, and curious about their role in their child’s adoption. In the end, I think it brings everyone together: adoptees and parents, opening up possibilities of how we can partner up around the adoption experience and do better for the journey of the adoptee.

Following the play, I valued the emotive speeches and other performances by adoptee’s sharing their creative work and projects. In addition the evening mentioned some other exciting adoptee led projects and creative works in development that I will be following closely with anticipation.  

The main takeaway for me from the evening was the amazing way adoptees were able to come together through this event, which I think highlights the collective healing power for adoptees when surrounded by community, elevating the adoptee voice in a safe and supported way and feeling a sense of strong belonging by being seen and heard. It is great knowing that the Australian adoptee community is going strong!

I hope that we can continue having open and welcomed discussions together as a community so we all can benefit in learning from those with lived experiences especially from adoptees.

Dearest Ra, please know the powerful impact you have had and how your creative work is helping to shape all of our learning and better capacitate the adoption community in Australia.

I encourage all to see Ra Chapman’s play K-Box showing only until 18 September; adoptive parents, adoptees, adoption professionals and the broader community.

Check out our Photo Album from the evening.

The 9 September K-Box Adoptee Takeover Night at the Malthouse event was proudly presented to us by Malthouse Theatre, supported by Relationships Australia Intercountry Adoptee and Family Support Services (ICAFSS) small grants, InterCountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV), International Social Services (ISS) Australia, and hosted by our wonderful adoptee led organisations and community-based groups – ICAV led by Lynelle Long and Ra Chapman from Korean Adoptees In Australia Network (KAIAN).

Coming Next at ICAVs blog is some of the Adoptee Artist performances from our Take Over of the Malthouse Night and artwork from the ZINE magazine which was handed out at the event.

Ra Chapman and some of the Korean adoptees who attended the evening
Photos by Lynelle Long

Resources

Deep Regret or Great Love? Adoptee play showcases desire for connection

K-Box: Questioning middle class Australia with blitzing comedic flair

A Life has been Lived Before Adoption

I really love the message Meseret shares as another older aged intercountry adoptee in our video series. It provides a message for prospective parents to be respectful of the experiences and life prior to a child coming home to their new adoptive family and country. It reminds us of how difficult it is to expect an adoptee to “trust” their new family, especially when language is a barrier. It helps us be realistic about what supports a family needs when undertaking older age adoptions.

Click on the image of Meseret to listen to her share.

Meseret

Resources

Trauma of Transition for Older Aged Adoptees

The Walk: A true story of Meseret Cohen

Embracing Therapy as an Adoptee

by Oleg Lougheed, adopted from Russia to the USA. Founder of Overcoming Odds.

I remember the first time I went to therapy.

I was ashamed of it.

I disliked every aspect of it.

I saw it as a sign of weakness.

Out of all of the things I looked forward to, this was at the very bottom of my list.

I remember the drive over.

“Why do I have to go here?”

“I don’t need this.”

“This is stupid.”

With each remark, I became more and more angry.

I remember exiting the car.

Not a single word, arms folded together, sprinting ahead of my parents in frustration.

“Welcome!” said the receptionist.

I didn’t respond.

“Through the double doors to the right, please.”

As I opened the double doors, my eyes immediately met them.

A room full of kids who were much younger than me.

I scanned the entire room.

Everybody was doing something.

Some were putting together puzzles.

Others were drawing.

“This is not for me,” I whispered.

I made my way toward the spot.

The spot I became far too familiar with throughout my life.

The corner of the room.

I sat there in silence, waiting for the clock to strike 8 PM.

“How are you doing?” asked the therapist on duty.

No response.

It took weeks before I said my first words.

I remember sitting in the corner of the room when the therapist approached me.

I couldn’t hold it anymore. I broke down.

Fighting back tears, I told her everything.

I told her how much I missed my birth family.

I told her that I was being bullied at school.

I told her about the struggles back home.

I felt a huge relief with each spoken word.

Unfortunately, this was one of the last sessions.

I turned back to what I knew best, silence.

It wasn’t until 10 years ago, I spoke the word, “therapy” out loud.

I was a freshman in college.

I needed someone to talk to.

The past was on the back of my mind.

I went straight to the counselling/mental health department.

I wasn’t ashamed of it anymore.

I remember the walk over.

The feeling of empowerment with every step I took.

I accepted therapy into my life, on my own terms.

Going to sessions helped me tremendously.

They helped me process and reframe many of my past traumatic experiences.

They helped me get curious about the subject and the stories I chose to believe in.

The stories of it being seen as a sign of weakness, not a strength.

The stories of therapy as something I should be ashamed of.

Curiosity helped me change many of these narratives.

Curiosity helped me embrace therapy as a part of my identity, part of my life.

For more from Oleg, read his last blog Adoptee Fear and Vulnerability
Follow him at Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn @overcomingodds

Money never makes up for what I’ve lost as a First Nations Canadian

by Jen Etherington, born as a First Nations Canadian and adopted into an Australian family.

It looks like the final payments for the sixties scoop has started going out. I get mixed feelings about it and the process.

I feel a sense of loss of culture, family and country. I’m not saying I’m not grateful for my adoptive parents and all that life has given me here in Australia but it also doesn’t mean that I don’t feel the sense of loss for everything else.

My bio parents died when I was 9 years old and that hope of meeting them was gone forever. My partner and I are currently listening to Harry Potter and I cry because I can relate to the loss of his parents and how he feels, as well as the pining to know about them. People from home in Canada tell me stories about them and I get so happy and so sad at the same time.

I see posts from bio cousins about different cultural events and traditions and I feel sad that I don’t know my culture. People here in Australia get excited when I tell them I’m First Nations Canadian and ask about my culture and I don’t have anything for them.

My bio parents didn’t have any more children because they didn’t want them to be taken away (or so I believe). I always hoped I’d have a long lost sibling out there.

I feel a big sense of loss about my last miscarriage because that was my last chance at experiencing a biological connection.

Anyway, the payment was $25,000 and I know there are people out there where this amount of money will help and make a difference but I also feel like it’s kind of hush money. I don’t feel like it is much for what happened to so many of us.

Further Reading

$25,000 settlement for Sixties Scoop Survivors, a “Slap in the Face”

Where do I belong?

by Charisse Maria Diaz, born as Mary Pike Law, cross cultural adoptee born in Puerto Rico

Pote de leche are Spanish words for “milk bottle”. Where I was born, this is how someone is described when they are too white. Yes, too white. That is what I was called at school when bullied. In my teens, I spent many Sundays sunbathing in the backyard of our home. This was one of the many ways I tried to fit in.

My tendency has been to consider myself a transcultural adoptee and not a transracial adoptee, because my adoptive parents were Caucasian like me. Recently, I realized their looks do not make my experience too different from the experience of any transracial adoptee. I was born in Puerto Rico from an American mother and English father and adopted by a Puerto Rican couple. Puerto Ricans have a mix of Native Taino, European and African genes, our skin colors are as varied as the colors of a rainbow. The most common skin tones go from golden honey to cinnamon. For some, I looked like a little milk-colored ghost.

My adoptive mother told me that an effort was made by the Social Services Department, which oversaw my adoption process, to make the closest match possible. She said the only things that did not “match” with her and my adoptive father were my red hair and my parents’ (actually, my natural father’s) religion. I was supposed to be an Anglican but was going to be raised as a Catholic. This was part of the brief information she gave me about my parents, when she confessed that they were not dead as I had been told at 7 years old. She also admitted that I was not born in Quebec, which they also made me believe. I was born in Ponce, the biggest city on the southern shore of the island. She gave me this information when I was 21 years old.

So, at 21 years of age, I discovered that I was a legitimate Puerto Rican born in the island, and also that my natural father was an English engineer and my natural mother was Canadian. I was happy about the first fact and astonished about the rest. Suddenly, I was half English and half Canadian. At 48 years old I found my original family on my mother’s side. Then I discovered this was a misleading fact about my mother. She was an American who happened to be born in Ontario because my grandfather was working there by that time. I grew up believing I was a Québéquois, after that I spent more than two decades believing that I was half Canadian. All my life I had believed things about myself that were not true.

I learned another extremely important fact about my mother. She was an abstract-expressionist painter, a detail that was hidden by my adoptive family in spite of my obvious artistic talent. I started drawing on walls at 2 years old. My adoptive parents believed that art was to be nothing more than a hobby, it was not a worthy field for an intelligent girl who respected herself and that happened to be their daughter. This did not stop me, anyway. After a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication and a short career as a copywriter, I became a full-time painter at the age of 30. To discover that my mother was a painter, years later, was mind-blowing.

Identity construction or identity formation is the process in which humans develop a clear and unique view of themselves, of who they are. According to Erik Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development, this process takes place during our teen years, where we explore many aspects of our identities. It concludes at 18 years old, or, as more recent research suggests, in the early twenties. By that age we should have developed a clear vision of the person we are. How was I supposed to reach a conclusion about who I was, when I lacked important information about myself?

My search for my original family started when there was no internet, and it took me more than 20 years to find them. I did not arrive in time to meet my mother. A lifelong smoker, she had died of lung cancer. I connected with my half-siblings, all of them older than me. They were born during her marriage previous to her relationship with my father. Two of them were old enough to remember her pregnancy. They had been enthusiastically waiting for the new baby, just to be told that I was stillborn, news that hurt them so much. Before she passed away, my mother confessed to my siblings that I was relinquished for adoption. Through them, I learned what a difficult choice it was for my mother to let me go.

During my search, well-known discrimination against Latinos in sectors of the American culture gave me an additional motive to fear rejection. I didn’t know I had nothing to worry about. My siblings welcomed me with open arms. Reconnecting with them has been such a heartwarming, comforting, life-changing experience. We are united not only by blood, but also by art, music, literature, and by ideas in common about so many things, including our rejection of racism. It was baffling to learn that my opinions about society and politics are so similar to my natural parents’ points of view, which were different, and sometimes even opposite to my adoptive parents’ beliefs.

My siblings remember my father, their stepfather, fondly. With their help I was able to confirm on the Internet that he had passed away too. His life was a mystery not only to me, but to them too. A few years later, I finally discovered his whereabouts. He lived many years in Australia and was a community broadcasting pioneer. A classical music lover, he helped to establish Sydney-based radio station 2MBS-FM and worked to promote the growth of the public broadcasting sector. His contributions granted him the distinction of being appointed OBE by the British government. My mind was blown away for a second time when I learned that he had dedicated his life to a field related to mass communication, which was my career of choice before painting. My eldest half-brother on his side was the first relative I was able to contact. “Quite a surprise!”, he wrote the day he found out that he had a new sister. Huge surprise, indeed. My father never told anyone about my existence. Now I got to know my half-siblings and other family members on his side too. They are a big family, and I am delighted to keep in touch with them.

My early childhood photo

With each new piece of information about my parents and my heritage, adjustments had to be made to the concept of who I am. To be an international, transcultural, transracial adoptee can be terribly disorienting. We grow up wondering not only about our original families, but also about our cultural roots. We grow up feeling we are different from everyone around us, in so many subtle and not so subtle ways… In my case, feeling I am Puerto Rican, but not completely Puerto Rican. Because I may consider myself a true Boricua (the Taino demonym after the original name of the island, Borikén), but in tourist areas people address me in English, and some are astonished to hear me answer in Spanish. More recently, I have pondered if my reserved nature, my formal demeanor, my cool reactions may be inherited English traits. And getting to know about my parents, even some of my tastes, like what I like to eat and the music I love, has made more sense. But in cultural terms I am not American or British enough to be able to wholly consider myself any of these. Where do I belong, then? And how can I achieve completion of my identity under these conditions? It is a natural human need to belong. Many times I have felt rootless. In limbo.

A great number of international adoptees have been adopted into Anglo-Saxon countries, mostly United States and Australia, and many of them come from places considered developing countries. The international adoptee community, which has found in social media a great tool to communicate, receive and give support, and get organized, encourages transracial and transcultural adoptees to connect with their roots. My case is a rare one, because it is the opposite of the majority. I was adopted from the Anglo-Saxon culture to a Latin American culture. I never imagined that this would put me in a delicate position.

Puerto Rico has a 500-year-old Hispanic culture. I am in love with the Spanish language, with its richness and infinite subtleties. I feel so honored and grateful to have this as my first language. We study the English language starting at first grade of elementary school, because we are a United States’ territory since 1898, as a result of the Spanish-American war. We are United States citizens since 1914. We have an independentist sector and an autonomist sector which are very protective of our culture. Historically, there has been a generalized resistance to learning English. In my case, I seem to have some ability with languages and made a conscious effort to achieve fluency, for practical reasons but also because it is the language of my parents and my ancestors.

In 2019 I traveled to Connecticut to meet my eldest half-brother on my mother’s side. That year, a close friend who knew about my reunion with natural family told me that someone in our circle had criticized the frequency of my social media posts in the English language. Now that I am in touch with my family, I have been posting more content in English, and it seems this makes some people uncomfortable. But the most surprising part is that even a member of my natural family has told me that I am a real Boricua and should be proud of it. I was astonished. Who says I am not proud? I have no doubt that this person had good intentions, but no one can do this for me. Who or what I am is for me to decide. But the point is some people seem to believe that connecting with my Anglo-Saxon roots implies a rejection of Puerto Rican culture or that I consider being Puerto Rican an inferior condition, something not far from racism. Nothing could be farther from the truth! I was born in Puerto Rico and love my culture.

Puerto Rico’s situation is complicated, in consequence my identity issues became complicated. I am aware of our island’s subordinated position to a Caucasian English-speaking country; that this circumstance has caused injustices against our people; that our uniqueness needs to be protected and celebrated. Being aware sometimes makes our lives more difficult, because we understand the deep implications of situations. There was a time when I felt torn by the awareness of my reality: being Puerto Rican and also being linked by my ancestry to two cultures which for centuries dedicated their efforts to Imperialism. I am even related through my father to Admiral Horatio Nelson, a historical character that embodies British imperialism. How to reconcile that to my island’s colonial history and situation? Where I was going to put my loyalty? To feel that I was being judged for reconnecting to my original cultures – something every international adoptee is encouraged to do – did not help me in the task of answering these difficult questions.

Even when they were not perfect and made mistakes, my natural parents were good people with qualities I admire. The more I get to know them, the more I love them. The more I know them, the more I see them in me. If I love them, I cannot reject where they came from, which is also a basic part of who I am. Therefore, I have concluded that I cannot exclude their cultures from my identity construction process.

To connect to these cultures until I feel they are also mine is a process. I am not sure if I will ever achieve this, but I am determined to go through this process without any feelings of guilt. To do so is a duty to myself, to be able to become whole and have a real, or at least a better sense of who I am. And it is not only a duty, it is also my right.

Search and Reunion in Intercountry Adoption

Search & Reunion: Impacts & Outcomes

In 2016, ICAV compiled a world’s first resource of our lived experience voices sharing the ups and downs of searching and reunions, specific to intercountry adoption. No such resource existed like this before and yet, as adoptees, one of our hugest challenges across our lifespan, is contemplating if we want to search, what’s involved, and figuring out how to go about it. I wanted to provide a way to address these questions so I asked ICAV adoptees to share their experiences, focusing on lessons learnt after looking back in hindsight. I also asked them to share what could be done by authorities and organisations to better support us in our search and reunion process. I published our perspective paper in english and french and it ended up being a 101 page paper (book) covering the experiences of adoptees from 14 birth countries, adopted to 10 adoptive countries.

Given one of the core topics for discussion at the recent Hague Special Commission is Post Adoption Support, I felt that it was timely to re-share our paper and provide a summary of what it captures for those who don’t have time to read the 101 pages and for the benefit of Central Authorities and Post Adoption organisations to learn from our experiences.

Summary of key themes from ‘Search and Reunion: Impacts and Outcomes’ by InterCountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV) 2016

Issues and challenges faced using tracing services:

  • The need for specialised counselling is a recurring theme throughout most stories, particularly to prepare adoptees for the first meeting, delivered from someone who understood and specialises in intercountry adoption
  • Searches are often conducted through social network sites that can leave adoptees can vulnerable and not properly supported to engage with birth families
  • Privacy issues and barriers
  • The need for access to birth records to help with birth reconnection
  • Several cases mentioned issues with passport and visas
  • Adoption agency would not disclose identifying information about their birth family due to privacy
  • Transparency of services and where to access them
  • Assumption that birth records are accurate, despite corruption
  • The sense of ‘rebuilding your history’
  • Challenging to maintain a relationship with birth family due to language and cultural barriers
  • Need more standardised laws  and processes for adoption agencies to follow when adoptees are seeking their information
  • Laws passed to allow adoptees access to their files
  • More support is needed for adoptees in counselling, and translation when searching
  • Facilitated counselling service that assisted with the search and reunion process from beginning to end
  • Listing of adoptees as mentors who have been through the process
  • Stories of adoptee searches and their reconciliation of those searches would provide emotional support to other adoptees thinking of beginning their own search

Suggestions for improved support for adult adoptees when searching for birth families:

  • Documentation is the key and open adoption is the best way to lend support
  • The need for interactive support groups and to know where to find them
  • A comprehensive education for adoptive parents to help them manage the lifelong issues for adoptees, and affordable counselling for all parties in the adoption process, and particularly to have access to this support regardless of the stage of the adoption process
  • Having a social worker ‘check in’ on people who are adopted throughout their lives
  • Maintenance of a database to allow the search to be conducted with access into other databases such as births, adoptions, deaths and marriages in each country
  • Some adoptees want adoptive families to have mandatory training that helps them manage adoptee issues up to the age of 18 – education in language, culture history, the importance of having all the documents, the value in making regular visits together to the country of origin
  • Include adoptee DNA testing done, Y or N on the adoption file

Key quotations from adoptees about their experience of reunification:

“Adoption is a life long journey and even to this day I have fresh revelations of my adoption. The “general” impact has been one of profound empowerment which arose from great anguish.”

“Although I had a session with a very good psychologist before my reunion, I still feel there was so much more I should have been made aware of. I wish I had been directed to other adoptees willing to share their experience of their reunion with tips, advice and support.”

“It was devastating for me to realise my birth family are basically strangers and if I wanted a relationship with them, I would have to sacrifice the life I built after they rejected me and re-alter the identity I have struggled to develop, just to fit into their expectations.”

“The biggest obstacles for search and reunion in my experience have included:

Being a ‘tourist’ in my country of birth. I found it surprisingly confronting and difficult to have people of the same nationality assume I was one of them and then having to explain my adopted situation.

Post reunion i.e., working through the consequences of opening the door to the past – it is irreversible! I should have been better prepared and better supported for the post reunion aspects and consequences.”

“It took many years to properly come to terms and to get my head around my adoption after reunion. It has undoubtedly affected my identity and the course of my life for the best. My adoption has become something I have grown to appreciate and evolve with. Learning my life should have ended before I was even born, has made me incredibly grateful and motivated to do something with my life.”

“Primal wounding when separated from mothers is exacerbated by the mystery of unanswered questions.”

To read the full ICAV Perspective Paper: Search & Reunion – Impacts & Outcomes in English or French, see our collection of Perspective Papers.

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