by Cameron Lee, adopted from South Korea to the USA, therapist and founder of Therapy Redeemed
What entitles an adoption agency to continue operating? The number of children placed per month? The lowest amount of adoption discontinuities annually? The director’s credentials? Their appearance in an exclusive media production?
If they struggle to incorporate a diverse range of adoptee testimonies into the way they effectively deliver child welfare services, including initiatives to keep families intact, what is it they’re doing in and to our communities?
One question adoptive parents can ask is, “How have adult adoptee testimonies changed your standard operating procedures in the past five years? Can you show at least three examples of how your program has shifted or evolved based on adoptee-led research and literature?”
Unless they’re willing to show you their contribution to the healing pools of service they claim to provide, it’s okay to wonder how many people and families have been held back from accessing their facilities of living water.
In other words, show us the heart of your agency. If it’s an abundance of non-adoptees speaking and teaching, there needs to be something else that shows us you’re working in the best interest of the adoptee, not just at the age they’re “adoptable” but across our lifespan.
We want to partner with you! But please, minimize the idea that our activism is bad for business. The adoptee voice shouldn’t be a threat to those eager to learn how to serve adoptees better. So many of us want to help you bring your promises to life. Thanks for hearing us in that way – and making it a “best practice” in solidarity.
Hardly anyone really wants to know, and people don’t talk about it easily, let alone the adoptees’ attention when it happens. Usually the attention goes to the #adoptiveparents and the adoptees are often alone in the rain.
Last week was the book launch of adoptive mother Rini van Dam’s book #donderdagen in Sneek. Speakers’ introductions rightly focused on the author, of course, but one of the topics why the book was created was Sannison’s death. A fellow Korean adoptee who ended her life before she was 17 and her funeral service was on November five, my birthday. She had just broken up with a fellow adoptee shortly before. It was 1991, the year when association for adopted Koreans, Arierang, held its first major national meeting. The year where loves both blossomed and burst apart. The year I became aware of what and pain and sorrow lurked beneath us all.
Two years later, Julia, a Korean adoptee from Belgium who left life just before she turned 21, died and her funeral service was on 5 November, my birthday. Her adoptive parents, however, did not want adoptees at the funeral service.
A few years later, I would lose my own sister, Joo Min, while stationed as a UN soldier in Bosnia. We don’t really know why she chose to save two boys in their fall in the French Italian Alps when she must have known it would be fatal for her herself.
Yesterday, I was reminded of the above. A painful but perhaps the most necessary confrontation with my personal history to learn through this hard road that I could no longer look away from my inner development. Since then, I have been working hard for the suffering of adoptees around the world. But instead of praise and support, I received threats and angry adoptive parents in my path. Some even threatened to want to kill me. But angry adoptees and #scientists, especially from the Netherlands, also tried to take my message off the air. Until the Swedish research by Anders Hjern, Frank Lindblad, Bo Vinnerljung came out in 2002 and substantiated my experiences and suspicions.
Existential trauma to suicide shows a relationship with the tearing process created by relinquishment and #adoption. Since then, such outcomes have surfaced all over the world except in the Netherlands. The Netherlands still likes to indulge in the Walt Disney story and any contrary noise about this phenomenon is conveniently dismissed by statistical research, which, although Evidence Based accredited, manages to conveniently dismiss this issue.
Science prefers to leave the suffering of many adoptees to themselves because what doesn’t show up in the statistics doesn’t exist according to the government and adoption agencies.
Bijna niemand wil het echt weten, en men spreekt er niet makkelijk over, laat staan dat de geadopteerden de aandacht krijgen als het gebeurt. Meestal gaat de aandacht naar de #adoptieouders en staan de geadopteerden vaak alleen in de regen.
Gisteren was de boekuitreiking van het boek #donderdagen van adoptiemoeder Rini van Dam in Sneek. De inleidingen van sprekers waren natuurlijk terecht gericht op de schrijfster, maar een van de onderwerpen waarom het boek is ontstaan is de dood van Sannison. Een mede Koreaanse geadopteerde die voor haar 17e een eind maakte aan haar leven en haar rouwdienst was op vijf november, mijn verjaardag. Ze had kort daarvoor net de prille verkering met een medegeadopteerde uitgemaakt. Het was 1991, het jaar dat vereniging voor geadopteerde Koreanen, Arierang, haar eerste grote landelijke bijeenkomst achter de rug had. Het jaar waar zowel liefdes opbloeiden, maar ook uit elkaar spatten. Het jaar dat ik mij gewaar werd welk en pijn en verdriet onder ons allen schuil ging.
Twee jaar later, overleed Julia, een Koreaanse geadopteerde uit België die net voor haar 21e het leven verliet en haar rouwdienst was op vijf november, mijn verjaardag. Haar adoptieouders echter wilden geen geadopteerden bij de rouwdienst.
Enkele jaren later zou ik mijn eigen zus, Joo Min, verliezen terwijl ik gestationeerd was als VN soldaat in Bosnië. We weten niet echt waarom ze verkoos om twee jongens in hun val in de Frans Italiaanse Alpen te redden terwijl ze geweten moet hebben dat het haar zelf noodlottig zou worden.
Gisteren werd ik aan het bovenstaande herinnerd. Een pijnlijke, maar wellicht de meest noodzakelijke confrontatie met mijn persoonlijke historie om via deze harde weg te leren dat ik niet langer weg kon kijken van mijn innerlijke ontwikkeling. Sindsdien heb ik mij hard gemaakt voor het leed van geadopteerden over de hele wereld. Maar inplaats van lof en ondersteuning ontving ik bedreigingen en boze adoptieouders op mijn pad. Sommigen dreigden mij zelfs om te willen brengen. Maar ook boze geadopteerden en #wetenschappers, vooral uit Nederland, probeerden mijn boodschap uit de lucht te halen. Totdat het Zweedse onderzoek van Anders Hjern, Frank Lindblad, Bo Vinnerljung in 2002 uitkwam en mijn ervaringen en vermoedens staafde.
Het existentiële trauma tot zelfdoding laat een relatie zien met het verscheurende proces dat ontstaat door afstand en #adoptie. Sindsdien zijn over de hele wereld dergelijke uitkomsten opgedoken behalve in Nederland. Nederland laaft zich nog graag aan het Walt Disney verhaal en elk tegengesteld geluid over dit fenomeen wordt handig weggewerkt door statistisch onderzoek, dat weliswaar Evidence Based geaccrediteerd is, maar dit onderwerp handig weet weg te werken.
De wetenschap laat het lijden van veel geadopteerden liever aan henzelf over want wat niet in de statistieken opduikt bestaat niet volgens de overheid en de hulpverlening.
ICAVs Memorial Page with Suicide Awareness links and other resources on this topic
On Friday 9 September, I co-hosted with Ra Chapman (Korean intercountry adoptee and playwright) an adoptee artist event in Melbourne, Victoria at the Malthouse Theatre. This event followed the performance of Ra’s incredible comedy play, K-Box which is the story of Lucy (a Korean intercountry adoptee) who is a 30+ year old Korean adoptee who brings some humour and hard truths to the dinner table.
Following the play, we had some of our talented intercountry adoptee artists present a small 10 minute segment on their artwork.
The next few blogs will bring to you a couple of these adoptee artists in their presentations, followed by some of the artwork we captured for the ZINE, a small magazine showcasing their artwork as a take home memento from our evening.
For me, the highlight of the evening was a reading by a Korean adoptee who is an academic, a writer, and co-host of podcast Adopted Feels, Ryan Gustafsson. Ryan is a writer, researcher, and podcaster. Their most recent publication is ‘Whole Bodies,’ which appears in Liminal’s anthology Against Disappearance: Essays on Memory (Pantera Press, 2022). Ryan is also co-facilitator of the Korean Adoptee Adoption Research Network (KAARN).
Ryan’s presentation was powerful, eloquent, and poignant and presented with such raw honesty, it resonated within my soul as I could relate to so much of what they shared about how we can feel about our first mother.
Have a listen to Ryan’s reading from an excerpt of their writing titled – We met each other with different names.
Most people assume that our adoptions are all legal and legitimate. Most people assume that adoptees want to meet their first mothers. Aimee’s story highlights the harsh reality that not all adoptions are legal and that media involvement is not always helpful or kind to the adoptee who may not even want, nor be ready, to reunite.
The worst part of Aimee’s story which isn’t shared in this video, is that even though the Taiwanese government prosecuted the traffickers responsible for her illegal adoption, to date, nothing has been offered by either the Taiwanese nor Australian governments to help Aimee in any specific way in dealing with the ongoing impacts of being illegally adopted. There is a whole cohort of Taiwanese adoptees in Australia with Aimee who were a result of the Julie Chu trafficking ring in Taiwan that was prosecuted. No-one has followed up on these adoptees to check on them, to let them know of how their adoption came about, nor to make any specific supports be made known to them.
I can’t believe it’s been just over a year since I filmed 8 amazing people who openly shared their experience and views of life as intercountry adoptees. In the next few weeks, I want to highlight the individual videos from our video series, that help to share about the complexities of being an adoptee.
Here is Jonas who shares about his journey to find his inner peace, coming to terms with the losses, struggles, and gains from being adopted at an older age out of Haiti to Australia. It’s worth sharing especially for younger male adoptees of colour who often struggle in silence with very few role models or racial mirrors. Being adopted doesn’t always mean an endless struggle. Jonas talks about no matter how tough the journey is, it is possible to reach a place of acceptance and peace when one puts in the hard work to explore our beginnings, come to terms with our realities and find a way through.
Have a listen to Jonas share in the video by clicking on the image below.
Race and Trauma resources specific to intercountry adoption
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.
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.
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.
Adoption is political! Last week there was an article in the Dutch newspaper Trouw by Sam van den Haak. The headline and subtext state:
Support adopted children who are looking for their own parents with a fund Parents spend tens of thousands of euros to adopt a child. But if adopted children want to find their own parents, there is no money for that. That’s not right, thinks Sam van den Haak, who was adopted from Sri Lanka herself.
It is hopeful to see that since 1989 where I was very involved by providing my critical input to counterbalance adoption debates, more and more adoptees are today emerging who seem to follow in these footsteps. And although I have withdrawn from this shadowy, and at times dangerous, political domain of adoption, I must nevertheless make a comment about the constant protection of adoptive parents by many of these adoptees. These adoptive parents are silent every time and it seems that they are once again sitting out this ‘storm’.
But where Van den Haak talks about prospective parents, it is actually about her adoptive parents at the same time. And it is actually not entirely true that adoptive parents were not aware, or could have been, that there might have been a lot wrong with intercountry adoption (the legal jargon for overseas international adoptions).
A prospective parent who had studied the matter could have known that in most cases there was at least a scent of something not right to it. Now it is mainly shifted by them to governments and adoption mediators – these are organizations that are remarkably often set up by and for adoptive parents. #STOCKHOLMSYNDROOM
I understand that many adoptees do not wish to criticize their adoptive parents because in many cases that is their last straw to cling to when it comes to a tangible family to belong within. But without these 30,000 adoptive parents in the Netherlands, we would not have the consequences we now see. And if all those adoptive parents did indeed mean well with us, why do they always remain silent en masse and refuse to seek redress from the Dutch government and force it to make better provisions for adoptees who are impacted?
In the meantime, the Ministry of Justice set up an operation smokescreen by organizing a so-called “national consultation” that cost thousands of euros with external consultants who had done little to no preliminary research to create the idea that there would be unbiasedness and room for participation. During one of those first rounds in Utrecht, I already outlined the outcome. The ministry dismissed that as incorrect and premature. Hundreds of hours were in it for participants in these meetings, but in the end I was right. No money for adoptees for things as Van den Haak advocates, but a questionable counter function for post adoption support.
The entire operational execution and money goes to the FIOM in Den Bosch (ISS Netherlands), which also has a questionable reputation in the adoption history by being one of the early facilitators of intercountry adoption.
The whole exercise of the Ministry of Justice could have saved us wasting effort and the money involved could have gone to adoptees. But as is often the case, logic is lacking on these types of cases, and that frustrates many adoptees.
In a personal capacity, Hilbrand Westra
ADOPTIE IS #POLITIEK (Tammy Chu) Een internationaal hoofdpijn dossier
Vanochtend stond er een artikel over #adoptie in dagblad Trouw van Sam van den Haak.
Het is hoopvol om te zien dat er sinds (1989) mijn kritische tegenwicht in het adoptiedebat, steeds meer geadopteerden opstaan die in deze voetsporen lijken te volgen. En alhoewel ik mij uit dit schimmige, en bij tijden gevaarlijke, politieke domein van adoptie teruggetrokken heb, moet ik toch een kanttekening plaatsen bij het telkens in bescherming nemen van #adoptieouders door veel van deze #geadopteerden. Deze adoptieouders zwijgen telkens als het graf en het lijkt erop dat ze deze ‘storm’ wederom uitzitten.
Maar waar Van den Haak het over wensouders heeft, gaat het eigenlijk tegelijkertijd over haar #adoptieouders. En het klopt feitelijk ook niet helemaal dat adoptieouders niet op de hoogte waren, of hadden kunnen zijn dat er wellicht van alles mis was met interlandelijke adoptie, het juridische jargon voor overzeese internationale adopties. Een beetje wensouder die zich verdiept had in de materie had kunnen weten dat er in de meeste gevallen er op z’n minst een luchtje aan zat. Nu wordt het door hen vooral afgeschoven op overheden en adoptiebemiddelaars. Organisaties die opvallend genoeg vaak juist zijn opgezet door en vanuit adoptieouders. Hoe dan?
Ik snap wel dat vele geadopteerden als de dood zijn om hun adoptieouders te bekritiseren. Want dat is in veel gevallen wel hun laatste strohalm als het om een tastbaar #gezin gaat. Maar zonder deze 30.000 adoptieouders in Nederland zaten we nu niet met de gevolgen. En als al die adoptieouders het inderdaad zo goed met ons gemeend hadden, waarom zwijgen ze dan telkens massaal en weigeren ze bij de Nederlandse overheid verhaal te halen en deze te dwingen betere voorzieningen te treffen voor geadopteerden?
Intussen werd er door het Ministerie van Justitie een operatie rookgordijn opgezet door een zogeheten landelijk overleg te organiseren wat duizenden euro’s koste met externe consultants die nauwelijks tot geen vooronderzoek hadden gedaan om de zweem te creëren dat er sprake zou zijn van onbevooroordeeldheid en ruimte voor medezeggenschap. Tijdens een van die eerste rondes in Utrecht, schetste ik de uitkomst al. Door het ministerie werd dat weggewuifd als incorrect en te voorbarig. Honderden uren zaten er in voor deelnemers aan deze bijeenkomsten, maar uiteindelijk kreeg ik gelijk. Geen geld voor geadopteerden voor zaken zoals Van den Haak bepleit, maar een twijfelachtige loketfunctie voor adoptienazorg. De hele operationele uitvoering en geld gaat naar het Fiom in Den Bosch dat ook een discutabele reputatie in de adoptiegeschiedenis er op nahoudt.
De hele exercitie van het MVJ had ons dus bespaart kunnen blijven en het geld wat daarmee gemoeid ging naar geadopteerden kunnen gaan. Maar zoals wel vaker, logica ontbreekt op dit soort dossiers, en dat frustreert menige geadopteerde.