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.”

On the Road to Recovery

I am a 36-year-old Filipino American adoptee and my road to recovering from being orphaned as a baby has never come easy. I didn’t have the resources to return to the Philippines to restore my heritage. I never had the resources to mend the problems I had with my intercountry adoption placement. So, I had to find creative solutions to recover from all of this.

I can’t promise any tips to save anyone from the complications of being adopted or adopting. What I can do is give a few personal solutions that I found in my own adoptee life that helped on my road to recovering from my intercountry adoption journey.

5 Things I Did to Reclaim My Adoptee Life

  1. Creating. I first studied writing and then library and information science. My interests led to making mixed media art and information products that helped me voice my transracial life’s losses and restructure a new sense of identity in innovative ways. I could transform my grief with art and education. For instance, I made a digital archive showing my adoption process and the biological identity that I lost when I was born as an orphan in the Philippines in 1985. You can view my archive here and my Instagram here.
  2. Retreating peacefully. In-between a rock and a hard place, I had to choose what was best for me psychologically and emotionally. I started retreating from the norm in my early twenties. I separated from my adoptive family through geographic and social distancing. I retreated from all of the past relations that failed me in the past and the bad relationships I had. I moved to Hawaii in my thirties, a place I had been mysteriously called to for years. There, I let go. But despite letting go, I never gave up on myself, or the love I have for life, my ideals or the world around me. And to keep myself well in Hawaii, I continued my meditation practices and holistic therapies.
  3. Focusing on Work. There are pathways in Buddhism where one can practice meditation optimally and achieve liberation through intensive work and labor. Work has been the best practice for me. Work caters to my studious personality. It is the best physical, emotional and psychological outlet. I can rebuild a sense of identity in work as well.
  4. Being Involved in Communities. I got involved with supportive communities and support groups. I gravitate towards people that practice meditation, people that are devoted to art or learning, or nonprofit endeavours. I enjoy being a part of supportive networks with people. I ask questions. I volunteer. I like to believe that I restructure the broken bonds of my history by being involved today. Being a part of communities helps me cultivate a sense of belonging. I build a positive foundation around me and support structures.
  5. Taking Care of My Relations Today. Relationships keep me regulated in my daily life. My relations include unconventional ones like taking care of my plants, my cat, work relations and with myself. I’ve started adoptee counselling on a regular basis to cultivate a better relationship that I have with myself and my adoptee world. I am also returning to my adoptive family this Christmas to visit and help heal my relations with them. My relations help me keep well in life today.

Yes, I still feel echoes of my broken bonds affect my life today. I still ache from having been born into destitute poverty in the Philippines so long ago. I still dream of the older Filipino American brother whom I lost in this intercountry adoptee experience. I still carry the void where my biological family’s voices are forever gone. There is no easy answer to recover from these paradoxes.

Despite it all, I do know that I am finding my way day by day. I have been coming out of the fog, and it has been a good thing.

Read more from Desiree:
Reconstructing Identity & Heritage
A Filipino Adoptee’s Plea not to be Erased

Sunday Junk Journaling

Today was a difficult day. It was hard picking myself up after falling down. It was harder still, to do the task I had set for myself which was to finish this junk journal spread on this Sunday in Hawaii. Gravity felt like weights pulling down on me. Gradually I felt lighter with each layer of mixed media I applied onto the page. Paintings, a doily, an envelope reconstructed, a little space for handwritten poetic thought written in cursive, cut out images of yellow flowers, Victorian art and pieces of vintage book pages. I finally published it and although my work is never perfect to me, I feel a sense of exultation when my secretive mixed media gets posted, shown for the world to see. I don’t feel as lonely when that happens. I show myself in the most beautiful of ways, showing all the best parts of me. So I try to junk journal on a regular basis, at least one post a week if I can. Today was difficult but I published one spread and that helped me keep going.

What was one thing that helped you keep going today?

Please comment here or write me at starwoodletters@gmail.com

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