Decolonizing Moses

by Kayla Zheng, adopted from China to the USA.

Growing up in an evangelical white Christian home, I learned the story of Moses before I learned the story of Santa or Easter Bunny. White Christianity was a core pillar in my years growing up. Like Moses, who was orphaned and floated down the Nile to be rescued, adopted and raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, then to grow up and save his people the Israelites, I too now bear that responsibility. After all, I was an orphan, affected by policy, soared across the ocean to be raised by another people, and it was my duty to one day go back home and save my people, just like Moses did for his.

As I look back to a painful time of adolescence, scarred deeply by shame, guilt, white Christianity, and white saviorism (an extension of white supremacy), I also laugh at the irony of the story. As an adoptee who advocates for adoptee rights and the abolition of the adoption industrial complex, I am bombarded by demands to be grateful for the good white people that saved me. In lieu of being denied basic human rights, autonomy, forcibly rehomed, bought, and sold; I am still gaslighted into silence for speaking out. I am shamed for holding the systemic institutions of racism, capitalism, western imperialism, white saviorism, and the exploitation of vulnerable communities for the benefit of whiteness, accountable. Bombarded by the message that I should be indebted to the west for all the best it has given me: opportunities, education, escape from the clutches of poverty, and most importantly, my chance at salvation and living under the blood of Jesus Christ! I am never far from someone condemning me for my lack of gratitude, reprimands of how my story is not an accurate representation of their understanding of adoption and its beauty. The ones who curse my name are not and have never been a transracial, intercountry, transcultural, adoptee of colour. 

I always appreciate the irony that Moses, like myself, would have been hated for what he did. The Moses that is praised for saving his people and admired by millions of people around the world are the same people, who condemn me and my stance on abolition. Why? Moses turned his back on his adoptive family and people. In fact, it could be argued that Moses is responsible for drowning his adoptive people in the Red Sea. Moses was seen as a prince, had the best education money could buy, in the wealthiest family, and had unlimited opportunities. Moses escaped the absolute clutches of poverty and slavery, yet he gave that all away, turned his back on his adoptive family, and everyone accepts that he did the right thing. Moses is hailed a hero, his actions are justified and his choice to choose the love of his people and family goes unscathed. Why is the love for my people and family any different? 

As I have aged, studied, and examined the exploitation of the privilege, power, and systemic oppressive policies that are pillars in upholding the adoption industrial complex, I give back a burden that was never mine to bear. A multi billion-dollar industry that profits from family separation and the selling of children to the wealthy west and mostly white communities, I no longer feel a sense of doom in carrying the mantle of Moses. Rather, I embrace and hope to be the Moses for the adoption community. I have no desire to save my people, as adoptees have no issue in wielding their own power. I aim to liberate adoptees and remove barriers for adoptees to access tools to liberate themselves. Yes, I will be your Moses and I will provide a path through the sea of guilt, shame, obligation, and much more. I will be your Moses and watch the adoption industrial complex drown, with all of its supporters. Yes, I will be your Moses, just not the Moses you expect me to be. And when you ask me to look back at my adoptive family and all that the west has given me in hopes to shame me, I will point to your scriptures and show you that Moses chose his people over profits. Moses had his loyalties to abolition; Moses chose to relinquish prince-hood, power, and the most pampered lifestyle and what most would consider a “better life”, for the right to reclaim his birthright in family, culture, race, and identity.

So, when you ask me to be grateful, I will smile and remind you that it is in fact you who should be grateful, I could have drowned you.

LIONHEART Review

Lionheart book cover

I had no idea that I had a deep need to see my children feeling happy. I realise now how negatively I viewed anger and frustration. I hadn’t realised that when I set out to adopt a child, part of it was about fixing a broken child. I had so much love to give, and I thought I could love a baby until he was whole again. p94

LIONHEART: The Real Life Guide for Adoptive Families is a book written by what I would term awesomely switched on adoptive parents. If all adoptive parents were as embracing of our traumatic beginnings as these 3 couples, with the efforts they’ve clearly gone to to deal with the complexities involved, my guesstimate is – we would see far less tragic and negative outcomes from intercountry adoption worldwide.

This book needs to be read by prospective adoptive parents in every receiving country! In America alone, this book would make a HUGE impact to the necessary and truthful education that should be provided to prospective parents about the reality of the task they are taking on via intercountry adoption.

This book is the best hands-on manual I’ve read that comprehensively gives prospective and adoptive parents a relevant guide to handle the challenges we inevitably bring as adopted people. From the go-start, the authors make it clear this is not a book for the faint hearted, hence the title Lionheart. The authors outline the reality which I’ve also experienced as an intercountry adoptee, raised in the same type of family as represented in their book i.e., of being an intercountry adopted child amongst adoptive parent’s biological children.

I related to this book on a few levels. Firstly as an adult intercountry adoptee I saw myself through the journey’s of their adopted children – struggling to feel secure, behaving in many of the same ways in childhood, wanting to develop trust but afraid, confronting many of the same challenges, etc.

” … parenting a baby who was both desperately ill and emotionally scarred is different in a lot of ways. I am a biological and adoptive parent, and I can tell you from first hand experience, they are not the same.” p90

Secondly, as a parent to my own biological child with additional needs, this book was a reflection of my own parenting across the past 11 years! I could totally relate to the sensory issues, the challenging behaviours, the search for answers and therapies, the exhaustion of trying desperately to find something that works, and the differences in parenting a child with no additional needs versus one with many, etc. The authors correctly make the connection, that adopting a child is literally the same as having a child with additional needs.

Much of the standard advice for parenting children with a mental illness applies to adoptive families. p102

Thirdly, these 3 families came together to form their own support network because they realised they were in a unique situation and that support was crucial to their survival in adoption. This book came about as a result of their friendship, from supporting each other and realising the lessons learnt could be valuable to others. So too, I have built a support network with my fellow adult intercountry adoptees, and we have produced many great papers, books and resources that are of value to others.

The one area this book doesn’t cover at all, which I would recommend any prospective and adoptive parents investigate, are the big picture ethical, political, social, and human rights questions and dilemmas within intercountry adoption. My personal adoption journey is a lifelong one and what I’ve noticed particularly after having children of my own, is I’ve slowly opened my eyes to the bigger picture of intercountry adoption. This stage includes asking questions my adoptive parents never asked but which sit deep within and eventually rise to the surface.

ethic questions

Questions such as: was my relinquishment and hence adoption legitimate, was money exchanged and was it equivalent to what it would cost to process the adoption or was money made from the transaction, who gained from that money, how many children are sent from my birth country each year and why, what happens for the birth families and how do they cope after losing their child, what if they didn’t have to loose their child and how can we empower that option?

Human rights questions like: what did my birth country do to try and help keep me with my family, my extended family, my community, my country, before I was intercountry adopted out? How did my adoptive parents participate in this trade/business? Was it willingly or blindly? Does it make any difference? Is intercountry adoption as black and white as generally portrayed in media? Were there other outcomes I as an adoptee might have lived, if I had not been adopted in an adoption industry fuelled by money?

Maturing in my understanding of adoption, I’ve realised it is not what it first appears and we need to prepare adopted children at age appropriate stages for the big picture questions. The book had a couple of intersections where this could have been explored but was not. For example, the death of a child allocated to one adoptive family and later because of the grief and feelings of loss, the parents changed country and agency to adopt from. Then in a different chapter, one adopted child asks (what is termed a “strange” question), “can you buy a child?” I pondered how can it be that we adoptees clearly see the connection but not adoptive parents. In our simple view, if you choose and select a child from whatever country you wish, or change because it doesn’t suit any longer, pay some money to process the transaction, how is this not akin to shopping i.e., buying a child? Is the question really that strange? It’s a powerful reality we adoptees eventually come to question and reflects just one aspect of the social-political-economic-gender complexities which all adoptive parents would be wise to consider and discuss openly as adopted children grow up.

Within ICAV, I can vouch we DO think and discuss these higher level complex issues. We also write extensively about how intercountry adoption is facilitated, by whom, whether the cycle is perpetuated by demand (prospective parents), and why we have no legal rights – clearly apparent when our adoptions break down, we are trafficked or have falsified documents, or suffer abuse or deportation.

Perhaps the authors of the book have yet to reach this stage with their children and that could possibly explain why it is absent. If so, I would love to see them write in years to come, a longitudinal book covering the later stages of adoptive parenting as their children grow to my age and beyond.

Regardless of the omission of big picture questions, I’d highly recommend this book to all prospective parents because it’s certainly a massive head start from the help adoptive parents from my generation received.

This book provides a no-punches spared, honest account of what REALLY happens when you adopt a child from a foreign country. The premise of the parenting advice comes from a trauma informed and attached parenting perspective. In my opinion as an intercountry adoptee, this is a true account of the emotional baggage we come with regardless of whether we are adopted as infants or not. I have written before we are not blank slates. If prospective parents are NOT prepared to take on the realities as presented in this amazing resource written by experienced adoptive parents, then I suggest intercountry adopting a child may not be for you. But if they are willing to embrace what this book has to offer, plus be open to discuss the bigger picture of intercountry adoption, I believe this will enable your family, the best chance of better outcomes.

Visit their website for details on how to purchase Lionheart.

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