Adoptees at the Hague Special Commission

Next week on 4-8 July, the 104 signatory countries of the Convention of 29 May 1993 on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption will gather online together at the Special Commission meeting to discuss Post Adoption and Illicit / Illegal Adoption matters. It is a significant event that happens usually every 5 years and this marks the first time there will be broad representation of intercountry adoptees attending as Observers. Historically since 2005, International Korean Adoptee Association (IKAA), the network representing Korean adoptee interests has been the only adoptee organisation to attend. In 2015, Brazil Baby Affair (BBA) was the second adoptee led organisation to attend with IKAA. Due to COVID, this current Special Commission meeting was postponed and over the past years, I can proudly say I have helped to spread the knowledge amongst adoptee led organisations of HOW to apply and encouraged lived experience organisations like KUMFA (the Korean mothers organisation) to represent themselves. This year, we proudly have 6 adoptee led organisations representing themselves and their communities. We have progressed!

Back in 2015, I wrote the blog titled Why is it Important to have Intercountry Adoptee Voices on this website. Many times over the years I have advocated about the importance of our voices being included at the highest levels of government discussions. So I say again, our voices are immensely important at these highest levels of adoption policy, practice and legislation discussions.

Some critics might say we change nothing in intercountry adoption by attending these meetings, however, I would like to suggest that merely seeing us represent our adult selves in numbers, helps governments and authorities realise a few key points:

  • We grow up! We don’t remain perpetual children.
  • We want to have a say in what happens to future children like ourselves.
  • We help keep them focused on “who” we really are! We are not nameless numbers and statistics. We are alive people with real feelings, thoughts and a myriad of experiences. Their decisions MATTER and impact us for life and our future generations!
  • We help them learn the lessons from the past to make things better for the future and remedy the historic wrongs.
  • We are the experts of our lived experience and they can leverage from our input to gain insights to do their roles better and improve the way vulnerable children are looked after.

One of the advantages of the framework of the Hague Convention, is that it creates opportunities like the upcoming Special Commission where adoptees can have visibility and access to the power structures and authorities who define and create intercountry adoption. Domestic adoptees lack this framework at a global scale and are disadvantaged in having opportunities that bring them together to access information and people which is important in advocacy work.

I’m really proud of our team of 8 who are representing ICAV at this year’s meeting. I have ensured we cover a range of adoptive and birth countries because it’s so important to have this diversity in experiences. Yes, there’s still room for improvement, but I’ve been limited by people’s availability and other commitments given we all do this work as volunteers. We are not paid as government or most NGO participants at this upcoming meeting. We get involved because we are passionate about trying to improve things for our communities! Equipping ourselves with knowledge on the power structures that define our experience is essential.

Huge thanks to these adoptees who are volunteering 4 days/nights of their time and effort to represent our global community!

  • Abby Forero-Hilty (adopted to the USA, currently in Canada, born in Colombia; Author of Colombian adoptee anthology Decoding Our Origins, Co-founder of Colombian Raíces; ICAV International Representative)
  • Cherish Asha Bolton (adopted to the USA, born in India, President of People for Ethical Adoption Reform PEAR; ICAV USA Representative)
  • Colin Cadier (adopted to France, born in Brazil, President of La Voix Des Adoptes LVDA)
  • Jeannie Glienna (adopted to the USA, born in the Philippines, Co-founder of Adoptee Kwento Kwento)
  • Judith Alexis Augustine Craig (adopted to Canada, born in Haiti; Co-founder of Adult Adoptee Network Ontario)
  • Kayla Zheng (adopted to the USA, born in China; ICAV USA Representative)
  • Luda Merino (adopted to Spain, born in Russia)
  • Myself, Lynelle Long (adopted to Australia, born in Vietnam; Founder of ICAV)

We represent ourselves together with our adoptee colleagues who represent their own adoptee led organisations as Observers:

I’m not expecting great changes or monumental happenings at this upcoming meeting, but it’s the connections we make that matter whether that be between ourselves as adoptees and/or with the various government and NGO organisations represented. Change in this space takes decades but I hope for the small connections that grow over time that accumulate and become a positive influence.

The next few posts will be sharing some of the key messages some of our team put together in preparation for this Hague Special Commission meeting on Post Adoption Support and what the community via these leaders, wish to share. Stay tuned!

An Adoptee Shares on EMDR Therapy

by Gabriela Paulsen, adopted from Romania to Denmark.

EMDR Therapy Changed My Life!

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy for me, involved the therapist moving 2 fingers in front of my head so the eyes are moving side to side, while I was thinking about a trauma event. The stimuli can also be something I hold in my hand which is vibrating or it can be tapping done by the therapist. The eye movements help the brain to take up the trauma and reprocess it again, so it does not disturb me in daily life. During the eye movements, I sometimes had different reactions such as crying or maybe some body sensations like getting hot or fast breathing because my body experiences the trauma event again. There can many kind of different reactions and the tricky part is that I had no idea how I would react until I tried it!

In my case, I wanted to work with a trauma I had from my time in Romania as an orphan, I think it was from the orphanage, but I am not completely sure as it could also be a memory from my time in hospital.

My trauma was a memory I only got when I was sleeping and when the trauma was about to occur it felt like I might pass out and loose control. In that moment I knew that I would relive the trauma event again. I experienced the nightmare quite often as a teenager. The last time it happened, was around 10 years ago, just before I turned 17-18 years old. The trauma event felt extremely real. I was very scared and after I woke up, I was completely paralysed with fear. I had always thought this was something real, so when my therapist recommended EMDR therapy for me, I said yes and we started to work with this trauma. I only have my nightmare to work from, so it was not much. I had absolutely no idea whether I would react or not and it was actually quite difficult to think about such an old memory during the eye movements!

Session 1
On my first session of EMDR, it took a while before I started to react. I started to sit as if paralysed, I could only look straight forward and talked more slowly because it felt like I was put into a hypnotic state of mind. I then started to remember more of the trauma and I starting to breath faster even though it felt like I was holding my breath. My body was definitely starting to prepare for the trauma event memories and I felt very alert.

After that session, my brain continued to work with the trauma, which is expected. I could feel it because I was very alert, I was scared of being in a dark room and of some gloves I had because they are a symbol of a hand. During a work day, there was a potentially dangerous situation of a woman who was very threatening towards one of my colleagues, who reacted with aggression. I got extremely tense because of that and I was breathing like hell because I was ready to fight. It was a huge and shocking reaction I had and I couldn’t talk properly because of my breathing, so I had to take 5 minutes break to calm myself.

Session 2
I had problems getting my mind to go back into the trauma so my therapist and I had a short break from the eye movements to relax and help me get back into it. After a while I started to react with the paralysed / hypnotic state of mind and quick breathing but within myself, it felt silent and it appears like I am not breathing. After a while, I wanted to move my arm but directly afterwards I regretted this because I immediately felt like I did something wrong. Later, I started to remember more, it was like a part of me was revisiting the traumatic event. It was very interesting to explore because I got new information about my trauma. After going deeper and deeper into the trauma my breathing got faster and faster and suddenly I felt like I was about to break down into tears. I continued for a few minutes more and then I stopped doing the eye movements because I got very sad, I was crying and then my breathing was changing to be very big and deep, from within my stomach. I could feel my bones in my back so much from the heavy breathing. During this, I experienced the most insane feelings inside of me whilst my tears were running freely.

I didn’t understand at the time what happened because my brain was in the present and yet my body was reliving the trauma I had experienced. It was very hard to feel the trauma again. I thought that I must have looked like a person getting raped or tortured. It was a completely insane experience and afterwards I felt very confused about what happened and I asked my therapist to explain it to me.

Afterwards, I was extremely tired and my whole body felt very heavy. My muscles in my arms felt like they had lifted something way too heavy! I was also very alert and the rest of the day and the next 3-4 days, I was in this stressful state of mind. I would feel suddenly deep sorrow and tiredness several times a day without knowing why. It was literally like something was hurting inside me several times a day and like something wanted to come out of my body but I was with family, so I worked very hard to not break down and at the same time, I felt like I couldn’t get the emotions out either. It was very confusing. I also started to not like high noises and I felt scared if there where many people too close around me, like when I was on public transport. I usually do not have such problems. I was still scared of darkness and sometimes I got scared without knowing why. One of the times I was scared I was thinking about the woman who had caused my trauma.

I felt like I didn’t want to sleep after I have my nightmare about my trauma, because I was so scared!

Session 3
After 3 weeks, I was going to do EMDR again and I was very nervous and exciting about what would happened. The night before therapy I had a very short nightmare again which had not happened for around 10 years! This time, it was like I was further in the trauma event as compared to in the past, I had only ever dreamed as if I was at the beginning. In the nightmare some people were about to do something that I definitely didn’t like and I was thinking “stop”, so the nightmare ended extremely short. It felt like a few seconds but it was enough for me to feel again how I actually felt during the trauma event from years past. The next day, I was very stressed and actually scared.

During EMDR therapy session after this, I felt like my eyes were working against me, not wanting to participate. So I talked with my therapist about how I had completely closed down because of the nightmare. I didn’t have huge reactions during that session nor the next 2 sessions. In the last EMDR session, I could nearly get the image of the trauma event in my mind and I no longer felt scared – it was as if the trauma no longer affected me as powerfully as before. Between the sessions, I have felt very bad mentally but one day, it was like gone completely and I felt much happier, more relaxed and not as chronically tense. I also stopped having problems sleeping in a dark room – in the past, a completely dark room signalled that the re-lived trauma would occur.

In the past and prior to doing EMDR therapy, I would get anxiety from the outside getting dark, or having many people around me and high noises. Now all of these things are no longer a problem so I feel like I can go on living as myself once again. My friends have also told me that I seem more relaxed and most importantly, I feel a huge difference in my life!

I can highly recommend EMDR therapy for adoptees especially when it comes to trauma that the body remembers. I feel like I have healed my body and let out a terrible experience. Before EMDR therapy, I didn’t understand that my body was reliving such huge trauma all the time and how much it was impacting me.

Resources

Finding the Right Therapy as an Adoptee

Screening for an adoption competent therapist

The Trauma Inherent in Relinquishment and Adoption

We still have a long way to go to reach the wider public and educate them about the inherent trauma and losses in relinquishment and adoption. To assist with this, I’m trying to connect into spaces that are not adoption specific and share our message.

I recently sent our Video for Professionals to an organisation Stella that provides medical treatment for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) called Stellate Ganglion Block (SGB). Who knows, perhaps it might be effective for some adoptees? Our trauma from relinquishment often has no language because it happened to us as young children or babies, so I am constantly on the look out for new treatments or options that can help give relief to the ongoing emotional minefield that many adoptees live. SGB works on the premise of dampening down our fight/flight response that results from ongoing trauma.

Stella’s chief psychologist, Doc Shauna Springer and the Head of Partnerships, Valerie Groth, both chatted with me and watched our videos. Until then, both had no idea as clinicians about the traumas inherent in relinquishment and adoption. They are inspired to join with me to help educate the public, so here is the short 30min podcast interview they conducted to help facilitate this. Click on the image to listen to the podcast.

If you already know about the traumas inherent in adoption, nothing in this will be new, but if you want a podcast that helps others understand from a first learner perspective, perhaps you might consider sharing it with them.

We also have our compiled list of resources as a starting point for those interested to learn more about the connection between trauma and adoption from experts all over the world.

What’s In a Name?

by Stephanie Dong Hee Kim, adopted from South Korea to the Netherlands.

Is a name just “but” a name?

The meaning of words and language is so much more than a collection of letters, signs or sounds.

Words and sounds have meaning, these are symbols, they reflect feelings and thoughts. A name expresses your identity: who are you, where are you from and who and where do you belong (to)?

Questions which don’t have an obvious answer for many adoptees and every person who is searching for both or one of their birth parents.

I was conceived and grew to be a human being in my Korean mother’s womb, as the fourth daughter of the Kim (김) family, and my parents named me Dong-Hee (동희) after I was born.

I was adopted by a Dutch family and got a new first name and also a new family name . Lately, to me this started feeling like ‘overwriting’ my identity and I don’t feel senang about that anymore.

I see myself more and more like a Korean woman who grew up in the Netherlands and has a Dutch nationality. My Korean identity is my background and forms a big part of who I am, even though I didn’t grow up in that culture.

There is a slight difference between how I feel about my first name and how I feel about my family name.

I am grateful that my adoptive parents never took away 동희 from me and just added Stephanie so that my life here would be easier. It’s still easier to have a western name nowadays, since discrimination hasn’t disappeared through the years.

I feel more and more that my blood relation and my Korean background is where I want my family name to refer to, I feel proud to be a 김 family member.

I feel less connection with the Dutch family name, because I do not share any cultural and biological family history with this name and the people wearing this name. Also, there has never been much contact nor connection with any of those family members, besides my adoptive father and -brothers.

That’s why I’ve decided to get used to what it’s like to let myself be known by my Korean names, starting with social media . Just to experience what it does to me, if it makes me feel more me and in place.

I would like people to start feeling comfortable to call me by either of my names. I think it will help me sort out which name(s) reminds me most of who I really am, makes me feel home. Maybe it’s one of them, maybe it’s both. I’m okay with all outcomes.

It’s in some way uncomfortable to me because it feels like I’m taking off a jacket and with that I’m a little exposed and vulnerable.

But that’s okay, since I have been identifying myself with my Dutch names for more than 42 years.

This was originally posted on Instagram and redacted for publishing on ICAV.

Resources

What’s In a Name? Identity, Respect, Ownership?

My Adoptee Journey

by Anna Grundström, adopted from Indonesia to Sweden.

It wasn’t long ago when I used to think of my adoption not as a journey, but a destination. I ended up where I ended up, and it was clear early on that there would never be answers to why. My questions took to the backseat and remained there for years, observing a ride I didn’t connect to, my own beginnings.

About two years ago, I somehow transitioned from the backseat to the driver’s seat and put both hands on the wheel. While there were still no answers to my questions, I realized that I could still ask them.

I’ve come to understand that asking isn’t always about getting a wrong or right answer, or even an answer at all, in return. Asking is more about acknowledging myself, my own thoughts and feelings. Giving permission to wonder out loud, to be upset, angry and frustrated. To recognise the loss of things, places and people. And sometimes there are answers, so subtle that I almost miss them: like noticing how I tear up when the sun first rises in the morning, or how a particular sense of longing shoots down my spine when inhaling a random scent.

There’s something about recognising the loss of our past as adoptees, naming it, embodying it – even if we don’t know why or how. Somewhere within our body we do know. Somewhere in the body it is all still there. To celebrate, to grieve and to accept – it is all part of my adoptee journey.

Anna provides Guided Movement and Creative workshops for adoptees – check out her website to see what’s coming up!

Adoption Can Be a Psychological Prison

How do I start over?

The question echoes in my brain every day here in Hawaii, now totally away from the relations of my former adopted life.

How do I live anew as one person in this world?

I left my adoptee ties that were technically governmentally bonded relations that I had no control over as a Filipino orphaned child circa 1980’s. For me, they had been total strangers and I didn’t have any oversight or support in post-adoption.

As time went on for me, I wasn’t able to have the fortune to get to know my biological family as after my reunion in 2012 in the Philippines, I decided to go my own way once I discovered our language barriers and my inability to confirm any facts on them.

So yes, fast-forward to current times and it is Sunday, and I have relinquished my bond of my adoptive ties for various reasons, and it hasn’t been easy but for me, it was necessary.

This break action has been mental, emotional and physical. Slamming this lever down included making physically strategic distance by moving far, far away on my own to the Pacific islands in 2019, re-establishing dual citizenship to my birth country in the Philippines in 2021, and civilly sending a kindly written email to my adoptive parents this year after my adoptive brother’s jarring and untimely death.

Additionally, the extended adoptive ties I’ve noticed can also naturally deteriorate with time itself after years of peaceful but gently intentional non-communication.

What happens after you’re on this path of annexation, you wonder?

For me, I’ve arrived at an interesting intersection in my adulthood when I’ve sort of returned to a former state of orphanhood with no real station in life, no bonds, all biological history, heritage and economic status obsolete all over again.

Doesn’t sound that appealing, I know! Tell me about it.

The perk is that instead of being a vulnerable child, I am a 36-year-old woman living in Hawaii. I have rights. I am in control of my wellbeing and fate. I have responsibilities. I drive my own car, I pay bills, I have funds; I have a job and I am not helpless.

I can take care of myself. So to me, the biggest perks are in being healthy and reclaiming my life, identity and sovereignty needed over my own needs and wellbeing.

So quickly the adoptee bond can turn into toxic relations if the parents are narcissistic or emotionally or physically abusive.

After the death of my adopted brother, who was also a Filipino American adoptee and died of severe mental issues and alcohol poisoning, I had a stark wake-up call of how these adoptee relations were silently impacting me too.

And I had to make better choices for myself, I would be risking too much if I ignored this.

It is like leaving a psychological prison, I told Lynelle on a weekend in May.

After some reflection, I realized that as a child and having to make structured attachments from being displaced, this legal bond fastens.

And as a displaced, vulnerable child, I think one falls privy to co-dependency, the need for a family structure overrides even the need for safety for his or her own wellbeing, like if abuses arise in this domestic home.

Or other aspects might not nurture the adoptee, like when the child isn’t being culturally nurtured according to their birth country.

Or when the parents or family members are financially and socially acceptable as to meeting criteria of adoption, but possess narcissistic personalities which is also detrimental to the child’s personal, emotional, psychological and cultural development.

A child stays glued and psychologically devoted to their family ties through development stages and on past adulthood because the need for foundational attachments is paramount to one’s psychological upbringing and success.

And if these ties are in any way bad for the adoptee early on, I think these relations that were once saving can quickly turn into a psychological prison because you are truly bound to these social ties until you’re strong enough to realize that you have a choice.

And you can break out of this bond, this governmentally established bond, although possibly later on as an adult. And, with some finesse.

As an adult adoptee, from my experience adoptive ties that develop healthily or dysfunctionally, after a certain amount of time both types transitions into permanence to that adoptee. Adoptive ties mesh and fuse just the same as biological ties, once you’ve gone so long in the developmental process.

This adoptive relation is totally amazing when it’s good, like any good relationship.

The spin is that when there are issues plaguing the adoptive unit, which can be subtle, interplaying with the personality and culture of the adoptive relations, these issues can go totally disguised, unreported, and it can be toxic and the affects can last a lifetime.

From experience, I see that it is because the adoptee child is vulnerable and doesn’t know how to report issues in the relations, because the option isn’t even granted to them.

No one is really there to give or tell the adoptee child that they have these rights or options. When it comes to post-adoption, there isn’t much infrastructure.

Sadly, if dynamics are not supportive to the adoptee, in time, it can cost an adoptee the cultural bonds to their own birth country or the loss of their native language.

It can cost an adoptee their sanity and mental health.

It can cost an adoptee their self-esteem, which all bleeds and returns into the social sea of their placement or back out into other countries.

And, it can cost an adoptee their life.

On the upside, if the placement is good, it can save a person’s life as well! And it can allow this adoptee happiness and joy forevermore.

Each side of the coin both instills an adoptee’s human value and the toll the placement takes on every child who becomes an adult in society is also expensive, leading to exponential advantage and success in society, or potential burnouts.

For me, my adoptive placement was costly in the end. However, I was still able to survive, work and live. I was materialistically taken care of, thankfully.

I honestly think much was due to my own faith, offbeat imagination and whatever blind luck I was born with that all carried me through this.

Overall, this has been a total trip and my journey has been very far from embodying the traditional fairy tale adoption story.

So now, it’s time to do the hard work, an adoptee mentor messaged me today. But I can do it, we all can do it! It just takes good choices and regular upkeep.

Nearing the end of this post, I will share to my adoptee community that we have a choice especially once we’re of legal age. I’m sort of a wildflower in general, and a late bloomer, so I’m coming out of the fog and becoming aware now in my mid-thirties.

Yes, we have a lot to rear ourselves depending on the economic status we find ourselves in without our adoptee ties. But like other adoptee peer support has shared, you should not do this kind of thing by yourself. You can have support structures the whole time in this.

And yes, it is terrifying, because you will have to rebuild your sense of identity when leaving toxic family relations. As yes, it can be like rebuilding your identity all over again from when you leave them and start anew, as a now a self-made, sovereign person.

From a Hawaiian private school I work at now, I have come to find that cultural identity building begins in the present and it is built upon values, history, education and the wisdom of the past. Now that I have found a home in Hawaii, maybe I can learn more about it.

I will also be working on weekly goals that I hope to share to the community as I continue on this never-ending journey.

In conclusion, if you are in a good adoptive family, God bless your fortune and I have so much love and happiness for you! However, if you are needing to split away from the ties, like if your adoption wasn’t that healthy, then please know it isn’t impossible.

Professional and peer support is here for you, every day on your way to freedom. You can create your own sovereignty, it will just take work.

Read Desiree’s earlier post at ICAV: What I Lost When I Was Adopted and follow her at Weebly or Instagram @starwoodletters.

If the Moon Could Be My Birthmother Now

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

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

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

America—You Made It Hard to Be Proud to Be Asian-American

by Mary Choi Robinson, adopted from South Korea to the USA

As I sit down to my laptop it is May 2, the second day of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Awareness Month and I reflect on Alice Wu’s The Half of It I watched last night to commemorate the first day of AAPI month. Watching the movie with my daughter, I thought how I wished it or something like it had been available when I was a teenager or even in my early twenties. To see an entire film focused on the life of a young Asian woman on the cusp of self-discovery and adulthood would have made me feel seen and a part of the fabric of American identity. So while this month is meant to showcase AAPI heritage I am not in fact proud to be Asian-American…yet.

I am sure my previous statement will elicit reactions from disbelief, to shock, to anger, and everything in between from varying groups of identities. So let me explain why I am not proud yet, how America made it nearly impossible for me to be proud, and how I’m gaining pride in my Asianness. As a Korean adoptee, raised by white parents in predominately-white areas, I have always navigated two racial worlds that often oppose each other and forever contradict my identity. The whiteness of my parents did not insulate or protect me from racism and in fact would even appear at home. When I first arrived to the US, my sister, my parent’s biological child, took me in as her show and tell for school with our parents’ blessing. Her all white classmates and teacher were fascinated with me and some even touched my “beautiful silky shiny jet black” hair, something that would continue into my early thirties until I realized I did not have to allow people to touch my hair. Although I start with this story, this is not a piece about being a transracial, transnational adoptee—that is for another day, maybe in November for National Adoption Awareness Month—but to illustrate how my Asian identity exists in America.

As I grew up, I rarely saw other Asians let alone interacted with them. Instead, I lived in a white world full of Barbie, blonde hair and blue eyes in movies, television shows, magazines, and classrooms. The rare times I did see Asians in person were once a year at the Chinese restaurant to celebrate my adoption day or exaggerated or exocticized caricatures in movies and tv shows. Think Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Long Duck Dong in Sixteen Candles, or Ling Ling the “exotic gem of the East” in Bewitched. Imagine instead an America where Wu’s film or To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before or Crazy Rich Asian or Fresh Off the Boat or Kim’s Convenience would have opened up for generations of Asian Americans. Rarely would I spot another Asian in the school halls. However, I could never form friendships with them, heavens no, they were real full Asians and society had taught me they were weird, ate strange smelly things, talked funny, and my inner adolescent warned me association with “them” would only make me more of an outsider, more Asian. In classrooms from K-12 and even in college, all eyes, often including the teacher, turned to me when anything about an Asian subject, regardless of whether it was about China, Vietnam, Korea, etc., as the expert to either verify or deny the material. I always dreaded when the material even had the mention of an Asian country or food or whatever and would immediately turn red-faced and hot while I rubbed my sweaty palms on my pant legs until the teacher moved on, hoping the entire time I would not be called on as an expert like so many times before.

My white family and white friends would lull me into a false sense of belonging and whiteness by association. That false sense of security would shatter when they so easily and spontaneously weaponized my Asianness against me with racial slurs during arguments. Of course, I was used to racist verbal attacks from complete strangers, I had grown up on a diet of it, but it especially pained me from friends and family. The intimacy of those relationships turned the racism into acts of betrayal. That was the blatant racism; the subtle subversive racism caused just as much damage to my sense of pride. As a young professional in my early twenties, a white colleague told me how beautiful I was “for an Asian girl.” A Latina student in one of my courses loudly and clearly stated, “The first day of class, I was so worried I wouldn’t be able to understand you and I’m so glad your English is so good!” And of course I regularly receive the always popular, “Where are you from? No, where are you really from?” Because Asian Americans, whether born here or not, are always seen as foreigners.

AAPI Awareness Month did not even become official until 1992. But anti-Asian sentiment in the US has a long history and was sealed in 1882 with the first national stance on anti-immigration that would be the catalyst for future immigration policies, better known as the Chinese Exclusion Act, coincidentally signed into law also in the month of May. In February 1942, the US rounded up and interned Japanese-Americans and Asian-Americans of non-Japanese decent after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Now in 2020 amidst the global lockdown of Covid-19, anti-Asian attacks, both verbal and physical, have increased to startling numbers. As recently as April 28, NBC News reported Over 30 percent of Americans have witnessed COVID-19 bias against Asians. Think about that—this is Americans reporting this not Asian Americans. The attacks have been worldwide but this report shows what Asian Americans are dealing with alongside the stress of the pandemic situation in the US. Keep in mind the attacks on Asian Americans are not just from white folks, indeed we’re fair game for everyone as evidenced by Jose Gomez’s attempt to murder an Asian American family including a two-year old child in Midland, Texas in March. Let that sink in—a two-year old child simply because they are Asian! Asians are being spat on, sprayed, and worse by every racial group.

To help combat this current wave of American anti-Asian sentiment, highly visible leader and former presidential candidate, Andrew Yang advised Asian Americans in a Washington Post op-ed to:

“…embrace and show our American-ness in ways we never have before. We need to step up, help our neighbors, donate gear, vote, wear red white and blue, volunteer, fund aid organizations, and do everything in our power to accelerate the end of this crisis. We should show without a shadow of a doubt that we are Americans who will do our part for our country in this time of need.”

My reaction to Mr. Yang’s response bordered on anger at the implication for Asian Americans to continue the perpetuation of the model minority myth. The danger of which, besides reinforcing divides between racial and minority groups, extols the virtue of suffer in silence. Do not make waves, keep your head down, be a “good” American. Sorry Mr. Yang, I am finally gaining pride in my Asianess and I cannot and will not stay silent any longer.

It has taken me my whole life to gain nuggets of pride in my Asian identity. Now I appreciate the color of my tan skin and dark almond-shaped eyes and no longer compare my physical beauty to white women and the standards society has forced on us all. For the first time I actually see myself, and all Asian women and men, as beautiful because of and not in spite of being Asian. I no longer avoid other Asians and cherish friendships with those who look like me. I love to explore the diversity of Asian cuisines, cultures, and traditions and continue to learn about them since, remember, “Asian” is diverse and not a monolith of just one culture. Now I speak up without fear of rejection or lack of acceptance when I witness anti-Asian or any racist behavior and use those moments as teaching opportunities whenever I can. I no longer resent not being able to pass as white. I am becoming proud to be Asian.

Read Mary’s earlier blog My Adoption Day Is An Anniversary of Loss

Racism in Intercountry Adoption

I can’t believe that in the 24 years of running ICAV, I’ve not done ONE paper that brings together our lived experience of racism as intercountry and transracial adoptees! Well finally I’ve addressed this! It’s long overdue and I had the impetus to get this done because of the work in Australia by our Human Rights Commission to create a concept National Anti-Racism Framework paper. I was shocked into action when I read through the paper and realised our minority group does not even get a mention as one of the groups targeted for consultation. I wanted to do something about this, to bring visibility to our community who have long shared about racism and its impacts in our private adoptee only forum. From the many conversations I’ve had with fellow adoptees around the world, racism is one of the top issues we endure yet barely gets a mention in most adoption literature, research, policy, practice or education. At ICAV we aim to raise awareness of racism and the intersection with intercountry and transracial adoption.

Here is the submission we put together for the Australian Human Rights Commission and here is a supplementary paper, our latest ICAV Perspective Paper – Lived Experience of Racism in Intercountry Adoption. Our paper provides a collation of lived experience input to help educate about our experience of racism. We also include in our responses what we suggest be done to better support intercountry and transracial adoptees.

To provide further support and education for professionals and adoptive families, next month on Tuesday 17 May @ 2pm AEST, ICAV will be hosting a webinar Racism as Experienced by Intercountry Adoptees to bring you the voices and experiences in-person. If you would like to attend, you can contact ICAV so we can keep you informed.

Together with our Perspective Paper and the upcoming webinar, I hope these resources will help to begin/continue the conversations about racism in intercountry adoption.

Sue-Yen Bylund on Racism

On 3 April 2022, a group of 19 Australian intercountry adoptees participated in an ICAV consultation for the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) who have developed a Concept Paper for a National Anti-Racism Framework. We believe intercountry/transracial adoptees are under represented in race discussions in almost every adoptive country and wanted to make sure we had a say. The next few blogs will be a selection of the inputs from adoptees who participated to give a more nuanced insight into our lived experience of racism and our thoughts on what needs to be done to better support us.

by Sue-Yen Bylund, adopted from Vietnam to Australia, ICAV VIC Representative

Racism is here to stay. It is enmeshed in the very fabric of society, at every level. It manifests within us as individuals, at a systemic level pervading our policies and practices, reflected in our interpersonal behaviours and is accumulated and compounded in the base structures of our history, culture and ideology.

In order to mitigate the harm caused by racism we must be actively anti-racist. It is not enough to merely be “not racist”, as this, often results in a passive racism, which is as equally toxic as overt racism. Tolerance is a poor substitute for acceptance. Tolerance offers tokenism and indifference. Acceptance offers a place for all voices, a public validation as individuals and a genuine place at the table to self-determination.

Every person carries their racial biases differently. Acknowledgment of these biases on a personal individual level is important, however being open to listening, validating and accepting the experiences of others takes courage. 

My expectation within this forum, is to offer to an opportunity to broaden the discussion of anti-racism to embrace all forms and manifestations of racism within Australian society today. To offer encouragement to address the complex “grey” zones of racism. Through this broadening a more mature collective and inclusive voice will evolve, which I believe Australia is ready to share with the world.

The foundations of my identity lie amongst the chaos of war time Vietnam 1974. Within the first 3 weeks of my life, I experienced my initiation into the full audio and aromatic reality of war, surrounded by screaming and traumatised children and adults. Racial identity did not protect any of us from the horrors, what we all absorbed would remain forever with us as visceral burdens to tame. War and terror are the greatest levellers in stripping even the bravest to the very foundations of humanity. And then in one swift spin of the planet I would find myself a world away in the eerie quiet and calmness of Perth, Western Australia. This journey would also mark the beginning of a life’s self-education of racial fluidity. Being one heart and soul, but a chameleon of racial identities. Born of one culture, raised in another, looking as though I belong to one group, but in at my core, I belong to another, the duplicity and fluidity is complex and exhausting.

The need to feel safe, accepted, understood and validated seems to be a naturally human pursuit. As an intercountry adoptee the journey is complex and confusing. We slip into the cracks of racial stereotypes offering up apologetically a reason for inclusion or explanation for exclusion. Either way no matter where we are in our communities we are an anomaly. We are constantly offered up as a reminder that a book shouldn’t be judged by its cover and if you care to listen carefully, you will hear the simple request for safety and acceptance.

My childhood cultural identity was shaped through the lens of middle class suburban 1970’s Australia. It was fortunate that the primary school I went to attracted a good proportion of Asian immigrant families. This enabled me, at a young age to observe the “other” type of Asian. The Asian person who spoke the language, ate the food, complied with the Asian cultural norms, while they themselves were carving out the unique existence in post “White Australia Policy” era. It was clear to me from the very beginning that I was an “Asian variant”. I was to experience racial prejudice from all sides. My immediate family comprised of a white Australian adoptive mother, a white Dutch (first generation migrant) adoptive father and their two biological white sons. Straddling my home and school environments I began to acknowledge the fragmented racial identity which was uniquely mine.

I would learn to instinctively navigate the pros and cons of racial profiling expressed by adults and classmates. At times it afforded me a shield to hide behind, at other times it just bewildered me at how ignorant and entitled people could be. 

Teachers would regard me with the marginalising stereotype of female Asian student, this meant that no matter what I did, or didn’t do, I was considered polite, conscientious and studious. This enabled me to glide through my studies relatively smoothly. Where this backfired was when I would be herded together with all the Asian “look-a-likes” to be given special instructions in Chinese/Cambodian/Vietnamese. There were always a few of us that would simply shrug our shoulders, knowing it was too hard to explain to the teachers that English was in fact our only language. 

Classmate interactions were more complex. While they seemed to want to flex their insecurities through bullying behaviours, I suspect they would often leave these bullying interactions more confused and with increased insecurities about themselves. They would corner me and spit out racial slurs “Ching Chong!”, “Go back to where you came from!”, “Asians out!” with the standard accompanying slanted eye gesture. I learnt very early to lean into the bullying. To not turn away in shame or embarrassment, I summoned the  airs of entitlement I learnt from my white Australian family. It was an educational opportunity. I would not show weakness. So armed with a vocabulary not generally associated with a small Asian female of 11 years I would lean in and say with a perfect Aussie twang, “Get f***ed you immature ignorant bigot!” While they processed the response in stunned silence, I was already half down the hall or across the oval. When I think back to those times, I know in my heart I still hold a deep resentment toward those who racially vilified me. The fact I could still name those individuals today shows how deeply it affected me. I built a wall to protect myself, a tough persona that would later in life be softened with self-depreciating humour. 

Humour has become one of the most powerful tools for disarming awkwardness though it should be noted that humour can only be genuinely offered by me (the vilified) otherwise it can have the effect of adding insult or increasing alienation.

Australian society in general is getting better at navigating racially blended families. However, there have been times where an awkward visual double take or racial slur has been reconsidered once formal introductions have concluded. 

For example, my adoptive mother is the personified “white saviour” heroine and therefore in this narrative, I embody the role of a grateful saved soul. There is no place in this narrative version for reality and it only serves to perpetuate the stereotypes. This distilled classification of our relationship as an adoptive mother and daughter has resulted in a chasm of empathy where my experience of racial prejudice and marginalisation cannot be reconciled with my adoptive mother’s version of my lived experience. She cannot/will not acknowledge that I have/do experience any racial prejudice. It’s unfathomable and therefore remains a taboo subject between us. I would suggest a classic case of “colour blindness” which is the most common manifestation of passive racism. Let me strongly suggest that racial “colour blindness” is not a positive construct to build a relationship in. I don’t advocate for a monochrome world. It cancels out important conversations that need to be had to build empathy and understanding. It bypasses the integral act of individual and collective validation.

A typical interaction in a social setting with my white husband, would start with a few awkward glances while people assessed my proficiency in English. Once the conversation has warmed up a little, the question is always asked “How did you two meet each other?” At this point all newbies begin listening in the hope to hear some spectacular Tinder dating app story with me gaining Australian citizenship when we married. Sad to say the story takes an epic sad tone when it is revealed I was a baby from the Viet Nam war. The conversation moves very quickly from one set of stereotypes to another. The chameleon game is afoot. We have now moved into the Viet Nam war genre and to be honest the racial stereotypes are just as nauseating. As the conversation peters out, I am left with a very uncomfortable feeling that I might be the daughter of a B-Grade war romance story of a soldier and prostitute but on the positive side, I have ruled out that I am a “mail order bride” from Asia desperate to get my claws into a rich white “sugar daddy”. Either way, I always leave these gatherings feeling like I have shared way too much about myself, simply to justify my equal status at the table of white Australians. Needless to say, it’s exhausting and incredibly invasive. At times my inner evil chameleon just wants to re-enforce the stereotypes rather than use my life as an education case study. In the end I see curiosity is better than fear and putting examples forward and building knowledge is a slow continuous but necessary journey.

With regards to my children, I am conscious that they physically are racially ambiguous. They could have genetic origins from various backgrounds, but once I stand next to them then it becomes evident their dark features come from me and they are of Asian origins. My daughter has experienced racial slurs from having an Asian looking mother. It wasn’t until she spent her gap year in Viet Nam that she developed her own understanding of her origins. She has in fact spent more time in Viet Nam than me. 

School parent social groups are an interesting micro society and navigating them is a full-time job. In the private school my children attended I had two very distinct social groups that I interacted with. One was a group of Asian looking mothers where I felt like an honouree member. I learnt Asian cultural things and etiquette that I didn’t get elsewhere. I did a lot of listening. The other group were all Anglo-Saxon looking mothers and I was dubbed the “token” Asian (humorous chameleon!) These girlfriends understood how I saw the world. It’s in these situations that I reflect on the sophistication of my chameleon gift and in a positive moment reflect on the bridges I can construct between the groups just through listening and sharing.

There is a niche and powerful position that intercountry adoptees have in the conversation around racism and prejudice. It’s borne from the hybrid and fluid nature of our self-identities. We exist in the space between cultures and races. The triumphal story of our survival is in fact a narrative of weaving together of cultures, racial identity, tolerance and acceptance. Intercountry adoptees must reconcile the disparity between the physical and internal nature of racial identity, because at every turn we are challenging the stereotypes and presumptions. As an Asian in white Australia, we challenge the mainstream colonial stereotypes, as an Asian in Asia, we find ourselves challenging the long-held stereotypes in our birth culture. We belong to both yet neither wholly. 

If I was to consider the future of racism in context of Australia, I would continue to raise the challenge to government and individuals to embrace the complexity. Find the words, create the platforms, lead with optimism. Systemic racism embedded in the policies and practices by government and institutions needs to be constantly questioned and reviewed to ensure it leads in activating change. Structural racism that unpins mainstream think-tanks needs to be shaken loose. It is an uncomfortable and confronting task, but I believe Australia is mature enough to take this task on. Interpersonal racism is very difficult to navigate as an intercountry adoptee, but the freedom to express an alternate reality from the stereotypes is a good platform to build upon. Internalised racism is insipid and so very damaging. We want to move from passive tolerance to active validation of individuals. 

Ongoing political bi-partisan support for research and consultation is an essential investment to engage in effective societal change. A firm commitment to reviewing and evaluating key milestones is required for accountability and integrity.  Educational resources coupled with public awareness and youth engagement are core to developing a more mature future for all Australians.

For more from Sue-Yen, read her ANZAC Day Reflections, her contribution to What’s in a Name? and advocacy with Green’s Senator meeting.

Resource

Read ICAVs small collation on Color blindness in Adoption

Posting....
English
%%footer%%