Not Existing

who am I

Life as an intercountry adoptee has those moments that feel extremely vulnerable and painful. I described it years ago as “peeling away layers of an onion“. I’ve had that this week. Firstly, I found out after 8 months the media company who were investigating and searching for my mother in Vietnam have failed to turn up anything substantial and no longer have funding to continue. I have spent many times over two decades trying to find a lead that will help me find my mother. In desperation I finally agreed to media taking on my case although I’m loath to having no control over how they portray one’s story. Each time after searching, I experience disappointment, grief and sadness. I give up for a while until I find the strength to be able to go through it all again. Secondly, I have spent over 10 months seeking the right experts to help me fight for my rights arising from my adoption. I’ve had to relive my years of life growing up in my adoptive home and the memories and feelings are still there. They never go away but fade into the distance because usually I get on with life and move forward. Thankfully, I don’t get stuck or spiral down anymore.

Searching for Mum

I just watched the SBS documentary Searching for Mum which follows two Sri Lankan intercountry adoptees adopted in the 1980s to the UK and their return to Sri Lanka to try and find their identity and families. There was one heartbreaking moment that resonated within me, where Rebecca went to the Registry to see if a record of her birth existed. It was her last chance to know if she had an official identity. She ended up finding out her birth was not registered at all and she is left with the confirmation that she “does not exist” on paper as a Sri Lankan identity. It struck a chord with me as I’ve lived my entire life too with little documentation except for my Vietnamese passport. The Australian government made up adoption papers and a birth certificate 17 years after my adoptive father flew to Vietnam and brought me to Australia as a 6 month old baby.

My adoptive parents and siblings teased me many times when I was growing up that I would make the “perfect spy”. They all knew and rubbed it in that I did not exist on paper anywhere. It was meant to be a “joke” but on so many levels then, and more so now, as a mature age adult I cannot fathom how or why my adoptive family were so insensitive and cruel. Only those who have an identity that they take for granted could be so thoughtless as to tease another for not knowing who they are, where they come from or having anything to show. Together with an adoption based on literally nothing – thin air – because no documents on the Vietnamese end have ever been found, I have no way to know how I came to be adopted nor to whom I originally belonged.

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Last year, a private detective sent me a blury photo of what might be a Vietnamese birth certificate for me but he’s now gone underground. The media company who tried to get the Vietnamese police station to release the hoped for copy of the “real” document that the photo captures, refuse to do so. It is so excruciatingly frustrating to be held back from what is a basic human right. Like Rebecca, I just want to know who I am and the circumstances for why I was given to strangers from another country – and whether my adoption is legitimate without coercion. My journey to find the right experts so far this year, brought all this home again with a punch!

Like Rebecca, I live my life without the certainty of knowing who I am, how I came into this world, whether I was wanted or not, or who my clan is. I live with a shell for an identity – formed by my adoptive experience. Up until my adoptive family left to go overseas as missionaries at the beginning of my year 12, I had experienced quite a damaging journey that left little room to exist in a positive way. Thankfully, I found healing in my early 30s and now I mostly have a sense of peace in my “non existence”.

It blew me away to listen to the documentary Searching for Mum where one of the search detectives said, “At least 50 percent of his Sri Lankan cases in finding mothers the documentation was fabricated” and he had done over 400 cases. In my years of connecting with adult intercountry adoptees worldwide, I know of many individuals who suspect and/or confirm their documentation is false. To listen to someone who sees the outcomes of each search conducted in only one country and can quote that kind of statistic, it is a damning reality for intercountry adoptions in Sri Lanka. It matches my current project of translating into english the book Het verdriet Sri Lanka whose title translates into The Sadness of Sri Lanka. It is an eye opening book about the mothers in Sri Lanka who lost their child to intercountry adoption, written by a Sri Lankan intercountry adoptee who discovers the terrible truth about her own and so many Sri Lankan intercountry adoptions.

Screen Shot 2018-09-08 at 15.17.52I know this reality is not just Sri Lanka because a good majority of our birth countries have shown the same pattern of unethical adoptions over many decades. It also matches the doubts I’ve always held about my own adoption. Until I find my Vietnamese family and hear from them myself, I don’t think I’ll ever stop wondering whether my “relinquishment” was legitimate and uncoerced. How could it be? A war torn country just like Sri Lanka. So much bribery and corruption coupled with outright child trafficking enmasse by world superpowers who believe to this day that flying out hundreds of vulnerable babies and children via Operation Babylift was a mercy mission.

How many other intercountry adoptees live their lives like myself and Rebecca with no known documents and identity, who have been removed from our country, our origins with little thought for our rights to identity? And what about those who do have documents but find they are falsified. This is where I say intercountry adoption is simply, downright wrong. A child always grows up and we have a right to know who we are, where we came from, to whom we were born and where we belonged until our adoptions. Our paperwork needs to be true and accurate because like the BBC documentary highlights, it is our ONLY source to know who we are and our origins.

To rob us of our truth by falsifying paperwork or creating an adoption based on thin air, goes against all human rights and ethics. If you cannot guarantee our original identity intact with no lies, then we shouldn’t be flying a child out of its country. Experience of adult intercountry adoptees like myself show that in being adopted to a foreign country we usually lose the ability to communicate and understand the culture and ways of our homeland. This then makes the pathway of trying to regain what is rightfully ours, even more complicated.

And what do governments or those who facilitate our adoptions say or do when we confront them with the truth of how intercountry adoption has operated and continues to operate? Or that we want help in finding our original identity and the truth? They largely turn a blind eye and do very little!

My journey to the right experts this week has made me aware that I could technically be considered “stateless”. They are now investigating this for me but it really brought home  that the paperwork for my intercountry adoption is so dodgy and based on thin air. Even the Australian made up identity papers mis-spell my original name in 3 different ways on the same document. So am I even adopted?

To have confirmation that we don’t exist as an identity in our birth or adoptive country is another layer of the onion that some intercountry adoptees have to grapple with in situations like mine or Rebecca’s. It’s painful. There is a powerlessness we experience and very little can change it. We simply have to live with it and find a way to move through life and retain our hope. Like Rebecca, I live my life hoping one day I might find my mother and know the truth of who I am.

An Adoptee’s Take on “Crazy Rich Asians”

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There are a lot of opinions and pieces surrounding Crazy Rich Asians right now. I am simply adding to the chorus, but from a slightly different perspective as a Chinese American intercountry adopted person. As an adoptee who watched Crazy Rich Asians, it is hard to describe all of the feelings I felt while sitting in the movie theatre, well twice. It was beautiful, funny, smart, and fun. Of course, the movie is receiving extra praise because of a cast that is all-Asian and not just the cast, but the music and the cultural representation as well. Representation matters and it was with a smile that I approached the end credits of the movie.

As an adoptee, I felt proud to see people who looked like me on the big screen. People who had similar features, presented in different shades where not every Asian was the kung fu master or nerdy IT tech support. The movie was refreshing and quite frankly a new experience, at least in major Hollywood films.

But…and this is a big but. I felt represented by the way I look, but not necessarily by how I grew up. As an adoptee I straddle in between the Asian and white cultures where I look Asian but was raised in a white household. To be honest, I am not sure I understood every joke in Crazy Rich Asians, and definitely didn’t understand every song. My parents didn’t necessarily practice the honor/shame ritual of guilting their children. I recognized it and laughed, but on an experiential level I couldn’t relate.

My immigrant story is a solo journey of going from a poor orphanage in China to a middle class white family in America. My immigrant story came without a choice and the expectation of gratefulness attached, because to some, I didn’t suffer as much as other Asian immigrant families did. That’s a topic for a different discussion. To the point however, Asian adoptees and others have struggled with identifying as Asian American or Asian because we aren’t seen as Asian enough. We are called “whitewashed” by other Asian Americans and we are clearly not white, but we are familiar with white culture because we had no choice but to be raised in it. We are left out because we don’t fit any conventional norms. We are the true bananas.

There was an article the other day of the mixed Asian actresses and whether they were “Asian enough” for the film. This type of debate only leaves my head scratching. To be clear, this is not a knock on the film. The film was great step in the right direction. I’m not asking for an all adopted Chinese American film. But if Asians complain about white people leaving them out of Hollywood and that there needs to be more representation, then surely Asians should also be open to a more diverse Asian representation and what it means to be Asian. Just like there are all different shades of what it means to be American, to some degree there can be different shades to what it means to be Asian or Asian American. I understand Asians are mostly homogenous within their own cultures and countries, but the world we are increasingly living in is multiracial and multi-ethnic. If Asians want more representation in a space they occupy like society, then maybe they should be open to others who occupy a similar space to them.

Change is slow. I get it. Crazy Rich Asians was a monumental step in opening the door for an all-Asian cast and potentially for more representation of minorities of all shapes and sizes. Personally though, I can’t wait until we can stop categorizing people and putting them in boxes just because it’s convenient or because it’s the way it’s always been. Rather, I’d like to let people blaze and add new categories and labels so they can be themselves. There is more to be done for sure but that doesn’t mean we can’t and shouldn’t celebrate when it’s appropriate to do so. I left Crazy Rich Asians with a smile on my face and hope in my heart.

 

The Rights of the Child

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The rights of the child
The unspoken truths
The words that are said
That are all in her head

But why am I different
She hears herself cry
But at six years of age
She can’t understand why

Why her eyes aren’t blue
Like her mum or her dad’s
Why their hands are so light
And hers darker than night

She holds on tight
So she doesn’t get fright
Of the ‘white’ she has in her mind’s eye
The reflection she fights

Oh how she wishes
That she was the same
And the phrase, “You’re so Lucky”
Was only a game

The rights of the child
So lost in herself
She looks to her mum’s smile
And continues to dial

Into the fight
The fight to be seen
To be heard,
To delight into the night

Instead of the
Ok, YES!
It’s a oh, NO!
She was given up
And not worth the fight

For I was too dark
To be able to stay
In my mum’s arms
And was given away

Adoption you see
Is so very cruel
It constantly haunts you
And doesn’t play by the rule

The child who looks
To her mum’s lovely smile
And then to her dad’s Jewish nose
Then feels hers and it’s all stumped and closed

But why she asked
Why do I not match?
Not even close
Not in fingers or toes

Yet the authories chose
My destiny my path
My life
And all of my heart

At age six that day I asked
And the answers
Made my heart go all dark
And cold with sadness

The answers gave me news
That I wasn’t enough to stay
But lucky enough to
Be given away

My coffee coloured skin
Simply didn’t fit in

Yet everyday I will smile
behind gritted teeth
Smile at a world
that is simply a trial
Of loss of hope, rejection and denial

Denial of existence of my worth
And persistence

I will continue to search
For a reason
Not to give in
And choose to love, laugh and keep on breathin

My beautiful son
All blonde and blue eyed
Asked me my question
Mummy why are you different

And I had to listen
To my heart break in time
As my story unfolds
And I try to explain

Why my parents are white
Again and again
And the two mums I now have
Instead of just one
I have two granny’s from your two mums?

Oh fuck the confusion
For when you are six
Everything is so real
To the rights of the child
It’s such a big deal

And now I stand
at 43
Still disillusioned
At my family tree

Where do I put it
What do I do
With the knowledge
I just wouldn’t do

So I say
Down with adoption
And up with support
The rights of the child
Please don’t abort

Your ideas that a mother
Can be supported
To stand tall with her child
So they are transported

Away from a life that is full
Of confusion and pain
A life of ‘could have been’ shadows
And constant rain

I wish I couldn’t see the difference between
My mother and my father
And why oh why
I simply didn’t fit in

The rights of the child
I will never deny
The need to be heard
Seen and observed

In your quest for information
If I could now see
That young six year old
Hold her tight so she sees

She is loved as she is
Despite being lost
She is loved as she is
And her heart may defrost

From the pain that she’s had
For the walk to come
To find her place
Where her song can be sung

For those that now know me
Stay close to my heart
I know I’m fiesty flamboyant
And private and harsh

With my tongue
That can rip you apart
With my anger and pain
Please do not dart

From the rights of the child
I will never deny
The truth above all
Will surface and cry

The rights of the child
And to all of your hearts
I love you all dearly
But it’s me where I must start

Written by CVerite on 12 July 2018
a transracial UK based adoptee

Where is the Outrage?

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It’s interesting to watch and read what goes on within the USA, the largest adopter of children internationally, into so called “forever homes”.

I’ve seen a plethora of internet articles from people and organisations who espouse saving children from their desperate situations or institutions and are upset that intercountry adoption numbers have plummeted in the past 15 years to the USA. Check out the latest from the National Council FOR Adoption by Chuck Johnson and by Elizabeth Bartholet, Harvard Law Professor.

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I’m guessing these proponents barely hear the voices of adult intercountry adoptees who live it and can share what the experience has been like growing up in the USA or elsewhere, and whether we should be calling for more intercountry adoptions or to save the business or not — especially without learning lessons from the past.

I asked adult intercountry adoptees are we upset that intercountry adoptions to America (and elsewhere around the world) have plummeted? Should we make the process less stringent, with less balances and checks via government oversight, allowing private agencies to do as they had in the past? Membership within ICAV, an informal worldwide network of adult intercountry adoptee leaders and individuals who advocate for the needs of intercountry adoptees, answered with a resounding NO to both questions.

Why? Because many of us live the reality knowing intercountry adoption is not as simple as what the proponents try to gloss over. Adult intercountry adoptees talk openly about wanting to prioritise and ensure children are never stranger adopted internationally when families, social structures for support, or extended family and communities exist within their birth country.

Adoptees celebrate that intercountry adoption numbers have plummeted!

The reasons for numbers plummeting is complex and specific to each sending country, but overall we see our birth countries finally starting to create better alternatives for vulnerable families and are coming to understand their most valuable resource is their children! Imagine where our birth countries would be, if instead of exporting us, they’d kept us, raised us and been able to access resources from our adoptive countries?

Perhaps our birth countries have realised intercountry adoption doesn’t always equate to a “better life” for vulnerable children. Point in case are the thousands who sit fearful of deportation in the USA because if adopted prior to 1983, they are still not granted automatic citizenship. Intercountry adoptee led organisations, like Adoptee Rights Campaign, will tell you that US Congress and President don’t appear too outraged by the citizenship situation which intercountry adoptees face! Certainly not a lot of jumping up and down or drawing attention to this fact either by Bartholet or Johnson!

I hear from adult intercountry adoptees daily from all over the world. Many of our lived experiences, especially those who manage to find biological family, learn that often our adoptions were faciltiated because our biological families were not offered financial or social supports at the time. Then there are some cases (too many for my liking to ever thoughtlessly promote adoption) where our biological families were coerced, given false expectations e.g., education, without fully understanding the consequences of legal “relinquishment“.

As an adult intercountry adoptee, I do not see adoption agencies as “saviours” but rather as “exploiters” – financially benefiting from our vulnerabilities.

As adult intercountry adoptees, we prefer more government oversight and taking of responsibility for the lifelong journey of adoption! In the past, our adoption agencies have not always done the right thing: in preserving the truth of our origins, in ensuring we are true orphans, in making sure no undue financial gain from the adoption transaction, in providing adequate post adoption support for the duration of our life, etc. In the past, our birth and adoptive governments have sometimes (often) turned a blind eye to the troubles persisting that give intercountry adoption it’s legacy of illegal adoptions. We as adult intercountry adoptees could never state enough how necessary it is to have independent oversight of any intercountry adoption process with direct and real input from those who live the experience, the adoptees themselves!

Lessons learned from the past should include a country only taking us on via intercountry adoption IF they can also provide the much needed comprehensive and lifelong support services to ensure positive outcomes and a guarantee of permanency! This should include free psychological counselling, free search and reunion, free DNA testing, free returns to birth country, free translation services, etc.

A country should only give us away if they can also provide the much needed comprehensive and lifelong support services to our biological families who face the consequences for generations of having relinquished their children.

The emotional, social, financial and generational impact that relinquishment has on a birth family and country has never been studied!

As intercountry adoptees we face relinquishment not only from our biological families but also from our birth country. We live the emotional consequences of those decisions throughout our lifetime. We often question why the money spent on our adoption process could not have been provided to our biological family to facilitate us to remain with them, therefore giving the whole family better life options and resources.

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I hope this blog will stimulate questions and thoughts about what’s missing from one-sided articles that proponents like Bartholet and Johnson promote. Instead of Bartholet asking “Where is the outrage over the institutionalised children denied adoptive homes?”, we should be asking these questions instead:

  • Where is the outrage that vulnerable families are not given adequate support to prevent them from institutionalising their children?
  • Where is the outrage for the children (now adults, some with children themselves) who were intercountry adopted to the USA prior to 1983 and are still denied permanency (i.e., Citizenship) via intercountry adoption?
  • Where is the outrage over the institutionalised children being intercountry adopted and denied their human right to grow up in their own birth land – knowing their culture, language, values, customs, religion, and family heritage?
  • Where is the outrage over the insititutionalised children who are intercountry adopted to countries like the USA, who end up in abusive or worse situations that should be prevented if agencies did adequate education and screening? In my mind, this is exactly why the US State Dept should be heavily overseeing all accreditation of adoption agencies and ensuring families are adequately prepared – and most importantly, implementing measures when an agency fails.

What is not in the child’s best interest, is to experience adoption disruption because of failure by adoption agencies who are rarely held accountable for adoptions that fail to provide for a child’s safety and well being, for their lifelong journey!

Bartholet, Johnson and other proponents of adoption write articles that fail to address the lived experiences of the hundreds of thousands of intercountry adoptees around the world, who can tell you what we think about plummeting numbers in international adoption. We can also share where we believe the focus should be to address the real issues.

What I find fascinating and inspiring are the adult intercountry adoptees who spend their life creating and maintaining ventures that provide support to one’s country, without taking away their most precious resource – their children via intercountry adoption. Ventures like NONA Foundation in Sri Lanka to help young women and girls who are disadvantaged, Foster Care Society in India focused on creating alternative forms of care, Family Preservation 365 in the USA, 325Kamra who provide free DNA tests to Sth Korean families in the attempt to reunite them, Centre for Social Protection of Children in Vietnam to help special needs and disadvantaged children obtain an education.

We need the focus to be more about keeping families and societies together and we should be celebrating when intercountry adoption declines — because it should always be the last resort for vulnerable families and countries, as per our human rights!

Family Preservation

What If

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Two words. If one lets them, they produce countless thoughts and a potential rabbit hole so deep it feels endless. In sports, an inch in the game of football (American) can be the difference between a win and a loss, a playoff win or a ride home. For others, what if can mean the difference between life and death. Yet for adoptees, the what if is tantalizing, even if it is only presented in a binary, without any nuance. What if adoptees weren’t adopted? Well, people say, they would definitely either be dead or aborted as if that ends the debate and thus confirms how lucky we were to be saved. Either dead or adopted. Maybe that’s too extreme and we can tone down death and expand it to include either be adopted, or grow up in an orphanage and/or foster care system and see how terrible our life is — afterall, we all have our preconceived perceptions of kids stuck in the system. What if for adoptees has been transformed to “your life would suck if you weren’t adopted.” With adoptees best intentions, of course, at heart.

Surely however, there is more nuance to what if, especially as it pertains to adoptees. Nevermind the miracle of a specific sperm and egg that germinates to create each one of us. Had it been any other sperm or egg, the person might not exist or be an entirely different person. What if in each of our lives has the potential to change it in numerous directions at each stage of our life. For me personally, maybe there was a way for my first family to keep me, maybe I could have been raised by a relative, maybe even though I was in an orphanage, I could have survived the system without being adopted, maybe another Chinese family could have raised me, maybe another family could have raised me internationally, and yes, maybe I would have died in the orphanage, and maybe I would have died in a car accident.

It is amazing the confluence of factors that make something happen, but when one of those factors is changed, who is to say what the outcome might be. Yes, maybe people might concede that anything is possible. But those things didn’t take place. We can’t speculate or wish for something different, when it didn’t. People always say, “No point in playing what if games! What is fact is that you were in an orphanage starving”.

Absolutely correct! I can speculate and wish something was different but it didn’t happen. I will never know what it might have been like had something changed.

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In the same vein however, people can’t say adoptees would have died or been aborted if they weren’t adopted because anything could have happened. People will never know because they were adopted and therefore they can’t know for sure what might have occurred if they didn’t. One can speculate, but that’s it. People don’t get the right to choose to play what if in a person’s life if they are unwilling to look at the entirety of that person’s existence or even their own — without also seeing the many different possibilities that life could unfold.

Some Christians make the argument that adoptees would not have known God unless they had been adopted into Christian homes. This binary of the what if suggests adoptees had to be adopted in order to be saved and would otherwise not have known God. I hate to break the news, but God does and has used any number of means to bring people to Him. To suggest otherwise and limit God is to deny His sovereignty. Maybe God used a Christian home to bring some adoptees to know God, but many equally reject God because of this same Christian home. Not every Christian comes from two Christian parents. I might have not been adopted and still known God in China. In fact, there are more Christians in China than in America (numbers are a little shaky in either place), so who is to say otherwise?

We all like to simplify complex ideas and notions to make them more digestible. But when we fail to address the nuance, we leave something out, and often to the detriment of ourselves and others. What if should not be just a tool for saviorism but should at least be presented with nuance. Maybe if we saw the world less in binaries and more in shades of grey, perhaps what if wouldn’t be such loaded two words. Maybe, just maybe, it could lead to a world of possibilities, not only in our past but hopefully and even more so, into our future.

About Joey

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Adoptee desire to know the Truth

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Today I want to share a powerful life experience of an Indian intercountry adoptee raised in Belgium, a member of ICAV, willing to share about her desire to know the truth of her life before adoption.

Being adopted from India, it is usually very difficult to search and find one’s genetic family. This is for a variety of reasons such as the Indian intercountry adoption laws that do little to promote searching and reunion, coupled with the lack of documentation, and/or truth of the documentation from either the birth or adoptive country.

What Serafina’s story demonstrates is that because she was willing to question everything told to her, sometimes the outcome is unexpected.

Enjoy reading Serafina’s story to find out for yourself how her journey unfolded and the message she wishes to share!

Self Care and Healing

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Last week, I was fortunate and privileged enough to attend a 3-day Adoptee Self Care Retreat funded by the Australian Government for adoptees from the Forced Adoption era and for people who have been in State care.

I want to share my thoughts of what I gained from attending as I found it to be such a positive experience. I have always advocated and requested a retreat like this, but sadly, to date, I have not seen or heard of one specific for adult intercountry adoptees.

I went not knowing the other dozen adoptees who attended and all were domestically adopted in Australia. The retreat focused on self care via yoga and meditation with amazing home cooked and grown food. I was raised in my adoptive family as a vegetarian because of their Seventh-Day Adventist beliefs so I loved being served food that was wholesome and nutritious. At home, I’m so busy with kids, dogs, family and school life with adoption thrown in when I have time, that often I go without barely eating.

The yoga, meditation, massage and facial was just awesome! I had needed to get away from life’s busy chaos and give to myself. I normally spend a lot of time nurturing other people and forget to nurture myself – but this retreat was a great way to remind me to do daily self care and to understand by living it for 3 days, the massive benefits when I do. I came home so much more relaxed, at ease, at peace and most importantly, connected back to my body. Being in this state helps me deal more positively with the daily challenges of life.

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I loved meeting fellow adoptees from such a variety of life paths, all with different experiences, but fundamentally to whom I shared so much in common. Attending the “adoptee focused” sessions run jointly by the NSW Post Adoption Resource Centre (PARC) and Relationships Australia, Wattle Place was healing, validating, and connecting. In these sessions, we shared in depth about the impacts of being adopted. We did this in an environment where we were supported and validated for the variety of experiences we have lived throughout our journey so far. It was humbling to receive my fellow adoptees validation and empathy, to hear their journey’s, and as a group, to encourage and support one another.

The power of group healing is so deep! The retreat reminded me of my journey in my early 20s when I first began healing from sexual abuse. I attended group therapy hosted by Wesley Mission and met other women survivors for the first time. I have never forgotten the impact I felt upon hearing their experiences, receiving their validation for the impacts we all suffered, and ultimately, for the sense of connection in being with others who had travelled a similar path, were looking for healing and a way to move forward. It made such an impact on me that I began this network for intercountry adoptees. I wanted to replicate the healing that can come from finding those who have travelled a similar path and struggled with similar issues. Validation, support, and empathy from those who understand, can never be underestimated in it’s power to help us heal.

The retreat also reminded me to honour my path and where I’ve come. Over the decades, I have shifted from being powerless to turning my experiences of adoption into something that can hopefully benefit others. I also now regard my adoptive status as a privilege because without it, I would never have met so many amazing people who carry such deep scars but who display resilience on a daily basis. I hold my hands in that heart place position which we practiced in yoga and thank the powers to be that I was able to find healing. I hope in some small way, the work we do within ICAV will help to empower the healing and connection for many fellow adoptees around the world.

I encourage fellow adoptees to find a way to give to yourself, take the time to do self care even in tiny ways each day, and reach out to connect with others of us who can understand, validate and provide peer support. My utopian wish is to have these types of retreats for us and for future generations of intercountry adoptees around the world.

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A journey through space, a journey divided

Intercountry adoptees speak often about the return to their birth country, a time defined by searching and finding. Lynelle’s recent post made me consider my relationship with Korea, the land that, over three decades ago, released me to a country made of dreams. We speak of “the return” as a journey of healing, confrontation, and conflict. Today I’m sharing my perspective on what “the return” means for me and how that phrase is set against my experience with adoption and my parents.

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An ocean and several continents occupy the distance between myself and an invisible past. A past that suffers me its opacity every time I hear the word Korea.

For many years, Korea was a Bad Word, something spat out, a noun formed in the back of your throat where phlegm collected. It was shameful. It was ugly. It was full of people with flat faces and squinty eyes and coarse dark hair like me. But Korea was the country, my home in only the metaphorical sense, that I was instructed to embrace.

Many families encourage intercountry adoptees to go back, to find the place that let them go, suggesting a return trip will erase an adoptee’s discontent and otherness and experience with racism. A trip to the homeland might replace those evils with the satisfaction of a curiosity fulfilled. Perhaps this helps some adoptees. I certainly support them and I hope a trip serves those purposes and more. It has, for many, and I’m proud of them. But I have never returned, for either lack of money or desire. Here’s why.

On her deathbed, my mother urged me to Go to Korea. She had pushed for this trip my entire life, pressing me to return while things like I’m going to kick your eyes straight and Chinese people can’t be punks competed for space in my developing self-image. My mother shoved Korea at me as my Asianness became a liability, weaving her misguided request into our relationship’s growing divide.

One late afternoon, my mother sat across from me in our breezy kitchen, perched on her backless padded barstool while I did homework and complained about teenage life. Somehow, either adoption or race came up, topics we fit the criteria for but on which we ourselves boasted ignorance. She fixed her bright blue eyes on me and in that wide open kitchen asked Why don’t you like Korea? Is it because it gave you up?

I gathered my things and raged into my bedroom. Her carefully hung family portraits shook when I slammed my door. My teenage self couldn’t articulate anything but anger in response to her accusatory question. Today I understand my reaction.

From my mother’s perspective, my lack of curiosity was a flaw. She died never realizing that I couldn’t accept a country not because it “gave me up” but because years of external conditioning taught me to hate it.

But we can undo this damage. Adoptive parents eager to change the public’s one-sided adoption narrative can support adoptees struggling to find their place, to accept what fragments of a heritage they assemble as their own. We must allow adoptees the room to grow into whatever culture they choose—or not—to inhabit. Or maybe an adoptee will embrace their freedom to float freely between worlds, content in independence, drawing strength from ambiguity.

In the end, it doesn’t matter. As long as the adoptee makes the choice to visit their homeland, we must consider them independent human beings. We can operate separately from our adoptions, finding ourselves on paths we finally forged ourselves. If this happens with or without a homeland visit, it’s because the adoptee chose that way.


Sunny J. Reed is a New Jersey-based writer. Her main body of work focuses on transracial adoption, race relations, and the American family. In addition to contributing to Intercountry Adoptee Voices and Dear Adoption, Sunny uses creative nonfiction as a way to reach a wider audience. Her first flash memoir (‘the lucky ones’) was published in Tilde: A Literary Journal . Her second piece (‘playground ghost’) is due out by Parhelion Literary Magazine in April 2018. She is currently at work on a literary memoir.

Return to Birthland

Lynelle

I’ve just returned from a 3+ week return trip to my country of birth, Vietnam. This trip attests to the mantra “adoption is a lifelong journey“! My return to homeland has been another unwrapping of the many layers in exploring who I am and where I belong.

This trip was such a contrast to the first which I made 18 years ago. In year 2000, I returned to Vietnam for the first time. I was in my late-20s. I had only just begun awakening to understand I had “adoption” and “relinquishment” issues. I certainly had no idea I had a mass of grief and loss sitting beneath the surface of my daily life.

When I arrived in Vietnam for the first time in year 2000, I was affected by overwhelming feelings I had not known existed. I remember the deep intense grieving that arose within me as we were landing at the airport. Overwhelming emotions flooded me and I spent the first week crying and trying to work out why I was crying and what it all meant.

That trip ended up being quite liberating, a wonderful and very healing visit. The most memorable moment was the local woman in the Mekong Delta who asked me in faltering english where I was from. In my broken english I explained very simply that I’d left the country as a baby and was raised by white Australians because I didn’t know my mother or father. Having lived almost 3 decades of hearing people’s response, “Oh, how lucky you are” to learning of my adoption status, this woman in the Mekong Delta had been the first to immediately comprehend my losses. She spoke my truth which resonated within when she replied, “Oh, you have missed out on so much!”

18 years later, I am a different Lynelle, no longer fragmented and confused. I am now very aware of the impacts of relinquishment and adoption. It is now 20 years later of speaking out and encouraging fellow adoptees to become proactive and share about the issues we face. This time, I returned and I felt so grounded being back in my homeland and knowing my place, time and date of birth. I revelled in being back in my district and hospital of birth. I enjoyed blending in amongst people who look like me. I felt a natural affinity to the place and people. I love the vibrancy of Ho Chi Minh City! I can now call it home because my birth certificate has been found and I know some basic truths about myself!

Clearly it wasn’t just me who could sense that I felt at home. My husband is a 3rd generation Aussie Chinese and he said to me, “Wow, I’ve just realised I’m married to a Vietnamese woman!” It was one of those humorous moments but beneath the surface, the truth in what he said was profound. I am actually Vietnamese and I feel I have finally reclaimed that part of me that was missing. I no longer feel I am just an Aussie girl, I am Vietnamese – Australian. This second visit highlighted to me the many aspects of who I am, are fundamentally, very Vietnamese!

Paddy fields.jpg

The mother earth connection, respect for nature and nurturing things has always been within me but it became obvious during my travels in Vietnam that this is a very Vietnamese way of being. I travelled from South to North and everywhere I went, whether it was in the city or the country areas, there were so many plots of land with fields growing vegetables, flowers, rice or something. The city ways in Vietnam have not as yet forgotten the link between mother nature and our human needs.

The innate desire in me to build and be part of a community, I also saw reflected in the Vietnamese way of life. In Vietnam just the example of how they navigate around one another on the roads is amazing. People and the traffic just flow around one another, allowing each other to go their ways without aggression, pushiness or competition. There is a natural way to “work together” in harmony that resonates within me.

Mr Hien.jpg

I am by nature a very friendly person, always interested in finding out about others at a deeper level. I found this reflected in many of the Vietnamese locals I met and spent a great deal of time with. My taxi driver Hr Hien took me for a 12 hour trip to the Floating Markets. He embraced me, a stranger really, as his little “sister“. Turns out we were actually born at the same hospital with him being only 7 years older. He sheltered and protected me all day long. He could easily have abused his position of power, given I speak no Vietnamese and he could have robbed and dumped me in the middle of the Mekong Delta. Instead, he took me for the whole day and treated me with respect, welcoming me into his life sharing his thoughts and views about Vietnamese life, culture, family, laws, and ways. When we purchased things, he would say, “Don’t say a word, I’ll tell them you’re my sister returned from Australia who left as a baby to explain why you can’t speak Vietnamese“. Then he’d negotiate for us and get the “local rate“. It was experiences like this that showed me the soul of the Vietnamese people with which I relate – the sense of looking out for others, being kind and generous in spirit.

Returning to visit the War Remnants Museum, I was once again reminded of the Vietnamese spirit of resilience, forgiveness, and ability to move on despite a terribly, ugly history of wars and atrocities. Attributes I’ve seen within my being and now I comprehend where these flow from. It’s my Vietnamese spirit, my Vietnamese DNA! I am hardwired to have survived and flourish, despite the adversities.

For me, returning to birth land has been so important to embracing all the aspects of who I am. I am a product of relinquishment and adoption, in-between two cultures, lands and people. In growing up in my adoptive country, I had been fully Australian without understanding or embracing my Vietnameseness. Now, in my mid 40s, I feel I have returned to myself. I am proudly both of my two cultures and lands. I love the Vietnamese aspects I see in myself and I also love my Australian culture and identity. I no longer feel divided but am comfortable being both at the same time.

It’s taken years of active awareness to embrace my lost identity, culture, and origins but it is a journey I wanted to do. I had realised in my late 20s that being adopted had resulted in a denial of a large part of who I am, at my very core.

I look forward to future returns to Vietnam. I hope one day it will be to reunite with my Vietnamese birth family. That will be an amazing path of discovery which will open up even further facets in discovering who I am!

I can so relate to the Lotus, the national flower of Vietnam!

Lotus Flower.jpg

To the Vietnamese, lotus is known as an exquisite flower, symbolizing the purity, serenity, commitment and optimism of the future as it is the flower which grows in muddy water and rises above the surface to bloom with remarkable beauty.

Click here for my collection of photos from this recent return trip and here for the photos from my first visit, 18 years ago.