Adoptee Dualities

by Abby Hilty, born in Colombia adopted to the USA, currently living in Canada.
She wrote and shared this on her Facebook wall for National Adoption Awareness Month.

Adoptees are constantly grappling with a life full of complex dualities.

I am an only child, but I have at least 4 siblings.

I have a birth certificate from 2 different countries.

I had to lose my family so that another family could be created.

I grew up in a middle class family, but I lost my original family because I was born into poverty.

I am very attached to the name Abby, but I know I was named after someone else’s ancestor.

I am occasionally told I look like my mom, but we don’t share the same genetics, racial group, or ethnicity.

I love my adoptive family, but I needed to search for my original family.

I am reunited with mi mamá, but we are no longer legally related to each other.

I am my mother’s daughter, but I am mi mamá’s daughter too.

I loved and lost my dad, but I don’t know who my father is.

I am short in my receiving country, but I am tall in my sending country.

I am brown, but I grew up with internalized whiteness.

I am an immigrant in my receiving country, but I am a gringa in my homeland.

I have lived in the northern hemisphere since I was 3 months old, but my body still struggles in the cold.

I speak English fluently, but my body responds to Spanish viscerally.

I have always celebrated my birthday, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, but those have never been easy days for me.

I know how important it is for (transracial, intercountry) adoptees to share their lived experiences, but the emotional cost is high for every NAAM post, every panel, every podcast interview, and especially for every discussion in which my fellow adoptees or I personally get pushback from non-adopted people who want to challenge our lived experiences.

And, believe me, this happens DAILY in various adoption groups. So, if an adopted person that you know and love is slow to reply to your texts or emails or if they seem to sometimes be lost in a day dream or not paying attention, it may just be because so many of our daily decisions have to be run through multiple – and often competing – thoughts and even family systems.

Forget Your Past

by Bina Mirjam de Boer adopted from India to the Netherlands.
Originally shared at Bina Coaching.

Forget your past!

I was told this sentence 5 years ago today, when I visited one of my children’s homes for the 2nd time.

The woman who received me wasn’t interested in my questions about my past and didn’t even understand why I wanted to see my file. I had no rights, “Forget your past!”, was screamed loudly! She threw the papers I gave her with a disdainful gesture at my head. She wanted to close the visit with this. The next 2.5 hours were really awful with a lot of screaming, manipulation and arguments between myself, the wife, the interpreter and the social worker.

This visit ended up giving me more questions. Fortunately, thanks to other employees, I finally received answers after 3 years. But my identity is still unknown.

The answers I received brought pain and sadness, but eventually also acceptance and resignation over that part. In my opinion, not knowing is ultimately a heavier fate to carry!

If you are going to search for your identity as an adoptee, it is important that you prepare yourself well. Understand it is almost impossible to know how things will turn out! You can’t imagine how the visit will go beforehand and how you will react if you receive information or not. In India we notice that obtaining information very much depends on whom you speak to.

In addition, there is the difference in culture. We are so devastated that we often view our native country with western glasses. We are not aware that our practices and thoughts are often so different to that of our native country. Sometimes that means that we don’t have compassion and can sometimes even feel disgust for the traditions of our native country.

Root trips often give you the illusion that you can find your roots on one trip or visit. The reality is that you have to go back to your native country and your home several times to get answers.

I myself notice that every time I visit India, I feel more at home and that it’s healing to be able to visit my past. Each piece of puzzle creates more resignation.

Distorted Priorities

Not being granted Citizenship as an adoptee is like having a False Positive.

It has come to my attention that the US Senate and Congress members have recently been sending letters to push for their agenda in intercountry adoption. The first I attach here to Assistant Secretary Carl Risch requesting attention to recommit to one of the purposes of the Intercountry Adoption Act, “to improve the ability of the Federal Government to assist” families seeking to adopt children from other countries.

The second I attach here to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo requesting resources and focus to address the waiting families wanting to bring home their children with COVID restrictions.

While I appreciate the Senate and Congress members sentiments to get involved and highlight the importance of these issues, it frustrates me that on the one hand these letters are written, using all of the power between them as a collective, yet I have not seen such a letter to push for the Adoptee Citizenship Act 2019 (ACA). For the past 5 years, I know our dedicated intercountry adoptee leaders – Joy Alessi from Adoptee Rights Campaign and Kristopher Larsen at Adoptees For Justice and their teams have been working tirelessly, trying to get Senators and Congress people to support the much needed and overdue Adoptee Citizenship Act 2019 (ACA). We need enough Senators and Congress members to support the Adoptee Citizenship Act 2019 because there are gaps left from the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 that resulted in intercountry adoptees prior to 1983 being left without automatic citizenship.

I gotta ask the obvious question here: why won’t American politicians get behind the Adoptee Citizenship Act (ACA) yet they will use their political force to push for more adoptions? It is the very same Intercountry Adoption Act 2000 that’s cited by them to get support amongst the Federal Government to assist newly desiring adoptive families to build their families, but yet – for the historic families who once sought to adopt children, who find themselves decades later, without citizenship for their children (now adults) – there is no permanence and no political leadership to address the problem. Isn’t it rather distorted that the powers to be will focus more attention on getting new children in without having made sure the ones already here, have stability, permanence and citizenship? What is adoption if it isn’t to ensure permanence, which is fundamentally about citizenship in intercountry adoption? Let’s also not forget every beneficiary of the Adoptee Citizenship Act (ACA) was already vetted at entry and promised citizenship. The Adoptee Citizenship Act (ACA) seeks to cover adoptees who entered on adoption purposed visas (IR4) otherwise known as legal permanent residents.

I feel for my adoptee colleagues who work tirelessly, pushing what feels like an uphill battle to gain the support needed to address this long overdue issue. Why aren’t letters like this being written to ICE or USCIS and to all the top level government officials including the President, who have the connections to influence these important decisions?

I don’t have the answers to my questions, I simply ask them because I hope others are too. We need Senators and Congress members to take leadership on the issue of automatic citizenship for the thousands of intercountry adoptees, now adults, who are living in suspended animation. These adoptees have been asking American leaders to represent their cause and help them overcome what feels like an insurmountable barrier – to be considered rightful citizens of their adoptive country. This right seems to be obtainable in every other adopting country – except the United States of America!

US Dept of State Adoptee Town Hall Event

It has been over a year since the US Department of State actively sought interaction with intercountry adoptees in America.

On 13 Nov 2020, the US Department of State (the Central Authority for intercountry adoption in America) ran a first of it’s kind event – openly inviting intercountry adoptees in America to share what they would like policy makers to know about the lived experience of intercountry adoption. It is awesome that Dept of State actively consulted widely with the adult intercountry adoptee community!! I hope we will see more of this happening, despite their “jurisdictional” restrictions.

Pamela Kim, born in South Korea and adopted to America gave her impressions of this historic event.

Just left the Department of State adoptee Town Hall event. One of the more moving adoptee experiences I’ve had, surprisingly. I had no idea the government even cared about adoptees especially international ones. The facilitators were great. Each adoptee had two minutes to speak as there were almost one hundred adoptees on the call. Two minutes to say how adoption has impacted us and our lives, what we want them to know.

There were adoptees from Russia, Korea, China, India, Paraguay, Ethiopia, Peru, Iran and more. Domestic adoptees too. The stories were hard to hear. Everyone expressed trauma – around race and identity, loss of culture, abusive adoptive parents, abandonment, trafficking, mental health needs, school environments and bullying, failed birth searches, deportation risks.

The lifelong impact of adoption is clear whether one is adopted as a baby or a teen. I heard many stories of good loving adoptive parent families. I also heard those same people say, “I cannot support transracial intercountry adoption.”

Some people cried.

I shared that my adoption should have been successful because I was an infant, part of the model minority, adopted into a family with resources, went to “good” schools etc. I shared that I’ve struggled my whole life from trauma … with life threatening eating disorders, suicide attempts, relationship issues, fibromyalgia. That my family cut me off many times. That even now there are triggers that bring me back to a place of deep grief and fear.

I talked about my friend who may be deported to Thailand. I shared her GoFundMe. I also shared the petition for the single mothers of Korea, KUMFA.

The Dept of State says there will be future conversations and events to hear our voices. I’m wiped out emotionally but so glad this happened.

It’s like after 39 years of feeling invisible and forgotten we actually matter! We actually have a voice.

We can change the culture around adoption all we want but until the laws change around adoption, we continue to clean up the messes that are our lives.

“There have been a lot of failures…” ~Adult Adoptee

Thank you to the US Department of State for Listening to the Voices of Adult Intercountry Adoptees!!

Thank you Pamela Kim for sharing your thoughts after this event!

Is Adoption Really the Best Option?

A transracial adoptee from Haiti weighs in

by Judith Alexis Augustine Craig adopted from Haiti to Canada.

Judith’s orphanage photo – Haiti, 1979

Since the announcement of Judge Amy Coney Barrett as the new nominee for the Supreme Court there has been intense scrutiny of her politics, religious views and her family. As a Haitian adoptee myself I took great interest in the discussions around her adopted children from Haiti. There were many questions about legitimacy of her adoptions, particularly her son who was adopted following the Haitian earthquake. This particularly struck a cord with me, because following the Earthquake there was a lot of questionable removals of Haitian children.

I was interviewed by several media outlets following the Earthquake and this question was raised continuously. At the time my response was direct. I was aware that many children had been legally adopted but were waiting for the government to approve the process so they could join their adoptive families abroad. I felt in light of the situation it was appropriate for those children to be allowed to join their families immediately. The challenge became for those children who were ‘presumed’ to be orphans following the earthquake and were ‘rescued’ by many international agencies who scooped them up and removed them from Haiti without verify if they were truly orphans or if there were alternative family members for the children to live with. We watched in horror as children were flown out of Haiti within a week following the Earthquake and then learnt that they were not orphans, nor were they apart of an adoption process and worse still had families. In addition, we saw members of a religious group try and illegally cross the border to Dominican Republic with Haitian children none of whom were orphans. These are merely a few examples of illegal child abductions which occurred directly following the Earthquake.  

Many people felt these international religious organizations or NGO’s were doing right by removing these children from this horrific natural disaster, instead the opposite was true. These children had just experienced extreme trauma and now faced another trauma being removed without warning, consent or preparation. The International Social Services (ISS, 2010) stated that intercountry adoption should not take place in a situation of war or natural disaster when it was impossible to verify the personal and family situations of children.1

The sad reality is that black market international illegal adoptions continue to thrive worldwide, with children either being kidnapped from their parents or parents being coerced into relinquishing their children. They are persuaded to do this amid false promises that they will be educated abroad and then returned to their family or that their families will be able to join them in the future. This has resulted in many countries either closing their borders to international adoption all together or implementing stricter regulations.  

Haiti followed suit and introduced stricter measures banning private adoptions, limiting the number of international adoptions per year, closing substandard orphanages and rewriting the adoption code. Additional measures included more support for families in Haiti prior to them agreeing for their child to be adopted and a mandatory period of time for families to change their mind.2

While some fear these new restrictions will mean that the 50,000 children in orphanages will languish in care, reform is absolutely necessary to protect children and their families’. During my trip to Haiti while I was searching for my biological family, I met dozens of families who had relinquished their children years earlier many under false pretences and never heard or saw them again. It was heart-wrenching to see these families in such pain and anguish over their lost children. Many of the ‘orphans’ in Haiti are placed in orphanages due to economic hardships their families are experiencing. Leaving their children at an orphanage is intended for a short period of time while they stabilise their lives. Many parents have every intention to return to resume caring for their children. Imagine the horror when they found their child was adopted abroad. So, what is the solution?

As a social worker for the past 15 years I have worked in developed countries with intricate child welfare systems that support children and their families who experience a wide range of challenges. Foster care systems do not exist in Haiti in this same manner and this is an area that could provide much needed temporary support for families. While this approach will require further education for the Haitian community and a financial and practical commitment from the government it will keep families together and prevent unnecessary and illegal adoption.

While I can’t speak to the specific circumstances surrounding Judge Barnett’s adoptions, I am hopeful that they were legal and above aboard. My greater hope is that further transformation within the international adoption system will continue to occur so that families can remain together wherever safely possible and reforms will continue to protect the rights of children and their families. Adoption should be a last resort, when all other avenues to keep children within their family is fully exhausted and supported.

References

  1. Intercountry Adoption after the Haiti Earthquake: Rescue or Robbery?
  2. Haiti fixes adoption system, but some fear too few adopted

The Happy Adoptee

by Linzi Ibrahim born in Sri Lanka, adopted to Australia.

This year I had a long time adoptee friend make a comment along the lines of, “Where’s that happy little girl I remember when we were growing up?”

Me: The Happy Adoptee

Depression
Anxiety
OCD
Religious
Self harming
Overdosing
Promiscuous
Excessive drinking
Risk taking behaviour
Impulsive
Low self esteem
Smoking
Drugs
Body dysmorphia
Binging
Starving
Purging
Stealing
Using Laxatives
Learning disorder
Suicidal

Also me:

Happy
Loving
Caring
Thoughtful
Fun
Creative
Talented
Loved
Beautiful
Strong
Resilient

To the world, I’ve looked like the happiest person alive and yes, I was happy.  I was also, very lost and confused. Apparently because I talk about the “dark-side” of adoption, some people find it a bit too negative, and conclude therefore I must be unhappy and need to change, right? Wrong! It’s actually the complete opposite. I’ve never been happier and I’m finally becoming my true self! 

Talking about these important issues, makes me feel more alive, more myself and more positive. That is true healing. ADOPTION CHANGED ME, that’s a fact, it rewired my brain, adoption taught my brain trauma based thinking. But I didn’t know this until I was much older. I never understood the cause of my self sabotaging behaviour, after all, why would I think “beautiful, life saving adoption” could possibly be the cause.

One of the hardest silent battles I’ve been through, is with weight and eating. I’ve been on  diets and have been restrictive with how I’ve eaten for most of my life. I’m starting to now understand that just like the Adoption Industry, the Weight Loss Industry also preys heavily on the vulnerable. I’m learning to eat intuitively. My body, my mind, knows exactly what it needs. I’m not depriving myself of whole food groups. When I deprive, this leads to binging and spiralling downhill .. And inevitably starting a new diet. A cycle that constantly has my body and mind living in fear of eating and not eating.

I was recently on the Keto diet. It made me feel incredible, but I was cutting out all carbs, aside from what was in vegetables. I’ve slowly started introducing small amounts of the dreaded carbohydrates back into my diet, it’s been tough, I’ve felt the most intense guilt at even thinking about eating carbs, that’s not normal. But you know what? I feel AMAZING!! I’m now taking back the power. My body is my home, I will take care of it. That also means, spoiling myself sometimes and being happy about doing that for myself!! Having healthy eating habits will not only help me, it will help my children and teach them good habits too. Time to break the cycle!

Dear Dad, You are Still Racist

by Author Mae Claire, born in Haiti raised in the USA.

A letter to my deceased father who illegally trafficked me out of an orphanage in Haiti. 
My works: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00IZG9Q56
Insta: @liftingtaboos
Blog: https://solifegoeson.com/

Mae, 15 years ago

Dear Dad,

The IRS is asking for information on my birth parents in order for the transfer of heirs to be successful. Your death left a lot of holes in an already very complex situation. See, remember when I called you 3 years ago and explained to you how horrible, dangerous and painful your actions were some 40 years ago?

Yes. That conversation. You are right. The one where I explained to you how getting my green card was almost impossible because you chose to traffic me. In the moment, you thought you were doing the “right” thing…because..Saviorism….white fragility, and the need to rescue a poor black girl from a fate that is unspeakable. I mean, I am almost certain there was love somewhere in the midst of it all. But love is a long-term thing. Love means you think about the future.

You didn’t do that dad. In fact, you continued to lie about my existence, keeping me from truly knowing my origins.

In your defense, you did tell me as I got older that my papers were fake. Fake…I was 13. What does a 13 year old understand about having fake papers? All I could do was live in the moment, go to school and do what a regular 13 year old does. Then I turned 17, traveling outside the country became harder because I was…well, trafficked.

“Remember your birthday,” you would whisper to me as we approached a person in uniform. I always thought it was strange that I had to memorize a date that was not actually my birthday at all. I also thought it was unordinary that my passport age was 3 years younger than my biological age.

In the name of saviorism and urgency, you were…making a deal with the devil. Find a woman who wants to sell her signature, find a dead child who has not received a death certificate yet, find a lawyer who would be shady to the utmost and BAM…you got yourself a cute little black girl in need of saving.

But here is the thing. I was not in need of saving. I was not an orphan despite being in an orphanage. So why didn’t you just wait for my real mother’s approval? Why go through illegal channels?

Urgency.

Saviorism.

I had a mother, I had a father, I had 5 other siblings. I had an aunt, an uncle, a grandfather. I had a Family.

But you took all that away from me. Nothing matches and nothing will ever match because of the decision you made when I was knee-high. My paper mother is not my bio mother. Everything is a lie. That is not my Birth Certificate, that is not my name, that is not my age. And at the same time, you were the family I was raised with-a very toxic one at that, but you were all I knew.

So I grew up to hate my skin color, my hair, my face, my race, my culture. I grew up to seek what you had and what you were even though you kept me from being an equal. You made me feel responsible for what had been done to me. You made me feel guilty if I didn’t show love to you the way the bios did. You drove me to contemplate and also attempt suicide. According to Child Welfare Information Gateway “Ongoing contact with birth family members may minimize or resolve the child’s feelings of grief and loss, reduce the trauma of separation, and help the child develop and maintain a stronger sense of identity.” You attempted none of this because you knew that what you had done was against the law.

According to UNICEF, it ​supports intercountry adoption, when pursued in conformity with the standards and principles of the 1993 Hague ​Convention​ on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of intercountry Adoptions. These include ensuring that adoptions are authorised only by competent authorities, guided by informed consent of all concerned, that intercountry adoption enjoys the same safeguards and standards which apply in national adoptions, and that intercountry adoption does not result in improper financial gain for those involved in it. These provisions are meant first and foremost to protect children, but also have the positive effect of safeguarding the rights of their birth parents and providing assurance to prospective adoptive parents that their child has not been the subject of illegal practices.

In your home, I was a fraud and I was never good enough. But lucky you dad, you are not the only one. There are so many white adoptive parents who will go to any length to have a black baby. Of course in the moment they may really be taking that path to heaven with good intentions. But the intentions die fast and the path becomes uneven, rocky, scary, hurtful, abusive. That path continues for us. The impact is forever.

When white adoptive parents adopt, they are not cognizant of the long term impact it leaves on the adoptee….especially if the adoptee is of color.

A typical adoptee is ripped from their environment and forced to survive with new expectations, new rules, new laws that govern their immediacy. They are forced to adapt….not the other way around.

A typical adoptee of color is coming from a country that is deemed “poorer” and in need of saving. Poverty should NEVER be a good enough reason to take someone else’s child….and it should never be a reason to go the extra mile to falsify documents.

When it comes to illegal and illicit adoptions, Haiti should get a gold star. Though Haiti has never been a country that “sells” their kids, poverty and the promise of a “better” life is very tempting. So it happens more frequently than expected. Kathrine Joyce describes it perfectly in her book called The Child Catchers. She says “​Adoption has long been enmeshed in the politics of reproductive rights, pitched as a “win-win” compromise in the never-ending abortion debate. Adoption has lately become even more entangled in the conservative Christian agenda.​” In her book she describes how ​Child Catchers find a way to convince poor families to put their kids in an orphanage. Once the children are in an orphanage, they become the ward of the state and are now products to be sold.

We become props.

In their 40 page Write Up called Orphanage Entrepreneurs: ​The Trafficking of Haiti’s Invisible Children​, Georgette Mulheir with Mara Cavanagh and colleagues say​: The Government of Haiti should strengthen the child protection system and judicial approaches to trafficking in children, including: develop an independent inspection system; develop a system for tracking children in care; increase the number of social workers and improve their training; prioritise children trafficked in orphanages within the Anti-Trafficking Strategy.

I was your prop dad. I was the person you showed to others to prove that you were not racist, or prejudiced. I was that little girl who suffered on the inside but wore the big smile on the outside; because that is how daddy liked it. That is how most adopted parents like it. They expect us to be silent, happy, grateful, appreciative, and thankful. They expect us to remember the date they were “got”.

But you see clearly now dad, don’t you? You realize now that mom will never be able to explain what you both did. Out of greed, you took a life, and in the meantime, destroyed a family forever.

I will never be able to properly be a part of my birth family. “Tell them it was a closed adoption” I tell my sister to tell my mother while she is on the phone to IRs. I continue to protect those who trafficked me. I proceed to make sure my mother is not bombarded by inquiries and possible jail time.

When they ask her “what are you in for?, I could only hope she tells the truth.

“Trafficking. We thought we were doing good but we drank the Koolaid”. But she is not capable of admitting her wrong doing. This response is a dream only to be dreamt at night, not during the day.

There will be those dad who will say “this is a sad story but it is not OUR story.” And truly stories are unique. Unfortunately, when it comes to giving money for children, or receiving a tax deduction for adoption, you have decided to participate in a system that too often creates long-term trauma. You drank the Koolaid.

Dad, did you know that over 80% of children who are considered “orphans” are not really orphans? According to Unicef, children are put into orphanages on a temporary basis because the orphanages provide food, shelter, schooling and activities. So to assume that we are free to be taken is a huge miscarriage of justice.

According to the US Department of State, The Government of Haiti does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. They remain in Tier 2 because ​the government did not convict traffickers during the reporting year. The government did not allocate sufficient funding for its anti-trafficking efforts or victim services and did not implement its standard operating procedures for victim identification.

What say you? Now that you are observing us from heaven? (I believe you are there because I can’t believe in a God who would create a place for people to suffer more than they have already suffered on earth). You can see the pain and suffering can’t you dad? You can see the confusion. Do you see it?

I’m hoping you can see it now. But I know there are so many adoptive parents who can’t see it. They think their steps were led by God….God would never ask someone to remove a child who has an entire family who loves and cares for them. We are asked to take care of the Widow and the Orphan….but you just took the so-called orphan.

Imagine what kind of world we would live in today if people with more gave to those who had less. What would this world look like if to whom much is given, much is truly required? What form would this and could this take? What form should this take?

What if, instead of taking someone else’s child, we asked “How can I keep you together?” This monumental question, with heaps of adaptable solutions, would change the course of children growing up in poverty.

As an adoptee, I know I am not alone in believing that a lot of our pain and suffering could have been prevented had someone reached out to support our family who was poor in physical things but rich in spirit.

As an adoptee, having my name changed, given false papers, treated like a 2nd and 3rd class citizen should never have been allowed and especially not in the name of “being called.” God does not call people to do eternal damage to others. Adoption is trauma and almost 100% of the time, causes long term damage that even therapy fails to heal.

Adoptees are not props to prove a statement like “I am not racist.” We are humans who were, for the most part, purchased to fulfill a longing, an inability, a desire, a calling, an emptiness, and the list goes on and on.

But I’m here to say dad, adopting me and the others didn’t make you less racist. You remained racist in your own way. When we cried and told you about racism happening to us and you did nothing about it….you showed your racism. When I watched you treat other people who were of my same race and nationality….you showed your prejudice and your classism.

Your heart was pure though in many ways but unfortunately, adoption didn’t make it more or less pure. The calling didn’t bring you closer or further away from God. In fact, separating me created a cavernous hole in our relationship and destroyed what could have been a bridge to my birth family, culture, race and life.

Adoption is dangerous. Oftentimes we do it and we don’t even really know or understand why we are doing it. We do it because in the moment, it ​feels​ like the right thing. We do it because we think it is going to fix something in us. Maybe it does fix something in us…but it leaves the adoptee with scars, bruises and longing for what could have been.

Dear dad, now you are dead and can probably see and understand the pain you caused. If there is any way you can infiltrate the lives of others who have adopted or are hoping to adopt and warn them of the dangers; we adoptees will forever be grateful.

May you not rest in peace until you have saved other adoptees from the same pain.

Bolivian Family Searching

by Atamhi Cawayu, doctoral researcher at Ghent University (Belgium) and the Bolivian Catholic University ‘San Pablo’ (Bolivia). Together with Vicente Mollestad and Teresa Norman, they run Network of Bolivian Adoptees.

This blogpost was initially posted on Atamhi’s Facebook profile and Instagram-account @displaced.alteño

Searching for first family and adoptee activism: Some reflections

In 1993 I got displaced/adopted to Belgium when I was six-month-old. According to my papers, I was found as a new-born in the city of El Alto in Bolivia. Since my twenties, I started to return and reconnect with Bolivia. In the past two years I live more in Bolivia than in Belgium and I consider myself ‘based in Bolivia’. In all these years, I have attempted to search for information about my pre-adoptive past. Since June, together with a fellow Bolivian adoptee friend, we started our search here in Bolivia by starting a big campaign to make ourselves visible.

Reflection 1: Putting up posters in the city

In June 2020, my friend and I started to prepare our searches for our Bolivian relatives by designing posters and putting them in various streets and neighbourhoods in the cities of La Paz and El Alto. It’s not the first time I engage in searching for first families, in the past years I have completed searches for other Bolivian adoptees, which sometimes led to reunions. However, searching is challenging, especially when you don’t have names, places or anything that might lead to our families. 

In Bolivia there is a central authority responsible for international adoption, yet there is no support from organisations or institutions who can really help us. In our cases, we have limited information, but other adoptees have the full name of their mother, or names of family members. Even in their cases it’s often a bureaucratic journey to obtain more information. In addition, most of us don’t know the language, are not familiar with the system, and do not always have the time to search. 

When I started to do my PhD on this topic, my goal has always been to have not only a better insight into the adoption system in Bolivia but also to ‘crack’ the system and understand which clues are necessary in finding one’s family. Besides I think it’s important to document the stories of the first parents and take their experiences into account if we really want to make an honest evaluation of the system of adoption. 

When preparing the posters, making the design, paying the prints, I could only think of one thing: we as adult adoptees have the resources to start this search and do it in an almost professional way. Our parents probably didn’t have the same amount of resources, and even if they did, their stories were regarded as less interesting than ours right now.

Reflection 2: Engaging with TV media

After our first round of posters, we received a message from a journalist from a Bolivian TV channel who was interested in our stories. A few days later they interviewed us, and it was broadcasted one day later. Since then our story was covered by national TV media in Bolivia and it received lots of attention. The media is a necessary evil. It helped a lot in having our cases visible, yet it’s hard to control the questions. They also have their own narrative they want to show.

These experiences made me reflect about several things. Our stories were largely framed as ‘abandoned babies’ returning to Bolivia, after being adopted internationally, however this narrative already makes a lot of assumptions of our mothers abandoning us. When reading the comment section (I know I should not do this) a big part of the viewers didn’t understand why we would search for someone ‘that doesn’t look for us’. However, it’s so much more complex… 

In my case I was found, but I don’t know what really happened. It’s easy to assume I was ‘abandoned’ by one of my parents, but I don’t know. In my research on first parents, I have encountered several parents who never gave up their child to adoption, did it in vulnerable circumstances, or were even pressured by intermediaries (and I’m not even talking about kidnap and illegal adoption). Yet, in many cases they were interested to know what happened to their children, if they were still alive, if they ended up well, etc. Part of our activism is also to speak about this other side of adoption. It’s not always a fairy-tale as many people think. We are part of system that exploits global inequalities, displaces poor brown/indigenous bodies from South to North, and prefers parenthood from the Global North over parenthood of the Global South. 

It is irritating people don’t understand the complexity and violence relinquishment and adoption can entail. Even if our parents wanted to look for us, they wouldn’t be able to find us as we have been relocated and displaced to other continents. When I search for my ‘family’, it is to make myself findable, so they know I am here in Bolivia and willing to be in touch with them. 

Reflection 3: The violence of international adoption

In the days after our first interview, various Bolivian TV channels called us for an interview. Our story was spread nationwide by radio, TV, newspaper. We tried to take advantage of this moment to open the discussion on transnational adoption.

During the interviews we tried to mention that for us adoptees there is no assistance for adoptees to search. Not in our adoptive countries, nor in Bolivia. We have to do almost everything by ourselves, and then I am not even talking about learning the language, understanding the documents, being familiar with the city. As my friend mentioned in several interviews, “searching is something political”. For me searching is doing something you were not supposed to do. It’s opening up histories that were meant to be hidden, it’s doing something within a system that tried to erase everything of your being.

Moreover, another dominant idea is to be lucky and fortunate when being adopted transnationally. One of the journalists said to me “you must be very fortunate”, “many people here would love to be in your shoes”. Throughout the years I have met many people, especially here in Bolivia, who told me I must have been lucky to be have been saved from my ‘miserable future’ in Bolivia and to have a ‘wealthy’ life in Europe. It’s like people think we only ‘won’ by being adopted internationally, but they often forget we have lost many things. I consider all the opportunities I have because of growing up in Europe as compensation for everything I have lost, and I have lost everything.

From my personal perspective, the violence implicit in transnational adoption is to be involuntary transcontinentally displaced, completely severed from our genetic ancestors, disconnected from our community, culture, language, nation, continent, and without any possibility to find our families ever again. For most of us Bolivia will become a country we once lived in. In addition, all our former identities are erased so we can be reborn, renamed, Christianised and assimilated with our adoptive countries. We grow up with complete strangers we are expected to love and call family. We are being brought into a society that doesn’t want us, that racialises us and discriminates us, without any community that provides shelter or understanding. This so-called child protection system – mostly in the benefit of well-off Western adoptive parents who wants to fulfil their heteronormative parental dream – erases everything from us. It is not the first time in colonial history child welfare systems are used to shape, control and erase indigenous children’s identities, and most children adopted from Bolivia have an indigenous background, be it Aymara or Quechua. Transnational adoption is for me an ongoing colonial project of civilising, controlling and managing children from the Global South, transforming them from ‘savages’ to ’civilised’ citizens in the benefit of the capitalist machine of the North. Transnational adoption would not have been possible without a history of colonialism and its ongoing colonial gaze towards countries in the South such as Bolivia.

The adoptee experience is something very diverse. I know some adoptees might disagree on this and that’s fine. I also know other adoptees might recognise themselves in what I write. Every experience is valid. However, my fight and activism are structural against a system that has caused a lot of injustices and is not in the benefit of first parents and adult adoptees. As another adoptee once told me: our parents maybe didn’t have the resources to fight for their rights, but we have, and we will fight for them.

Further Reading

Atamhi’s latest research paper: From Primal to Colonial Wound – Bolivian adoptees reclaiming the narrative of healing