What is in our “Best Interests” as Intercountry Adopted People?

I find it interesting to ponder why the concept Best Interests of the Child in intercountry adoption is discussed and decisions made without substantial research on the long term outcomes in intercountry adoption. When I say long term, I mean decades to show how intercountry adoption impacts us through the various stages of life. Most of the existing research focuses on a short window of time at adolescence to early adulthood, but not much beyond that. Having lived my life now to later-middle adulthood, and reflecting on the changes I went through as a younger adoptee coming to terms with my life, my identity, where I fit, having children of my own, there is no doubt in my mind that the way adoptees view adoption and its impacts, changes over time as we age and experience life.

There is also little input at professional forums on Best Interest of the Child from those who are experts of the lived journey — intercountry adoptees! Intercountry adoption has been happening as a modern phenomenon for more than 70 years if you consider the waves of German, Greek, then Korean intercountry adoptees and beyond. It remains an assumption couched within international adoption conventions and laws, that it is in our best interest to place us with strangers — racially, culturally, spiritually, emotionally and biologically but yet no longitudinal evidence exists to confirm that intercountry adoption IS a positive solution for the children themselves, nor input from those who live it across a wide spectrum of experiences.

At the recent US Department of State Intercountry Adoption Symposium, one of the 5 issues I raised for consideration as an improvement for policy discussion, was the Best Interest of the Child concept to be discussed from the perspective of those who live it. JaeRan Kim also recently wrote a fantastic article asking the pertinent question of why American adult intercountry adoptees until last month, had not been proactively approached to attend policy discussion forums. My guess is, maybe it’s inconvenient to hear our truths? It might mean the industry needs to listen and change!

So given we are rarely invited to the tables to discuss this important concept, I decided to bring to you what some mature age, critical thinking intercountry adoptees believe is in our best interests. Hear for yourself what those who live it, consider is in our best interest. I hope this helps you think more deeply about intercountry adoption as an industry — how it’s being conducted and the changes required to include our lived perspectives.

The Question: What do you think “In the Child’s Best Interest” SHOULD mean in intercountry adoption contexts .. in the context of your own adoption? If you could speak up for your “child” self when the decision to intercountry adopt you was being made, what would you have wanted to say? What was in your best interest — with the benefit of hindsight?

Answers shared, in order of permissions given:

“If my sister/cousin had a baby and there was no consideration for family’s involvement in raising the child, I’d be so irritated. Being connected to family, I would be so much more suitable to raise the child. There’s no way in hell, the baby would get past all of us who’d honour its mother’s presence and guide it with the baby and mother’s actual best intentions. Kinship connection is VITAL.” (Anonymous, Indian adoptee)

“Best interest is not be forced out of our families and countries simply to be taken care of.” (Georgiana-A. Macavei, Romanian adoptee)

“Don’t take away my original citizenship or right to live and learn about my culture while in my country of birth.” (Linzi Ibrahim, Sri Lankan adoptee)

“For me, “in the child’s best interest” is welfare in action, where adults determine what is best — in terms of health, housing, family stability, nurturing care, economic stability, etc. So I, as an orphan via adoption gained this. Or put in another way gain a degree of white privilege. Under the UNCRC (United Nations Convention On The Rights Of The Child) the ideal is continuity of culture, family connection, stability, health, etc. But the “right of the child” is different from the “best interest of the child”.

The best interest is also Adoptive Parent (AP) best interest. That is, the AP by caring for a relinquished adoptee/orphan is providing for the best interest of the child and themselves as a couple becoming a family unit. A child taken from third world impoverishment / institutionalisation to first world-loving home i.e., family separation within the embedded narrative of adoption is in “the best interest of the child” as it fits the modern Western family goal. Thus, in turn, adoptees need to be grateful.

The “best interest of the child” is also a turn of the last century concept of childhood. As industrialised West moved from colonial labour and care of the child via nannies/ or families having lots of children to post WW2 concepts of child play, development and education/childcare. With white women as drivers within the colonial establishment determining what is in the “best interest of the child” (stolen generation, residential schools, adoption, wardship homes, to what we now call foster care and permanent care arrangements) ideas. So adoption needs to be seen as a natural social progression which benefits the child i.e., adoption in the best interests of the child.

My main concern is the best interest of the child is limited by the word “child”. Adoption of children and the act of adoption via childhood agencies/church and family government departments is not about children’s rights, especially as he/she develops into a teenage/adult. When concepts of belonging, community and difference start playing on the psychology of the individual. For a child to be free and loved in a nuclear household and able to be a child under adoption is all well-intended, but the child has no agency as an individual hence the discussions on identity and “who is my family before I came here?”

But the best interest of the child neglects and dismisses the right of a person to know their biological parents and to have continued connection to culture and language.

Adoption in the push of “best interest of the child” actually acts to sever “the rights of the child”.” (Dominic Golding, Vietnamese adoptee)

“I think in context of my own adoption it was absolutely not in my best interest to legally cut ties to my roots and identity and to lose my country, culture, mother and family. The child’s best interest for me would mean either find ways that enable a mother to keep her child and if not possible, then with extended family, friends or a safe children’s home in their country of origin.” (Sagarika Abeysinghe, Sri Lankan adoptee)

“After my recent experience (post traumatic stress symptoms and shock) I believe that the best interest of the child in adoption should be avoided by all means. It would be better in my opinion to support the birth family and to see what the real root causes are behind adoption (from birth family and adoptive family). I believe as long as adoption is allowed, child trafficking will exist as well and it has huge consequences for the child.” (Lidya Booster, Indonesian/Chinese adoptee)

“My best interest is to know that my family and friends are okay. I need not come to a country where I am the one who has to adjust to everyone around me. I have experienced loss of both family and country. Why strip me of my language and memories? For my best interest, I would need to be able to feel I’m not punished for being without parents. I need to be able to love and miss my mom. I need to be able to have a connection to my country that is not whitewashed.” (Angelica Bråten, Colombian adoptee)

“Is this really the last option? That I’m going to grow up so far from my own culture? I don’t know the answer on what was best but I don’t believe in the part ‘in the child’s best interest’ when there was money making involved”. (Dilani Butink, Sri Lankan adoptee)

“Bring me and my siblings back to my mother. I am not an orphan. I am stolen!! And lock these people up who earn money from us by selling me to a pedophile! This would have been in my best interest! Being taken away from my family was the first crime. All children who have been put up for adoption without consent from the families should not have taken place. This is the case for a very big group”. (Maria Quevedo, Colombian adoptee)

“Best interest should mean preserving the child’s birth culture. Denying language, name, ancestral heritage, and so forth denies a huge spiritual and connective component to one’s life. In the Native Indigenous people’s plight to claim justice and an understanding of the impacts on so many levels, this has also happened to many of us intercountry adoptees.” (Kelly Foston, South Korean adoptee)

“The child needs to be immersed and exposed to their birth culture from the start so that by the time they reach a young adult age (20), they are able to decide for themselves whether they want to be involved or not.” (Marc Conrad, Bolivian adoptee)

“The child’s best interest cannot start with adults who are looking for a child because they believe it’s their innate right to raise a child. Once you have adults looking for a child to raise, the child’s best interests are already compromised. A child’s best interest is inextricably linked to that child’s genetic place in their family. Though it’s true that some parents or even families are unable to raise their child for various reasons, I find it nearly impossible to believe that absolutely no-one within that child’s cultural / racial / ethnic / local community can help to raise that child. If this is the case, maybe we need to look at the society that doesn’t value preserving and nurturing its children.

I also find it impossible to believe that a child’s best interest can be protected by erasing a child’s identity and purposefully and permanently cutting that child off from her ancestry. No child’s best interest can be ethically preserved when money exchanges hands for that child, when fundamental papers such as original birth certificates or are falsified or in any way withheld from that child. Though it may hurt and be hard to take, the age-appropriate truth is always in a child’s best interest. Lies and falsifications never are.” (Abby Forero Hilty, Colombian adoptee)

“There never could or would be “in the child’s best interest” when you’re taking them away from the culture they are born to, or family they stand to lose.” (Kim Yang Ai, Sth Korean adoptee)

“Why do you think it is in the best interest to adopt a little girl out of her country to another one with a completely different language, culture, etc? It is not in the best interest to falsify documents to make the child more desirable to the new adoptive family … marketing tactic.” (Ashley Thomas, Colombian adoptee)

“My first thought would be if immediate / extended family is available, then perhaps that would be in child’s best interest. If in an orphanage, is any family in the best interest, or an institution? I consider age a factor (e.g. the older the child, the better ability to make their own decisions, etc)?” (Farnad Darnell, Iranian adoptee)

“It is never in the best interest of a child to remove them from their country of origin, drop them into a different one, and then task them as adults with the job of trying to prove why they “deserve” to stay i.e., I have no citizenship because of how my adoption was done. Beyond the dysfunction and abuse I sustained as a child, and deal with as an adult, for no reason other than being adopted into abuse, to also toss in the knowledge that my adoptive government considers me an inconvenience they would like to be rid of, adds literal insult to actual injury.” (C, Canadian adoptee)

“If the assumption is that an international adoption will take place, then “in the child’s best interest” means to me that placement would involve thoroughly educating prospective adoptive families on evidence-based best practices with lots of support long-term. Prospective families would be questioned about their current relationship with people of the race and culture they are adopting from, and helping them see areas where they hold bias. Prospective families would also be questioned about their expectations in raising a child, and how they would cope if that child does not meet their expectations. Being an adoptee and in the process to adopt, I think there should be less emphasis on income and fees, and more emphasis on parenting skills and cultural understanding. Of course, guaranteeing citizenship and maybe even dual citizenship, if desired by the adoptee, should be a given.” (Anonymous, Sth Korean adoptee)

Of course, this post does not dare to presume to speak for all intercountry adoptees at all stages of life nor views, but is a collection of responses from those who participated in discussions at ICAV as a means to begin the conversation and stimulate thought.

What are your thoughts after reading through this collection of answers from intercountry adoptees? We welcome your comments below.

Why I’m Not Going Back: One Intercountry Adoptee’s Perspective

Guest post shared anonymously by one of ICAVs members.

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Growing up in near-total whiteness in the Midwest of America in the 1960s and 1970s, as a member of the first large wave of transracial intercountry adoptees, I experienced consistent marginalization and ostracism because of my race, and, to put it more bluntly, because of the race I was not—white. Constantly asked where I was from—no, REALLY, where was I REEEEAAAAALLLY from?????—I can say that the society around me made it very clear that I was an outsider, a foreigner, a stranger, an alien. I was often asked where I was from, and sometimes asked when I was going back to where I was from. And very occasionally, yes, I was told to go back to where I was from. All of this was deeply hurtful and wounding, of course, but I largely internalized a huge amount of racism and xenophobia to myself, and ended up with one gigantic complex about my physical appearance, which it’s taken me more than four decades to self-heal from—and I’m still working on that.

Indeed, one huge element in my participation in groups on Facebook around transracial adoption, as well as in-person participation in conferences around transracial adoption, has been a profound sense of mission around not only supporting my fellow adult transracial and intercountry adoptees to navigate society, including racism and xenophobia, but also around trying to help white transracial adoptive parents prepare their adopted children of color to navigate the world around us. I feel an intense identification with the littlest adoptees, who in some cases, even now in 2019, are experiencing what I experienced as a small child back in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the 1960s; and honestly, with all the resources available to white transracial adoptive parents now, in the second decade of the 21stcentury, is there any reason at all that the littlest transracial adoptee should have to experience what I and other transracial adoptees in the first waves experienced several decades ago???

Meanwhile, a great deal has happened in America, and elsewhere, in the past couple of decades. For one thing, enough white Americans were willing to give a Black/biracial man a chance, that we elected our first president of color, in November 2008. I still remember the thrill of election night on November 4, 2008, when then-Senator Barack Obama appeared on the stage in Grant Park in Chicago (the city that I am proud to say is my home) with his beautiful, accomplished wife Michelle Obama, and their adorable then-children, Malia and Sasha Obama, and were greeted by the most thunderous applause I think I had ever heard, on the part of hundreds of thousands of people gathered there, cheering, screaming for joy, weeping, many in stunned disbelief that our country could have the mind and the heart to break that barrier. And I, like millions of Americans, hoped in that moment that at least some people who had not voted for Barack Obama actually wished him well, and would be willing to give him a chance to lead all of us, all Americans, and to use his position as president of our country to also help lead in the world.

At the same time, I and so many Americans of color knew that there were many who hated President-elect Obama simply for his race (even though he had two, another complexity of his identity), and that some of those people would do everything they could to undermine him simply for his race, even apart from any ideological issues involved. We people of color knew that there would be a backlash; but the size and endurance of that backlash has shocked even many of us. And, shockingly, 62.9 million American voters, or 46 percent of the electorate, voted for Donald Trump, a man with absolutely zero political or public policy experience, and whose entire campaign had been based on racism and xenophobia; and because of our bizarre (and, to non-Americans, essentially inexplicable) Electoral College system, Trump won the presidency, even though 65.8 million voters, of 48 percent, had voted for former Secretary of State, former Senator, and former First Lady Hillary Clinton. In any case, based on how our strange Electoral College system works, Trump assumed the presidency on January 2017, and from literally the first moments of his presidency, he framed everything in apocalyptic terms, speaking of “American carnage” that only he could stop, and intensifying his racist rhetoric month after month.

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And then, this month, Trump stepped up his hate-filled rhetoric against four first-term U.S. representatives—Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, hurling insults and accusations against them, branding them as “anti-American,” and piling lie on top of lie, in an effort to solidify his popularity among his core supporters, as the American presidential campaign (which, surreally, lasts two full years here) got underway. And then, on July 14, Trump tweeted that those four congresswomen should “go back to… the places to which they came,” even though three of the four were born in America.

Then, after massive condemnation of his remarks, Trump said on July 17 at a campaign rally in North Carolina, of the four congresswomen, “They never have anything good to say. That’s why I say, ‘Hey if you don’t like it, let ’em leave, let ’em leave.’ … I think in some cases they hate our country.” He then called out Rep. Omar specifically, once again falsely claiming that she had praised the terrorist group al-Qaeda (a charge thoroughly debunked numerous times in the past), and stating that Congresswoman Omar “looks down with contempt” on Americans; and the crowd reacted by chanting, “Send her back, Send her back.” Trump did nothing to stop the chants, and, after feebly distancing himself from them in the days that followed, now appears to be endorsing them.

For those of us who are immigrants of color—and even for many people of color who are not immigrants—we grew up hearing the “go back to where you’re from” taunts. They are hurtful and devastating. Padma Lakshmi, an ACLU Artist Ambassador for Immigrants’ and Women’s Rights, writing in The Washington Poston July 19, spoke for many of us when she wrote that, “Those words, those hurtful, xenophobic, entitled words that I’ve heard all throughout my childhood, stabbed me right in the heart. They echoed the unshakable feeling that most brown immigrants feel. Regardless of what we do, regardless of how much we assimilate and contribute, we are never truly American enough because our names sound funny, our skin isn’t white, or our grandmothers live in a different country.”

And for those of us who are transracial, intercountry adoptees, growing up in whiteness, and often surrounded by racists and racism, the pain can run very deep indeed. Kurt Bardella, who like me is an adult Korean adoptee, on July 17, wrote, in nbcnews.com, the online news website of the U.S. broadcast network NBC News, about his reaction to the “go back” taunts by Trump, in an op-ed entitled “’Go back’ is how racists try to deny my American-ness. But I’m never leaving.” Among other things, Bardella wrote eloquently that, “Like so many marginalized people in America, when we speak our mind in the political sphere, when we challenge the normalcy of the white status quo, we are attacked as less-than-fully American. I guarantee you, every single person of color who writes a column or appears on cable news to debate the national issues of the day (particularly from a perspective critical of the current president) receives a barrage of tweets, direct Facebook messages and emails from white Americans telling them to effectively ‘go back home.’ These reminders in which others perceive the color of our skin as a reason to reject our Americanness, is a constant reality that has been a part of our lives for as long as we can remember.”

What’s more, Bardella wrote, “Of course, Donald Trump’s weaponization of existing racism is not new; it has been his tool of choice ever since he expanded his presence on the political scene by questioning the legitimacy of the first black president. As president, he has praised white nationalists in Charlottesville, pardoned a racist sheriff in Arizona, labeled Haiti and African nations “shithole countries,” attacked NFL players for protesting the National Anthem and presided over an administration that locked up and tortured Central American children and their families at the southern border while deriding them as potential gang members.” Essentially, Trump has filled his entire time in the Oval Office so far—two-and-a-half years—with racist, xenophobic attacks and disparagement, literally nearly every single week.

What Bardella and Lakshmi have written says more articulately than I could, how I also see things. Frighteningly, it appears certain that Trump is going to base his entire 2020 reelection campaign pitch on open racism, white supremacy, and xenophobia, hoping to capture more of the white vote than in 2016, even amid demographic shifts that will make the United States a “majority-minority” country by 2045, according to the United States Census. And actually, that’s what all of this is about. The fear and apprehension of some white people in the United States is now palpable: in big cities and small towns across the country, the presence of people of color, including of very identifiable immigrants of color, is unmistakable. And Trump’s core base supporters are terrified and enraged.

Sadly, a large number of white transracial adoptive parents in America refuse to accept that the explosion in the open racial aggression of people of color has anything to do with their adopted children of color. Ensconced in bubbles of (often-right-wing) whiteness, and with no or few adult friends of color, many white transracial adoptive parents in the U.S. are convinced that their children will be treated as “special,” and further, that Trump and his core followers wish only the best for their children.

I had a very recent involvement in that issue this very week, when a thread in a transracial adoption-focused group that I do not moderate but was a member of, blew up because a friend of mine, a transracial adoptive mom whom I like very much, posted Kurt Bardella’s op-ed in the group. Facebook notified me of it, and I thanked my friend for posting it, stating that I so appreciated her lifting up the voices of transracial, intercountry adoptees in this difficult moment. But a racist white mother who fully supports Trump assured us that Trump could never possibly be racist, and that nothing he says or does could possibly be racist, and things exploded from there. Along with a large number of like-minded members, I (one of only two adult transracial adoptees participating in that discussion thread) and the others protesting racism and white supremacy, were promptly removed by the moderator from the group, while the racist adoptive mother was retained. I was also told that I was removed not only for discussing politics, but also for, one time only, using the f-word in one phrase in one of my comments in the discussion thread.

In other words, using foul language, even once, and in the context of protest, is far more offensive than racism and white supremacy. Not only that, by retaining the racist/white supremacist member of the group and ejecting all of us who were protesting racism and white supremacy, the moderator of that group—which is what many of us in the transracial adoption world refer to as a “rainbows-and-unicorns” group—a group focused only on the sweet, pleasant aspects of transracial adoption, and disallowing any discussion of race or anything else complex or challenging—proved our point. If enforced politeness around middle-class-white-American-woman sociocultural norms, is far more important than challenging racism, then clearly, no authentic, meaningful discussion of racism is possible in such a group.

What Donald Trump is doing right now—absolutely weaponizing the tenets of white supremacy, and banking on the deep racial and sociocultural resentments of white racists—is not only profoundly morally abhorrent, it is frightening to Americans of color, both immigrants and non-immigrants of color. We are now being pointed out as obvious targets for racial aggression, and possibly even violence.

The bottom line is this: America has come to a moment of profound crisis and of moral emergency. It is impossible any longer to stand by in silence. That’s what happened in Nazi Germany in 1934-1937, when the “good Germans” either expressed open support of Adolf Hitler and his storm troopers, or docilely remained silent. We all know what happened afterwards.

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So this is where I stand: this is no longer about politics; it is about the safety and well-being of all of us Americans of color. And I will not be silent. But I will engage with those who want to understand, and who are willing to be authentic allies. And I will work. And I will hope.

And no, I will not “go back.”

How do Adoptees Journey over Time?

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During my years connecting with intercountry adoptees, I’ve been honoured to share their journeys and be a part of it by listening and relating.  I less frequently have male adoptee colleagues share on our website in the emotional sense about the adoption journey, especially over long term.

Richard is one of my adoptee friends willing to share his journey of growing up adopted into Australia and recently moving back to the Philippines – to reconnect with his heritage and culture after being reunited with his biological family a few years earlier.

He asked me did I know of how others experienced the relocation back to mother country and I replied that I know many Korean and Vietnamese adoptees who have done this for a short term (1 year or so) but have not read or heard of many other Filipino adoptees doing so …

So he has willingly shared his latest experiences Richard’s Relocation to Philippines.  Thank you Richard!