Abby Forero-Hilty at the Hague Special Commission

by Abby Forero-Hilty, adopted from Colombia to the USA; Co-founder of Colombian Raíces; author of Decoding Our Origins
Speech for Day 3, Session 1: Introductory Post Adoption Matters Panel

Artwork by Renée S. Gutiérrez, co-author of Decoding Our Origins

Top 3 Areas of Concern based on the Post-Adoption Services Discussion Paper with excerpts in italics.

1. (2.4.2. Raising awareness of post-adoption services)

Points to Consider:

The best way to ensure that adopted people are receiving relevant, targeted, and high-quality post-adoption services is by having trauma- and adoption-informed adult intercountry adoptees working with the adoptee community to compile a list of such services. These adult adoptees would be PAID for their services. Intercountry adoptees, especially those who are trauma- and adoption-informed, are the only true experts in the needs of intercountry adoptees. Their expertise must be recognised, financially compensated, and required in the provision of any and all post-adoption services. We recognise the paucity in the number of trained, licensed, and qualified intercountry adoptee providers and therefore acknowledge that qualified non-intercountry adoptee providers can also be beneficial (with significant trauma- and adoption-informed training).

Recommendations:

  • All post-adoption services should be provided free of charge to the adopted person (and family of birth) throughout their lifetime, recognising that each adopted person is different and that some individuals may request/require support starting early in life, while others might only start on this journey decades after their adoption.
  • Adoptive families should be assigned a trained, trauma and adoption-informed intercountry adoptee who can serve as a single point of contact for the adopted person, to ensure they have confidential access to these services when they need them.
    – The State should ensure that the adopted person knows how to – and is able to – access this person
  • Access to full birth records and identifying information on the adopted person’s mother and father
    – Birth records must be easy and confidential for the adopted person to access at any point in their lifetime
  • Assistance in translating and understanding the birth records and other associated adoption paperwork (as each country is different, this must be country-specific assistance)
  • Preparation and education on race and racism (in cases of transracial adoption, the White adoptive parents cannot equitably provide the necessary social and cultural preparedness to adopted children of colour as they are not members of the adopted child’s racial and cultural community. White adoptive parents in White dominated spaces do not have lived experiences of being targets of micro-aggressions and racism.
  • Reculturation, or the process by which intercountry adoptees reclaim their original cultural heritage, should be supported through education and immersive experiences such as birth country trips to their country of origin.
  • DNA testing and databases are models of adoptee support in several countries with problematic adoption practices. DNA testing and country sponsored databases should be promoted, supported, and maintained at no cost to adoptees or first family members.
  • Citizenship (country of birth) re-acquisition support and processes should be offered to adoptees who desire to become dual or full citizens of their countries of birth.

Psychological, emotional, and mental health support via psychotherapy and counselling modality/modalities as chosen by the adopted person and offered by trauma and adoption-informed providers.

2. The right of the adoptee to obtain information about their origins is well established in international law, in particular in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC, Arts 7 and 8) as well as in the 1993 Adoption Convention (Art. 30).

Questions:

  • How is the collection of true and accurate information on the identities of the natural mother and father ensured?
  • When and by whom is that information checked and confirmed in both the sending and receiving countries?
  • What procedure is in place to absolutely ensure that that information is preserved and can be given directly to the adopted person – without having to go through the adoptive parents?

Recommendations:

  • There should be no barriers in place (such as minimum age requirement, consent of birth and/or adoptive parents, etc.) in order for the adopted person to easily and confidentially access their own familial information.
    – Some central authorities require adoptees to provide a psychological referral and proof of ongoing counselling (presumably paid for by the adoptee) when the adoptee contacts the central authority for birth family information and search. This practice is unfair and must end.
  • The desire for confidentiality on the identity of the birth parents, either by the birth family or adoptive family, should never be a reason to deny the adopted person their identity. They have the right to their identity. That right should supersede any other party’s desire for secrecy. The secrecy in adoption must end.
  • Central Authority websites must have a clearly marked section for adoptees of all ages to access information on birth family search and reunion:
    – There must be a transparent and simple procedure for accessing this information that is clearly presented on the website;
    – This information must be presented not only in the language of the country of origin, which most transnational adoptees will not be able to read and understand, but also in a language the adoptees themselves can read and understand, e.g., English or German;
    – This information must be made accessible to adoptees with vision and/or hearing impairments
  • What is truly in the “best interest” of the adopted person must be prioritized.
    – Denying someone the truth of their identity is never in anyone’s best interest.

3. Regarding the professionals involved in the post-adoption services, some States arrange for the same professionals to prepare prospective adoptive parents (PAPs) and provide post-adoption services, 30 while in other States the professionals are different ones. 31 For other States, the professionals involved depend on the region and / or the case at hand

Questions:

  • What qualifications do “professionals” have?
  • Who determines who a “professional” is?
  • There is a major conflict of interest when the “professional” is “preparing” the Prospective Adoptive Parents AND providing post-adoption services to those displaced by adoption.
    – How can the “professional” who is responsible for facilitation adoptions also be providing adoptees with post-adoption services? There is substantial mistrust in the adoptee community of “adoption professionals” who facilitate adoptions – and rightfully so.

Recommendations:

  • In some instances, professionals who both facilitate adoptions and also provide post adoption services may be engaged in dual roles with adoptees and their adoptive families, creating an ethical dilemma. Hence post-adoption services should be provided by separate parties and entities than the adoption service providers.
  • Intercountry adoptees, who are often transracial as well, who have undergone training in the social service field and or are licensed mental health providers, are poised to be in the best position to lead and guide post-adoption services given their lived experiences and extensive training. Ideally, post adoption service providers will represent a broad array of birth/first countries to better serve adoptees from various sending countries.
  • Although we strongly recommend that qualified intercountry adoptees are at the frontlines of facilitating and providing direct post-adoption services, we recognise the need for quality post-adoption services exceeds the potential numbers of professionally trained intercountry adoptees available. Therefore, we would be supportive of non-intercountry adoptee post-adoption service providers if they are licensed mental health providers, have evidence of adoption-informed training to include significant education and understanding of culturally responsive strategies as they apply to intercountry adoptees.

Read our previous post: Adoptees at the Hague Special Commission

Colin Cadier at The Hague Special Commission

by Colin Cadier, adopted from Brazil to France, President of La Voix des Adoptés
Presentation at Session 1, Day 1: Voices of Adoptees Panel

Mesdames et messieurs les représentants des Etats signataires, les délégués et représentants d’associations, d’autorités nationales ou internationales,

Je salue cette espace d’expression ouvert aux acteurs de la société civile, et notamment nous Personnes Adoptées, concernés directement par le sujet qui nous mobilise aujourd’hui et les jours à venir. Je tiens à remercie particulièrement Lynelle LONG (InterCountry Adoptees Voices) pour avoir invité La Voix des Adoptés à se joindre à sa délégation, et également le Bureau Permanent, en la personne de Laura MARTINEZ avec qui j’ai eu l’occasion d’échanger de nombreuses fois, notamment ces dernières semaines pour nous aider à préparer ce panel.

Je m’appelle Colin CADIER, je suis né en 1980 à Recife (Brésil), adopté à 15 jours par un couple Français dits “expatriés”, je réside aujourd’hui à Marseille (France) où je travaille dans l’administration territoriale en lien avec l’international… Je suis binational (franco-brésilien), tricullturel (franco-sudamericain) et quadrilingue (si je me permets de compter l’anglais). 

Depuis 2019, je suis le Président de La Voix Des Adoptés, une association de droit français, existante depuis 2005 qui agit sur tout le territoire (avec des antennes à Paris, Lille, Lyon, Tour, Marseille) en lien avec de nombreux pays (Brésil, Colombie, Guatemala, Roumanie, Vietnam, Bulgarie ) qui participe aux réunions collégiales d’un organe consultatif traitant particulièrement des sujets liés à l’adoption internationale (aux côtés d’autres associations) et intervient par les témoignages de ses bénévoles auprès d’associations partenaires qui accompagnent notamment les parents/familles candidates à l’adoption. Outre les Groupes de Paroles, et les événements culturels ou conviviaux organisés par la quarantaine de bénévoles investis, nous animons une WebRadio, développons un Jeu pédagogique sur l’adoption et nous travaillons conjointement avec notre Autorité Centrale qui a participé à notre récent séminaire annuel de formation de nos bénévoles, l’Association Racines Coréennes (de 10 ans notre aînée), le SSI France, l’AFA, la Fédération EFA et bien d’autres associations nationales ou locales, en France ou à l’étranger.

Au regard des nombreuses demandes que nous recevons des personnes adoptées faisant des recherches sur leurs origines, force est de constater qu’en l’absence d’un référentiel mondial reconnu par les autorités des Etats concernés, un certain nombre de personnes nées dans certains pays puis recueillies dans des foyers d’un autre pays – au cours des dernières décennies du siècle passé, rencontrent des difficultés à accéder aux informations sur leur famille de naissance, ou sur les circonstances de leur naissance jusqu’à leur arrivée dans leur nouveau foyer… Rédiger et adopter ce nouveau texte en 1994 qui a été ratifié progressivement par un très grand nombre d’Etats soucieux d’établir un cadre structuré sur les conditions spécifiques pour “donner une famille à un enfant” (tout en veillant à respecter le meilleur intérêt de l’enfant), a constitué une avancée majeure. Quant aux modalités d’application dudit texte, chaque Etat signataire en la responsabilité au regard de sa législation et de ses politiques publiques en matière de protection de l’enfance… La diversité des situations socio-politico-économiques des Etats, du rôle des différents acteurs publics ou privés, impliqués, démontrent qu’il demeure encore des points à améliorer.

La convention de La Haye prévoit bien des dispositions concernant les informations détenues par les autorités sur les origines de l’enfant et leur accès avec des conseils appropriés (articles 30 et 31), mais un certain nombre de personnes adoptées devenues adultes recherchent des informations sur leur origine et se heurtent à des fins de non recevoir. Les motifs peuvent être très variés, selon la date, le lieu de naissance et les conditions dans lesquelles la procédure d’adoption s’est déroulée, il existe souvent un écart voire un fossé entre les informations disponibles et celles recherchées par les personnes adoptées dans leur enfance.

C’est pour cette raison que nous, association d’adoptés et EFA (association de parents adoptants/adoptifs), avons adressé un courrier aux trois ministres de tutelle de l’autorité centrale française pour demander la mise en place d’une commission d’experts indépendants dans le but d’éclairer sur des pratiques qui malheureusement laissent AUJOURD’HUI des personnes sans réponses à leurs questionnements. Et pourtant, ces adoptés n’ont d’autre choix que de se tourner vers les autorités compétentes (les autorités centrales et celles intervenant dans la protection de l’enfance) pour tenter d’obtenir des clarifications ou des explications.

Il est vrai que dans le cadre de la récente réforme engagée par le gouvernement français concernant les structures en charge des politiques publiques de protection de l’enfance, notre association a été invitée à prendre part aux instances de gouvernance de la nouvelle entité en cours d’installation. Nous sommes très reconnaissants de cette place qui nous est accordée d’autant plus que nous comptons apporter notre savoir “expérienciel” sur les questions liées à la Recherche des Origines et la mise en place de dispositifs d’accompagnement (administratif, socio-psychologique) ou d’assistance juridique pour les personnes adoptées, et idéalement avec des mécanismes (ou instruments) de coopération avec les autorités compétentes (centrales) des pays dits de naissance.

Nous espérons voir la nouvelle structure se doter des moyens nécessaires pour pouvoir répondre à la demande des personnes adoptées. Il est à noter que de nombreuses personnes adoptées (aujourd’hui adultes, majeures révolues) correspondent à des adoptions qui ont eu lieu avant 1993, comme en témoignent les statistiques (puisque le nombre d’enfants nées et adoptées à l’étranger a diminué de façon progressive mais plutôt significative au fil des années jusqu’à nos jours – passant de plusieurs milliers par an à quelques centaines). Même si pour la plupart des adoptions qui ont eu lieu à partir des années 2000, les données sont disponibles et accessibles, il n’en demeure pas moins un besoin d’accompagnement au moment notamment où la personne adoptées exprime son souhait éventuel de retrouver les membres de sa famille de naissance… Certaines autorités centrales se proposent de faire le nécessaire, d’autres sont démunies ou ne disposent pas des moyens légaux, humains, matériels ou financiers nécessaires… Enfin le paysage des structures privées lucratives ou non lucratives n’en n’est pas moins varié : des personnes peu scrupuleuses ou malveillantes, aux bénévoles dévoués mais pas forcément “préparées” ou outillées pour faire face à des situations humaines complexes voire dramatiques, sans oublier la barrière de la langue… Tout cela nous conduit aujourd’hui à attirer votre attention Mesdames et Messieurs sur cette réalité: Comment orientons nous les personnes adoptées qui sont notamment plus âgées que vos respectifs organismes (créés à partir des années 2000), ou celles qui rencontrent encore, dans certains cas, des difficultés à trouver les informations sur leurs origines ? 
Dialoguer, coopérer et proposer des actions conjointes, constituent un moyen possible et positif pour permettre d’avancer, de répondre aux besoins des personnes adoptées ou des associations qui comptent sur le pouvoir d’intervention des autorités compétentes.

Je Vous remercie pour votre écoute et vous souhaite des échanges riches au cours au cours des prochains jours.

English Translation

Ladies and gentlemen, representatives of the signatory States, delegates and representatives of associations, national or international authorities,

I welcome this space of expression open to the actors of civil society, and in particular to us Adopted Persons, directly concerned by the subject that mobilizes us today and in the days to come. I would like to thank in particular Lynelle Long (InterCountry Adoptees Voices) for inviting La Voix des Adoptes to join her delegation, and also the Permanent Bureau, in the person of Laura Martinez with whom I have had the opportunity to exchange many times, especially in the last few weeks to help us prepare this panel.

My name is Colin CADIER, I was born in 1980 in Recife (Brazil), adopted at 15 days by a French couple called “expatriates”, I now reside in Marseille (France) where I work in the international territorial administration. I am bi-national (Franco-Brazilian), tri-cultural (Franco-South American) and quad-lingual (if I allow myself to count English).

Since 2019, I am the President of La Voix Des Adoptés, an association under French law, existing since 2005, which acts on the whole territory (with branches in Paris, Lille, Lyon, Tour, Marseille) in connection with many countries (Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Romania, Vietnam, Bulgaria ), which participates in the collegial meetings of a consultative body dealing particularly with topics related to international adoption (alongside other associations) and intervenes through the testimonies of its volunteers with partner associations that accompany in particular parents/families applying for adoption. In addition to the discussion groups and the cultural or social events organised by the forty or so volunteers involved, we run a WebRadio, develop an educational game on adoption and work jointly with our Central Authority, which took part in our recent annual training seminar for our volunteers, the Korean Roots Association (10 years older than us), ISS France, AFA, the EFA Federation and many other national or local associations, in France and abroad.

In view of the numerous requests we receive from adopted persons researching their origins, it is clear that in the absence of a worldwide reference system recognised by the authorities of the States concerned, a certain number of persons born in certain countries and then taken into homes in another country – during the last decades of the last century – encounter difficulties in accessing information on their birth family, or on the circumstances of their birth until their arrival in their new home. The drafting and adoption of this new text in 1994, which has been progressively ratified by a very large number of States anxious to establish a structured framework on the specific conditions for “giving a family to a child” (while taking care to respect the best interests of the child), constituted a major advance. As for the modalities of application of the said text, each signatory State is responsible for its own legislation and public policies in terms of child protection. The diversity of the socio-political and economic situations of the States, and of the role of the different public or private actors involved, show that there are still points to be improved.
The Hague Convention does provide for provisions concerning information held by the authorities on the child’s origins and their access with appropriate advice (articles 30 and 31), but a certain number of adopted persons who have become adults seek information on their origins and are refused. The reasons may be very varied, depending on the date and place of birth and the conditions in which the adoption procedure took place, there is often a gap or even a gulf between the information available and that sought by the adopted persons in their childhood.

It is for this reason that we, the adoptees’ association and EFA (adoptive parents’ association), have sent a letter to the three ministers in charge of the French central authority to ask for the setting up of a commission of independent experts with the aim of shedding light on practices which unfortunately leave people without answers to their questions. And yet, these adoptees have no choice but to turn to the competent authorities (the central authorities and those involved in child protection) to try to obtain clarifications or explanations.

It is true that within the framework of the recent reform undertaken by the French government concerning the structures in charge of public policies for the protection of children, our association has been invited to take part in the governance bodies of the new entity currently being set up. We are very grateful for this place that has been granted to us, especially since we intend to contribute our “experiential” knowledge on issues related to the Search for Origins and the setting up of support mechanisms (administrative, socio-psychological) or legal assistance for adopted persons, and ideally with mechanisms (or instruments) of cooperation with the competent (central) authorities of the so-called countries of birth.

We hope that the new structure will be equipped with the necessary means to be able to respond to the demand of the adopted persons. It should be noted that many adopted persons (now adults, past the age of majority) correspond to adoptions that took place before 1993, as the statistics show (since the number of children born and adopted abroad has decreased gradually but rather significantly over the years until today – from several thousand per year to a few hundred). Even if for most of the adoptions that took place from the 2000s onwards, the data are available and accessible, there is still a need for support, especially when the adopted person expresses his or her possible wish to be reunited with the members of his or her birth family. Some central authorities propose to do what is necessary, others are deprived or do not have the necessary legal, human, material or financial means. Finally, the landscape of private profit-making or non-profit-making structures is no less varied: from unscrupulous or malicious people, to dedicated volunteers but not necessarily “prepared” or equipped to deal with complex or even dramatic human situations, without forgetting the language barrier. All this leads us today to draw your attention Ladies and Gentlemen to this reality: How do we guide adopted persons who are notably older than your respective organisations (created from the 2000s onwards), or those who are still encountering, in some cases, difficulties in finding information on their origins?

Dialogue, cooperation and proposing joint actions are a possible and positive way to move forward, to respond to the needs of adopted persons or associations who rely on the power of intervention of the competent authorities.

I thank you for listening and wish you rich exchanges during the next few days.

Read our earlier post: Adoptees at the Hague Special Commission

Adoptees at the Hague Special Commission

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huge thanks to these adoptees who are volunteering 5 days/nights of their time and effort to represent our global community!

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

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

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

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

Sue-Yen Bylund on Racism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resource

Read ICAVs small collation on Color blindness in Adoption

English
%%footer%%