I am currently a first year student at the University of Washington, Seattle and finished with the course “Contemporary Issues of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans“. It was an eye-opening class, especially at the end where my lecturer talked about adopted Asian American issues.
For the final project of the class, the class was given an option to create a creative, reflective project, and being one of the only adopted AAPIA in class, I chose mine about my personal journey as an adoptee.
I thought I would share in case others may relate to the stories that I discussed. If anyone else is in college right now, I would totally recommend taking an Asian American Studies or American Ethnic Studies course. This course has made me feel even more connected to my Asian American identity and background. Thank you for giving me a community to share this in!
by Annick Boosten, adopted from India to Belgium, co-founder of Adoptie Schakel. Many thanks to Maureen Welscher & Jean Repplier for original text and translation.
I was adopted from India at the age of four. My parents already had a son David, who is four years older than me. There was another son but unfortunately he had a metabolic disease that killed him when he was eight months old. Due to the disease being hereditary (David appeared to have it too, only to a lesser extent) my parents decided to adopt a child. My parents are hardworking people who are always busy, the type who always say, “Don’t whine, just get on with it.” That’s how they raised me.
My mother worked furiously to teach me the Dutch language so that I could go to school as soon as possible because I came to them in December then by January, I had to go to school. When I used to object and say, “I’m sure they do that very differently in India,’ my mother replied, “You’re not in India, you’re in Belgium and that’s how we do it here.” I am very happy with my parents but sometimes I would have liked them to have known me a bit better, to have been a little more empathetic. As a child, I was overloaded with expensive clothes and all kinds of electronic toys as compensation because my parents worked so hard. During the holidays, I was sent to all kinds of camps so that my parents wouldn’t have to take off from work. I would have much preferred if we had been closely involved as a family and my parents made time for us to do fun things together. I’d have preferred a day at the beach than an X-box or Playstation.
Now that I have a son of my own, I give him a kiss every day and tell him how very happy I am with him. I do this even in those moments when I might be a bit angry because he doesn’t want to sleep. I missed that sort of interaction with my parents.
Thoughts about being Adopted
When I came into our family, my parents had already been told by the children’s home, “You better be careful, she remembers a lot of things”. I told my mother whole stories about a blue house, about a lady who took care of me, that there were rooms with other small children. I told it in such detail that my mother decided to write it down. When I visited the children’s home in 2018, the walls turned out to be painted blue. The woman in my memories was probably my biological mother. The official statement is that both my biological parents had died and that I was therefore eligible for adoption.
At the age of twenty years old, all kinds of scandals became revealed about abuses in Indian adoptions. I had already heard these stories from other Indian adoptees, but my parents were annoyed if I started talking about that. They just could not believe that something as noble as adoption could be fraudulent. My parents are strict Catholics and had wanted to do something good by adopting. These stories did not fit into their view of things. When the adoption association responsible for bringing Indian children to Belgium, De Vreugdezaaiers, was dissolved, they could no longer close their eyes to the abuses within Indian adoptions. As a child, I always went to the family days they organised for Indian adoptive children and their parents. I then decided to establish the Adoption Link. Adoptie Schakel means connecting people and bringing them into contact with each other. In doing so, we mainly focus on the world of adoption in which we strive to strengthen the bond among adoptees and among birth parents. We also help adoptees who are looking for their biological parents by means of DNA research.
I had never been so preoccupied with my origins before. For years I had a relationship with a boy who was not at all open to it. He thought it was nonsense to go in search of my roots. I had to continue to build my life here and leave the past behind me, or so he thought. So I didn’t really feel supported. When that relationship ended, I became involved with Ionut. He is a Romanian adoptee, something I didn’t know at the beginning of our relationship. After two weeks I found out. I had already noticed that he tanned very quickly in the sun, while all Belgian men were still pale during the summer. Then he told me that this was because of his Romanian genes. I was jealous of the bond he had with his Romanian family. Every year he went on holiday there. At one point I thought, “That’s what I want too! Maybe I can also find new contacts within my biological family.”
Having a Family of My Own
That feeling really took hold of me when I wanted to start my own family. I did a DNA test, and to my great surprise a number of matches appeared. It seems that many of my biological family had been given up for adoption. My father’s grandfather had seven children and all of whom gave up children for adoption. I have contact with some of them in America through Facebook. It also turned out that my father had not died. Through his brother, I came in contact with him and decided to visit in 2018. It was a terrible experience. I was just three months pregnant and felt terribly sick. My father also turned out to be ill with some kind of contagious disease. He was in quarantine and I had contact with him through a hole in the wall. I was not allowed to come any closer. The Indian taxi driver translated my questions and my father’s answers, which took forever. I had written down many questions, but in the end I forgot to ask them. Anyway, I did ask the most important question, ”Why was I given up for adoption?” And the cold answer was, “When your mother died, I gave my brother money to take you to an orphanage. That way I could get on with my life and marry a new woman.” My father thought that he was not at all to be blamed. That’s just the way it was in India. I was astonished. He had no remorse at all and never went looking for me. He had just continued his life, involved with another woman with whom he conceived children. He dared to ask me if I would enjoy meeting them. I told him, “Thanks, but no thanks. I’m not at all interested in half-brothers or sisters.” I also said that I would rather commit suicide than give my child away, which he thought was very strange. When I said goodbye I told him that I didn’t want any further contact, and he seemed fine with that. He did, however, give me a name of my mother’s family. He told me that she came from Sri Lanka and that I should look for her family there. One day I will do that, but now I don’t feel like it. I will do it when James is old enough to realise what it means to me to look for biological family – perhaps when he is about eight or ten years old.
When adoptees asked me, “Should I search or not?” I would always answer, “Yes.” I still think it’s good to know where you come from. It’s not always easy to deal with a bad experience. I know people I have advised to do so and who, after returning home, were very upset because the meeting was not what they had hoped for. I feel guilty about that. I too had a bad meeting but I prefer to share my opinion and my experiences. The choice is then up to them. Luckily I can look at it and think, “That’s just how it is.” I would have liked it to have been different, but that’s just the way it goes. Fifty percent of my genes are his anyway. So any bad qualities I have, I can attribute to my father, haha. When I’m in a temper, I shout, “Sorry, it’s my father’s genes!”
Being in a Relationship with another Adoptee
Having a relationship with someone who’s also adopted is very nice. Ionut and I really understand each other. For example, understanding what it means to be away from one’s biological culture and parents, having to adapt in adoptive country, the feeling of being a stranger. The areas we don’t understand each other on can be a stumbling block because we both have very different adoption stories and our own ‘baggage’. In that respect, our adoption history is completely different.
I had never realised how important it was for me to have my own biological child, something so closely connected to me who carries my DNA. I held James in my arms and saw how he looked like me and how happy that made me feel. James is clearly a product of myself and Ionut. I like to see similarities of myself in him, which I never expected would make me so happy. As parents, we both want to spend more time with our child than my parents did. The family bond is very important to both of us. I always say, “Your child is your heirloom, not your property.” We want to give him warmth, love, affection and trust and above all, he is allowed to be himself.
by Andrea Pelaez Castro adopted from Colombia to Spain. Andrea has written a masters thesis that investigates adoptions in Spain with a focus on how to prevent adoption rupture/breakdowns. You can follow her blogspot Adoption Deconstruction.
INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION IN SPAIN: DECONSTRUCTION OF AN ANACHRONISM
Some might think how lucky I am because I didn’t lose my mother tongue, nor my biological sisters and the fact that we blended in with our parents. Along these years, a lot of people dared to tell me we should thank whoever is in charge of this world that we weren’t on the streets drugging or prostituting ourselves. It was my parents who put that idea in our soft brains in the first place. Those words marked my entire childhood, but I’ve always felt something was wrong. I didn’t felt grateful for all those things I was supposed to be. On the contrary, I kept asking myself why we were in country that wasn’t our own, why we were treated so different from others kids, and why we couldn’t claim our mother (something we stopped doing because of the punishment we received). This constant fight between what I was supposed to feel and what I felt turned out to be, was the longest period of hatred and low self-esteem that I’ve ever experienced. I couldn’t bear the anger and loneliness that comes with what I was told: my mother abandoned us because she didn’t love us. Repeated word after word like a mantra, I embraced that idea in order to survive and be accepted. However, being conscious of the situation I was living, I eventually reached the turning point when I left the nest.
My life was about to change again thanks to my determination to know the truth, frightening as it might be. In 2015, I lived in London for a year, my first independent experience which allowed me to think about my origins and my mother. When I came back to Spain, my adoptive country, I decided to start my journey along with my professional career as a lawyer. As a way to understand why I hold myself back for so many years and why my parents didn’t want to speak about adoption, I began my studies on Family and Children Law in Barcelona. I devoured every book and article about adoption, emotional regulation, relinquishment, trauma, ADHD, attachment disorder and first families that landed on my hands. I became a sponge absorbing every bit of knowledge that could help me to comprehend this exchange of children happening all over the world. I named my final thesis “Adoption in Spain: assessment and support to prevent disruption”. Finally, a critical thinking about adoption emerged to answer all my questions related to my parents and the way I was educated.
When we arrived to Madrid, Spain, after the long trip from Colombia, I marvelled at the big city, our new home and the kindness of those strangers. What I never could have imagined was the solitude and lack of acceptance of the people that were supposed to care about us. What I am about to tell I’ve never shared before (besides my chosen family). Our first ten years with our parents can be summed up with one word: isolation. We only knew physical and emotional pain, treated as if we were savages or from ‘la guerrilla’ (FARC members), insults they used to call us. With constant threats of being relinquished again and reminding us about their regrets for adoption. The entire building heard our crying and screams. We told some adults, but everyone looked the other way. This abuse upon our bodies and minds left us hopeless and developed into an attachment disorder, afraid of physical contact but longing for any kind of sign of love.
We could only understand what was happening being young adults. We aimed for their recognition of the trauma they caused, trying to comprehend why they didn’t reach for help or psychological aid. Still, I made an effort after I finished and shared my thesis with them so they could understand about international adoption and the effects of the affective bond broken in the first place. But every attempt was in vain. In that moment I perceived the causes of their own distress and grief, such as their unfinished mourning of infertility or the absence of care and attachment from their own families. They were raised under violence and depriving circumstances, therefore that’s the only kind of love we knew from them. However, even being aware of this, I didn’t quite accept the current situation and I persisted in fixing my family, longing for a tie that never existed.
While I specialised in children, family law and adoption, I started to peel the first layer: looking for my origins and my mother. For this purpose, the main step was to educate myself and deconstruct why I ended up here. I was adopted in Spain where adoption is a legal construct that is meant to protect children who have no families or when their relatives cannot provide for them, but I figured out that instead, adoption is preserving others’ privileges and interests, inherited from favoured families thanks to colonialism and Catholicism. The first stirrings of adoption occurred after the civil war in 1936-1939, leaving the defeated side subjugated under a dictatorship, which ruled the country until 1975. We all know this period as the time of ‘bebes robados’ (stolen babies). The opposing families were diminished and punished by the government, sending men and women to prison and taking every child they could to place them in ‘suitable’ homes. This undertaking was possible due to the collaboration between the dictatorship itself and the Catholic Church. Hospital personnel and maternity residences (run by nuns) were connected and instructed to register and hand over the babies, previous payments were made by the priest of the village or the district.This vast network kept going until the 90s. Associations estimate 300,000 babies were abducted in 1940-1990 in Spain after Justice was served for the first time in 2018. Most of those adults and their mothers who claimed their rights weren’t able to know the truth considering those crimeswere historic and there was no one alive to take responsibility nor documents to prove it.
From this perspective and the generalised conception of nuclear family (one mother-one father), but also a restricted moral view that encourages sexism and undermines single motherhood, the adoption was and has been assimilated as the biological filiation. I’ve heard so many times one phrase from people who want to adopt: ‘Why must we get an assessment of our abilities as parents and yet a 17 year old girl doesn’t need it in order to be pregnant?’ There is another one that arises: ‘What if the child comes with issues?’ And the gold mine: ‘Shouldn’t international adoption be permitted without restrictions? Those children need to be saved’. These statements are from common people, well-educated, with economic and even emotional resources. Despite these sentiments, there is so much to be taught and learnt about adoption and adoptees. Our voices and stories must be heard so we are no longer represented as ‘forever a child’, which prevents us from acknowledging our experience as a life long journey.
I would like to address and comment on those phrases:
First of all, privileges from prosperous countries and poverty or lack of resources from first families are the reason why someone can afford to raise an adopted child. Therefore, if impoverished countries could receive those funds set aside for an adoption, children could be raised by their parents and would stay in their communities. In addition, when a child is born from others parents the affective bond doesn’t grow magically or in the same conditions as a biological one because his/her roots are stated, so prospective parents will always need to learn from scratch what is to grow without knowing our beginning.
Adoption comes from trauma, considering the emotional wound left and carried within ourselves, caused by deprivation from the primal protection, nourishment and affection of our mother and sometimes caretakers in orphanages/institutions or foster homes. Mainly, the issue is not the child, but the adult that wants to adopt thinking about himself, concerning how things or events would effect on one when the purpose is no other but the person separated from their origin. We are not meant to be suitable for adoptive families, it is meant to be the other way around.
Finally, but not less important, international adoption is a veiled and corrupt purchase and we do not need to be rescued from our birthplace. Our families could have less or be in a temporary crisis, but it shouldn’t mean these circumstances may be used as an advantage by privileged families. It is a widely-known vicious circle, where a child can be taken by authorities or abducted by organisations. There are stories where even a poor family could have received threats and/or money in order to give up their child so others can be fed. I insist, those resources could be exactly the required aid, but still white saviours and the colonialist debt find their way out. It is a burden our countries keep suffering. As well, international adoption creates a psychological shock and sorrow. It means our pain and grief are only moved to another place, which are not accepted because those feelings have been denied in our adoptive countries since ‘we have been saved and thus we must be eternally grateful’.
In Spain, and other countries, sometimes people who approach adoption as a way to form a family do not realise and/or aren’t even interested in deconstructing their own desires and the consequences. Yes, here we speak about adoption, there is news about it on TV, there are associations from adoptive parents and adoptees, but it is not enough. What needs to be care about is the critical view on this matter. We can no longer ignore that this system doesn’t protect children nor save them. Especially plenary adoption, which is the most outdated contract to ever exist. Yes, it is a contract where one signs and pays to give their name to a child and gain rights over another person so he or she can be raised by someone else and in another country. That being said:
WHY DO WE HAVE TO LOSE OUR FIRST FAMILY TO BE PROTECTED OR RAISED BY OTHERS? WHY MUST THE AFFECTIVE BOND BE BROKEN? WHAT IS THAT FEAR THAT PREVENTS US FROM BEING ABLE TO STAY CONNECTED WITH OUR ORIGINS?
THE AFFECTIVE BOND
International adoption is a success precisely because of this reason: people being afraid of losing someone that is not theirs to begin with. What an archaic concept! Back to the assimilation of adoption as a natural filiation. The affective bond cannot grow if our roots and our past are rejected. Still there exist a type of movie within the terror genre which speaks about this fear, where adoptive children rebel against their family or the first mother comes back to claim what is her own. Fear and rejection cannot be the seed of any family. This is the reason my thesis wasn’t quite appreciated at that time, because I addressed an important subject and pointed out a fear we were born with (not being accepted). This clean break concept within plenary adoption is outdated and must be removed from our communities. Society might not be ready to abolish this figure due to economic, fertility and mental health problems, but adoptees should not be the ones to suffer others’ choices. Adoption must come from a place of stability and acceptance of our own limitations, otherwise generations are wounded and anguish created over issues that are not our duty to fix or responsible for.
Now that I’ve found my family and I understand the circumstances that led me here, I can start my healing process, which doesn’t mean being static, but moving forward through sorrow and all kinds of grief. The next layer I’m trying to live with and didn’t accept at the end of my research is that there is no affective bond or a concept of family in my adoption. At some point I had to endure the pain that comes with it, but finally it set me free. In the words of Lynelle Long, my contract with them is over. Reading those words and relating to them at this time, is the beginning of a crucial period of my life. I highly recommend others to initiate the search of our origins, only new wisdom can be spread into ourselves, and also do not be afraid of sharing your story. Don’t deny yourself or your wounds. They are just a reminder that we are still alive and we can heal together.
THIS IS MY STORY
I’m 32 and I was adopted at age 7 years old, along my two little sisters (5 and 3 years old) by Spanish parents in 1995 in Colombia. Our Colombian mom was 20 when our Colombian father died in 1993. His death was related to a drug/paramilitary organisation. This event changed our whole life. I’ve been in these stages of grief, negation and hatred, but now I think I’m in the negotiation phase of the loss of my family, my mother and this whole different life I could have lived if things would have been distinct, even just one thing. Due to this violence, the male members of my father’s family were wiped out in case of a possible revenge. This way, my mother lost contact with his family, therefore she couldn’t take care of us while trying to provide for us. The ICBF (Colombian Central authority that protects children) found out about this situation and intervened. My Colombian mother didn’t have any economic or emotional support (at least, nobody cared enough to look for the rest of our family), so she had to make a decision with both hands tied.
Two years later, we were moved to Madrid, Spain. Our adoptive parents were old-fashioned not only in their thinking about education, but also in their emotional intelligence. They didn’t really empathise with us or accept our past and origins. As a result they wouldn’t speak about adoption. Until I flew the nest, I wasn’t able to think about my first mother or family. It was too painful and I wanted to be accepted by any means. I never felt close to my adoptive parents, but they took care of us three children and we never knew what is to be separated from each other. In 2016, I decided it was enough and I started this scary journey. My sisters never felt prepared to do it with me, but they have been by my side looking over my shoulder, and as they like to say: this is like a telenovela (soap show). However, I did my own research and became my own private investigator. I only needed our adoption file to get her ID number, and with a little help from contacts in Colombia, I found her in 2018. I wasn’t ready to make contact at the beginning, but I overcame this difficulty by writing a letter with my sisters. Then in December 2020, I got to find my father’s family on Facebook. One name was missing that my mother told me about, but it was the key to unlock what was holding me back from truly knowing my family.
I realize, especially reading other adoptees’ experiences, how lucky I am. I’m aware of the consequences of adoption, its trauma and wounds, the scars we have to learn to live with; the deconstruction of my origins and my own personality, the necessities and defences required in order to survive. This whole process has taught me something more valuable that I’ve could never imagine: accept myself and others. I have always had my sisters with me, who are learning from this growth with open minds, knowing it is not easy and they are not ready to go through the same phases as I am, but they are willing to listen and walk with me as far as they can. Recognising and understanding that this was not possible with our parents has been the most painful step, but we’ve managed to take control of our lives and choices. Now I’m preparing myself for this trip, physically and emotionally. At this moment I’m reading ‘Colombia: a concise contemporary history’ to finally know my country, which I ignored for so many years. Thanks to my Colombian mom, I’ve discovered that I was really born in Muzo, Boyaca.
During 2020 COVID lockdown, I had a chance to play around with creating a resource via video conferencing. Click on the image below for my interview with Milagros Forrester, a Peruvian adoptee raised in the UK. She kindly shared her adoption journey detailing how her adoptive family supported her to reconnect with her origins and return to her birth country.
Many thanks to Milagros as she has waited patiently for me to complete the hours of video editing, to get this into a finished state.
These are my battle scars from when I was around 12-13 years of age, done around these holiday times. I would get really depressed looking at all those loving families with parents who look like them, spoke like them, etc. It didn’t help I was a Chinese male with white parents.
Whenever I look at my wrists I am thankful I made it through those times. It took me till the age of 30 before I really dealt with my PTSD and depression due to my inter-racial and intercountry adoption. Now and then I have moments where I go back into my past and think about “was it all worth it”, living my life and getting to where I am today – am I better off or should I just have ended my life back then?
I guess a lesson to be learnt from this, is no matter what you do as an adoptive parent – there are some things that a child needs to learn the answers to questions themselves. It’s not up to you as parents to give them the answer that you want them to believe in and hear.
by Erika Fonticoli, born in Colombia adopted to Italy.
What are brothers and sisters? For me, they are small or big allies of all or no battle. In the course of my life I realised that a brother or a sister can be the winning weapon against every obstacle that presents itself and, at the same time, that comforting closeness that we feel even when there is no battle to fight. A parent can do a lot for their children: give love, support, protection, but there are things we would never tell a parent. And… what about a brother? There are things in my life I’ve never been able to tell anyone, and although I’ve had a love-hate relationship with my sister since childhood, there’s nothing of me that she doesn’t know about.
At the worst moment of my life, when I was so hurt and I started to be afraid to trust the world, she was the hand I grabbed among a thousand others. We are two totally different people, maybe we have only playfulness and DNA in common, but she still remains the person from whom I feel more understood and supported. I love my adoptive parents, I love my friends, but she, she’s the other part of me. Sometimes we are convinced that the power of a relationship depends on the duration of it or the amount of experiences lived together. Yeah, well.. I did not share many moments with my sister, it was not an easy relationship ours, but every time I needed it she was always at my side. I didn’t have to say anything or ask for help, she heard it and ran to me.
And the brothers found as adults? Can we say that they are worth less? I was adopted at the age of 5, with my sister who was 7 yo. For 24 years I believed I had only one other version of myself, her. Then, during the search of my origins, I discovered that I had two other brothers, little younger than me. My first reaction was shock, confusion, denial. Emotion, surprise and joy followed. Finally, to these emotions were added bewilderment and fear of being rejected by them. After all, they didn’t even know we existed, my big sister and I were strangers for them. So… how could I possibly introduce myself? I asked myself that question at least a hundred times until, immersed in a rich soup of emotions, I decided to jump. I felt within myself the irrepressible need to know them, to see them, to speak to them. It was perhaps the most absurd thing I’ve ever experienced. “Hello, nice to meet you, I’m your sister!”, I wrote to them.
Thinking about it now makes me laugh, and yet at the time I thought it was such a nice way to know each other. My younger sister, just as I feared, rejected me, or perhaps rejected the idea of having two more sisters that she had never heard of. The first few months with her were terrible, hard and full of swinging emotions, driven both by her desire to have other sisters and by her distrust of believing that it was real. It wasn’t easy, for her I was a complete stranger and yet she had the inexplicable feeling of being tied to me, the feeling of wanting me in her life without even knowing who I was. She was rejecting me and yet she wasn’t be able to not look for me, she’d look at me like I was something to study, because she was shocked that she looked so much like someone else she had never seen for 23 years.
With my brother it was totally different, he called me “sister” right away. We talked incessantly from the start, sleepless nights to tell each other, discovering little by little to be two drops of water. He was my brother from the first moment. But how is possible? I don’t know. When I set off to meet them, headed to the other side of the world, it all seemed so crazy to me. I kept telling myself: “What if they don’t like me?”, and I wondered what it would feel like to find myself face to face with them. The answer? For me, it was not a knowing each other for the first time, it was a seeing them again. Like when you move away and you don’t see your family for a long time, then when you come home to see them again you feel moved and run to hug them. This was my first moment with them! A moment of tears, an endless embrace, followed by a quick return playful and affectionate as if life had never separated us even for a day.
So… are they worth less? Is my relationship with them less intense and authentic than that with my sister, with whom I grew up? No. I thought I had another half of me, now I feel like I have three. I see one of them every day, I constantly hear the other two for messages or video calls. There are things in my life that I can’t tell anyone, things that only my three brothers know, and in the hardest moments of my life now I have three hands that I would grab without thinking about it. I love my family, my adoptive parents and my biological mom, but my siblings are the part of my heart I couldn’t live without. Having them in my life fills me with joy, but having two of them so far from me digs a chasm inside me that often turns into a cry of lack and nostalgia. Tears behind which lie the desire to share with them all the years that have been taken from us, experiences and fraternal moments that I have lived with them for only twenty days in Colombia.
As I said earlier, in my opinion, it doesn’t matter the duration of a relationship nor the amount of experiences lived together but the quality… that said, even those rare moments to us seem a dream still unrealisable. In the most important and delicate periods of our lives we often feel overwhelmed by helplessness and the impossibility of supporting each other, because unfortunately a word of comfort is not always enough. We can write to each other, call each other, but nothing will ever replace the warmth of a hug when you feel that your heart is suffering.
In the most painful and traumatic phase of my younger sister’s life, when she started to be afraid of the world, when she thought she deserved only kicks and insults, when she thought she had no one, I wrote to her. I wrote to her every day, worried and sorrowful, and as much as I tried to pass on my love and closeness to her, I felt I couldn’t do enough. I felt helpless and useless, I felt that there was nothing I could do for her, because when I felt crushed by life it was my older sister’s embrace that made me feel protected. And that’s what my little sister wanted at that moment, a hug from me, something so small and simple that I couldn’t give it to her because the distance prevented me from do it. And neither could our brother because he also grew up far away, in another family. I didn’t know what to do, how I could help her, she was scared and hurt. I wanted her to come live with me, her and my little nephew, so I could take care of them and help them in the most difficult moment of their lives. I’ve been looking into it for months, search after search, and then finding out that despite the DNA test recognised that we’re sisters, the world didn’t.
Legally, we were still a complete strangers, just like when we first spoke.
I would like the law to give the possibility to siblings separated from adoption to be reunited if this is the desire of both, that the law allows us to enjoy those rights that only a familial bond offers. We didn’t decide to split up, it was chosen for us, but we don’t want to blame anyone for it. We just wish we had a chance to spend the rest of our lives as a family, a sentimental and legal family for all intents and purposes. It must not be an obligation for everyone, but an opportunity for those biological brothers whose bond has survived. A chance for us perfect strangers who, in spite of everything, call ourselves family. Maybe someone will find themselves in what I felt and I’m still feeling, maybe someone else won’t, but precisely because every story is different I think there should be a chance of a happy ending for everyone. Mine would be to have my brothers back.
Do I look like my father or mother? What is my real name? When was I born? Who am I really? I have been going through these questions my whole life and not quite sure if I will ever find the answer.
I was born in Vietnam, adopted by a white family in Canada in the early 70’s. I am part African-American and Vietnamese but I look more African-American, and I’m also physically disabled which I contracted from polio and a gun shot wound (something I have been told as a child, but not sure if it’s true). I have always known I was different growing up, not because the colour of my skin but because I was disabled. When I arrived to Canada I had to go to the hospital for many surgeries to straighten my legs and back due to scoliosis. When I arrived home from the hospital, this is when I felt I didn’t belong in the family. As a young child I was stubborn and barely spoke because the effects of leaving Vietnam and being in a different environment, I was overwhelmed.
Being an African-American Asian disabled child, living in a white world, I knew I was different and I wanted so much to fit in. At an early age, I knew that my adoptive mother treated me different than my other siblings. They had two other biological children along with another adopted child from Children’s Aid Society, so I was the black sheep in the family and that was my nickname to other family members and neighbours. My adoptive mother wasn’t the perfect mother everyone thought she was behind closed doors. Using my wheelchair was forbidden in the house so I had to always crawl around on the floor and carpet, but leaving marks on the carpet didn’t look good and caused my adoptive mother to always vacuum, so I had to have my bedroom moved down in the basement – being isolated away from my siblings. Whenever my siblings would come down to play with me, they were sent back upstairs and told not to play with your “black sheep” sister. Being alone in the basement, I stopped talking and had to entertain myself as a child. From not talking, my vocal cords didn’t develop well so whenever I went to school, I had trouble interacting with other students and was bullied and labelled as being dumb.
My adoptive mother always told me I should be grateful to them for adopting me. I always kept my feelings inside because if I told them how I really felt, I would be beaten. I always had to thank her for saving my life every time I did anything wrong. The first time I said “I wish you’d never adopted me” my adoptive mother emotionally and physically abused me. Sometimes I wouldn’t care what she did to me, I was happier just to be in my own shell in the closet.
I was never involved in any of the family gatherings or family vacations. I would always eat alone after everyone else ate. The one memory I will never forget was when my adoptive family went away to Florida and I wasn’t allowed to go because my adoptive mother said “black and crippled children were not allowed”. I went to the mirror and looked at myself. I wanted so much to be white that I scrubbed my skin so hard but it just turned red. I pushed my wheelchair down the stairs and tried to push myself up to walk, instead I fell down and was left lying on the floor for days until a neighbour found me bleeding. Instead of being a good neighbour and help a young girl, he took advantage of me for days while my family was away having fun. When my family returned, I tried to tell my adoptive mother what happened. All she said was, “You were looking for attention and that’s what you deserved”.
I wanted so much to be a part of the family to the point that I would agree to clean the house. My adoptive mother would always introduce me to her friends as the “black maid of the third country”. My adoptive mother emotionally abused me by continuing saying she never wanted me because of my disability and skin colour. She didn’t think I would turn out to “be soo dark” and a troubled child needing therapy appointments. All I wanted was to make my adoptive mother proud of me, but nothing I did ever satisfied her. Whenever my siblings got into trouble, I would stand up for them and would lie and steal for them so they would play with me. There were times I would sneak food at night because I was so hungry but whenever I got caught, I was sent to the closet for days. Nothing I did was good enough for my adoptive mother.
When I was 11 years old, I was told that I was leaving the family and spending a few days somewhere else. I didn’t know what I did wrong. That night I stayed up all night rethinking the day – what did I do to displease my adoptive mother. All she told me was I would be going to a better place that can care for my “crippled-black” behaviour. I cried the whole way begging my adoptive mother that I would be a “good girl”. Four hours later I was dropped off to a big stone house with lots of stairs and other children running around the living room. My adoptive mother told me it was only for a few weeks and that the family will help me with my behaviour. For the next few days, all I did was sit by the window waiting for my adoptive mother to return. Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. I had to eventually realise that I was staying in this house and no-one was coming back for me.
I was living in a house with 25 other children. I tried to fit in and be a part of the family but still felt like an outcast. Even though I was not the only disabled child, I felt that I didn’t belong. I found out that the foster mother of this home, was the woman who helped my adoptive parents adopt me from Vietnam. The foster mother had an organisation that helped Canadian and American families to adopt children from third world countries out of orphanages that she opened. I wasn’t the only child adopted and sent to the foster family. During the years, living at the foster family I became a reserved and quiet child and during my teen years I still wanted to know “who am I”? I asked the foster mother if she knew anything of my birth mother and every time I asked her, the answer was always, “Wait until you are eighteen”. From then I just left the question alone and tried to live my teen years in the home.
When I first went to the foster family, I was placed in a school with other disabled children but I felt it wasn’t for me. I wanted to be independent and be left alone so I became very stubborn especially during therapy sessions. Having therapists lift my legs and try to stretch them wasn’t working for me, they tried to get me to use braces and crutches, I definitely didn’t want that. So they finally agreed for me to use a sports wheelchair and what freedom I felt!! Using the wheelchair built up my teen arms and I became very strong, during recess time. While other children were at therapy, I could be found in the gym bouncing basketballs. This is when a sports coach saw me throw my first basket and she asked me, “Do you want to be an athlete and travel?” I quickly answered her, “Yes!” Little did she know that I didn’t just want to be an athlete but I wanted to travel so I could be out of my foster house as much as possible. My foster father was abusing me whenever we went to the family home in Montreal every summer, so whenever I found out that I would be travelling in the summer – I looked forward to the summer knowing I would be out of the country!
If it wasn’t for that sports coach, I wouldn’t have been able to be the Paralympian athlete I am today. I have travelled to many countries and won numerous medals, but a part of me felt that I didn’t deserve it. Whenever I was away, I still felt like an outsider to my team mates and other athletes. Deep down I believed they all knew who they were and they always talked about their family. With my timidness, I still had trouble interacting with my team mates. By the end of every trip, I dreaded going home because I knew what I was going home to.
My foster family didn’t really recognise my athletic achievements. There were times they didn’t even know I went away for a week because there were so many children in the house and the foster mother was busy with her work. I remember one time I arrived home from my first competition where I’d won my first 5 gold medals (being the youngest on the team) and when I arrived home, I just sat at the front door with my bags waiting for someone to greet me. When my sister came down the stairs to see me she just said, “Are you running away?” From that moment, my enthusiasm just dropped from my heart and I wished I could just run away. So from then on, I just continued on with my competitions with no feeling of accomplishment, feeling like a nobody.
I competed in two Paralympics, two PanAm games and many small competitions. When I won my first Paralympic 5 gold medals, I was interviewed by the paper but a lot of the words written were just not true. The story portrayed a young girl winning medals from a foster home that cared for her, but they really didn’t know the truth.
I am grateful for the foster family to let me stay with them, but behind closed doors they portrayed themselves as looking like the perfect couple helping many children. The house was not accessible, I continued to crawl up and down stairs to get to my bedroom, and I had to crawl up and down and bring my chair down stone stairs outside to get to my school bus.
My whole life living in the foster family, I wanted so much to be out and living on my own. When I turned 16 years old, I finished high school and left the foster home. I went to college and received a degree in Business Administration.
Throughout my life, I always felt unloved and not wanted by anyone. I thought of my biological mother not wanting me, my adoptive mother not wanting me and within the foster family, I was just “another child”. I have tried my best to do right things, never gotten involved on the wrong side of the law, etc. I always felt I didn’t fit in anywhere, had trouble with social gatherings and interacting with adults my age. To this day, a large part of me continues to feel isolated, not wanted and most of all not knowing who I really am.
Recently, I decided to register with 23&Me to know my background and I discovered I have many 2nd and 3rd cousins out there. I was surprised to know that I have some sort of distant family out there but disappointed to not have any information about my parents. I just want to have the feeling of belonging. Growing up, I never had that feeling.
by Lily Valentino, Colombian adoptee raised in the USA.
We adoptees are absolute masters at compartmentalizing, I am no different. I can go on my way, not acknowledging, ignoring and stuffing my shit in the back of the closet. But it never fails that eventually something will trigger me into facing my feelings, and downward I usually go for a few days, and sometimes weeks and months.
Yesterday was one of those days, it was like walking through a field and getting bitten by a snake! It happened fast, yet while it was happening it was playing out in slow motion. But now it is nearly 24 hours later and I can quite sharply feel those words coursing through my veins like the poison of a snake.
“….they were brought to this country, were stripped of their names, language, culture, religion, god and taken totally away from the history of themselves”
These were words I heard in passing yesterday, that were the initial sting, bite, if you will, which left me literally stunned. These words came out of Luis Farrakhan, and as I was listening to him speak them, it hit me, he was talking about the slaves brought to America and I too, I too, was sold and brought to this country away from my birth land, for money.
As these words slipped down my throat, I thought of being minority, being Hispanic and how my white adoptive mother pushed and tried to get me to date white guys. How she often spoke about how she wanted me to marry an Italian man. This thought always makes me sick and the term, “whitewash” comes to mind as being her motive. Memories of how she spoke of Hispanics by referring to them using the racial slur, “spics” rush to the forefront of my mind.
It left me shrinking into my seat for the rest of the day. Choking on thoughts of all that I have lost and continue to lose, my culture, my language, my native food, my name, my family and mi tierra (my land). Thinking of how my world is literally cut in half (because I have my birth family that live in Colombia and my husband and kids here in the US), how true happiness of having my world combined will never be had, true belonging is a shadow that I’m forever chasing just like time lost.
I sit here uneasy, fighting the tears from filling my eyes. I’ve been in deep thought about this sudden cry for human rights that does not seem to include adoptees, yet we are walking a near similar path to the slaves of 300 years ago. The difference, we were not bought to fulfill physical labor but to fulfill an emotional position for many white families. Some of us were treated well, part of the family like nothing “less than” while others remained outsiders, forced to fit into a world not our own and punished emotionally and physically when we could not meet their needs. When we stood up for ourselves and decided that we no longer wanted to fulfill that emotional roll to another human for which we had been bought or withstand the abuse, we have been cast out and off of the plantation and told never to return.
The crazy thing is that it is 2020 and my basic human rights to know my name, to know my culture, to grow up in the land that I was born in, to speak my native language, though violated mean nothing, as nobody other than other adoptees are concerned, or have a sense of urgency about this violation.