What’s in a Name? Identity, Respect, Ownership?

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Many prospective adoptive parent forums discuss whether it’s a good idea to change our original names at adoption. We thought we’d provide you our views, as adults, with hindsight from our lifelong journey as intercountry adopted people to help inform you of how we feel about this issue.

Here’s a collation of our responses, shared in no particular order, from our ICAV facebook group where we had this discussion. We hope it is helpful.

My view is that our names should not be changed unless we want them to be changed. My adoptive mom changed mine simply because that’s what she wanted but to me, my original name is what I really resonate with and it’s my identity. In adoption they use us as a substitute to make us theirs and not just take us in to take care of us because another family cannot or will not do it.

As far as the documents go, I think there needs to be legislation in place stating that we have the right to access our birth documents and be given them freely. Most times we cannot even go to ask for them from the courts because you need to know certain details such as county etc and adoptive parents have and can withhold that from an adoptee. It’s our history and we have every right to know who we are and we shouldn’t be forced into another persons mould of family.

To me it’s just unethical especially taking into consideration some of us were actually trafficked and not given up. Such was my case. The government lied and by the time there was enough information to find me in the orphanage, I was already adopted and bio family members were denied custody of me within that time also because of my a mom’s expression of wanting to adopt me. They lied about medical records and they lied about my bio dad’s information simply to gain more money for the federation.

Adoptive parents should be able to change our name but only if they can prove there is an immediate threat to us in keeping our birth name.

Микайла Трапезникова adopted from Russia to America

We lost enough. We are people before we enter their families, regardless of whether they like our names or not, it is ours. Even if it is “just” an orphanage name.

MKR adopted from Asia to America

I’d prefer they would have kept my name but then again, the orphanage were calling me by my middle name, “Manuel” which I always felt was odd. But when I found my mom, she called me by my first name “Antonio” and it made more sense. Anyways, now my name is Daniel which has nothing to do with my real one.

My birth family also say Tonio, short for Antonio. In Peru, this name is very common but in Canada, not so much. I feel like it’s a part of where I’m from. It’s also my father’s name. I always knew my real name, I just wish I’d got to keep it. The entire thing. I will eventually change it back to my real name. It’s just frustrating that I have to get through the legal procedure over all the stuff I have to do to reconnect with my culture.

It’s very sad ’cause it adds to all the stuff I was deprived from when I was adopted. It’s my identity. I also feel like growing up not speaking my language was cruel. I wish I could have grown speaking it a little bit so I didn’t waste my brain plasticity’s peak when I was a kid and have to learn it as a grown man.

In Canada, it always was important to learn English if you are french and both those languages are easier to learn or immerse in. Peruvian Spanish is also different from other Spanish, so even though I know Central American’s and South American’s, I don’t wanna learn Mexican stuff and realise it’s not the same.

I just feel like adoption out of country is wrong. Changing names or not, it doesn’t give back what we lose by being deprived of our culture. I wish I still had my name but then again, I wish I wasn’t adopted and I wish I grew up in Peru with my family even more.

I had this identity crisis where neither my real name felt like me nor did my legal name. It’s weird to say but it was very confusing for me. I suffered from this, not being able to identify with these names. It meant nothing to me. It’s like I’m in between and nowhere, at the same time. That’s what being adopted is for me. It’s assimilation. It took away my sense of self.

Daniel Walsh adopted from Peru to Canada

Honestly, I wouldn’t want my Korean name. After finding out my birth mother didn’t even name me and that the midwife did, I kinda thought about getting rid of them as my middle names too. I don’t like being asked all the bloody time about “why this and that” so at least having an “english” sounding name has helped me not have to constantly be asked questions all the time. But thats just me. I hate being asked and having to explain for the billionth time .

Gemma adopted from South Korea to Australia

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A lot of people don’t think names matter. But just like in tribes, they knew where you belonged by the tribal name associated. So changing our original names means that you are erasing our identity. 

I was named Angela as a baby, born to my mother, my roots, my history, my identity. I was renamed Maria, which I never felt connected to. Maria was someone I knew who was brought into another family and my memories don’t go beyond the days I can recall being part of a new family. If they had kept my name and added on to it, maybe with a middle name if I didn’t have one, that would have been acceptable, it would have given me some sort of comfort that I am real and not just some random child who needed to be wanted because of the circumstances my birth mother was in at the time. An added name/surname comes second to who I already was, we aren’t renewed after we’re adopted. We’re human, not some immaculate being that comes down from some planet.

We are the same child and who we become after adoption doesn’t redefine our identity, it merely hides and erases it on paper. We are not to be claimed like a puppy who gets two owners in one life. We aren’t animals you make up names for. We are already someone before we had to be someone else’s.

The key to “loving” this child that you need to have because there are so many children out there who need your “help” – is not to change who they are, or to replace their beginning with one that attaches/claims them as yours. It’s to take the child who’s already someone and build from that, understand that no change of name, no information erased from their true birth certificate will make them look like you birthed them into this world. Nothing will fix what’s broken within yourself, or whatever void you’re trying to fill, by changing / falsifying our identity. 

Your power to change the identity of a child on paper is something you need to look inward about and think whether it’s truly for the benefit and the best for the child who’s lost/losing her biological ties and everything that goes with that; or if it’s to benefit you and your needs.

Maria Hernandez adopted from the Philippines to Canada

My name is mine. I used to hate it and wanted to change it. And then when I got married, people wondered why the hell I didn’t change it. It’s mine. It’s grown on me. Yes, it links me to a birth mother for whom I do not care, but it’s my name. No one can pronounce it, but it’s my name. I’ve thought about adding my birth father’s last name to mine but maybe in the future. I have so little left of my roots. Leave me with something.

Marisa Smith adopted from UK British/Native American ancestry to America

Don’t go there. That’s our family name and changing it strips us of our identity and family connections. Even married couples don’t always have the same last names. The adopters just want us to “match” them so they can pretend we’re theirs. 

For adoptees whose names have been changed, going back to our birth names should be as easy as going back to a maiden name after a divorce. No cost, no hassle, just file it with the courts and you’re back to your own name again. It’s just one more area in which adoptees have no choice or right to consent.

Jodi Gibson adopted from Ireland to America

One of the first things we learn to write as a child, is our name. This is what identifies us as an individual, it is the collective sum of our unique personality and our lineage held together by words – our first and last names. So when we become adopted, we shouldn’t lose the right to who we are born as. I want to suggest respectfully that most adoptive parents change our names out of an unrecognised acceptance of the patriarchy and colonialism that predominates the basis of adoption. I hope that parents in this era will question more deeply why they feel the need to change our name.

Of course it’s convenient to not have to explain to half the world why our name is not the same as our father or mother or how we “belong” to them — but how can we develop self esteem, confidence, and pride in our own identity if we are not allowed our own name? Our name is an expression of who we are and we all deserve to live our truth. The most important thing we have to develop as we journey life, is our relationship with self and our name is integral to our sense of self.

I was given an anglo name by my adoptive parents with my Vietnamese name in the middle. At age 17, I was given a choice if I wanted to keep my Vietnamese name as my legal name. I chose at that time to keep the name as my parents had chosen because at that stage in my life, I hated everything Asian and had absorbed the negativity and racism I experienced within my adoptive country. After doing much work on myself years later, to find my true identity and reclaim my Asian self with my caucasian mindset, I now feel pride as to where I was born and I do wish my adoptive family experience had been different. No doubt if they’d taught me about my heritage and beginnings with a sense of respect and pride, I would have been proud to own my Vietnamese name. It would have helped me develop a stronger and more positive sense of who I am rather than the unnecessary complications I had to sort through as a much older adult.

On the flip side, there’s no doubt people in Australia would have struggled with pronouncing my Vietnamese name considering I was raised in very remote rural regions but I question any adoptive parent who intends on raising their child in areas with no racial mirrors; my generation of intercountry adoptees has definitely seen that this adds to our complexities in negative ways. Now that I live in multi-cultural and very-Asian-dominated-Sydney, my original name would not have been an issue if I’d been raised somewhere like this.

Vong Ung Thanh aka Lynelle Long adopted from Vietnam to Australia

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I asked a bunch of adoptees this question for our child whom we adopted. Some said they wouldn’t have wanted a Korean name growing up because they already stood out too much and the name would make it worse. Others wish they had kept part of it (I’m in this camp).

We kept his birth name given by birth mother but changed the romanisation. I have advised other adoptive parents to keep at least part of the name.

Allison Young adopted from Sth Korea to the America and adoptive parent

I didn’t know for a long time that my birth mother had indeed named me. I wish it was my second name and now if I had to go through the process of changing it, it would be long and costly. 

It’s a difficult question because I have periods when I dislike my own name because well, it’s not my first.

I know of not one adoptee that doesn’t at least attempt to find their roots. Finding out your adoptive parents gave you a new name can be difficult to digest, especially when you find out later in life. It can also enhance the internal divide an adoptee may already feel.

Lina adopted from Brazil to Germany

The moment or moments you are given a name, or alter a name (via marriage, divorce, blended families, immigration, or choice thru Deed Poll etc), they are all markers in the time line of an individual’s life. There are always many things to consider, however, inclusion and continuity of names (where ever it sits eg first / middle / hyphenated etc) seems to tell a story of a life lived and cared for by many whether biological family, carers, adopted family, or married family. Nothing is hidden and it’s just left to the individual as to which name they would like to be known as, which may change as they grow up, which is naturally what we often do (adopted or not, child names and adult name versions).

The issue for me would be about providing choice for the adoptee, not taking that away. And to not create identity erasure. Doing this creates identity ambiguity which is so damaging. Choice is empowering when so many parts of our lives as adoptees is about feeling disempowered and marginalised. My five cents worth.

Sue Bylund adopted from Vietnam to Australia

I wouldn’t want my Indian name. I partly just love the uniqueness and ambiguity of my current name but I ALWAYS hated my Indian name. I think as I child I truly believed that name represented an ugly part of me. That ugly, unknown confusing part. Then with how non-Indian I am, I wouldn’t want it!! BUT on the flip side I wonder how connected I would actually feel if I hadn’t had the opportunity to completely separate myself from the Indian part of me.

Anonymous adopted from India to America

What’s in a name? For adoptees, connection and disconnection. Most adoptees have little else going forward except their birth name – their link to humanity. When adoptive families change a child’s name, often to one that removes ethnic relevance and birth family history, the new name is a primal severing.  

In my case however, the abusive people who adopted me mocked my birth name relentlessly. When I finally escaped my childhood hell as a teenager, I chose a new name that powerfully symbolised my new life. I eventually changed my name legally.
 
My advice as an adoptee is to keep and honour the adopted child’s birth name; use a nickname if needed. In this way, the link to the child’s core identity is preserved and not denied.

Jesse Lassandro adopted from Spain to America

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In many cases our name is the only gift our mother gives us and our only link to her, to family and to culture. If it wasn’t given by her it’s still a part of our story.
Our name is important and a disregard of it is significant it sends a message about who and what’s important. It’s the first sign that parent (and in some case white) comfort is more important than ours and we must collude with that or face their pain and resistance if we want to reclaim that name or any part of our biological identity – it’s a heavy burden for an adoptee.

If you have to change an Asian or African name for the comfort of a white community you’re not ready for a transracial child and all its complexity, not ready to advocate for them and celebrate their otherness instead of trying to disguise it. Don’t gift a child a sense of shame in their culture instead nurture confidence and security in who they are and the skills to advocate for themselves. Learn those skills yourself if you haven’t already. If you choose to erase your child’s identity instead you fail at this first hurdle. So prepare for a rough ride once your child tries to find their roots without your help because you’ve shown yourself unable to be supportive.

Name changes also play a crucial role in anonymising us so that biological family can’t search for us. No matter how well argued the parents case is for name changing – it’s a power grab, which means it disempowers others. I can’t express how heavy the burden of search is, it lies entirely with the adoptee because of the many ways birth families are disempowered and shamed to deter them from searching. I shouldn’t have to search, I want to be found.

Gardom adopted from Malaysia to the UK

Prospective and adoptive parents are contributing to a situation where we may end up with a huge list of names. It can be very confusing and does not aid identity. I have 5-6 different last name options (and more, if you consider hyphenating any of those). Now, that’s exacerbated by the fact that Sri Lankan Sinhala people typically have two different types of family names and can use either and that I am married. But being married and changing your name is not unusual in many countries.

Also, having two last names is also not totally unusual as Spanish and Latin American cultures often also use two names (and perhaps there are other countries too who follow such a system).

I have three given names as my bio mother gave me two and my adoptive parents kept my birth name as middle but gave me a new first name. So that’s three given names. It is just plain psychologically difficult to have so many different names. How many people have 9 different names? I don’t even want to calculate how many combinations that is!

Anonymous adopted from Sri Lanka to Australia

I think this is very personal to individual adoptees and there’s no way an adoptive parent can know which the child would prefer. They often have to make the best decision they can based on what they think is best. Hindsight is always 20/20.

I don’t think I would have wanted to grow up with my Korean name and deal CONSTANTLY with people misspelling it and mispronouncing it and having to spell it for people everywhere I go. Ugh. Just thinking about it makes me tired. Lol! But I also wasn’t very in touch with my Korean-ness as a kid.

I think today, it would be neat to have it as a middle name so I could have this little reminder. My husband and I also adopted from Korea. Our son is 9 and we chose to change his name. For one, his Korean name was one that was easily turned into a cruel taunt in America and we felt it would make him a target for bullying. We’ve told him all along, however, that we will help him change it back if he ever wants to do so. He knows we are fine with whatever he wants to do. We actually gave him a middle name he shares with my husband, who is white. Many adoptive families I know keep the Korean name as the middle name so they can decide later to go by their middle name if they’d like. I think that’s a great thing.

Anonymous adopted from Sth Korea to America

My Iranian name Susan was given to me at an orphanage, probably a horrible place to have spent any time in whatsoever. I am happy I got to keep it as a middle name because otherwise it would have felt as if my Swedish adoptive parents were actively trying to erase my origins. They gave me the first name Sarah, which works in the whole world. Sarah is common in Iran too, which is great now that I have found my birth family.

I am happy with not having a Scandinavian name that no-one abroad can pronounce. It would raise so many questions wherever I travel. With a name like Sarah there are less questions. Finding my birth family, it turned out I have a big sister named Susan, so now I’m even more happy I wasn’t given that as my first name.

So my advice is:
1) don’t erase the orphanage name;
2) give your child an international name;
3) if possible, give the child a name that works in their native country; and
4) if the child was given a name by the birth parent and if the child is old enough to answer to that name, you CANNOT under any circumstances change it.

Sarah Mårtensson adopted from Iran to Sweden

tears of my life, lagrimas de mi vida

i had to get to you
tears of my life
came spilling out
yours
was the only shoulder
in the whole world
that could catch them

through the flood
i tried to tell you
i had the words ready
silencio!
i begged you
if you’re my mother
why didn’t you hear?

we are supposed to talk
with our hearts
so say
the romantics
but our hearts
talk in a different language
and cry in the same

watch the little boy mother
walk away
tears of my life
at your bid
yours is the only shoulder
in the whole world
that could catch them

tears of my life, lágrimas de mi vida
mi boreal interior collection
j.alonso
garrucha, españa

Poems by j.alonso may not be reproduced, copied or distributed without the written consent of the author.

Can Intercountry Adoption be Ethical? Does it do Good?

In this new 3-part series, Leigh Matthews at the DoGooder Podcast (also the co-founder of Rethink Orphanages), discusses with me the why and how of whether intercountry adoption does good and can it ever be ethical.

Personally I found this interview to be the most in-depth I’ve ever done on this topic. I had no pre-empting of the questions and by the end, I was a little shaken and rattled as I realised some of the content I’d spoken about wasn’t as cohesive as I’d would have liked because nobody had ever asked such intensive questions before. After all these years in speaking, I have usually refined the way I describe and answer questions because in repeatedly speaking on the topic, I get more succinct over time. This time however, my thinking/speaking is raw for a good portion of it and Leigh did a fantastic job of rattling me! She has a natural way of understanding this topic given orphanage tourism is so closely connected.

I can’t wait to hear the next two ladies in this series: Jessica Davis, American adoptive mother who returned her adopted child to her family in Uganda after discovering she had not been a true orphan nor relinquished with a clear understanding of our western legal concept of adoption. Jessica has gone on to found an organisation Kugatta to assist other adoptive families who find themselves in situations like hers. Then Laura Martinez-Mora, a lawyer and Secretary in the Hague Permanent Bureau team, responsible for the intercountry adoption portfolio who provides her professional perspective.

Our views together on this topic will help develop some much needed in-depth conversation about how intercountry adoption occurs today, whether it does more harm than good, and whether it can be ethical.

You can listen here.

Huge thanks to Leigh Matthews for the privilege of being involved in your podcast!

Biology doesn’t matter?

#4 ICAV Blogger Collaborative Series from Adoption Awareness Month 2019

An adoption myth

Do you have any family members who you would never have anything to do with if they weren’t family?

If you discovered your baby had been switched at birth and you had been raising another person’s baby, would you look for your child?

If you discovered you’d been switched at birth and had been raised by another family, would you want to meet your biological family?

Do you love to hear stories of family members who share interests or talents with you?
If there is a hereditary medical health problem in your family, do you feel you have a right know about it?

If a mother loses her baby before she gives birth and never meets the baby, will she grieve it?

Is a relationship with step family different to a relationship with biological family?

If you want to have a family, is your first choice to have a biological child?

If your answer is YES to one or more of these questions, then never tell an adoptee that biology doesn’t matter.

by Juliette Lam

My father was admitted to hospital yesterday as he had tightness in his chest and pain across his shoulder radiating down to his shoulder blade. The first question he was asked was, “Is there any family history of heart disease?” He was able to say, “My father had a heart attack, my brother had a stent put in and my sister also has heart disease, so yes there is.” This was then able to inform the medial team assessing him that there was a high possibility that this was heart related and so they could act accordingly.

When I was diagnosed with hip dysplasia back in 2010 the first thing I got asked was, “Is there any family history?” This of course was not the first time I’ve been asked that question. I’ve been asked that question my whole my life when I’ve presented for menial whatever’s. I’m adopted … oh right … sometimes awkward silence …. and therefore I don’t know.

The first thing we did of course when we found out that I had hip dysplasia, was get my daughter tested and bingo – guess what ?! It’s genetic!! She had it too. I was pleased but also sad that I had passed this on to her. I was pleased that for the first time in my life my newly discovered diagnosis meant I could help her catch hers early enough for her to still need surgery but not as invasive as what I needed to have. And there is the case in point, from a medical perspective on why biology matters.

by Kate Coghlan

Biology doesn’t matter. But they say blood is thicker than water.
Biology doesn’t matter. But more than 26 million people have taken a genetic ancestry test.
Biology doesn’t matter. But you have your grandma’s eyes.
Biology doesn’t matter. But I’m so happy you got your dad’s musical talent.
Biology doesn’t matter. But most states in the USA seal original birth certificates. Permanently.
Biology doesn’t matter. But DNA carries the genetic instructions for development, functioning, growth, and reproduction of all known organisms.
Biology doesn’t matter. But 406 episodes of Forensic Files kept TV audiences enthralled using biological evidence to catch violent criminals.
Biology doesn’t matter. But ‘Finding Your Roots’ is a primetime hit for public television in the USA.
Biology doesn’t matter. But an estimated 8 million children have been born worldwide using IVF and other reproductive technologies.
Biology doesn’t matter. But all I ever wanted was to know who my mother is.
Biology doesn’t matter. But mothers and the children they lost to adoption are desperately searching for each other, all over the world.
Biology doesn’t matter. But it does. It really, really does.

by Abby Hilty

Một giọt máu đào hơn ao nước lã / A drop of blood is worth more than all the water in a pond.

In the house I grew up in, on the second floor, there was a formal dining room and then a hallway leading to a large bathroom, a sewing room, the master bedroom and lastly my bedroom. On the wall opposite the dining room there was plenty of space for my adoptive parents to hang framed black-and-white photos of distant relatives who stemmed from both their family trees. In order to go down the hallway to my bedroom, each day and night, I had to pass by this orderly array of photos. Sometimes I passed right by them, sometimes, usually when I knew I was alone, I would look deep into the subjects’ eyes, so much so, that I’d start to believe they were staring back at me.

It was at these times, and in so many other ways, that I wanted someone with facial features, hair colour and physical stature similar to mine to peer back at me and explain the strange dissonance in which I increasingly felt trapped. But no help was coming because I was beyond help in some odd excommunicative aspect. No matter how much I tried dampening my distinguishable appearance, it carried me right back to my peers who generally judged me to not be wholly compatible with their cliques. As far as my adoptive parents and immediate family were concerned, I was theirs, for all intents and purposes, but when it came to innocuous remarks about familial traits or good-natured physical comparisons between cousins I was set aside and ignored. It was as if they were letting me know that this was “family business that doesn’t concern you.”

When you don’t resemble the people you’re forced to swim with in the big pond of The World, then you lower your body temp and try to cope and always look for an escape.

by Kev Minh

This is the last in the ICAV Blogger Collaborative Series that was created for Adoption Awareness Month 2019. Huge thanks to our ICAV Blogging team for their commitment and generosity in sharing their voices.

I Don’t See Colour!

#2 ICAV Blogger Collaborative Series from Adoption Awareness Month 2019

A common comment made to intercountry adoptees. Our responses?

When someone says “I don’t see colour,” to me this means they don’t see me. They will argue that they see me as a “person,” just like we are all people. But I counter that view because my personhood, my identity, my humanity, cannot be uncoupled from my brown-ness.

Pretending not to see colour has the effect of negating everyone’s ancestry, personal and familial history, and their lived experiences in the racialised society we all live in – no matter where we live. In intercountry adoption (ICA), this “colourblind” view can be absolutely devastating because ICA is dominated by white people adopting brown and black babies from all over the world. If white adoptive parents refuse to see their child’s skin colour or their own skin colour, how can they fully parent and love their child unconditionally?

For, it would seem, being colourblind is only possible under certain conditions: (a) I don’t have to see your colour; (b) I don’t have to acknowledge my colour; (c) we never have to talk about what your colour or my colour means; (d) we never, ever have to talk about how those colours exist in relation to each other within the larger context of culture and society.

From the perspective of a brown intercountry adoptee like me, I feel a mixture of sadness and anger towards anyone who espouses a colourblind mentality because they essentially negate the history of my brown ancestors.

If you refuse to allow that humanity has attached certain assumed behaviours and levels of privilege and importance to different skin colours, how can we possibly have a conversation on why these structures are in place, who’s benefitting and who’s being harmed by them, and why it’s important to create a truly level playing field?

When white adoptive parents pretend to be colourblind, how can they help their child be proud of the skin they’re in? How can they recognise their child’s need for racial mirrors? How can they help their child understand the beautiful and rich aspects of the child’s ancestry and culture as well as the pain and oppression their race has experienced and continues to experience, and how those dynamics relate to each other? How can they help nurture a racially competent child who grows up into a racially competent adult – even if that means their son or daughter is racially competent in a race that doesn’t match their own? How can they see the role that their white privilege has played throughout their own lives and via the intercountry adoption of their child? How can they decide how to use their white privilege going forward?

None of this is possible if we are teaching and encouraging people, including white adoptive parents, to pretend not to see colour.

by Abby Hilty

Congratulations you’ve just completely erased my first culture, my birth family, my genetic history, my country of origin! Look I know you meant well, but underneath this, there’s an insensitivity or lack of awareness about everything that I was and still am before I was adopted. It’s kind of like you’re saying, “Good job – you have assimilated so well that you’re just like me/us now!” But I’m not.

One of my fellow intercountry adoptee friends joked about how we are coconuts – brown on the outside and white on the inside. It’s funny, but it’s also not funny.

My adoptive parents tried to show me books and documentaries about Vietnam when I was growing up, but I wanted nothing to do with anything that highlighted my difference. When I got sunburnt on my nose, I asked mum if I’d be white underneath. So I got caught up in the “not wanting to see my colour thing” either.

I was very good at being a chameleon, it’s like I had to become one to survive. I was so desperate to fit in and to belong that I learnt fast about how to adapt my personality to be loved and liked. I still do this to this day, but I’m learning that I’m enough as I am and I don’t need to perform to be worthy of being loved.

by Kate Coghlan

The popular TV show This Is Us wowed audiences again with its coverage of transracial adoption. I don’t watch the show, and a lot of adoptees can’t bring themselves to watch it either. And yet it’s immensely popular with adoptive parents. The supposedly “mic drop” scene is as follows:

Jack: When I look at you, I don’t see colour. I just see my son.

Randall: Then you don’t see me, Dad.

During NAAM, it’s particularly biting to see this interaction getting mainstream attention. You see, many of us adoptees of colour have had this exact dialogue with our colourblind families and friends (myself included). 

This isn’t an original line, and dare I say, I wouldn’t be surprised if the writers lurk in adoption spaces and stole this from the stories of adoptees, co-opting our stories for better ratings. 

This isn’t some TV script for your entertainment; this is a painful part of our real lives. It hurts us in deep, existential ways to be denied access to our birth culture and traditions and then to be unseen by our adoptive families. It is actively rejecting us a second time. 

If you refuse to “see” the parts of me that are a brown Indian, then you are actively refusing to support me on my journey to discover who I was born to be. Your choice to take the easy road to claim, “I’m not racist” actively isolates me and in turn plays into its own racial problems. Take the harder road with me, with any of the people of colour in your lives, and learn how to unlearn racial biases. This work requires you to see, so take off your (colour)blinders. 

The fact that it takes a network TV show to get this concept to take hold rather than the direct words of real adoptees should disgust anyone and everyone who loves an adoptee. 

I challenge adoptive parents and allies who support the adoptee attempt to “flip the script” during NAAM to think about how prioritising entertainment over the real words of adoptees is its own form of silencing; to be more intentional about whose voices you choose to uplift; and be more critical of the media you choose to consume.

#NotMyNAAM
#NAAM
#FlipTheScript
#adoption

by Cherish Bolton

Somewhere along the way in my life, I got the message that I’m not a real Asian. As a mixed race adoptee I don’t even dare try to join Chinese adoptee communities or Indian ones for fear of not being enough in some way. I can’t make sense of what it is to be a Malaysian Chindian — I don’t know any others, I’ve never met one. There are no books I know of, no museums or movies. Even if there were, I would be reading them the way an outsider learns about history.

Something I resent is the suggestion I should do something in order to belong. Belonging isn’t a citizenship test!

As an intercountry adoptee brought to England by a white couple with no friends of colour, all the markers of my culture have been erased. Except my skin colour, my hair, it’s texture, my eyes. Each time someone says, “I don’t see colour”, or simply behave as though they don’t, this implicit message that I don’t belong in my biological culture is reinforced and I’m erased a little more.

I don’t forget that my gay friends are gay, I don’t forget their struggle to belong or to feel safe holding hands or kissing in public. To erase that would be a failure of empathy and allegiance. Of course it isn’t the only part of their identity and I’m interested in all the other parts too. The ones that are like me (or not), the parts that amaze, amuse or confuse me — I love them all.

Everyone just wants to be seen. I wonder what makes you feel unseen?

When we experience ourselves differently to how we are seen, there’s a disconnect, a disruption to our identity which isn’t resolvable with free will alone.

Belonging is relational – by its very nature it demands the acceptance of others.

by Juliette Lam

Since the later years of coming to terms with my identity, fitting in between my two worlds (adoptive and birth), understanding the impacts of being relinquished and adopted, I have shared many of my experiences to wide audiences but one situation close to me, never ceases to frustrate me the most. This is when my own adoptive family make this comment, “But we see you as one of us” or “We don’t see you as being different” after trying to explain how I’ve always felt so different and out of place.

I acknowledge, in their eyes, they are trying to say to me that I am accepted and embraced by them as being one of their “clan” despite my skin colour and outward obvious differences. But without any in-depth discussions about the complexities of being intercountry adopted, these types of comments just made me feel even more disconnected and isolated from them. What it showed me was they had very little understanding of my intercountry adopted journey. When they don’t have these important conversations with me, they are oblivious to how their comments make me feel even though I know it is not what they intend.

What would I prefer my family to say? I would prefer them to acknowledge my differences and really try to understand where I’m coming from. For me it’s about the discrepancy I experience on a daily basis because strangers throughout my life meet me once and make basic assumptions that I am NOT one of them (white Australian) based on my appearance – my skin colour, my eyes, my hair. The internal battle I face as an intercountry adoptee, is that whilst in my private family circles I might be fully accepted, it is NOT the experience I have in public outer life.

The constant jarring reminders of “not belonging” in my wider adoptive society leaves me with a lot of unresolved questions of who I am, where do I belong, who are my clan, and how did this reality eventuate. Are my adoptive family even aware of these impacts? No because they are so blind to what everyone else can see and received very little education on race, culture, and the importance of open discussions. Ignorance is not bliss in this case.

So when my adoptive family says, “I don’t see your difference, you’re one of us” when clearly I’m not as clarified by many strangers, this comment only acts to shut down the conversation instead of opening it up and allowing me the space and love to process competing realities.

Being intercountry adopted is not a reality we adoptees can ignore for too long!

by Lynelle Long

I don’t know if it’s the fact that I didn’t grow up in an English-speaking country, but we don’t use the word “colour” to describe a person. In Sweden, we use “foreigner” as opposed to being Swedish. So instead of saying “I don’t see colour”, people would say “I never think of you as anything but Swedish” or “I see you as the same as us”. They say that to be nice.

When I grew up there were very few people in Sweden with a darker complexion. Most didn’t speak the language well and some of them (of course, a small minority) appeared shady. Swedish mindset is to question if they (dark complexion people) could be trusted.

To tell me that I don’t appear foreign means I am a person they trust. But … when I go on dating sites strangers viewing my profile, only see colour. I get less guys who write than my white peers, less matches with white skin but more super likes from “foreign” men.

One time I wrote in my profile text that I was adopted so as not to appear scary. Then I thought adopted might also sound scary, because in Sweden that implies psychological problems. So I deleted it again and had to come to terms with being less popular online.

My close friends have never said these words to me about not appearing foreign but I do things said like this occasionally and every time, I am offended. As if that random person has a right to put an approval stamp on me. As if I were to do anything untrustworthy, he or she would judge me much harder and say, “Hmm, I guess she wasn’t like us, after all”.

by Sarah Mårtensson

What defines me is not what you see, it’s what I see. Colours don’t colour my life, but my experiences in a prejudiced and bigoted society have.

A transracial adoptee’s worth as a human being is both legally and socially determined by his adoptive parents, his adoptive family, their friends and neighbours, and the entire local community that is encouraged to invite him in as one of their own. But as I eventually learned the security blanket of immediate family didn’t always save me from explaining what I was doing there or defending how I belonged. In my youth, it seemed like I was constantly feeling a barrage of disconcerting interactions with other kids who called me out, in so many words, as being a foreigner, even though I knew nothing else than what my Irish Catholic family had taught me: That I was an “Allen”, that I had to go to Mass every Sunday, that I spoke English and that I belonged to them.

The erasure and then replacement of my identity reverberated in how I developed a sense of self: I didn’t really have a Self. I had a mock-up of one, a misfitting template that I was encouraged to carry around and display each and every day. I didn’t know what it meant to be Vietnamese because that was not the point of this whole adoption experiment. I was trained to look in the mirror and pretend that I was just another Irish Catholic kid with a bad temper. I was trained to not read about the war I had been exfiltrated from. I was trained to see myself like everyone else.

I even trained myself not to see colour. Even though my graduating class in high school comprised many kids from refugee families from Southeast Asia as well as several Asian adoptees, including me, I couldn’t pick them out because I refused to see them other than strangers. I didn’t hang out with any of them or even talk to them because why would I? I was “Kevin Allen”. Son of Evalyn and Bob, and oldest brother to two sisters. I couldn’t even find myself for so long because I was lost. Lost in the fantasy that I was just like my parents, just like my aunts and uncles and cousins, and just like the community that held me under its tutelage.

In art studio class in high school we had to do a self-portrait. I took my time drawing mine. I used coloured pencils and got the shading and features of my young face all correct and flattering. I thought it was a great representation of me. It was one of my proudest works. But I never kept it for myself. I gave it to my parents. I felt I had no use for it.

by Kev Minh

One Child Policy Impacts

The following artwork is provided by high school guest adoptee, FUYI. FUYI was born in China in 2002 and adopted to America at 11 months old. She completed this portfolio of artwork as part of her requirements for an advanced placement class in high school. FUYI provides a small blurb after each piece to describe what the artwork is about.

Bad Luck

This piece is simply about death, loss and all the “unknowns” in my life. The hand of a mother forever reaching for the hand of her baby. The lying figure represents those sacrifices for human harvesting. Chinese Bad Luck symbols noted throughout this piece, clock, the number 4, chopsticks in unfinished food… Bad luck symbols for China are not misfortunate in other parts of the world. Forcefully removing children away from their ancestry kills the future of the culture. It’s all very symbolic.

Raw Emotions

“An invisible red thread connects those destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but never break.”

A mind map collage of my emotions and thoughts that are on display for everyone to see. A small collection from fortune cookies are pasted that relate to my feelings. The red and blue prints are the silhouette of my biological father. The biological man in my life rips his heart out at his loss. Again, my unknowns.

December Nights

This piece was my first ever sketch for my advanced placement requirement for review by the College Board, the first time drawing my feelings of being adopted. I’m represented in the middle. Behind me are the silhouettes of my biological parents as well as the road I was abandoned on. The squares are full of identifiers: finger, foot and handprints, and Chinese words that represent me as an abandoned child. My genetics and the possibility of organ harvesting are being hinted at here.

The Ultrasound

The figure represents both my biological mom and I. I’m floating and somewhat lost. Our fingers wrapped by the red thread connecting us and the “3 month” old baby in the ultrasound. On the right, displays a foetus and its heart that is no longer beating. That could’ve been me, had my biological mother not protected me from the government officials. (Inspired by Peng Wang).

This artwork remains the property of FUYI (c) 2019 and may not be reproduced or printed anywhere without seeking permission.

Forgiveness Is Not A Thing

It’s a continuum of fluctuating circumstances. Forgiveness is. It should not be a foregone conclusion. Forgiveness. It might heal some superficial wounds but leave open other, more lethal, ones to fester. Forgiveness can trick a community into feeling closure, but the reality of a complicated, unresolved present will always be there to remind us not to go so compliantly into the promise of peaceful coexistence.

Like any addictive substance, forgiveness prescribed by someone who stands to benefit from your dejection is not your friend. To forgive in order to accept someone else’s excuses for treating you a certain way and causing enduring grief that frustrates your efforts to be taken seriously is an act of self-sabotage. Offering forgiveness under the thumb of contrition is to cede a hard-fought dignity to exist on your own terms.

When forgiveness is a sincere act and feeling, inseparable, then it won’t appear to be anything other than what it is: a tiny blossom imperceptibly growing on a warm spring day, completing an inevitable cycle. Forgiveness will be there when you awaken and when you close your eyes to finally sleep. You won’t have to will it to be; it will present itself when the time comes.

About Kev Minh

NAAM 2019 AdopteeVoices #10

At ICAV, we invited members to share during National Adoption Awareness Month what they would like the public to know. Here’s another of what some of our members are happy to share.

I believe that the world needs to know that adoption occurs because society is broken and from this broken world comes the NEED for adoption. If only we could remove the need for adoption, we would fix a lot of the world’s problems. 

The only way to stop adoption is to remove the NEED for adoption and address the causes such as help single mothers financially to be able to raise their child.

Some mothers are not well enough to raise their child and there are many more causes that create a need for adoption.

by Tim Kim

Families who come together through adoption deserve the same rights, privileges, and security as biological families including citizenship and nationality, which are the fundamental human rights of all individuals.

Citizenship is critical to economic stability, family preservation, and social legitimacy.

Legislation is needed to ensure that citizenship rights are equally applied to all children of American citizens.

Adoptees who join American families as children, grow up with American values and contribute to our nation’s communities in every way.

Equal citizenship rights will also strengthen our national values by empowering adoptees to fully participate in American democracy.

by Joy Alessi, Co-director of Adoptee Rights Campaign

There Is Only Me

“All those moments will be lost in time like tears in the rain.”

I’m reminded of that line from the movie Blade Runner that was set in November 2019 and spoken by Roy Batty, the replicant who was fighting against time and against his creator who doomed him by installing a kill switch. Those words weigh heavy on this adoptee because I have chosen to stop my clock by not looking into my origins or searching for any blood relatives. Any memory of roots or of faces or events that would connect me to my own origin story I have chosen to forego because no one can claim me. I am no one’s son. My biological existence and furtherance are all now under the aegis of my force of nature. I know my face and other physical features are not reflected in anyone else on this planet, so I am free to take control of my own story, to tell it to myself without deceit, without manipulation. My name is in a passport within another passport, within another. My tree of blood is a stump in the backyard of a tenement where my body was found in Saigon, lost, then found again in a two-level suburban house in northeastern America that couldn’t keep me forever. Because forever is a fallacy to my adopted body. In my own body is where I belong.   

About Kev Minh

NAAM 2019 AdopteeVoices #9

At ICAV, we invited members to share during National Adoption Awareness Month what they would like the public to know. Here’s another of what some of our members are happy to share to the public.

The biggest thing I want people to know this month is that I’m not anti-adoption. If it weren’t for adoption happening to me, I wouldn’t be living the life I am now. I can’t say it’s necessarily a better life, it’s just a different one than the other life I could be living had I not been adopted.

Non-adopted people don’t think of what their ‘other life’ could have been like because for them, their existence wasn’t founded on first family separation and the traumas associated with it — there’s not an ‘other life’ option that enters their minds. For me, it is always there.

So, when I say I’m not anti-adoption, that means that I understand why it exists. As someone who was directly affected by adoption, I know firsthand its impacts and I’m not afraid to speak about them – all of them.

During NAAM especially, I want the world to know that I’m not fighting against adoption, I am simply fighting to be heard and seen. 

by Christina Williams

Everyone has a story: beautiful, terrifying, wonderful, heartbreaking, mysterious, coincidental, whatever.

Everyone deserves to feel a sense of belonging. 

Everyone deserves to discover their own identity. 

Unfortunately for some, the path of discovery leads to denial, rejection, abandonment, half-truths or hidden truths. Scars reveal themselves. Scars some of us didn’t know existed. We’ve been so busy building dreams and chasing sunsets, yet others have lived with a daily pain.

Fitting in, being misunderstood, different ones trying to do their best. 
Or not. 
It’s all part of the territory. 

Has anyone inquired of you lately, ‘How are you going with it all?’ ‘Where do you see yourself in 20 years?’ ‘How will your story end?’

One thing I have learnt though, through the processing of life and daring to ask our big questions, is that everyone of us has the power to decide our own destiny. As the ever-optimist, I’m believing that each of us would finish well.
Selah 🕊

by Jasmin Em