US Adoptee Town Hall Event Thoughts

by Kara Bos adopted from South Korea to the USA.

US Office of Children’s Issues: Virtual Town Hall Event for Adopt Intercountry Adoptees

I was notified of this event due to ICAV urging adoptees to represent our voices in this invitation for dialogue from the US State Department regarding adoptee lived experiences. It was my first time participating in such an event as I don’t think of myself as an activist and would imagine these types of invitations reserved only for established groups that speak for the collective. However, I was given the opportunity to join for the first time, a collaborative event with State Department officials and intercountry adoptees. It was a thrilling experience to see a diverse set of adoptees from all parts of the USA sharing their personal stories.

There were at least 60 intercountry adoptees and 15 Department of State team members on this virtual town hall call. 46 of us were given two minutes to respond to the question, “What do you, as an adoptee, want US policy-makers to know about the lived experiences of adoptees?” Naturally 2 minutes per adoptee was not enough time to cover this heavily weighted question, but we all did our best to respect each other’s time and stay within these limits. Topics shared were very personal and emotional and involved issues such as mental health support, citizenship for adoptees to be retroactive and inclusive, connection and resources for connections made readily available for inter-country adopted children independent of adoptive parents who may not support sharing these resources with their child, and post adoption services such as birth family search/right to origin, proper investigation and regulation of adoptive parents/adoption and random post adoption checks occurring long-term and not only within the first 3 years of adoption to mention a few.

The State Department was led by Marisa Light who moderated and provided a listening ear, only jumping in on the occasion to clarify when certain issues such as citizenship for adoptees being “outside their jurisdiction”. However, they did at least mention that they know the people who are responsible for this jurisdiction and promised to bring this to their attention.

Something to also note, is that there isn’t a single intercountry adoptee working in the State Department that holds oversight of intercountry adoption into the USA. When asked this question, they could only emphasise that Marisa’s boss who is apparently higher up in the ‘chain’ is a domestic adoptee and “holds all of our concerns very dear to his heart.” Naturally any adoptee would question, “How accurately can a department who oversees the adoption process truly understand the complexities involved with intercountry adoption if not a single member is an intercountry adoptee?” Furthermore, if intercountry adoption has been functioning since the 1950’s, since when have they started asking for dialogue with intercountry adoptees? Why isn’t there a single intercountry adoptee as part of this oversight division?

Stephanie Eye a Senior Advisor in the State Department replied with the following email, when I asked how they were planning on following up with the issues we had raised:

“We are in the process of reviewing all of the issues, concerns, and questions raised during the call and plan to follow up with adoptee participants to provide clarifying information, including specific areas where we have jurisdiction and where other entities may be more helpful.  That will be disseminated to the adoptee listserv that we are creating and to which all town hall participants will be subscribed.  We hope to get that out to everyone very soon.”

I can only hope that this isn’t just checking the box in regards to listening to our voices. I can only hope that real effective change will be put in place when listening to our voices. I can only hope that the truth of our lived experiences will be used to not only protect future adoptees but to also retroactively help the adoptees that are still suffering. All we can do is keep the dialogue open, and continue to voice our truths. I urge all adoptees to do so, even if it seems like no one is truly listening.

As Ghandi once said, “Many people, especially, ignorant people, want to punish you for speaking the truth, for being correct, for being you. Never apologise for being correct, or for being years ahead of your time. If you’re right and you know it, speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.”

What Adoptees Lose in Intercountry Adoption

I normally tiptoe around adoption and never say the A word because people just don’t respond well to “adoptee anger“. But during the month of November, I feel it is appropriate to air my feelings on what I have anger about, in intercountry adoption.

I hate that our original identities are ignored and get obliterated as if they don’t matter! I’ve never seen my identity papers because they got “lost” in transit and no-one in government at my adoptive country end, nor my adoptive family, thought to go to the ends of the earth to locate them. Perhaps they thought it wouldn’t matter because I was given a “new” life and family – and that’s all I should ever need?!

I hate that we lose our birth culture, language, religion, heritage, customs, kin, community and country. I hate that these important facets of our identity are ignored and denied. As if they don’t matter because what I gained materially from my adoptive country is assumed to make up for all the losses?!

I hate that I had to endure racism and isolation in my community whilst growing up as a child. The shame of looking non-white, the inner hatred I developed as a result because I didn’t see myself mirrored anywhere. The phrase from my adoptive family, “We love you as one of us” showed how little they understood the impacts of intercountry adoption. They couldn’t recognise my journey was any different to theirs nor did they understand the profound impact this would have on me.

I hate that people assume all adoptive homes are awesome and when we get placed in not-so-positive adoptive homes, no-one checks on us, no-one stands up for us, often our story is not believed and/or invalidated, and no-one gives us a safe place to be nurtured, respected, or cared for. As a child I felt so vulnerable and alone. It was a terrible overwhelming feeling that left me in fight or flight responses for years, with scars to wear for the rest of my life.

I hate that we live in an age where a Government apology seems to be the latest fashion accessory but yet for those adopted via illegal or questionable means, we intercountry adoptees will never get closure. A true apology would mean firstly acknowledging the wrong, then a lifelong commitment to making amends including providing financial renumeration to reflect the pain we carry forever, along with the supports required to help us restore our mental well being; and lastly to make the necessary changes to never repeat the same mistakes again.

I hate that some of my adoptee friends adopted to the USA are living a gutted life because they have been deported back to their country of birth like common commodities, shipped in and out with ease, being treated as though they are of no real value and certainly with no choice. In the majority of cases, they were placed in adoptive homes that were very damaging and their lives spiralled out of control. Isn’t adoption meant to be about “permanency“?! This week in the news headlines, an intercountry adoptee in Australia is to be deported back to the Cook Islands. It is immoral and unethical to adopt a child from one country to another when it suits, through no choice of their own, and then be sent back to birth country because they fail to live up to being an adoption success story!

I hate that thousands of my intercountry adoptee friends in the USA are living in fear everyday because they are still not given automatic citizenship. They often have no social security and cannot leave the country for fear of being picked up by immigration officials. Isn’t adoption meant to provide a forever family … and permanency in a home and country?!

I feel this anger today because it is November and around the world, many use this month to celebrate adoption and promote awareness. For me, I don’t celebrate these aspects of adoption, they make me rightfully angry and more so, when I see my experience replicated in the lives of many around the world.

At ICAV, we believe in promoting awareness of the impacts of intercountry adoption ALL year round, not just in November.

I hope after reading this, you will all also be rightfully angry at the things intercountry adoptees LOSE because of our adoption.

My goal is to encourage adoptees to turn that rightful anger into an appropriate energy:

  • to educate the wider community and enhance a deeper understanding of the complexities involved in intercountry adoption;
  • to push for the much needed social, political, legal, and economic changes that cause inequality and leave many of our families with little choice;
  • to help prevent adoption where necessary by supporting family reunification initiatives and advocating for this in our birth countries;
  • and if adoption has to be the last resort, to help improve the way we conduct intercountry adoption such as changing it from our plenary system to simple adoptions; and supporting all triad members throughout the lifelong journey.

I also acknowledge there are many other less scarey emotions and thoughts we can talk about in intercountry adoption, but at ICAV, I like to raise awareness about the issues that don’t normally get aired.

There are plenty who speak of the positives in adoption … but not many who openly share the not-so-positive aspects. In speaking out, I aim to help balance out the discussions in intercountry and transracial adoption.