Divided by Two Cultures

Guest artwork by Xiaolan Molly Thornton, adopted at 3 years of age to Australia from China.

Xiaolan says: This artwork depicts how I feel being divided by two cultures. One of Australian and the other, Chinese. The background is supposed to represent the landscape of China and I have blended in aspects of Australian culture which I now embrace as part of my identity.

This artwork may not be reproduced, shared or copied without the consent of Xiaolan.

Leave Room

Leave Room – by Natasha Barnes

Leave room for joy
Leave room for pain
Leave room for sadness
It’s not all the same

There are a lot of people who are only joyful or only angry at adoption. While there is a time for both of these feelings, there has to also be a time to evaluate the why behind your feelings.  

Is adoption always the best? No. 

Is joy or sadness the only options? No. 

As adoptees, adoption is part of our reality. It is what unifies us. We have to find and explore what our own personal adoptions mean for each of us! Adoptees do not have to look a certain way, but it is challenging when other people tell society what adoption is like. 

I wanted to share my story about how adoption has shaped my life and how I view adoption. Instead of people assuming I want to meet my “real” parents or assume I’m sad or happy – I wanted to share what is really going on in my head. As an adoptee from Russia, now in America, I know very little about my beginnings. While I do not know why I was eligible for adoptive placement, I do know that my worth and value are not determined by missing time or pieces. I love to learn about my birth heritage. I dislike when people assume all adoptees are a certain way… or sometimes people ask bad questions.

I wanted to speak up and have others voice their stories with mine. What is a better way to get the word out about ideas then on social media? I posted a status about wanting to get all of this together to share our perspective! I didn’t know if anyone would reply about sharing their story. I came up with a set of questions for each participant and I waited eagerly for adoptees to reply. 

In the waiting I also spent many hours journaling and writing about all things adoption relating to my perspective and story to help educate readers on how this adoptee sees things. 

It was incredible to hear back from so many adoptees – and while we don’t see eye to eye in every perspective, it was important to get a variety of voices. This way readers can really interact and find an adoptee that they may relate to, or learn best from.  

I was so excited when the book Through Adopted Eyes was released! I’ve gotten the pleasure to hear back from people telling me how they felt after reading the book. Some had learned about adoption, others wanted to adopt, others didn’t, and fellow adoptees felt included and heard. 

I think it is really important for people to write down their thoughts about their adoption so that they can read it back to themselves and see what this means – some adoptees barely acknowledge their statuses and adapted well, whereas others focus on it a lot! I do not think one way is better than another. I think what is more important is making sure we all find out from our own stories what it is that makes us motivated to share. 

What are you most excited to share about? What do you want to keep private? What is the main perspective you want others to take away from your adoptee experience?

Start writing – but also leave room on the paper. Leave room for more thoughts, shared experiences, and joy and pain. 

Elena S Hall’s passion for adoption advocacy stems from her faith and family. She loves to write, dance, sing, and tell stories. Her goal is to aid those in the adoption triad to promote healing and growth within the adoption community and empower readers to share their own stories. Her book, Through Adopted Eyes: A Collection of Memoirs From Adoptees, shares 50 adoptee perspective and guides readers though adoption from the viewpoint of adoptees.

Connect with her on Instagram @ThroughAdoptedEyes

There Isn’t An Orphan Crisis, It’s a Family Separation Crisis

There isn’t an orphan crisis, it’s a family separation crisis.

Vulnerable families are being targeted and needlessly separated from their children. When you come to realise that 80-90% of children in orphanages have families, we must adjust our thinking. We need to stop saying there is an orphan crisis and when we hear churches, friends, family or see facebook posts claiming these lies, we must be courageous and challenge these misconceptions. If we continue with the adoption rhetoric as it is now we are doing no good! Needlessly stripping a child from their family is not a “better life”. A child losing everyone they love and everything familiar to them is not in their “best interest”. Doing something for the sake of “it’s what we’ve always done” is irresponsible and in this regard I believe criminal. If we are aware of these realities and we do nothing to address them, even if we choose to ignore them, we are complicit. 

In developing countries orphanages are not viewed as we in the west understand them to be. Many loving parents have been convinced orphanages are a way to give their children the opportunities they were not given. Just as every loving parent does, we all want better for our children. Orphanage directors and child finders promise families a better education, 3 meals a day, upgraded amenities and a safe place so sleep all while they are still able to see their children. Sadly, the reality is often very different, especially when it is a corrupt orphanage. This type of orphanage will do everything in their power to keep the family and child apart. 

I’ve said this before and I will say this again. If you choose to adopt internationally you should not even consider this unless you are willing to invest your time and money into ensuring every effort has been made to keep that child/children within their family and culture. Trusting an adoption agency, orphanage director or any other party that is profiting from the adoption is not acceptable or enough. At first, I failed miserably at this. I was ignorant to the realities at play, and because of MY ignorance I enabled criminals to traffic an innocent child from her family. I’ve publicly made my mistakes and the realities known within the intercountry adoption community in the hopes that my mistakes and revelations through this process will enable others to do better. In all honesty, should we even be discussing orphans, adoption, etc if we haven’t properly addressed the family separation crisis at hand? It’s only after we have ensured every family has been given every opportunity to stay together that we should ever even utter the word adoption.

Written and shared by Jessica Davis during National Adoption Awareness Month.

Not Helpful

Uh oh .. did you write a review like that? Perhaps you bought something based on a review like that? Or like me, did you groan when you saw it because the review just isn’t actually helpful?

We’ve come to increasingly understand that representation changes the conversation through the different experiences that inclusion brings. We are seeing that when the writers’ rooms of Hollywood include women, people of colour and LGBT writers our understanding can dramatically shift altogether and deepen. Seth Myers team have shown this in great comic style with their White Saviour Movie Trailer.  

However, it hasn’t yet become expected that adoption stories should have adoptee advocates representing adoption. Adopting parents continue to dominate the narrative of adoption over adult adoptee voices both in Hollywood on social media and within our families. As Angela Tucker pointed out on Red table talks – “For me to talk about transracial adoption is to hurt somebody”. This creates an unusually weighted dynamic in which may adoptees remain silent, maintain the status quo or even promote adoption.  

I use amazon reviews as an analogy because you’ll often see gift givers reviewing products based on the fact that someone they gifted it to “loved it”. When I see that, I groan inwardly. This person is either humble, bragging or completely dismissing that many of us will feign delight over gifts we don’t like out of respect for the kindness of the giver. It doesn’t make the giver credible as a reviewer. This kind of review tells us nothing about the product itself in a thoughtful or useful way. Did the product deliver what was expected? Did it break after four uses? How does it fit?  

I wouldn’t claim that being a dancer is easy because I know someone who’s a dancer and they seem fine. Try asking a five year old to explain how to drive a car and you’ll get much the same level of coherence and reliability as a non-adoptee talking for adoptees. There are layers and layers of things you don’t even know you don’t know. Even adoptees need time, reflection and validation, to get clear about the experience. I myself have much greater clarity about how adoption affected me now that I can look back over nearly fifty years of patterns of behaviour. How can anyone expect to talk helpfully about it from the outside, when even adoptees can struggle to articulate it from the inside until they’ve processed it.

The only way to even begin to comprehend what adoption is really like is listen to adoptees. Quiet your minds while doing so, resist the urge to listen or argue. We are well used to talking with people listening while finding ways to discount with comments like, “but lots of people feel that way”. If I recounted an assault and the feelings of powerlessness, would you really think it was helpful to tell me lots of people feel powerless in their lives? Or would you consider the context?

Listen to understand, explore and most of all to validate. You can offer healing, you can find ways to empathise, you can be a part of the solution. If you don’t want to offer relief and healing to an adoptee, you really need to ask yourself why you don’t want to do that, what’s in it for you to avoid it?

About Juliette Lam

Digging in the Dirt

#NotMyNAAM

If you want a garden to grow, you need to prepare the soil and tend the earth. Removing weeds is essential prep and maintenance work. Without weeding and fertilising, your flowers and vegetables can’t grow properly.

If you want a wound to heal, you need to clean it our before you stitch it closed or bandage it. If you leave debris inside the wound, it will become painful and infected. And it will need to be re-opened, cleaned, and treated further.

Sometimes, when I tell people I attend a support group for adoptees and first moms, they ask why I would want to be around people who just sit there and talk about their sad stories. Aren’t we all just dwelling and being downers? My answer is a strong No. The times in my life when I felt the lowest were the times when I was completely alone in my trauma, before I found an adoption trauma-competent therapist, before I found a local support group, before the internet and the creation of FB groups, before I became active in the intercountry and transracial adoption community. Having a community around me of people who share the same primal wound and learning and working together to move forward in a healthy way, is very healing, though it can be painful.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, post-adoption services are critical for all adopted people. And I’m talking about the provision of FREE adoption-trauma-based therapies; local, adoptee-run support groups; access to OBCs and DNA tests; travel budget set aside for trips back to the country of origin; language lessons and translation services for intercountry adoptees. Without adequate, available, and competent pre and post adoption services, we are expecting lush gardens to grow on unprepared land. We are expecting wounds to heal without first helping to clean them out, or worse – by not even acknowledging them in the first place.

To all of my fellow adoptees who are out there, getting down and dirty in the trenches, pulling out those weeds and planting new seeds, I dedicate Digging in the Dirt, by Peter Gabriel.

About Abby Hilty

We have been Brought into a Place of Hate

Notes on becoming less human by Vicente Mollestad
(Bolivian adoptee raised in Norway)

On 10 August 2019 in Bærum, Norway, a 22-year-old white male attacked a local mosque armed with shotguns. While failing to kill anyone at the mosque, the arrest and search of his house revealed the murder of his stepsister, an intercountry adoptee from China, only 17 years old.

Johanne Zhangjia

Upon our arrival, we were once told the laws of the new world, but the reality we inhabit speaks of ignorant wishes and in the worst case, fatal lies. They spoke about us as equals in this society, of us belonging to this country, neither as foreigners nor as immigrants. Words we repeated to ourselves.

But the idea of us as innocent, gullible, dream-fulfilling children became more complicated as we mutated into more hideous and unknown beings of puberty and adulthood. The hair grew long, black and unruly. The skin, dark and distinctly different. The body did no longer resemble the idea of a child but had the features of a stranger. A stranger to our surroundings, a stranger to ourselves, and sometimes even a stranger to those closest to us.

Boys eventually fit a media profile for the cause of violence and danger in society. Girls grew to become sexually desirable and fetishised. This dehumanisation leaves us vulnerable to the current state of the West as the threat of the foreign hangs over Europe as a ghost, a ghost conjured by its involvement in a bloody past. We became targets in the line of fire in a war that isn’t ours.

As intercountry adoptees we are being assimilated in the worst way, losing our languages, our biological families and our cultural roots. Meanwhile, we still carry the negative sides of not being assimilated at all. Because our physical traits are still those of an outsider, of the threat, of the barbarian. And that description and image of us makes us enemies for nationalists like Phillip Manshaus.

Even now, when our position is manifested in the worst way, the society and media at large fails to recognise or support our position and discourse. For us there will be no marches, no mention and no grievance. Even when we are so intertwined with the current state of affairs, we are not yet heard, we are not yet given platforms. If this country insists on bringing us into the place of hate, I suggest they at least give us a chance to speak our cause because I refuse to die at the hands of a white nationalist.

Rest in Peace

Rest in peace Johanne Zhangjia Ihle-Hansen.

ICAVs Intercountry Adoptee Memorials

The Lived Experience of Illicit Intercountry Adoption


This year, one of ICAVs goals is to bring to the forefront, the voices of those who have lived the experience of being illictly adopted via intercountry adoption practices. The experience of an illegal intercountry adoption is now recognised as “existing” by many of our governments and central authorities who facilitate the adoptions. ISS-SSI even provided a Handbook on Responding to Illegal Adoptions about this in 2016, including input from some with lived experience. However, it remains a fact today, that there are barely a handful of adult intercountry adoptees who have received appropriate support and assistance, whether that be emotional, financial, legal, or governmental liaison in response to their illicit adoptions.

What about illicit intercountry adoptions that are technically “legal” but are fundamentally unethical under international or other standards like the Palermo Protocol? The powers who control and regulate intercountry adoption do little to provide useful support to those who experience it.

In 2011, my adoptive country Australia, led the way in a working group at The Hague to developing cooperative measures for the prevention of illicit practices in adoption and they remain one of the few adoptive countries to develop a “protocol” for responding to allegations of child trafficking in adoption. However, this protocol response is severly limited in that it only acts to “review the adoption documentation” and yet it is often the documentation itself, that has been falsified and difficult to ascertain without other sources of information. Even IF documentation is proven to be false, what then? In cases like the Julie Chu Taiwanese trafficking ring where legal prosecution followed, there has been little to nothing done for the Taiwanese adoptees and their first families both in the adoptive and birth country’s. Shouldn’t those impacted be provided fully funded services to help them reunite, reintegrate and reconnect if they want this at any stage of their life? Or do they each have to pursue legal action in order to ever be compensated for their losses and legal implications? And what if they don’t want legal action but still want help?

In my time at ICAV, I have witnessed the lifelong growth that occurs developmentally for adult intercountry adoptees – first we start to explore our indivual journey but as we connect to fellow adoptees and peer support networks, we become exposed to the larger picture of intercountry adoption and the world-wide practice as it occurs today. The Hague Convention for Intercountry Adoption was designed to combat illegal adoptions but despite it’s ideals, it hasn’t been able to stop them altogether nor does it ensure adequate post adoption supports – especially for this specific segment of the intercountry adoptee population. Many critics say The Hague Convention has made the problem worse by masking the illicit practices under the guise of a “legal” adoption. As the adult adoptee population ages and matures, what I observe is a huge number, enmasse, of adoptees who are becoming actively involved in exposing the many illicit adoptions that have chequered its history.

South Korean adoptees like Jane Jeong Trenka have led the way in the fight for adoptee rights due to their historical place as the first babies enmasse in modern time to be exported in the largest numbers — but more recently there are those who pave the way for adoptees of other birth countries who have been illicitly adopted. Impacted adoptees such as:

  • Patrick Noordoven from Brazil Baby Affair who recently won his historical outcome of legal recognition that those adopted illegally had a right to their information; in general paving a way for other Brazilian adoptees from the Brazil Baby Affair period; and also a success with the Dutch court appointing an external commission to investigate intercountry adoptions in the past from Brazil but also including Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Colombia and Indonesia;
  • Sanne van Rossen who released her ground breaking expose The Sadness from Sri Lanka (english translation avail this year) and the accompanying media coverage by Zembla which has effectively encouraged Sri Lankan adoptees all over the world to work together; Sanne’s work also led to official recognition of the Baby Farming era by the Sri Lankan government;
  • Alejandro Quezada who founded Chilean Adoptees Worldwide along with other Chilean adoptees are working with the Mothers of Chile who’s children were stolen or lost to adoption. Together they have pushed for a formal investigation into the illegal adoptions from Chile;
  • Marcia Engel at Plan Angel and other Colombian adoptees in the group are advocating to have illegal adoptions investigated officially;
  • Osmin Ramirez and his father’s historical Inter-American Commission on Human Rights outcome; plus other Guatemalan adoptees encouraged to work together in their group to provide support for all who are illegally adopted;
  • and Arun Dohle from Against Child Trafficking who has for decades exposed illegal adoptions out of India and many other countries.

What is to be the government and central authority responses to these enmasse occurrences of illicit adoption practices? For how long will they continue to ignore the voices of those impacted the most from a practical sense – helping them find their families and re-integrate back into their countries if this is their desire? How about funding the “lived experience organisation” who helps the most because they best understand the complexities? Or a “lived experience advisory group”?

I hope that by encouraging advocacy and helping to expose the voices of those who live it, we will see change – not only formally acknowledging the wrongs done, but to attempt to make ammends and provide much needed support for those forced to live it. It is one thing to acknowledge the terrible practices of the past and attempt to avoid repeating them into the future, but it is another to address the current issues and provide support for those who have lived a lifetime resulting from past practices.

Today, I present to you the story of Mariela who has lived the experience of being illegally adopted from Guatemala to Belgium. This is an example of one person’s lived experience of illicit intercountry adoption. We look forward to sharing soon our new project to bring together many more voices like Mariela’s!

We can only ever fully understand the full complexities of illicit intercountry adoptions by listening to those who live it!

Lynelle Long

Korean Killdeers

I was reared on a small dairy farm that rested on the edge of the Red River Valley on the Minnesota side. I grew up in a rural farming community that was filled with a lush green forest of corn, amber waves of grain and intermittent dots of farm homesteads covered with thick deciduous trees. On these vast plains lived a curious little bird, in scientific terms, called a Charadrius vociferous. These small insignificant brown birds with long thin spindly legs made their nests on the ground in the fields and shoreline all over North America. The locals, where I grew up, name this bird by the falsetto cry it makes … kill deer, kill deer. I am certain, if birds could speak, they would poke fun at the killdeer’s pencil-thin legs and scrawny body.

What makes this benign lusterless outward appearance memorable are the bird’s acting abilities. This bird pretends to have a broken wing to draw predators and trespassers such as a curious dog or small children away from their precious eggs. It’s amazing to observe these birds screaming around and flapping their wings and then dart away when you get near them. The birds deserve an Emmy Award for their dramatic performances. I have fond childhood memories of chasing these small feathered friends and was tricked into believing they needed medical attention. I never located the bird’s eggs but remember seeing fluffy plumed chicks darting about like a group of frolicking school children on the playgrounds.

In my studies I learned that the killdeer birds were aboriginal to North America, so I was dumbfounded to see similar antics during my travels to Korea. At first, I thought the kids waving at the soldiers were the average child as we passed in our armored track vehicles. Moments later, I realized these masqueraders were actually professionals pulling a scam. These acting children reminded me of the pretentious wounded Killdeers back home on the Minnesota prairies. Like the birds, they played wounded. Instead of broken wings, they acted out with alligator tears and pouting faces. The familiar killdeer, killdeer cries of distress were replaced with childish voices begging for items, “M.R.E., M.R.E.,” “GI gimme M.R.E.!” The children were asking for prepackaged Army food called Meals Ready to Eat or MRE’s for short. I eyed the children with caution and was disrupted from my stare by my friend.

“Hey, Hansen! I ate part of my lunch during our drive and I’m gonna give the rest of my meal. Watcha think?” “I don’t care,” I answered. I deliberated for a second and focused the children back into view. “Hmmm, to be honest, I really don’t think they want your leftovers.” Barrick jumped off the vehicle before I could finish my reply. Barrick seemed like a towering giant compared to the two little girls and it was comical to see him trying to speak Korean with them. I watched with amusement as the little girls refused his opened MRE package. They gestured that they wanted whole MRE packages that lay on top of my armored personnel carrier. Barrick insisted that the items inside the familiar brown plastic bag were indeed still good. “See,” he contended as he held the sealed crackers in the air and made facial gestures that the items were delicious.

I could tell that the eldest girl who was around 8 years old, was getting annoyed. She huffed several times and then blatantly refused the offer by waving her hands for him to get lost. As he made his final offer, the older girl stuck her fist in the air and gave Barrick the bird!

Barrick turned to me in shock and asked in disbelief, “Did you see that? She stuck up her middle finger!” Barrick took a few steps back toward the track vehicle and looked back once more to watch the little girl stick out her tongue at him. He shook his head in disbelief and said, “Just to think, I felt sorry for her!”

Another soldier walked up to the small children and handed the youngest some candy, she appeared to be about 5 years old. The tiny fingers clutched the pieces of hard candy and she began to place a piece inside her mouth. Then fast as lightning, the eldest child struck the littlest one with candy in the face. She landed a couple of hard blows to the small cheeks with her open palms. The eldest child’s face filled with rage. Then as punishment, the larger of the girls pulled the thinning mittens off the smaller one and stuffed them inside her coat pockets.

We all stared at the scene with horror and disbelief. I asked my KATUSA (Korean Augmentee to the US Army), a Korean National soldier who was attached to our unit, to come with me and translate for me. I kneeled in the snow and gingerly grasped the eldest girl by the shoulders and asked her why she was hitting her sister. The girl pulled away from me and put her back towards my face. I got up and walked in front of her and kneeled. This time I asked her if she loved her younger sister and if so why she had hit her in the face. The KATUSA again translated my message, and after a few minutes of questioning the eldest girl’s strong cold glare dissipated and she began to sob in my arms.

The crying girl blurted out a stream of words and left my hug to embrace her little sister. After a short conversation, I learned that the children were forced to stand outside in the twenty degrees below temperature to beg for MRE’s from the passing US Soldiers that trained near her home. Her parents were poor farmers and they supplemented their meager income by selling the Army rations on the black market. As I was listening to her story I started to see the telltale signs of neglect. I noticed that the exposed fingers were red and swollen from mild frostbite and the cheeks chapped from exposure. The hair was matted and dull flakes of dandruff were present in their hair and the horribly tight clothes barely kept them warm from the chilling mountainous winds of Korea.

So many questions fill my mind as I recount this story that happened so many years ago. I wonder what asshole would teach a little girl the meaning of the middle finger. I hope I made a better impact on her and that she has learned to cherish and love her sisters, despite the burden her parents placed on her shoulders as an 8 year old. I revisit this story from time to time and ponder on how this girl is doing. Would she have been better off adopted like me and suffer like I, or was she better off to have been kept with her poor family in Korea? The “once in a lifetime” trip to see my “homeland” taught me more about myself than I imagined possible. I hope this girl has grown up to be a strong, independent woman who has nothing but happiness.