Thursday, December 31, 2009

Magic 8 Ball & Birth Parents

We're still in Vermont, and the girls are having a ball. Not only have they made snow angels and a snowman, they've gone sledding for the first time in their lives. They didn't even need all of that -- they are thrilled by the snow falling from the sky and actually sticking on the ground!

To add to the quintessential Vermont experience, we went to the Vermont Country Store, where amongst the udder balm, "Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific" Shampoo, Vermont extra-sharp cheddar, and Black Jack and Clove gum, were classic toys -- including the Magic 8 Ball.

Maya had no trouble coming up with a question -- "Will I marry Connor?" Connor is her current crush in her kindergarten class. Thank goodness, the answer was "Too soon to predict!"

Zoe pondered for a while, and then asked, "Will I find my birth parents?" Uh-oh, the answer came back, "Outlook not looking good." So of course she asked again. This time, the answer was more to her liking -- "It is decidedly so." Her next question was, "Do my birth parents think about me?" Again, not an answer she approved of -- "Not likely." When she asked again, the answer was "Absolutely!"

After the negative answers, I explained that the Magic 8 Ball was just a toy, and really couldn't predict anything. I didn't convince Zoe after she got the positive answers -- she just figures you have to ask the question twice to get the right answer!

I asked the Magic 8 Ball a question of my own: "Will my friends, real and virtual, have a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year?" The magic came through for me -- the answer was, "It is decidely so!"

So I'll add my wishes to those of the Magic 8 Ball -- have a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Baby Market

The subject is assisted reproductive technologies, and whether adoption regulation should apply, in the New York Times' Room for Debate blog, titled the Baby Market. Interesting opinions from four commentators: Diane B. Kunz, Center for Adoption Policy; Arthur Caplan, bioethicist, University of Pennsylvania; Charles P. Kindregan Jr., professor of family law; and
Rebecca Dresser, law professor, Washington University.

Monday, December 28, 2009

We're in Vermont!

We liked that little touch of "White Christmas" we got in Texas, so we decided to head to Vermont to visit my sister! Actually, we've been planning to visit for quite a while, since she's getting married on New Year's Day (how's that for an easy anniversary to remember?!).

The girls were thrilled when it started snowing today, and I was thrilled that Aunt Kim took them out in the snow and left me toasty warm to take pictures from inside.

There's likely to be a blogging slowdown this next week, and wanted to let you know why . . . .

Adoptive families' quests to trace Chinese roots often meets dead ends

From the L.A. Times, a long article about successes and failures in searching for birth family in China:
My name is Haley. I was adopted in 1995. I now live in America. I enjoy singing and playing the violin and hanging out with my friends. I have a good life, but I would like to find my biological family.

Just minutes after Jeannie Butler and her adopted daughter, Haley, tacked a Chinese-language poster with this message to a wall in the Yangtze River village where she had been abandoned, a woman emerged from a restaurant next door and did a double-take.

The woman stared hard at Haley, 14, then at the baby photo on the poster.

"Oh, my gosh, she looks just like my cousin's daughters!" she blurted out as an interpreter with the Butlers translated.

A flurry of cellphone calls ensued. By that evening, Haley had met her biological father and the eldest of three biological sisters. The reunion in July went so well
that Haley and her parents are spending the Christmas season this year with her
extended biological family in China. They hope to meet the birth mother Tuesday.

Such encounters are rare for the thousands of American families who have adopted Chinese children. But increasingly these families are making the return journey to China, not merely as tourists climbing the Great Wall and steeping their daughters (and they are almost all girls) in Chinese culture, but as detectives trying to unravel the most elusive mystery of all: Who is my child?

Who are her biological parents, and where are they from? Is she Han Chinese or a member of one of the many ethnic minorities? Does she have a biological sibling? And, most important, how did she come to be abandoned and referred for adoption?

The number of Chinese adoptees looking for their birth parents is expected to rise as the girls, most of them still very young, reach adolescence and then adulthood. But in China, the families often confront an entrenched culture of secrecy that clashes with Americans' presumed right to know.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Non-Hague Countries, Adoption & Child Trafficking

Last month, Australia's Attorney General expressed concern that the Ethiopia-Australia adoption program did not comply with the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption:
DESPERATE families seeking to adopt children from overseas have been dealt a blow after the Attorney-General's Department halted Australia's largest international adoption program.

Frustrated adoption groups claim steps taken by the Rudd Government to free up adoption processes have instead buried it under another layer of red tape.

Australia has an average 300 international adoptions a year, the largest number, about 40, from Ethiopia. But the program has been suspended amid fears a request for payments to help needy children left behind breaks international laws on child trafficking.

A spokesman for the Attorney-General's Department said: "The apparent link between the provision of financial assistance and the referral of children for adoption
is inconsistent with our understanding of our obligations under the Hague Convention."
It's an interesting point, because what Australia is concerned about, it seems, is NOT individual PAPs being asked to donate by orphanages (though that would be a problem under the Hague Convention if the adoption was CONDITIONED on the donation), or the recent reports out of Ethiopia of adoption corruption, but that the Ethiopian government has requested that the Australian government provide community development aid as a condition to continue adoption placements to Australia:

A key reason for the suspension is a new requirement of the Ethiopian Government that the program enter into a formal agreement to provide community development assistance. The Australian program has previously been exempt from the requirement to provide financial/material assistance because of its unique Government-to-Government arrangement. We have recently been advised that this exemption can no longer continue.

The Hague Convention is full of language designed at avoiding "the sale of, or traffic in children." Money in exchange for consent to adopt is violative of the Convention. It further says in resounding terms, "No one shall derive improper financial or other gain from an activity related to an intercountry adoption." (BTW, proper financial gain includes payment of reasonable expenses for the care of children prior to adoption, and reasonable payment for adoption services.) So as between two countries who have signed the Hague Convention, I'd think the Ethiopian proposal quite problematic.

But Ethiopia is not a signatory to the Hague Convention, so there is no requirement that it follow the convention. And the convention itself creates procedures to be followed BETWEEN convention states, not between a convention state like Australia or the U.S. and a non-convention state like Ethiopia. One could argue that payments to Ethiopia from Australia or the U.S., even when made in order to make children available for adoption to these countries, would not violate the Hague Convention on intercountry adoption. And though the Convention of the Rights of the Child has similar language to the Hague concerning financial gain in adoption, the U.S. (and the good folks of Somalia -- good company, huh?) has not signed the CRC.

So when Australia or the U.S. deal with adoptions from non-Hague countries, is there any requirement to avoid child trafficking, the sale of children? It sounds like other countries which do adoptions from Ethiopia have been paying development aid as a condition of allowing adoptions, since the Australian reporting says Australia has been getting an exemption from the development aid for adoption scheme. So while these other countries may not be violating the Hague Convention, is there anything else to be concerned with?

The U.S. signed the U.N. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress & Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women & Children in 2005, and it binds receiving countries as well as sending countries to cooperate to prevent trafficking. "Trafficking in persons" includes “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of . . . the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person." But that treaty deals mostly with cooperation in criminalization of transnational trafficking. Beyond that, there's language about each country agreeing to strengthen internal policies and legislation to combat trafficking. But the language seems to require the U.S. to avoid complicity in trafficking of children, doesn't it? And giving development aid to the Ethiopian government "to achieve the consent" of Ethiopia, which clearly has "control over" children in its orphanages, clearly fits the definition of "trafficking in persons."

But the trafficking protocol prevents buying and selling of persons for purposes of exploitation: "Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs." Hmmm, interesting, isn't it, that buying and selling children, on its own, is not trafficking -- only buying and selling for purposes of exploitation. And there's disagreement, of course, about whether buying and selling children for adoption is exploitation.

An Ethiopian website reports on the decision of Australia to suspend the adoption program, and quotes one person as calling the Ethiopian government's cash for kids program "modern-day slavery," and some have argued that adoption in general is like slavery. I don't think, though, that governments, including the U.S., would be convinced that adoption = slavery = exploitation. I think it would be easier to make the argument that conditioning adoption on the provision of money that is not related to the expenses of adoption -- whether the condition is imposed by individuals or institutions or governments -- is child trafficking and exploitative.

Australia's other treaty obligations (it is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the anti-trafficking Protocol) may justify its stance on Ethiopia's request for aid as a condition to allow adoptions to Australia, but I'm not sure that the Hague Convention does. And that strikes me as a fault with the Hague Convention, not with Australia's position that conditioning an adoption program on governmental payments is problematic. Perhaps it is time to take another step forward in ending adoption corruption and require Hague countries to only do adoptions with other Hague countries.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Sheng Dan Kuai Le

When I saw this ecard at Tonggu Momma's site, I knew I had to steal it -- because we did have Chinese food for Christmas this year! We're having our big Christmas meal tomorrow when my brother and his family comes, so we went out for Christmas lunch. Of course, just about the only thing open on Christmas Day is Chinese restaurants -- something sufficiently well-known as to have spawned a song titled Chinese Food on Christmas (click here if you prefer the Chipmunk version)! The waitstaff were all over the girls trying to get them to speak Chinese, but the girls turned shy and wouldn't say a thing. I did get Zoe to say Merry Christmas, "Sheng Dan Kuai Le," once at least.

I won't rattle off all the girls' presents, but in keeping with the theme of the blog, here are the Chinese/adoption (more Chinese than adoption this year) related items: the Ling doll from Karito Kids for Maya (Zoe got the American Karito Kids doll since her name is Zoe, too!), which I'm delighted to have gotten for cheap at Tuesday Morning; Zoe got an Asian 18" Madame Alexander doll, and Maya a Caucasian one (since she wanted a ballerina doll, and this one came with a ballerina costume); Dover Press supplied many stocking stuffers -- small paper-doll sticker books of Chinese girls and costumes (all at a discount thanks to a tweeted discount code from Dawn at this woman's work!); the Ni Hao Kai Lan stuff was a hit, even with the 9-year-old.
So ends another lovely Christmas. We wish you Sheng Dan Kuai Le and all the happiness of the season! You gift me each day with your readership, and I so appreciate each one of you!

P.S. I should mention my favorite Christmas present, which I gave to myself -- a Kindle! -- which I can only justify blogging about by telling you that the first book I downloaded to it was Kinship by Design: A History of Adoption in the Modern United States. I've just barely started it, but so far so go. I'll post a review when I finish.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas and Adoption

At Love Large, adoptive dad from Uganda talks about adoption and Christmas traditions for adoptive families:

Is there anything special about adoptive families and traditions? For the most part I would say no. Adoptive families are just that – families. On the other hand, adoptive families are unique in that sometimes adopted children have entered the family after living for years in another country with very different traditions and memories. Further, adopted children often enter the family from another country with a whole other heritage.

Some adoptive families have chosen to just simply live and celebrate Christmas as they always have. Their children are integrated into those existing traditions and treated no differently. Their heritage and their traditions are now the traditions and
heritage of their new family.

Other families have chosen to honor the heritage and traditions of their adopted children, regardless of the age they entered the family. For instance, I know many families who cook special ethnic dishes and have introduced some ethnic traditions from their child’s country of origin to supplement their existing traditions.

Has adoption changed your celebration of Christmas? I think for adoptive parents, the joy of Christmas and the joy of adoption combine, a sort of synergistic overlap. One of our favorite Christmas connections to adoption led to Maya's middle name, Noelle -- I found out on Christmas Eve that I was approved for a singles slot with my agency, and so could adopt again from China. What a happy Christmas that was!

It is because of adoption that we have our "Touch of China" Christmas tree, with ornaments recognizing Zoe's and Maya's Chinese heritage. Same goes for Tonggu Momma, who wrote a sentimental and lovely post about the Chinese ornaments on their tree, and a new tradition as they await a referral for a sibling for the Tongginator. The adoptive dad at Love Large writes about the Ugandan ornaments on their tree.

But what about first parents? How has adoption loss changed their celebrations? I haven't really thought much about it, figuring that Christmas wasn't really celebrated by my kids' first parents in China, where such a small percentage are Christians (yes, Christmas is a secular celebration in China, as well, but mostly for city dwellers). But it got me thinking to read first mom Jenna's reflection on the ornament she bought in 2003 after relinquishing her daughter:

I didn’t hang it in 2004.

I was just coming out from under the dark veil of denial of the first year of adoption. While our relationship was fine, I was beginning to feel things that I didn’t quite understand. In fact, some of the things I was feeling felt wrong. Was I allowed to regret things? Was I allowed to miss her so deeply, so viscerally? Was I allowed to think of “what if” and ask why? I didn’t know. The thoughts scared me. They overwhelmed me. And so acting like any other reasonable adult, I ignored them just as I ignored the ornament when I pulled the decorations out to deck the halls that year. I ignored what that meant.

I don’t think I hung it up in 2005 either. In fact, I know I didn’t. My heart was heavy with the realization of all I had lost as I cradled my newborn oldest son in my arms. I couldn’t begin to comprehend what hanging her ornament or lacking to do so meant for me. I couldn’t even comprehend at that time how the relinquishment of my firstborn was going to forever affect how I parented the children under my roof. I wasn’t in denial that year. I was clueless as to everything that placing a child had done to my soul.

Come 2006, after completing almost a full year of therapy, I pulled out the box and opened it for the first time. Turns out that the little star that said “Baby’s First” wasn’t properly attached to the ornament and fell off. I hung it that year, the first in our new home, without the star. It was a step. A baby step. But a step.

In 2007, I fastened the star to the ornament with some fishing line, courtesy of my nature loving husband. And every year since, it has been proudly displayed on our tree.

[Belated addition -- I just read Lorraine's post at Birth Mother, First Mother Forum, Christmas Thoughts For Those Separated By Adoption, and suggest you read it, too.]

What about adoptees? We know that birthdays and Mother's Days and Father's Days can trigger issues relating to adoption for adoptees. I'd think that holidays heavy on family togetherness would do the same. Peach writes this about Christmas as a reunited adoptee (I'd think these thoughts would hold true for adoptees, like my kids, who know nothing about their birth families, too):

Here it is Christmas Day as a reunited adoptee ~ I agree with you that "being adopted" is a huge part of my on-going identity and affects all my relationships. I spent Christmas with my adoptive family, but recently saw my birth family. I am thinking about my birth family today celebrating Christmas together and I'm not with them. It doesn't negate the Christmas I had with my adoptive family and the love. But it defines me, acknowledges loss, and requires a lot of mental energy.

My brothers are together celebrating Christmas with their children & (our) father.
My son is missing out on precious memories with his biological cousins, aunts & uncles, and his Papa. All the while we enjoyed Christmas with my son's beloved Grandma (my Mother ~ adoptive). Yet in the corners of my mind the absence of those precious memories my son is missing (and I missed as a child & continue to miss) with the family of our very blood is lost.

It makes me want to cry ~ and yet I ask myself "Why"? ~ When I had/have a(nother) family? One who loves us. These are just a small sampling of the myriad of emotions and thoughts that travel through this reunited adoptee's heart and head minute by minute by minute...on Christmas especially, but not just today.
Reading Jenna's and Peach's thoughts remind me that Christmas and adoption isn't just about me as an adoptive parent, that the joy of Christmas and the joy of adoption shouldn't completely swamp everything else in adoption. I think I've forgotten in the overwhelming happiness of this season that it might be different for my kids and for their first families.

Before next Christmas, I'll be talking to the girls about what they might want to do -- or not do -- to recognize adoption, China, birth family, in our next Christmas celebration. Maybe we can find ornaments to honor their birth families at this time of year. If that's what they want.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Telling Maya Her Story

Zoe and Maya woke up before me this morning (we're on vacation -- no alarms!). In the old days, that would mean they'd crawl into bed with me and snuggle. Now, they sneak into the family room to watch cartoons or play on the computer. I miss those days of snuggling, no matter how much I grumbled then about those crack-of-dawn visits!

Every once in a while, Maya will still come to snuggle -- usually, when Zoe has done something to make her mad. That was the case this morning, when mean big sister wouldn't let her plow on Farmville!

Maya and I cuddle, and I sympathize at the extreme cruelty of big sister (not!), and Maya tells me I'm the best mom ever. Then she adds, "All of my moms are best moms!" Wow, this is a big deal -- Maya hardly ever initiates conversations about her birth mom or her foster mom. In fact, she hardly ever initiates any discussion about adoption at all.

But this morning, she was ready to talk. She wanted to know about why her birth mother could not keep her. Of course, she's heard a lot of this before in discussions with Zoe, but this time she WANTED to know. As usual, I had to tell her I didn't know, but that here are some of the reasons (in age-appropriate language) children in China end up in the orphanage -- one child policy, poverty, illness, etc.

We talked about the fact that she was very small when she was found (4 pounds), and that maybe she was born earlier than she was supposed to be, and that it would have been very expensive to take care of her as a baby because of this. We talked about the fact that the information we have said she was found in front of the Women's & Children's Hospital, and that that was a good choice for a sick baby. We talked about her stay at one orphanage and her transfer to another orphanage because she was so sick, and then her stay with her foster family who took care of her so well. We talked about the orphanage sending her paperwork to CCAA to find a forever family for her. And just when I was starting the part of her story where Zoe and Mimi and I went to China to get her, she said, "Wow, I had a lot of people in China who loved me and took good care of me!" What a great realization. . . .

As I said, this isn't the first time Maya has heard all of this, but I realized it was probably the first time she and I had a chance to talk about it without Zoe being there and adding her input! I'm so glad we had that opportunity to talk. And I think Maya is glad, too.

Monday, December 21, 2009

"Family Portraits" of China's Ethnic Minority Groups

Here's a website, ChinaHush, with cool "family portraits" of the 56 ethnic minority groups in China. The photos are part of a project for a book, “Harmonious China: A Sketch of China’s 56 Ethnicities.” A team of 14 photographers spent one year travelling all over China to complete the project and ended up taking over 5.7 million photographs. I WANT THIS BOOK!

I included the photo of the Zhuang minority group because Zoe and Maya are both from the Guangxi/Zhuang Autonomous Region, and I wonder if they might be Zhuang.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The envelope, please. . . .

Remember the speech contest at Chinese School in November? My little darlings won prizes, announced at the open house Saturday.
Maya won first place in her class. Interestingly, the win, place and show were all Chinese adoptees who do not speak Chinese at home.
Zoe won second place in her class. She's the only girl, only adoptee, and only non-native speaker in the class. (The boys tied for third place includes the principal's son!).
The girls were very proud of themselves, as they well should be!

Adopting a Lie

Another adoption fraud case from India, with the fraud leading to disruption of the adoptions:
In court papers that paved her way to Minnesota, Komal is described as a 12-year-old girl from northern India, eligible for adoption in the United States.

She liked to assemble puzzles and briefly attended fifth grade, but the 112-pound orphan displayed a violent streak that soon left a Mayer, Minn., couple wondering if they were told the truth about the two Indian siblings they spent $30,000 trying to adopt.

Within months of their arrival, and before the adoption became final, Komal confessed: She was 21. Her younger sister, Shallu, admitted she was 15, not 11 as advertised. The sisters said they were told to lie about their ages and backgrounds by orphanage officials and an India-based representative for Crossroads Adoption Services of Edina, which handled the failed placements.

At 21, Komal wouldn't have been a candidate for adoption. In fact, she wouldn't have qualified for an orphan visa to the United States. Under the rules, foreign children must be under 16 for adoption proceedings to begin.

Maria Melichar, who once hoped Komal and Shallu would become part of the family she and her husband, Carl, are raising, said Komal's rights were grossly violated.

"To adopt her against her will, when she has a life, had an identity [and] she was an
adult, is unthinkable," Maria Melichar said.

The sisters' lies reverberated halfway around the world, from a quiet farmhouse in Carver County to a noisy orphanage in Chandigarh, India, raising fresh questions about an international adoption treaty and the United States' commitment to investigate alleged corruption in the orphan pipeline. During the past decade, adoption scandals have erupted in at least six countries, including India, sometimes
shutting off the flow of children from those nations.

A U.S. immigration judge ordered the sisters sent back to India in July 2008 for visa fraud, after medical tests confirmed the age discrepancies. It appears to be the first time the U.S. government has expelled orphans under such circumstances, experts said.

* * *

Critics of the United States' commitment to the [Hague] treaty say the Melichars' case shows the government is not aggressively investigating adoptions that go wrong. "I can't understand why the U.S. government is moving so slow on these cases," said Arun Dohle, founder of the Belgium-based advocacy group Against Child Trafficking and author of a 2008 law review article on Indian adoption fraud.

Attorney Mark Solheim, who represents Crossroads, said the agency "never instructed any adoptive children to lie about their age." Over the past 33 years, Crossroads has successfully placed 3,500 children, including 500 from India, he said.
What do you think of expelling the two girls (one woman, one girl?) from the U.S.? Returning them to India if that is what they wished to do is one thing, but would it be right to expell them if they wished to stay?

Here's a story from an India newspaper about the girls (or at least I think it's the same kids, names have been changed, ages are uncertain, but date of adoption is the same):
The Bombay high court has has shown its concern towards the future well-being of
a teen-aged girl who faced psychological trouble in a 'failed international adoption' case.

Justice DY Chandrachud on Friday asked the agencies concerned to ensure her well-being before thinking of shifting her to a different shelter home and also to a different city.

"I am more worried about her. The child has faced several problems," remarked Chandrachud, after he was informed that the Family Service Centre proposes to shift her from an asylum in Bangalore to Arushi, a shelter home in Gurgaon.

Riddhi, 14 and Siddhi, 8 (names changed) were given for adoption in the USA in April 2006. Riddhi had developed behavioural problems and was sent back to India, whereas Siddhi adjusted to her new home. Riddhi was put under psychiatric treatment in Bangalore.

Now, before allowing her to shift to Gurgaon, the court has called for a detailed psychological evaluation report from Dr S Sheshadri, who has been treating her, explaining whether it would be in her welfare and interest, and most importantly, would not cause her further psychological problem.

"The report should also comment upon requirements which need to be met to rehabilitate her. The evaluation report should also contain whether rehabilitation is advisable in the first place," observed Justice Chandrachud.

A very sad case. What do you think of the disruption? The expulsion? The fraud?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Study Finds Orphanages OK Option

Thanks to SustainableFamilies for the link to this important study of orphanage care v. community care for children in Cambodia, Ethiopia, Hyderabad and Nagaland in India, Kenya, and Tanzania:

A Duke University study of more than 3,000 orphaned and abandoned children in
five Asian and African countries has found that children in institutional orphanages fare as well or better than those who live in the community.

The findings contrast sharply with research that associates institutions with poorer health and well-being, and the policies adopted by many international agencies/ governments.

"Our research is not saying that institutions are better. What we found is that institutions may be a viable option for some kids," said study leader Kathryn Whetten, director of the Center for Health Policy at the Duke Global Health Institute. "As the number of orphans continues to rise worldwide, it is vital not to discount orphanages before assessing whether they are harmful to the millions of children for whom they care."

Whetten's research team compared the physical health, cognitive functioning, emotion, behaviour and growth of orphaned or abandoned children ages 6-12, half of them living in institutions and the other half dwelling in the community. The study found that children in institutions in five countries reported significantly better health scores, lower prevalence of recent sickness and fewer emotional difficulties than community dwelling children. These findings suggest the overall health of children in orphanages is no worse than that of children in communities.

The research team has been following the 3,000 orphans involved in the study for three years, and they plan to continue tracking them into their late teens and early 20s to determine how their childhood affects their life course.

Published today in the interactive open-access journal PLoS ONE, this is one of the most comprehensive studies of orphans ever conducted. Data were collected between May 2006 and February 2008 from children and their caregivers in 83 institutional care settings and 311 community clusters. The study assessed five culturally, politically and religiously-distinct countries that face rising orphan

Speaking of Racial Teasing . . .

Remember when Miley Cyrus did it?

And when one of the Jonas brothers did it?

Many people defended them as just being young and stupid.

Now Toby Keith has done it -- the eye-pulling gesture, when Will Smith rapped about "black, white and yellow [a problem in and of itself!]," at a party while in Norway for the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony of all things. Keith can't use youth as a defense. Does that just make him stupid? Or are we willing to call it what it is, a racist gesture?

Toby Keith made a hand gesture at a Nobel Peace Prize after party last week that has two Asian organizations seeing red.

During an impromptu performance in Norway with Will Smith and Wyclef Jean, Keith briefly pulled back his eyes in a stereotypical expression when Smith rapped the word "yellow" about 26 seconds into the song "Rapper's Delight," reports.

While the move didn't garner criticism at the time, now that the video has gone viral, Asian organizations are slamming the "Shock'n Y'All" singer.

"Toby Keith embarrassed himself and his country, denigrated the Nobel Peace Prize and offended Asians and Asian Americans by using a crude, racist hand gesture," a
spokesman for the Asian American Justice Center tells TMZ.

"By doing this, he is telling Asian fans, ‘You don't matter, you're not on my radar,'"
chimes in a representative from the Media Action Network for Asians.

* * *

Keith has yet to issue a formal apology, and his reps are dismissing the incident.

"No one at the concert thought Toby was out of line," his camp said. "Everyone was impressed with his rapping skills and that's it . . . all of the artists liked each other, hung out, and it was a very friendly,genuine, and supportive atmosphere."

So it seems Keith's defense is that none of the black guys were offended, and they liked each other, so no way can the gesture be racist. "Some of my best friends are people of color. . . ."

I look forward to the blogosphere's determined attempts to minimize what he did. That seems to be what always happens after something like this. I can hear it now: "He didn't mean anything by it." "Stop being so sensitive." "It was a joke." "Maybe he was just scratching his eye." "Just because he did this doesn't mean he's a racist." "My brother-in-law's cousin's hairdresser is Asian, and he said it wasn't a big deal." Sigh.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Racial Teasing & Identity in Transracial Adoptees

One of the reported results from the Evan B. Donaldson report on forming healthy racial and adoptive identity in transracial adoptees was that 78% of Korean adoptees experienced racial teasing in childhood (sometimes/often/all the time). Racial teasing also trumped teasing about adoption for Korean adoptees – only 21% of Korean adoptees were teased about adoption (the figure was 35% for white adoptees).

And more important than the high incidence of racial teasing, is the reported effects of racial teasing for transracial adoptees:

Comfort with racial identity and comfort with adoption identity are highly associated with each other; however, some of the other variables are associated with one of these and not the other. For example, for Koreans, scores on the Parent-Child Relationship Scale (lower scores are more positive) and the Family of Origin Scale are significantly associated with their comfort with their adoption identity, but not with their comfort with their racial identity. Also, high life satisfaction and positive self-esteem have stronger associations with comfort with adoption than other variables examined (with the exception of comfort with race); and less teasing related to adoption or race is associated with greater comfort with their adoption.

* * *

Similarly, positive self-esteem has the strongest association with comfort with racial identity for Koreans, followed by a stronger ethnic identification, higher life satisfaction, and less racial teasing. Also, it is interesting to note that more positive scores on the Parent-Child Relationship Scale and the Family of Origin Scale are strongly associated with less racial teasing. Racial teasing also was lower for children growing up in more diverse communities, and those experiencing less racial teasing reported higher life satisfaction and more positive self-esteem. In other words, those transracially adopted individuals who reported less racial teasing came from more diverse communities and more functional families, and they also as adults had more
positive adjustment outcomes (higher life satisfaction and self-esteem).

* * *

Overall, Korean adopted adults who scored higher on the Cultural Socialization Scale reported living in more diverse communities as children; having more positive parent child relationships and family functioning; experiencing less teasing related to their race or adoption; and having higher life satisfaction and self-esteem, indicating that parents’ efforts to provide socialization to the child’s racial/ethnic group are linked with other positive outcomes. Also, teasing about race approached significance in that less race-related teasing while growing up was associated with greater comfort with their racial identity as adults.

* * *

Racial identity also was linked to negative experiences, including external events (taunting about race) and internal struggles (awareness that one’s physical features were different from Whites and not esteemed by the majority). Teasing, insults and being stared at were common. One respondent reported not realizing she wasn’t White until another child in pre-school called her “a little Chinese shit.” Daily teasing also highlighted differences between the child’s life and that of other family members. “No one (else) in my family endured this since they all ‘looked like everyone else,'” explained one respondent.
For obvious reasons (see here, here, here, here and here), I’m quite interested in the reports on racial teasing and its effects. The findings reinforce my feelings that we need to take racial teasing seriously. I don’t think it cuts it to tell our children to just ignore it, or to take the position that kids just need to toughen up since racial teasing is inevitable, or to say that it’s no big deal. Not only does that attitude leave children unprepared to deal with racial teasing, I think it weakens the bond between parent and child. How can our children trust us, if we don't take their problems seriously? More positive parent child relationships does correlate to less reporting of racial teasing, and at least one reason for that might be that parents helped their children cope with discrimination:
Also, those Korean adoptees reporting more positive parent child relationships, as well as higher family functioning, reported less racial teasing. We do not know if this is because their parents helped them to cope with discrimination in a more positive way or whether they actually experienced less of it. Whatever the case, these experiences highlight the importance of educating parents who have adopted transracially to prepare their children to cope with discriminatory experiences.
And the take-away paragraph for those who are in the "no big deal" camp is this one:
Experiencing racial teasing can be detrimental to the overall adjustment of adopted children; this study found it to be associated with lower life satisfaction and lower self-esteem. This finding reinforces the work of Cederblad and colleagues in their 1999 study, which concluded that being teased for their “foreign looks” was associated with lower self-esteem and more problems in mental health for international adoptees in Sweden.
On a somewhat positive note, 56% of Korean adoptees reported that they were extremely comfortable or very comfortable with their racial identity, 27% said they were somewhat comfortable (Table 7 combines these two, but the text sets out the "somewhat" comfortable figure separately, and I think that's an important distinction). It seems, though, that for many of those who have formed a positive racial identity they've done so in spite of their adoptive parents, not because of them. Not surprisingly, then, the report recommends much more education for prospective adoptive parents and adoptive parents on racial identity issues.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Taiwan: Financial woes lead more parents to consider relinquishing children

From the Taiwan News, dateline Taipei, 12.14.2009:
More and more parents have considered putting their children up for adoption over the past five years, mainly because of financial difficulties, a child welfare foundation reported Monday. Nearly 90 percent of the parents who phoned the Child Welfare League Foundation to ask about putting their children up for adoption between 2003-2008 did so due to financial problems, foundation spokesman Chen Ya-hui said, citing statistics compiled by the foundation.

The number of phone calls made to the foundation for this purpose posed a significant 55 percent rise over the past five years, increasing from 495 cases in 2003 to 770 in 2008, according to Chen.

For the first 10 months of this year, the foundation accepted 511 phone calls on the issue, an average of 1.7 calls daily, the statistics show.

Eighty-seven percent of those who made the calls did so because of financial difficulties, representing a remarkable surge from 50 percent in January 2008 to 96 percent in September of the same year, with the percentage reaching 100 percent in January, March and June 2009, according to Chen.

According to data collected by the foundation, another reason for children being given up for adoption was because they were born to underage parents. About 23 percent of children put up for adoption had one parent under the age of 20, Chen said.
FYI, during that same time period, 2003-2008, adoptions from Taiwan to the U.S. rose from 107 to 266, according to the State Department.

I hate China, so I'll adopt from there!

Why do people with so little understanding of China adopt from there?
Just before Christmas in 1999, I got off a flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco with a frail, 13-month-old baby girl in my arms. Until a week before, that baby had lived in a Chinese orphanage after being abandoned at a railway station, with little care or nourishment in her first year of life. But now she was about to spend the rest of her life as my daughter, and a citizen of the United States. When we got off the plane after what had been an arduous, emotional and unexpectedly life-changing journey, I held that baby up to the window of the galley way so she could catch a glimpse of America.

"Baby", I whispered in her ear, "look. You're home now, you're free." She put her hand up to the porthole window and touched the glass, reaching for what she saw beyond. In that moment, I was so happy for her that I thought my heart would burst out of my chest. She would now live her life in a country where she would not be politically or socially repressed; where she would not be subject to a government that was unaccountable to her or anyone; and in a society that cared about individuals and protecting their rights.

The future for her, I felt sure, would be far different now that she was in America. She, along with uncounted others, had literally been thrown away, by a family, a government and a society that does not value girls and women, and does not value
individual choice. China had been a dangerous place for her and my dream was that the United States would be her safe haven.
Wasn't it wonderful of her to save her child from the evils of China?! From a family that threw her away? From a government that devalues girls and women? Sheesh.

The article gives me several choices to click my opinion: important, funny, typical, scary, outrageous, amazing, innovative, finally. I think I'll pick SCARY. Too bad IGNORANT isn't a choice.

Monday, December 14, 2009

One World: Chinese Adoptees Group Blog

Check out the group blog, One World, by 7 Chinese adoptees. There was a great post in September, but then nothing until this month. But they've made up for it with five posts this month! The welcome message describes the blog as follows:
Welcome to ONE WORLD: Chinese Adoptee Links (CAL) Blog! Founded by a group of seven, Erin, Jazz, Jeannette, Jennifer Bao Yu Jue-Steuck, Julia, Mei-Mei, and Sabrina span 3 continents and represent 5 generations of Chinese adoptees. This is a compilation of stories and articles from around the world, reflecting the diverse experiences of those adopted from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Macau, Malaysia and from around the globe.
I look forward to more from this blog.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Why do adoptive parents prefer girls?

From 2004, an article in Slate exploring why the vast majority of adopted children are girls:
The Immigration and Naturalization Service (now part of the Department of Homeland Security) has kept up excellent data on international adoptions over decades of processing visa paperwork. Its word: Girls make up about 64 percent of all children adopted by Americans outside the United States. That's a mere 56 boys for every hundred girls.

What explains the disproportion? If we didn't know better, the most obvious conjecture would be that these numbers simply reflect an imbalance in supply. After all, America's leading source of adoptees is China, where the legacy of female infanticide is the grimmest hallmark of that country's overwhelming preference for males. The organization Families With Children From China reports that about 95 percent of children available for adoption in China are girls. Other Asian adoption hubs (like Korea, the erstwhile lead supplier) have orphan sex ratios that tend in the same direction. So Americans adopt more girls because other countries don't want them, right?

Wrong. Unlike biological parents, who must simply make do with what the procreative coin toss affords them—as in a market determined solely by supply—adoptive parents get to be upfront about their gender preferences. And a look at those preferences suggests that, in fact, the adoption market in China represents a happy coincidence of supply and demand.

Numbers vary, but it's pretty safe to say that somewhere between 70 percent and 90 percent of parents looking to adopt register some preference for a girl with an agency. It doesn't matter if they're adopting from China, where girls far outnumber boys; from Russia, where the numbers are about even; or from Cambodia, where there is typically a glut of orphan boys and a paucity of girls. Everywhere, demand tends to favor the feminine.

And, as the case of Cambodia suggests, demand can in fact exert an influence on supply—and not a happy one. In the late '90s, Cambodia became a popular source for American adoptions, thanks to a relatively quick, cheap, and tidy process. But for
whatever reason (some cite a Cambodian tradition that girls are expected to take care of their parents when they get older), Cambodia didn't offer the standard Asian profile of adoptable children. Boys outnumbered girls by a healthy margin. So what happened was what you would expect to happen in an underpoliced free market: Market pressure built up, until certain enterprising Cambodian adoption suppliers, or "facilitators," stepped in and found a way to meet demand.

Evidence of child-trafficking came to light in late 2001 and early 2002, when several poor Cambodian women stepped forward saying they had been approached by someone from an "NGO" who offered them a sum of money—significantly more for a daughter than for a son, though never more than $200—in exchange for their children. When that "NGO" turned out to be an orphanage, the U.S. Embassy and the then-INS slammed the gates on all U.S. adoptions out of Cambodia.
Does anyone know of more recent figures? My feeling would be there hasn't been much change in sex ratios of adoption since 2004, even with the growth of boy adoption from China. While the percentage of boys being adopted from China has been going up, the entire pool of adoption from China has been going down. . . .

In the very earliest days of adoption, far more boys than girls were adopted, because adoption was essentially an estate-planning device to create an heir and only boys qualified as heirs. In the "modern" days of adoption, after World War I, the adoption of girls far outstripped the adoption of boys.

Several reasons have been advanced for that phenomenon. First, women are more likely to be the decision-maker in a "mom & dad" adoption, and are thought to be more likely to prefer girls. Second, while boys are often seen as the ones who "carry on the family name", there's an unconscious idea that non-biological children should not be carrying on the family name. Third, boys who are available for adoption might be perceived as more "difficult," while girls are seen as more malleable and easier to parent. Fourth, to the extent that singles or same-sex families are adopting, there are far more women than men adoption, and they may see themselves as better able to parent a same-sex child.

Any other ideas of why more girls than boys are adopted?

"Have you noticed how many black people are here?"

Last night we went to see The Princess and the Frog, famously promoted as Disney's first African-American princess movie. We had to stand in line for quite a long time to get into the theatre because there had been a private showing for the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, one of the largest African-American sororities, and it took them FOREVER to ready the theatre again for the next show.

As we were waiting, Zoe leans over to me and says in a confidential tone, "Have you noticed how many black people are here?" I said I had noticed (85-90% of those waiting were black). Zoe then asked, "Do you think it's because the princess is black?" I told her I thought that was a pretty good observation, and that maybe African-Americans were excited about a black princess just like she was excited about seeing Mulan. "That's what I thought," said Zoe.

After the movie we had a chance to talk in more detail about how she and Maya feel about the books they've read and movies they've seen that had characters who looked they them, or who were adopted. And we talked about how it might feel to never see anyone who looks like you in books and movies.

This is not to say that the Princess and the Frog is free from problems in the race and culture department -- this article at Love Isn't Enough does a good job of analyzing the many issues -- but it's no better and no worse than any of the other Disney "multicultural" attempts, I'd say.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

My Little Shepards

We've survived another holiday season of ballet! Both my girls were shepards in Ballet Concerto's Holiday Ballet. Zoe was a shepard last year as well (and oddly enough, a shepard for her 3rd grade play!), and it was fun to compare the two performances and see very concretely how much she's improved in one year. Maya wasn't supposed to be in the performance this year -- she performed last year in a Frosty the Snowman ballet, but they weren't doing that piece this year. But when Zoe's teacher saw her doing Zoe's dance (Maya has been watching Zoe's class all semester!), she decided to put Maya in as the littlest shepard.
A month of after-class rehearsals and Sunday in-studio rehearsals, two stage rehearsals, and three performances later, I've got two proud and exhausted girls! And I'm the proudest mom on the block!
And I've gotten the perfect picture for our Christmas cards this year . . . .

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Lost Children

CBS is focusing on the Samoan adoption scandal this Saturday:
CBS News will present, "The Lost Children," a "48 Hours" special, on Saturday, Dec. 12 at 10 p.m. ET/PT - the clmination of a two-year investigation by "48 Hours" into one of the largest foreign adoption scams in U.S. history.

Anchored by "48 Hours" correspondent Maureen Maher, who herself was adopted, "The Lost Children" profiles three families - Patti Sawyer, Mike and Kari Nyberg, and Elizabeth and Gary Muenzler - who adopted children from the South Pacific island of Samoa through the Utah-based Focus On Children adoption agency, only to face a heartbreaking decision years later.

"There exists a common goal for me as an adoptee and as a journalist, which is to find the truth,” says Maher. "I know from my own personal experience the challenge
adopted children face in learning where they came from and determining their own

"For the last two years, it has been a privilege, personally and professionally, to be a part of these emotional journeys. There is little room for speculation about the immense difficulties these children and their families face as they try to determine who they are and where they belong."
The link leads you to a preview video, as well as a short story.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What Are You? The Answer Isn't Black or White

A thoughtful piece at NPR by Melissa Goh, exploring the intersection of race and nationalism:
My mother's family is white, about as white as Americans come. She grew up on a hilltop in Ashcamp, Ky., just west of the Virginia border. She tells me that if she had brought home a black man — or even anyone not from the Appalachian hills — her father would have reached for the shotgun.

Apparently, when she brought a Chinese guy "up the holler," my grandfather was too stunned to react. He managed to recover in time for the wedding five months later.

One of the things that make being multiracial unique is the question, "What are you?" Long ago I trained myself to answer, "I'm an American." It's a tidy little line that welcomes patriotic solidarity, while setting up a defensive perimeter should the rest of the conversation take an ugly turn.

It's a safe thing to do, because another part of being mixed is being an outsider. People don't know where you fit — like you've been given a special-access pass to a club that otherwise wouldn't let you in. I tend to "pass" for white, but there's a whole other culture that has equal claim.

So the conversation about what I am can slip fast from race to nationality. "Is your father American?" Well, yes. Yes, he is — though he didn't start that way. But I never knew him as anything else -– just as I never noticed he had an accent or didn't look like the rest of mom's family. They never treated him differently, and, in this one place, among my family, I've never been an outsider.

It wasn't until I was older that I realized the rest of the world might feel differently.
Click above to see what happens when the "rest of the world" seems to include members of her own family.

"Perpetual foreignness," anyone?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"Worst case scenario = our kids were stolen"

At MomLogic, a piece about the corruption worries of adoptive parents with children from China, featuring some familiar names, including Jane Leidtke, Brian Stuy and this character (BTW, for all the suspicious ChAT folks, the reporter found me by reading my blog -- she did not get my name from Stuy):

From the start, Malinda Seymore suspected something was amiss about her adoptive daughter's birth story. The Chinese orphanage told her that Zoe was a foundling, left on a bridge on the day of her birth with a note written on red paper by her birth parents. But three other adoptive families received similar notes, written on the same red paper, when they adopted their daughters from the same orphanage. Seymore suspected she wasn't getting the whole story. But with only the orphanage's word to go on, there was little she could do but wonder.

Eight years later, she is still wondering. And with good reason. This summer, the Los Angeles Times reported that corrupt officials in the Chinese government kidnapped babies from their homes and sold them to orphanages for upwards of $3,000 a piece. This is not the first time that reports of trafficking have trickled out of China, but it is by far the most shocking incident to date.

The latest news unleashed a torrent of conflicting emotions within the adoptive community ranging from worry to anger to outright denial. Some see the news as further proof that their lingering suspicions are well founded.

* * *

"Obviously the worst-case scenario is that our kids were stolen," said Seymore. "But if we know, we can deal with it. It is that absence of information that makes you wonder and makes you worry."
I've blogged before about Zoe's note, and about some of the frustrations of not knowing whether we have the real story.

This Adoptive Mother Does Not Speak For Me

Adoptive mother Heidi Hess Saxton responds at one of her blogs to comments from adult adoptees at another one of her blogs, and then closes comments, saying, "Again, I'm not looking for a discussion here. Frankly, I've heard enough." Isn't that special?! Since I can't comment at her blog, I thought I'd comment here.

Here's an excerpt from her response to adult adoptees:
You call us "infertiles" (hoping to pick a fight, I guess) or simply "selfish people," because we consider ourselves our child's real family after spending 18-22 years of our lives raising him or her. You minimize and even mock the sacrifice, the struggle, and the fears -- and have not a single ounce of the compassion for those who feel genuine pain over their grown child's choice to "find himself" in another family. And then you wonder why we tune you out, like a mother who ignores a toddler throwing a temper tantrum.

In your single-minded quest for what you "lost," you completely disregard what you were spared -- the neglect, the abuse, the untimely death. Now that the danger is past, that's easily done. But we remember where you came from. It's part of your
story . . . and in a real sense, part of ours as well. Because we are your parents, who labored for you in ways you can never begin to understand.

So you'll have to make allowances if at times we seem to have more concern for your first parents than you think is right, or if we have little patience for your whining about what cannot be undone. You'll have to realize that yes, we are GLAD, things turned out as they did . . . because we love you and cannot imagine what our lives would have been like had you never been a part of them.

It's not so hard for us to imagine why someone brave enough to choose adoption would object to an untimely reminder of their past (even if they are happy to hear the child himself is well) after having kept it a secret for decades, often due to the circumstances that led to the adoption in the first place. We respect that original sacrifice, and agree that parent should have the option to be left alone, and not have to explain themselves or their decisions to individuals decades removed from the situation. It was hard enough the first time. (If the first parents want contact, that's a different matter. No less painful, but different.)
I especially like the internal inconsistencies in this post -- here's my favorite:
"you completely disregard what you were spared -- the neglect, the abuse, the untimely death"

. . . juxtaposed with. . .

"So you'll have to make allowances if at times we seem to have more concern for your first parents than you think is right"
Riighhttt. We care about your birth parents -- despite the fact that if you'd stayed with them they would have neglected, abused and killed you. WTF?! And all that faux sympathy for birth parents who must want their secrets to remain secrets, as an excuse for closed records. She isn't really sympathetic; after all she's "GLAD, things turned out as they did." Nothing like being glad your child suffered loss and grief, and claim that is love. And nothing like claiming concern for birth mothers when you're GLAD things turned out as they did -- loss and pain and grief for birth mothers, too.

This adoptive mom wants sympathy for "those who feel genuine pain over their grown child's choice to 'find himself' in another family." And then she claims that her position that original birth certificates and adoption records be sealed is because of her concern for birth parents. Sounds to me that she wants the records sealed so adoptive parents won't have to deal with their chidlren searching and finding birth parents.



Yes, I'm my daughters' "real mother." But I'm not their only real mother. Their birth mothers are real mothers, too. I don't consider adult adoptees whiners or tantruming toddlers who should be ignored -- I have learned so much from them that will help me be a better parent to my children. I support full access to original birth certificates and adoption records. I find it completely natural that an adopted person would want to know her birth parents. Of course an adopted person might need to "find himself" in another family -- that family is part of him, his roots, his DNA. The data support this -- in the Donaldson report on adult adoptees, white adoptees rated contact with birth relatives as THE MOST IMPORTANT factor in forming a positive adoptive identity. Not surprising, then, that a whopping 86% had taken steps to find birth family. I will do everything I can to support my children if they want to search for birth parents. In fact, I've already taken steps to search. I'm not saying these things to toot my own horn; I know TONS of adoptive parents who feel the same way. Some of them are listed in my blog roll, and comment here.

Unfortunately, I'm sure there are adoptive parents who agree with every word this adoptive mother has written. I ran across the link to the blog because another adoptive parent on Twitter posted it saying, "After reading too much from the anti-adoption side, finding this is nice. God bless eloquence." Sigh. But I firmly believe this out-moded thinking is changing. For the sake of adopted children, I certainly hope so.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Ethica Supports Family Preservation

Ethica, an adoptive parent organization for ethical adoption, announces their new pilot project to help parent(s) who were considering adoption and then chose to keep their child:
Ethica has partnered with social service organizations in two pilot cities [Tucson, AZ & Houston, TX] to launch our Family Preservation initiative.

While there are many services available to parents who are affected by poverty and/or youthful age, if the parent(s) were considering adoption and then chose to keep their child, often they find themselves unprepared to do so.

Ethica believes that poverty, youthful age and gender should not be, in and of itself, reasons to place a child for adoption. Sometimes a mother and/or father, just need a little help to get started. (emphasis mine)

At times Ethica has been told stories of parents who were transported to other states to give birth (usually states with “better” adoption laws…or laws that mostly benefit the adopting parents), and then if they choose to parent after they give birth they are stranded in a strange state, with no family or friends around to support them. Generally return transportation to their home state is withheld, and they have no car seat, no clothes, no diapers etc.

Even if they are not in a strange place, they often have not prepared for parenting a newborn and they need help and quickly!
I like this project for the same reason I like Love Without Boundaries' Unity Fund in China (the fund provides medical care for children whose parents cannot afford it and who might abandon the children so they'll get the medical treatment they need) -- adoption should be a last resort, and if a helping hand would allow a family to stay together, we should offer that hand.

Suz also posted in support of Ethica's project, and one of the situations described resonated with her. She, too, was transported to an "adoption-friendly" state far from friends and family, with no support and no way home.

Elton John to support Ukrainian boy he wasn't allowed to adopt

From YahooNews:

Elton John's partner says the musician was devastated that he wasn't allowed to adopt an HIV-positive Ukrainian toddler, but plans to support the boy anyway.

The 62-year-old pop star met 14-month-old Lev at a home for HIV-positive children in September. But he was refused permission to adopt the boy because he was too old and not married [actually, he and David Furnish married in 2006].

John's partner David Furnish said Tuesday the couple was "massively gutted" by the rejection.

Furnish told BBC radio they were working to ensure Lev and his brother "have the best health care, education and family options available to them."

Monday, December 7, 2009

News Links

From Newsweek, The Power of Two -- Chinese twins separated by adoption reunited.

From the New York Times, Aid Gives Alternative to African Orphanages -- how offering support to families can keep kids out of orphanages.

Guatemala Re-opening International Adoption (sort of). It's to be a small pilot program. . . .

CCAA Press Release on Delegation's Visit to the U.S. & Canada (no surprise, no mention of any discussion of corruption). For another happy-happy-joy-joy account from the NCFA (consider the source, click here.

Family Wants to Return Adopted Child -- Oklahoma family wants law to be changed so they can return the 8-year-old they adopted 2 years ago.

Social Barriers Remain for Adoption -- how poor pregnant teens are pressured into keeping their babies instead of placing them for adoption (?!), and the tragedy that ensues when they don't place for adoption. Can you spell "bias?"

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Book Review: Throwaway Daughter

I just finished reading a young adult novel, Throwaway Daughter by Ting-Xing Ye. The protagonist, Grace Dong-mei Parker, was adopted from China by a caucasian Canadian family in 1980. An orphanage worker gave the family a note left with the child that said her name was "Dong-mei" and the mother's name was "Chun-mei." As a child, Grace rejects all things Chinese because she believes she was unwanted by her birth family -- the "throwaway daughter" of the title. She hates eating at Chinese restaurants, doesn't want to learn Chinese, resents her adoptive mother calling her by her Chinese name. But when at age 9 she unexpectedly sees the Tiananmen Square massacre on TV, her interest in her Chinese heritage is awakened. She asks her father if he thinks Chun-mei is safe after seeing the violent images from Beijing -- "It was the first time I had said the name Chun-mei without anger."

At age 20, Grace travels to China for schooling, uncertain whether she'll seek her birth family. Ulitmately she does search with the help of the same orphanage worker who had given her parents the note from Chun-mei, and finds that her birth mother abandoned her to keep her husband and father-in-law from killing the baby. A year after leaving her at the orphanage her birth mother returned for her but was told she had never been at the orphanage. Chun-mei has a nervous breakdown and her husband divorces her in order to marry another woman in the quest for a son. As a final twist of irony, after all the family did to secure a male heir he decides to marry the daughter of a rich family and move in with her parents in another village instead of following the traditional path of the male heir who brings his wife into his family.

After finding her birth mother, Grace learns that she was not casually thrown away as she had imagined in childhood. The last line of the book comes as Grace is flying home to Canada, and reads, "I have met one hero in my life. Her name is Chun-mei, and she is my mother."

One of the reviewers at complains that the book isn't "educational about the complex issue of adoption." I disagree. The opening paragraph of the book suggests that many complex issues in adoption will be addressed, and the book doesn't disappoint:

No one seemed to understand what it was like to have no real birthday. Even Blackie, our Shih-Tzu, had one, noted on the form given to me when Mom put my name down as his adoptive "parent" when I was five years old. Never mind how that affected my understanding of the word adoption.
The book does a good job of addressing Grace's ambivalent feelings toward her birth mother, her anger and resentment at being Chinese when she wants to be just like her adoptive family, and her growing longing for roots. In one childhood scene related by her adoptive mother, the family is talking about her sister Megan's biology assignment and genetics, and Grace reacts:

"All Megan has to do is look at you to see how she'll turn out," Dong-mei said quietly. "I got my genes from two people I've never met."

Keven caught on right away. "Yes, dear, but --"

"I'm going to be ugly, then. Only ugly people would abandon their own baby."
The book also touches on Grace's racial identity struggles -- but it really is only a touch. She says, "I was sixteen when I learned I was a "person of colour.' . . . In Milford you could count on two hands the families of colour. Growing up a Parker, I had never thought of myself as ethnic, part of a visible minority, a hyphenated Canadian. I knew but I didn't realize, if that makes any sense." She doesn't want to be a person of colour like the Asian immigrant children she knows, but she was also envious of them and their clear belonging in their families. "I was neither and nothing. A yellow face in a white family where freckles were the norm. . . . You can't be two people at the same time -- not without ending up in a mental institution." Her struggles seem to be more related to abandonment/adoption than to racial identity, though.

Admittedly, some of the characters are fairly one-dimensional, but Grace's initial resentments, growing understanding, and ultimate acceptance, seem very realistic. I've read of quite similar journeys from many adult adoptees.

The story is told from multiple viewpoints -- there are chapters in Grace's voice, in her adoptive mother's voice, in her birth grandfather and father's voices, and in her birth mother's voice. I liked that approach, though the father's and grandfather's perspectives were a bit predictable. Still, some complexity is lent to their characters by the explanation for why the father is so insistent in needing a male heir -- though he was the youngest child, he survived the great famine while two of his older sisters did not. He realizes that he was fed more than they so that as the only boy he could pass on the family name. If he does not produce a male heir, his sisters' deaths would be in vain.

Jane, Grace's adoptive mother, was naturally a character who interested me as an adoptive mother. Unlike many adoptive mothers, she is very open and accepting of Grace's birth family and birth culture. She's the one who calls Grace by her Chinese name and insists that she learn Chinese. She's the one who insisted that Grace know about her birth mother. But when Grace says she wants to go to China, "it struck me like a punch in the stomach." She chides herself --

Oh, wasn't I the open-minded one! Insisting that Dong-mei stay connected to her roots, even calling myself 'Mama Number Two,' until doing so upset her so much I backed off. Taking her to Chinatown, pushing her to take Chinese lessons. Wasn't I the great liberal, unselfish and tolerant! Easy to do when the possibility of her ever wanting to find her birth mother was so remote, never mind actually tracking Chun-mei down. Now I feel like a hypocrite and a fool.

Despite these feelings, she doesn't do anything to deter Grace from taking the trip to China or from searching for her birth mother. Still, it would have been nice to see a less stereotypical reaction from an adoptive mother when her child wants to search for birth family.

Of course, the book isn't perfect. The time period seems about a decade off; though there were a smattering of international adoptions from China as early as the eighties, there weren't really a significant number until 1992. Still, the decade change allows the author to draw on her lived experiences in China, which she left in 1987. One might also complain that Grace's success in finding her birth family is unrealistic -- but we're hearing of more and more people successfully finding birth family in China, so that aspect of the book will seem more and more realistic as time goes on, I suspect. The book only tells one story about the reason children are abandoned in China -- the one child policy and the social preference for boys. It doesn't cover the gamut of reasons -- poverty, disability, out-of-wedlock birth, etc. -- but then, it makes little pretense that it is recounting all the reasons. The book tells a dramatic and moving story of girl children abandoned because they are girls.

The real strength of the book lies in the writing, which is quite exceptional, especially for a young adult novel. I read another young adult novel about China adoption and an adoptee's search for her birth parents, The Great Call of China, and that book really pales in comparison to Throwaway Daughter. I would definitely recommend this book for young adult/adult reading. Though Amazon lists the reading age range at 9-12, I don't think there are many 9-year-olds who could handle the emotional content. Age 14-15 would probably be more appropriate. I plan to hold onto this book for my girls.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Openness in International Adoption

I've been looking a bit more closely at some of the results of the 2007 National Survey of Adoptive Parents that I blogged about last week. Since I'm working on an academic article about openness in international adoption, that's what I looked at first.

Table 18 sets out the data for openness in adoption, focusing on three measures of openness -- whether the child knows she's adopted, whether there was a pre-adoption contact agreement, and whether there has been post-adoption contact with birth family. The data are divided by type -- foster adoption, private domestic adoption, and international adoption.

The survey reports on the percentage of adopted children who know they're adopted, and the percentage is quite high. For children 5 or older, survey says . . . 97% know they are adopted.

The survey questions did not, however, ask directly when or how or who told the child she was adopted. The only question touching on the issue was this one:

W14. Overall, how do you think [S.C.] feels about being adopted? Would you say (S.C)… feels positive about it, feels mostly positive about it, feels mostly negative about it, or feels negative about it?

So, the data come from a question about how the child feels about being adopted, not a question about the child knowing she's adopted. And the result being for children 5 and older? Parents with children under 5 were not asked the question about the child's attitude toward adoption. So we don't know how many children under the age of 5 know they are adopted. And the published survey results do not identify at exactly what age these children age 5 or older knew they're adopted. After all, the survey included children from 0 to 17 years of age.

For internationally adopted children, 100% know they're adopted. That's partly explained, I'd think, by the fact that internationally adopted children are more likely to be of a different race than their parents -- 84% of the internationally adopted children were adopted transracially. The fact that parent(s) and child don't "match" makes it more likely that the child is told she's adopted, but there's still that 16% of internationally adopted children who are in same-race families. They also have been told they're adopted, though there is no "external" reason for doing so. So why do you think the figure is 100% for internationally adopted children being told they're adopted? I have a few ideas, but want to know what you think.

Since the survey didn't ask specifically about when or how the child knows about her adoption, it's no surprise that the questions were not explicit about what exactly adoptive parents told the child about being adopted. I know an awfully lot of folks who'll say, "My child knows she's adopted," but then reveal they've never mentioned birth parents, a prior family, or any idea that the child grew in another tummy. I don't think that qualifies as REALLY telling a child she's adopted! So while we're told 100% of internationally adopted children age 5 or older know they're adopted, we're not told what they actually know about their adoption.

Another measure of openness covered by the survey is pre-adoption agreements about contact with birth parents -- email, letters, photos, or in-person contacts. Not surprisingly, the response for international adoptions was significantly less than 1%, compared with 67% of private domestic adoptions (this is not to say that 67% have actually lived up to their agreements -- while the study reports that 68% of domestic adoptive families have had post-adoption contact with birth parents, those are not necessarily the same families who made pre-adoption agreements, nor is it clear whether the ones who made a contact agreement actually fulfilled all the terms of that pre-adoption agreement).

Still, despite the de minimus result for pre-adoption openness agreements in international adoption, 6% of international adoptive families report post-adoption contact with birth family. Though quite a bit lower than post-adoption contact by foster-to-adopt families (39%) and private domestic adoptive families (the aforementioned 68%), that figure was actually higher than I expected. From the international adoptive families you know, would you say that 6% have made some post-adoption contact with birth family?

I want to actually download the dataset for the survey, because I'm sure that more analysis would reveal some interesting things about ages at which children DON'T know they're adopted (though apparently not the ages at which they DO know!) and about post-adoption contact in international adoption, but I haven't managed to do so yet. If I do, and if anything interesting pops up, I'll share it here, of course!

Friday, December 4, 2009

She's Like Our Sister

We share a Chinese tutor with the girls' friends M. & M. They give the tutor, Lucy, a ride to their house and we meet there, and then we give Lucy a ride home. The girls really like Lucy, and show off for her by singing songs in Chinese the whole drive. I enjoy talking with her because she's very funny and I learn a lot about her life in China and her impressions of life in the U.S. She's trying to find a home for a stray cat she and her husband took in, and her best sales pitch includes the fact that the cat speaks Chinese! She and her husband came to the U.S. for his studies, and they are pretty young.

Lucy has always asked us to just drop her at the entrance to her apartment complex instead of driving her in to her apartment. But this Thursday it was so cold and so dark, I insisted on driving her directly to her building.

After we dropped her off, Zoe said to me, "It's like she's our older sister! She's Chinese like us and you said 'it's too cold and dark' just like she's our sister, like maybe she's in college and has her own apartment."

I had to laugh and say, "No, I'm just bossy!"

But the immediacy of Zoe's connection to sisterhood struck me, an affirmation of the importance of knowing adult Chinese as the Evan B. Donaldson report says.

The "Gift Child" in International Adoption

I read this article, Placing the "Gift" Child in Transnational Adoption, by Barbara Yngvesson, when it was published in 2002, but just found it online. It's a densely acdemic article, but very thought-provoking and an interesting read:

In this article I focus on discourses of freedom and exclusive belonging that structure the conventions of giving in transnational adoption, and I examine state practices for regulating the production and circulation of children in a global market economy. I argue that while the gift child, like the sold child, is a product of commodity thinking, experiences of giving a child, receiving a child, and of being a given child are in tension with market practices, producing the contradictions of adoptive kinship, the ambiguities of adoption law, and the creative potential in the construction of adoptive families.

* * *
In spite of efforts to reconceptualize the physical movement of a child between persons or nations as placement rather than gift, the gift child remains a powerful and persistent image in adoption discourse. I suggest that the reason this is so is related in part to the ambiguity of the concept-the difficulty of interpreting what gifts signify about the relationship (or absence of a relationship) between donor and receiver, an ambiguity that resonates with the experience of the adoptee, the adoptive family, and, in some cases, the birth family. Ambiguity, in turn, is a function of the traces gifts bear of their passage in the world-their movement from and to someone and someplace, however vague the identity of the donor may be. By contrast, "placement" conveys a sense of grounding and permanence that is at odds with the experience of being adopted, of giving in adoption, or of adopting, verbs that imply a transformation of belonging and identity.

* * *
In what follows, I examine the concept of the adopted child as gift and explore the difficulties of an interpretation of such gifts as "freely given." Building on Marilyn Strathern's discussion of giving relationships as "enchaining" giver and receiver, rather than freeing them, and drawing on the experiences of agencies, orphanages,
adoptive parents, birth parents, and adoptees, I argue that the enchainments of
adoptive kinship open up our understandings of family and identity, and the ideas about exclusive belonging these understandings assume. Practices of adoptive kinship that seek to counter the alienation of the child and the divisions of the adoptive family by imagining placement to be a consequence of voluntarism by a birth mother or of "choice" by prospective adoptive parents obscure the dependencies and inequalities that compel some of us to give birth to and give up our children, while constituting others as "free" to adopt them. By examining the ways in which the gift of a child always leaves a trace and implies the potential for a return, I suggest how an adoptee's lived experiences of being given away may transform our understandings of personhood, identity, and belonging in an adopted world. However freestanding the child is "made" by adoption law, he or she can never be free of the "implicate field of persons" in which he or she was constituted as legally adoptable.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

At Harlow's Monkey: Culture vs. Racism

As promised, Harlow's Monkey has another post, Culture vs. Racism, analyzing the Evan B. Donaldson report Beyond Culture Camp: Promoting Healthy Identity Formation in Adoption. She focuses on the study results relating to cultural socialization and preparing kids for racism:

It shows that parents are likely more comfortable with the "cultural socialization" duties, including things like going to ethnic restaurants and attending culture camps or culture schools (especially if the cultural socialization is more about the adopted children socializing and the adoptive parents socializing). What it says in my interpretation is that adoptive parents don't mind so much the fun cultural stuff, what they don't like, and are uncomfortable with, is the preparing kids for racial bias aspect of transracial adoption.

Talking about race is scary stuff. It's scary in my own household, when I talk about it with my teen and my tween, and it always has been. I mean, who likes to tell their children that there are people in this world who might dislike them or even try to hurt them just because of the way they look? But what's scarier to me is thinking that they'll come face-to-face with this on their own without any preparation or understanding of where they can turn to for support. And not only that, I can role model for my kids what to do in situations. When I encounter certain racialized situations, we talk about them at home and talk about my response, and they get the chance to talk about what they would do in those situations.

This is going to be tougher for white adoptive parents with kids of color, since their experiences with racialized discrimination is going to be different. This is why it is so
important that white adoptive parents are part of a diverse community, with trusted friends that can help them navigate some of these harder areas of parenting children of color in a racialized world.
Yes, talking about race and racism can be hard. But the evidence is plentiful that transracial adoptive families can't ignore it, or take the color-blind approach. No matter how "color-blind" you might be, the rest of the world isn't. Since I cannot model how to deal with racism in the same way that Jae Ran can with her same-race children, I am a firm believer in talking explicitly about race and racism with my kids. You might want to check out my post, Being Explicit about Race and Racism (brag, brag, Sapphire, the author of Push, which was made into the movie Precious, commented with approval on that post! (Doesn't take much to make me happy, does it?!)).

And here are some links that might be helpful:

5 Ways to Talk to Your Child About Racism

Love Isn't Enough (formerly Anti-Racist Parent)

Talking to Our Children About Racism & Diversity

Talking to Young Children About Racism

Teaching Tolerance

Young Children & Racism

Don't let the worry about whether you'll get it right keep you from talking to your kids about race and racism. The most important thing is to begin the dialogue.