Monday, November 30, 2009

"They Will Return To You"

In American adoption law, it is a fundamental principle that coercion makes consent to an adoption involuntary and therefor ineffective. And coercion isn't exclusively about force or payments, it can be about false promises, too. Perhaps one of the most common false promise in domestic adoption these days is the promise of open adoption. It tends to be a false promise because open adoption is not enforceable in most states, and in the states where open adoption agreements are enforceable, certain technical steps have to be followed to make it so. Not surprisingly, birth mothers aren't always given adequate legal advice to understand what steps are necessary to make the agreement enforceable.

If it is so hard domestically, can you imagine how false promises might affect consent in international adoption, where there is no shared language, no shared culture, often no shared understanding of what adoption is?

In a 2004 article in the Journal of Law and Family Studies, Jini Roby highlights the problem of different cultural understandings of adoption:
The beautiful young woman was wiping tears from her cheeks as she struggled to tell her story. She paused many times, often overcome with sorrow, and frequently searching for the right English words. I waited for her, knowing that attentive and empathic silence on my part was not uncomfortable for her in context of her culture. She looked to be in her early twenties, but she had already given birth to three children and relinquished the older two.

At her home in Majuro, Marshall Islands, a small Pacific country with a population
of just over 50,000, she had been solicited to bring her children to the U.S. to place them with an adoptive family. When she and her husband divorced, she had been left without means to support the children. A local adoption ‘facilitator’ (child finder) had visited her, and urged adoption. To make things easier, she would travel to the U.S. with her children and relinquish them on U.S. soil; thus the adoptive family would avoid the complicated process of international adoptions and she would have a trip to the U.S. She was promised on-going help and continuing contact with her children, which did not strike her as anything unusual. Had she known that adoption meant something entirelydifferent in the Western world from her own knowledge of adoption, she may not have considered it an option. In fact, the notion that a mother can sign away her relationship with her children had never been a concept in her culture. . . . [I]n the Marshallese culture adoption only bridged two families together to bring up children.
That lack of understanding of what adoption meant also appeared in Madonna's adoption of her son David Banda from Malawi:
Mr Banda [the birth father], who is illiterate, said he had no idea what the High Court adoption papers he signed had meant and he was "just realising" what the procedure entailed.

He said: "I was never told that adoption means that David will no longer be my son... If I was told this, I would not have allowed theadoption.

"I want more clarification on the adoption. I would prefer that David goes back to the orphanage where I can see him any time I want, rather than send him away for good."

Mr Banda, 32, said he thought Madonna would just "educate and take care of our son."

But he still thanked Madonna for rescuing David "from poverty and disease."

"We pray for the good Lord to keep blessing her for her benevolence," he told Associated Press news agency.

Mr Banda's cousin, Wiseman Zimba, told AP: "Our understanding as family is that David is still part and parcel of our clan. After the good woman nurtures and educates him, he will return back."
False promises of continuing contact and return were at the center of the Samoan adoption scandals that led to criminal convictions for adoption agency personnel:

Samoan families accuse Utah-based adoption agency Focus on Children of tricking them into giving up their children for permanent adoptions. Similar tactics were described in interviews with six Samoan families, all but one members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Recruiters exploited their religious faith and dreams for their children, they said, selling adoption as a "program" that would send youngsters to live with an American Mormon family and get a good education before returning home at 18.

Same story in Ethiopia:
Parents are often unaware of what they're doing when they offer their children for adoption. They're led to believe they'll hear from their children regularly and their children will be well educated and eventually bring the family wealth.

But in reality, the parents and families never hear from their children and receive little information about where their children have gone. We filmed a room full of grieving mothers who gave their children for adoption after agencies promised they'd be given regular updates.
And as Brian Stuy recently reported, the same promises are made in China, when there is hardly a chance that birth families and children could be reunited:

While much is spoken about the financial payments involved in many orphanage programs, a lessor-known program involves no money, but a simple promise: That a
child will be provided a rich family to raise it, that the child will be given a great education, resulting in a successful life. This promise, often combined with promises of a "returning child", is a very strong incentive for any loving parent, but especially a parent that views such "blessings" as impossible to provide themselves.

How cruel these promises are -- those making them have to know that they will not be carried out. If we can't guarantee that the promises will be fulfilled in domestic adoption, we certainly know that there's no chance of fulfillment across oceans and miles and language differences and cultural disconnects. It's hard to imagine consent being voluntary in the face of these false promises and cultural misunderstandings.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Touch of China Christmas Tree

We joined the millions of Americans who put up their Christmas trees over the Thanksgiving holiday. I've always had an eclectic Christmas tree -- can't seem to manage the one theme/one color type! We have ballet ornaments, Santas, snowmen, princesses, bells, angels, nativities, and many, many tacky and handmade ornaments. We have a few ornaments that are not exactly adoption-specific, but are meaningful in some way for adoptive families -- including a new one we bought at Hallmark this year called "Forever Family."

We also have lots of ornaments with the spirit of China. We've collected them over the years from a variety of sources, and not all of them were actually made to be Christmas ornaments. The girls get a real kick out of putting the Chinese ornaments on the tree, sometimes squabbling over who gets to put on what. I'm now trying to get two of any such ornaments to cut down on the fighting and so the girls can each have their own ornaments to take to their own homes when the time comes for them to put up a family Christmas tree with a touch of China in it.
Zoe loves this one since she was born in the Year of the Dragon -- World Market purchase.

Old man, complete with beard, but not at all Santa-like -- something a friend gave us (thanks, Lavelle!).

These lanterns came with a string of lights, but I just clip the lanterns onto bulbs on our pre-lit tree -- works like a charm. I can't remember where I got these, but it was sometime around Chinese New Year years ago.

I gave this to Zoe for her birthday. I thought she might want to use it as a backpack charm, but she wanted it on the Christmas tree!

We bought quite a few of these little dolls in ethnic minority costumes when we were in China in 2007. They're originally key chains, but we put them on the tree.

OK, I admit to being perverse enough to like the fact that we have a Buddha ornament on our Christmas tree! From World Market, one of the ornaments I got Zoe for her birthday.

Zoe made this at Chinese School (or was it China Camp? Culture Camp? I can't remember!).

I love this qi pao ornament -- a gift from my sister (thanks, Kim!) I think it was actually Kohl's that carried this ornament, together with the lantern ornament at the bottom (thanks again, Kim!).

I like that this panda looks like it's eating from our tree, rather than eating bamboo! Another World Market purchase.

Do you have something on your tree to commemorate your child's heritage? Adoption? Any ideas for ways to honor birth parents?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

New Book: Why China Gave Me Two Daughters

Here's an article in a Dutch newspaper, brought to you in English courtesy of Google Translate (which explains the choppy read), about a journalist who traveled to China in 2008 & 2009 to trace his adopted daughters' roots and then wrote a book about it called Why China Gave Me Two Daughters:
Wedding-editor Martijn Roessingh adopted two Chinese girls. In 2001 Linde from the northern province of Shaanxi, and in 2004 from Guang Dong Jiang. Now they are nine and six years old, they start asking questions about their background.

The official records of the children tell little and also that information is not always true. Therefore he travels late 2008 and early 2009 to China to see if he could trace their backgrounds. His book "Why China gave me two daughters" on the population policies of China and its quest appears today.
[The photo above illustrated the article, and it says its a poster in China glorifying the One Child Policy.]

If anyone has a link to this story originally in English, I'd appreciate it if you'd give me the link.

And good timing for having found this article -- at American Family, there's a thoughtful post today on that family's thought processes in deciding to search for birth parents in China. If you want to read my take on searching in China and the few steps I've taken, see here and here and here.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Adoption Apparel Translator

A funny, snarky post at Racialicious, originally published at iBastard, "translating" some of the slogans popular on clothing for adopted kids:

I was adopted in what has come to be called the Baby Scoop Era, the period between the end of World War II and Roe v. Wade when girls were girls, boys were boys, sex education was lacking and little white babies were plentiful. Adoption could be–and often was–kept secret back then, though thankfully my own adoptive parents did not try to pull such a selfish and nasty stunt. However, in any case it certainly was never advertised.

So it’s odd now to see adoptive parents dressing up their adopted children in clothes that proclaim the child’s adoptee status with messages like “I grew in Mommy’s heart!” or the appalling “Mommy’s Lil’ Guatling” (seriously, wtf?). Not that they should be ashamed, of course (there’s already enough bullshit shame in adoption), but when people go out of their way to say something, there’s usually more to it than the literal message. There’s a metamessage (the message behind the message itself) or subtext of some kind.

Discourse on adoption is just loaded with metamessages and subtext, so we here at International Bastard Machines have been working on new translation technology to sniff ‘em out. Today we are proud to announce the first test run of our Adoption Apparel Translator, a device that parses adoption slogans on baby clothes and teases out the subtle messages adoptive parents are really trying to send.
I hadn't seen the "Imported from China" one before, but have long had a strong dislike for the "Made in China, Loved in America" slogan, beloved of many adoptive parents (click here to read a whole slew of them defending the shirt). In a previous post about the book titled, Made in China, I described the slogan thus: "very high yuck factor in terms of objectification/ commodification, with the added assumption that no one loved these girls in China." At least the "Imported from China" slogan only objectifies and commodifies . . . . Sigh.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I Am Thankful, Kids Edition

Zoe: I am thankful for . . .

. . . my birth parents

. . . my forever mom

. . . God & Jesus

. . . scientists

. . . heroes in our community

Maya: I am thankful for. . .
. . . my whole family

. . . my life

. . . Jesus

. . . lots of food

. . . the Earth

I Am Thankful, Adoption Edition

I am thankful . . .

. . . for the adoptive families who have come before us, who have been honest about their successes and their mistakes, so we can learn.

. . . for the adult adoptees who share their pain and their joy, so we can learn. I know your lives are not lived so that we can learn, but I’m grateful for what you share.

. . . for brave birth mothers -- braving scorn and stigma to write about their experiences -- whose honesty about the pain and loss in adoption has opened my eyes to a part of adoption I wanted to ignore, but cannot, for the sake of my children.

. . . for my extended family – parents, sister & brother and their families, aunts, uncles, cousins, all of whom have embraced my children as their own.

. . . for my girls: my smart, intense, passionate Zoe; my smart, peace-making, empathetic Maya, who have changed my life in ways I could never have imagined when I began this journey.

. . . for my faithful blog readers, who share this life-long journey called adoption.

Happy Thanksgiving, one and all!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Tonight the girls and I watched a Scholastic DVD that included the story "Rainbabies." I like the Scholastic DVDs because they follow the books so exactly, and have DVDs of many of our favorites. "Rainbabies" was new to us, though. The Publisher's Weekly blurb describes the book like this: "a childless couple finds a dozen tiny rainbabies in the grass after a moonshower, takes them home and tenderly cares for them until the babies' real mother arrives to claim her offspring and reward the devoted husband and wife." But I didn't know any of this when we watched it . . . .

Sure enough, the childless couple takes care of the babies, protecting them from all dangers. A youth comes and offers them a valuable jewel if they will give him the babies for a wealthy childless noblewoman, but they refuse. The youth suddenly transforms into Mother Moonshower, who tells the couple she's come for the babies. She says they can't grow and thrive with the couple. She's brought them a human baby to care for instead. They happily allow her to take the rainbabies, mesmerized by their beautiful new baby.

After the story ended, Zoe said in a quizzical voice, "That's was kind of an adoption story. . . ."
I asked her how it was like adoption, and she said the Moonshower lady was like the birth mother. I agreed, and asked what she thought of her coming back for the babies. She shrugged and ducked her head, seemingly uncomfortable with the storyline.

I said, "I bet you know what I would do in that situation," and Maya piped up from the bathroom (!), "You're our mom forever! You wouldn't give us away!" Zoe jumped in immediately, "That's right!" I said that was exactly right, and that I would never give them away. When I became their mom, I said, I promised to love them and take care of them forever, and forever means forever. We talked more about the fact that adoption is permanent, amongst hugs and cuddles, because that was what Zoe and Maya needed to hear about. The storyline obviously touched on the fear of abandonment that many adoptees feel.

[We didn't talk about the part where Mother Moonshower says that the babies can't grow and thrive in the care of the adoptive parents. That could be a really deep and interesting discussion about what it takes for kids to grow and thrive, how removing a child from its home country/culture can make things difficult, etc., but that would work with kids older than mine, I think.]

I finally asked Zoe directly, "What would you want me to do if your birth parents found us?" Zoe said she wouldn't want to go with them, and climbed in my lap for another hug. I wasn't terribly surprised -- despite her interest in knowing about her birth parents, they're much more accessible as imaginary figures than as real people. Soon, though, she found her equalibrium and said more bravely, "I'd want to go with them for about a year, and then come back and stay with you forever." I asked her what she'd do for that year, and she said, "Get to know them and explore China!" I said I thought that was a good plan, that it was completely normal for her to want to know her birth parents, and wanting that didn't make our family any less permanent.

I never mind when books or movies raise adoption issues for us to discuss -- much better to discuss them than bury them. But I much prefer to be prepared ahead of time, and this one came out of left field! Though it was a good discussion, I'm not sure I'd recommend this book or video for young adopted kids. It sets up an impossible dichotomy -- either an adversarial relationship between birth parents and adoptive parents who want the same child, or an easy abandonment of the child by the adoptive parents who are offered something better, a different child.

Interesting, Irritating, Idiotic

Links to three recent articles, all of which are interesting for a variety of reasons, at least one of which is irritating for at least one reason, and one of which is idiotic just for idiocy's sake! In no particular order:

From Peggy Drexler at Huffington Post, Adopting a New Attitude:
They used to tell adopted children that they were special because they'd been chosen. I've told my adopted child that I don't believe that. Neither adoption nor birth conveys status to a child. What makes any child special is the love developed in the act of caring for -- and being cared for by -- someone. It's not the process of adoption, but the process of living together that matters, that establishes a special bond with mother and child, or with child and anyone else who adopts a mothering role.
From Jean M. Geren's blog at Foreign Policy, A foreign policy must-have: an ambassador for children:
As a member of the Policy Planning Staff under Secretary Rice, I developed an initiative that would have improved interagency coordination and created bilateral partnerships and a trust fund at UNICEF to help countries strengthen their own child protection systems. Though there was wide support including from the Secretary herself, the initiative was derailed by petty turf issues, scarce resources and resistance to new approaches -- all common bureaucratic dysfunctions. Opposition to international adoption also played a role. A USAID officer told me that he maintains a firm wall between international adoptions and any assistance he oversees for orphans to keep it from being "tainted." The problem is that the same authorities in developing countries in charge of adoptions are also in charge of other vulnerable children. The bureaucratic wall helps no one -- not the abandoned child languishing in an institution even though a family is willing to adopt him or the government official trying to stop bad adoptions and place children safely into families in her own country. It needs to come down.
From Voice of America, Children's Charity: Most 'Orphans' Do Have Living Parent:

According to research by Save the Children, over 90 percent of the children thought to be orphans in Central and Eastern Europe, Indonesia, and Ghana are not actually orphans but have at least one living parent. In Liberia, the figure is said to be 88 percent.

In a new report, the charity describes how children are treated as commodities in an industry that recruits children in order to profit from international adoption and child trafficking.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Reactions to "Find My Family?"

Before it aired, I posted about one adoptee/adoptive parent reaction to "Find My Family," ABC's reality show about adoption search and reunion. I had to teach Monday, so didn't get to see the show. Entertainment Weekly says 12.9 million people viewed the show, and called those "solid numbers." Here's a roundup of some reactions from the adoption blogosphere:

Adoptee Susan, in an entertaining post at ReadingWritingLiving, says:
As I was watching the show I kept asking (out loud) the question, “Is this exploitive? Is it bad? WHO is being exploited here?”

I decided to look up the definition of that explosive word.

Exploitive: unfairly or cynically using another person or group for profit or advantage

Well, profit and advantage, definitely. They want their ratings. But is it UNFAIR? Is
it CYNICAL? Hm. I don’t know about that.

I’ll tell you what’s UNFAIR. It’s UNFAIR that a show like this is even feasible in the FIRST place, because if ADULTS had access to their OWN birth records, it’s unlikely that these decade-long dramas would be playing out like this. It wouldn’t hold the enormous charge and people wouldn’t have to be paying agents and investigators for
fruitless searches.

* * *

That’s it, I think. For now. But my opinion is that while the show is cheesy, melodramatic and emotionally manipulative, it also showed some real truths. It was hosted by real adoptees. The people seemed stable and reasonable, for the most part. And their journey is just beginning.
At Birth Mother, First Mother Forum, Lorraine says:

Find My Family on ABC hit it out of the ball park last night with their half-hour reunion show. Yep, it milked the strong emotions that surround the reunion of first/original/birth/genetic/biological parents with their offspring. Yep, I got glassy eyed, and so did the co-host, Tim Green, who met with the birth parents, Sandy and Scott Steinpas, and told them their daughter had been found. "I've waited so long for this," says the mother, Sandy. "I was sure I would always look for my daughter."
Birth mother FauxClaud at Musings of the Lame says:
Birthmothers and Adoption TV=Not Fun
As a birthmother, I find it is like walking through a land mine; carefully place my foot down on the next step, only to find myself blown sky high, or hellish low, when they hit an emotional trigger. Still, when I read up on it on the ABC website, I didn't get that completely awful feeling. The whole mission of the show besides ratings, is to bring families back together, they claim on the website. I can get behind that..

Watching ABC's Find My Family
Channel 7; 9:30 pm: I pull myself away from the computer and sit down to watch. It has that cheesy reality show feel that Extreme Makeover Home Edition does; very dramatic and simplified. Yes, everyone is on their best behavior and say "all the right things"; the view is, at least, shining a sympathetic light on the now married birthmother and birthfather.

* * *

And that's what I want you to try to take away from this new show. I honestly hope that it does well and stays on the air because if it does, and it portrays adoption searches and reunions in a continual positive light, and it is respectful and loving, albeit in a make me cringe a bit way, then what we have is a mass media vehicle that can have the power to make middle America sympathetic to the idea of adoption reunions.
So did you see it? What was your reaction? I'd especially like to hear from adoptive parents who watched and liked the show (since the only adoptive parent reactions I've heard were pre-viewing and negative).

"Foster Kids Abroad Root-Seeking in China"

From China Daily -- yes, the headline says "foster kids" -- a story about a group of adopted Chinese children returning to visit China:

Forty-six children who were adopted by foreigners and are growing up abroad have come back to their birthplaces in China on a root-seeking trip.

The children have arrived in Beijing on their first stop, accompanied by their adoptive families from the United States, Canada, the UK, Australia, the Netherlands, and Sweden.

Their families hope the trip will help their adopted children better understand their hometowns.

* * *

[Dou Yupei, China's Vice Minister of Civil Affairs said,] "International adoption is an undertaking that brings to these children love and a bright future. We warmly welcome these children and their foreign families to come back to China. We want them to remember that no matter where they are, our best wishes are always with them. And I hope that these adoptive children will become messengers of friendship between China and the rest of the world."

Monday, November 23, 2009

"How to Say Thanksgiving in Mandarin"

Scott Simon of NPR, and adoptive father to two girls from China (his oldest is 6), has written the above-titled opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal:

We have come to think of Thanksgiving as a holiday for families like us: Those who know that America, whatever its sins, is a refuge in the world.

When my parents—a Jewish man and an Irish woman—married in the 1950s, they were warned, as transracial adoption families often are, that their children would
face bigotry and hostility. But today, our 6-year-old niece Juliette, a California blond, slips her arm around the shoulders of our daughters and says, "We're cousins for life, right?"

Our Chinese children sit at the Passover table and scrounge for Easter eggs. They wear "South Side Irish" green scarves around their necks on St. Patrick's Day. It's all in the family.

My wife came home one day from our daughters' Chinese culture class to announce there would be no class next week. "Because of the Jewish holidays," she explained, straight-faced. Only in America. Our girls speak French, like their mother. My wife and I join our girls to sing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" in Mandarin. We've learned that families mixed by marriage or adoption don't shrink or starve a heritage. They nourish it with newcomers.

FCC Older Girls Get-Together

Sunday afternoon we got together with the FCC older child group in our area. The girls range from 6 to 11, and we've known most of them since Zoe was a baby. In fact, we traveled with one of the families! We've been in infant/toddler play groups together, but as the girls got older, some of that togetherness gave way to the busyness of days.

We're working hard on bringing the girls back together now. They need this interaction with other kids adopted from China as they get older. As Jane Brown says about organizations for adoptive families:

Typically, adoptive parents join soon after having adopted or sometimes even before the placement of a child. They/we are enthusiastic, eager to help provide leadership, and thrilled for socialization opportunities these organizations provide. However, just as typically, interest starts to wane just as the CHILDREN start to get any meaningful benefit, because we get busy with their school careers, sports participation, music or dance lessons, etc... Inaddition, our children often begin to complain about participating because that reminds them of that which they'd like to push away-- that they are adopted andthey are racially or ethnically different from us-- something that is increasingly stigmatized by their peers at school.

What we need to recognize is that while many to most of our children may strive to shed that which they cannot-- the fact that they were adopted-- we cannot afford to allow adoption, race, and ethnic differences to become the proverbial elephant in the
living room. While we certainly should not pathologize our children because they carry these differences and have more complicated identity-building processes to
navigate, we MUST recognize that our unconditional love, alone, will not suffice to provide the tools they need to construct healthy personal identity and racial-ethnic identity. Both they and we, as their parents, need the connections and support, the mirroring of others who are members of adoptive families, and the ongoing education that these organizations can and should offer.

That is different from what our children get in interactions with members of their ethnic community, since children raised with their same-race parents of color do not have to straddle two different racial-ethnic groups, plus contend with the complex feelings, questions, and issues that are an inherent part of growing up adopted. Its very beneficial to journey through this with other adopted youngsters.

But from my girls' perspectives, it's just plain fun!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

More on Feminism & Adoption

At the Wellesley Centers for Women, from Ellen Herman, author of Kinship By Design: A History of Adoption in the Modern United States, and creator of the Adoption History Project website, a post entitled Why Adoption Makes Feminists Uncomfortable:
Feminists have long been divided over adoption, reflecting this larger dilemma.
If adoption exemplifies voluntary kinship—and it does—it stands to reason that adoption would be attractive for women, who have historically been defined and confined by their consignment to mandatory motherhood. On the other hand, if adoption is premised on gross inequalities that result in the transfer of children from poorer parents, communities, and countries to richer ones—and it is—how can feminists ever defend it as a model of family formation?
At Baby Love Child, Adoption as a modern Feminist institutional blindspot:
For Feminism to genuinely begin to grapple with its legacy of and current entwinement with adoption as an institution and the corrupt industry itself, Feminists would need to move beyond listening to adoptive mothers and begin to genuinely listen to Mothers and Bastards ourselves, all while coming to terms with the many ways by which Feminist individuals and institutions, as well as institutions supported by Feminists (NARAL, as but one of many such examples) have enabled the industry and participated personally, a tall order indeed when for decades now adoption has been sold to womyn as another “reproductive choice.”

The fact that those critical of adoption tactics and the industry remain ghettoized, never added to the pantheon of “Feminist Issues” says a very great deal about the internal blind spot modern many Feminists have perpetuated. Turning a blind eye to the conditions under which children are procured undermines the authenticity of other aspects of the modern Feminist critique.

How can one speak to the conditions of working womyn in India, for example, without ALSO acknowledging that one aspect of the work some number of Indian womyn are forced into is that of bearing children for American would-be adopters?
From the Daily Bastardette, Adoption Is a Feminist Issue:

Unfortunately organized mainstream feminist talk about adoption hasn't moved beyond the 1970s's consumerist/choice nobody-held-a-gun-to-your-head blather
that blames a specific group of de-priviledged women for their own de-priviledging--that privileged feminists have been all too happy exploit without a care to get their hooks into babies. But as Dawn pointed out, adoption IS about privilege. I would add that adoption is mainly a middle class issue as well, since today the rich and poor are seldom on the giving end of the "adoption option." (Of course, that can always change with the economy)

There is little feminist critique of adoption outside of academia, and even there it is top-heavy with adopter discourse--some of it spot-on., and I don't want to dimiss it. But, Feminist Bastard and Feminist First Mother voices are generally limited to blogs, forums, and obscure conference workshops. I don't know why.
Great stuff! Be sure to click through to read both pieces, and the interesting comments, too.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

First Tweets

I was playing around on my laptop while the girls watched a video, and during a slow part they gathered around to see what I was doing. I was on Twitter, and tried to explain what it was, and that "tweets" were limited to 140 characters. I explained that I was posting tweets with #adoption, and was talking about some of the hard parts of adoption.

Not surprisingly, the girls wanted to tweet, too! And, boy, did they take seriously the idea of tweeting the hard parts of adoption:
Maya, age 6, says, "#adoption is hard because I have bad dreams and I can't stop them. Do you have bad dreams? I was adopted from China."

Zoe, age 9, says, "#adoption is hard because I want to find out about my birth parents in China.. When I grow up I'm going to find them."
Zoe's tweet didn't surprise me overmuch, but she was quite a bit more positive than usual that she could actually find her birth parents.

Maya has been having bad dreams lately, but she's never connected them to being adopted before. Mostly the dreams have been about monsters, without many specifics. Definitely something to talk more about.

The Twitter folks who follow #adoption tend to be a bit on the rainbows-and-unicorns side, so I wonder what they'll make of these 140-character windows into the other side from a child's perspective. . . .

"Find My Family" as Sensationalist Trash or Springboard for Discussion

Martha Osborne, adopted person and adoptive parent, and the founder of the Rainbow Kids website, has given some good advice in reaction to the upcoming ABC series Find My Family, a reality show about search and reunion.

She suggests that younger kids NOT watch the show (duh!), but that upper-elementary and/or middle school students would benefit from a direct approach, since they may get intrusive questions in reaction to the series, if it is widely watched:

This is a wonderful age to start letting your child know that birth families, even if we have never met them, or may never have the opportunity, are part of our families. A welcome part. Whether to search or not in the future is your child's choice and has absolutely no relation to the way your child loves you. I should know, I'm adopted. My parents (and yes, I mean my adoptive parents) are my parents and I love them in a way I could love no one else. Searching for my birth family is about me, my identity. Let your child know when they are still young that you do not feel threatened, and you may receive the gift of open-communication throughout their teens.

Discuss the media, specifically as it applies to the marketing of ideas, forming of opinions, and exploiting of people for their own profit. It may also be pertinent to discuss the entire idea of people agreeing to have the most private, personal parts of their lives, filmed and put on television for the purpose of entertainment.

Let your child know that it is okay to have mixed feelings and changing emotions about any topic, including adoption. It's not a rejection of the adoptive family to wonder about birthparents, or life in another country.

If this series becomes widely-viewed, your child will receive very intrusive and personal questions. The show is meant to cast all adoptees as longing-for-their-lost-life. Practice, roll-play, be ready.

I think she puts this discussion too late at upper-elementary. Most kids start thinking of birth parents between age 7-12 (obviously, "most" isn't all -- some reach this stage earlier, some later). Still, I think overall she makes some good suggestions. I also think the article reads a bit too dismissive of the need to search for birth parents, felt deeply by many adopted persons. Watching the show with an older child might be a good springboard for discussion.

I don't know yet whether the series will be positive in showing the centrality of birth parents to adoptees' identities, or whether it will be sensationalized and exploitative. I can't say I'm holding out much hope for a sensitive approach, given how awful most of these shows have been. But done well, it could help with open records and cast birth parents in a positive light. But how confident am I that it will be done right? Somehow, aerodynamic pigs come to mind. . . .

In her conclusion, Martha also seems doubtful that the show will get it right:
Search and reunion of adoptees and birth families is part of adoption, and always will be. All adoptive families and birth families are connected through our children, whether we accept that idea or not. Our children bind us. It is a precious, priceless connection. This show cheapens and sensationalizes what is sacred. ABC, your show is an insult, and hopefully a flop.
If you watch the show Monday, let us know what you think.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Anita Tedaldi Goes Global

Lovely. Anita Tedaldi, who disrupted the adoption of her son, and publicized it on the New York Times Motherlode blog and the Today Show, has now publicized it in the Guardian, a UK paper.

It's the same as published in the New York Times, except that Matteo/D. is now Dan, and he's still from South America rather than Ethiopia. One positive -- the Guardian tries to put disruption in some context, offering some information and statistics about disruption:

The British Association of Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) estimates that one in five adoptions break down, although children who are "handed back" are usually older. The younger the child, the lower the chance of the placement breaking down. A study by the Maudsley Hospital in London found a breakdown rate of 8% after one year and 29% six years later. On average, adoptions that broke down did so 34 months after placement.

Despite the negative publicity that overseas adoption has attracted in recent years, there is no evidence that they are more likely to break down than domestic placements. Many studies have concluded that international adoption has, for the most part, been very successful, including for children who have spent their early years in institutions.

Children placed in stable, loving families, show a great capacity for catch-up – although a great deal depends on support from the wider family and adoption specialists, and the extent to which the adopters mix with other people from the country they adopted from.

The sad fact is that in many states of America, where Dan was adopted, this combination is less likely to be recognised as essential, despite the fact that overseas adoption tends to be far easier than it is here. Also undoubtedly contributing to Dan's adoption breakdown is the fact that for a minority of the most deprived children, major problems – especially in the area of attachment – do not go away, regardless of how much help, support, stability and indeed love, is provided.
Is the British paper right? Is the required support "less likely to be recognised as essential" in America? Do the Brits do it better?

As a follow-up, Tedaldi writes about the reaction to her writing about the disruption, and offers the same reason for why she wrote about the disruption:
This account first appeared on a blog several months ago. Since then my family has come under intense public scrutiny in the US, where we live. I knew there would be a lot of criticism, but my intention was to share a very personal experience. I don't mind the criticism, but I have been surprised by the degree of hatred displayed towards me and my family. Some readers have made fun of my children's looks.

There have been many positive comments, too, and I'm thankful to the many families who shared their own painful stories with me.

I do not regret writing about Dan. I shared this experience because when I saw my own shortcomings, I was humbled. We all struggle with our weaknesses, too often alone.
For what it's worth, my problem isn't that she wrote about disruption -- it's how she wrote about it. And, for what it's worth, I've never made fun of her kids, just of the fact that Tedaldi is writing a parenting manual!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Is Adoption a Feminist Issue?

Dawn from this woman's work has a great post up at Bitch, Adopt-ation: A feminist take on the state of the adoption industry:

Adoption is a feminist issue because it is a reproductive rights issue. It is an issue about the value of women as mothers and who has "earned" the right to be one. It's about how the states supports or does not support women who fall outside of the "good mother" rhetoric. It's about privilege. It's about class.

Right now the dominant voices in our cultural discussion of adoption are those like the NCFA who perpetuate stereotypes about the women who place their children and the women who receive them. It's a conversation that tries to erase the presence of the women who give birth to those children by pushing t-shirts that equate adoption with pregnancy thereby obliterating the origins of adopted people. The way we look at adoption – especially domestic infant adoption – is a manifestation of our Madonna/whore complex where birth mothers are saintly sinners – angelic enough to give away the babies they aren't good enough to keep.

We feminists need to start looking at adoption in new ways. We need to let the first mothers among us speak about their experiences past and present because their voices have been missing from our discussion. In the blogosphere we have feminist thinkers like FauxClaud, like Suz, like Jenna. They can tell us how Juno will likely feel five years from placement, ten, twenty or more.
And look at this article, Feminist lens on adoption, in the Minnesota Women's Press, by Katie Leo, an adult Korea adoptee (I stuck it in my "Favorites" months ago, and Dawn's piece made me go looking for it today):
I am part of a growing number of adult adoptees who view adoption as a feminist issue, part of a continuum of reproductive rights. This perspective extends to the right to raise one's child the same importance as the right to choose whether or not to bear one.

* * *

Over the years the social justice argument for adoption has proved increasingly problematic for many. In her article "Birth Mothers from South Korea Since the Korean War," scholar Hosu Kim states, "Although it often has been understood historically as a humanitarian effort ... I argue the practice of intercountry adoption is a radical example of global inequality played out at the site of actual woman's
bodies and often pits two women-the birth mother and the adoptive mother-against
each other in a struggle to claim a legitimate motherhood."

* * *

I believe that if the spirit of feminism creates solidarity between women across social, economic and racial barriers, feminists should work to remove the obstacles that render women around the globe so powerless, rather than using their situations as a reason to take their children from them. We should also question adoption language that carries implicit judgments of who makes a legitimate mother. Other issues to address are using children as a commodity, and racial coding of mothers and children. And we should work toward the extension of reproductive rights to include the rights of women to raise their children.
OK, let the Feminist Anonymous meeting begin. "My name is Malinda and I am a feminist." Are you? If so, reactions to these articles? If not, reactions to these articles?!

Adoption = A Single Event?

I remember reading something when Zoe was little that I thought was very clever -- say that your child WAS adopted, not IS adopted, because adopting is just a single event in the past, not part of who your child is now. I thought it very clever because it fit so neatly the "same as" narrative I was sure was right -- adoption is the "same as" having a child by birth, just another way to become a family. What a clever way to render adoption irrelevant to our daily lives, to my child's identity!

What I believe now is that adoption is a life-long issue, and cannot be relegated to a single event in the past. The Evan B. Donaldson report on promoting healthy identity development in adoption emphasizes the fact that adoption affects identity formation, and identity formation doesn't end with the teen years:
Adoption is an increasingly significant aspect of identity for adopted people as they age, and remains so even when they are adults. A primary contribution of this study is the understanding that adoption is an important factor in most adopted persons’ lives, not just as children and adolescents, but throughout adulthood. Adoption grew in significance to respondents in this study from early childhood through adolescence, continued to increase during young adulthood, and remained important to the vast majority through adulthood. For example, 81 percent of Koreans and over 70 percent of Whites rated their identity as an adopted person as important or very important during young adulthood.
This finding was actually contrary to the researchers' initial hypothesis, that the importance of adoption to identity would taper off after adolescence.

So the truth is that adoption was, is and will be an important part of an adoptee's identity. It cannot simply be relegated to a single event in the past.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Building Families the Focus of Adoption

A nice down-to-earth story about adoption in the Sacramento Bee, profiling a number of different families, including a same-sex couple, and different kinds of adoption -- from foster care, sibling groups, special needs, international, older child.

The story doesn't shy away from the difficult aspects of adoption ("You can take the kids out of the trauma, but you can't take the trauma out of the kids"), though little mention is made of birth parents. Adam Pertman of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, in talking about increasing openness in adoption: "We haven't leveled the playing field quite yet, but there is movement in that direction," he said.

I wish there were more stories like this during Adoption Awareness Month -- these are the stories that will really find the committed people who can make an adoption work even when it isn't all rainbows and unicorns.

IA and Human Rights, Bartholet Version

Elizabeth Bartholet, a professor at Harvard, is a strong proponent of international adoption. She and two other proponents of international adoption gave testimony Friday, November 6, before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States about international adoption from Guatemala, Honduras, and Peru. The written testimony can be found here. They introduce their testimony with the following:

Many who talk about Human Rights in this context focus on very different issues, namely the Human Rights of Parents, and the Sovereignty Rights of States. When they address Child Rights they focus on Heritage rights to grow up in the family and country of birth.

We assert that Children’s most fundamental Human Rights are to live and to grow up in a nurturing family so they can fulfill their human potential. These rights have been largely ignored in the debate surrounding Unparented Children and related International Adoption policies. We argue that Unparented Children have a right to be placed in families, either their original families, or if that is not feasible, then in the first available permanent nurturing families. This includes the right to be placed in
International Adoption if that is where families are available.

One of the first things that struck me with this testimony was the attitude that families are essentially fungible. Children's most fundament right is to be raised in a family, and which family doesn't really seem to matter. Heritage rights to grow up with their families of birth are not an important human right of children, they imply. In fact, it seems that these authors can't quite understand why anyone would be focusing on those "heritage rights" to be raised by birth family, when what's most important is that a child is raised by ANY family. The reference to original families is just an aside, an either/or choice without any sense that original families would be preferred. Under this version of human rights, the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption both violate human rights!

The testimony powerfully identifies the problems of institutional care for children. I don't think anyone doubts that. But they don't seem to be all that concerned about the older children in institutional care -- they're worried about the babies, those infants AYAP (as young as possible, a request so common as to be reduced to an acronym) who adoptive parents really want, who need to be adopted before they become irreparably damaged by institutional care:

International Adoption functioned in the past to place many thousands of children per year from these three countries in permanent nurturing homes, with many placed as young infants, giving them a good chance for normal development.

Placement for even those relatively few children typically occurs only after lengthy, damaging periods in institutional care.

States must take action to ensure children’s rights to true family care from the earliest point in life possible.

Like I said, I don't necessarily disagree -- children who really are orphans, who cannot be placed with extended family, should be adopted as quickly as possible. But this emphasis on infant adoption suggests more concern for adoptive parents than for children -- including special needs and older children -- who really need to be adopted.

But the most problematic part of this testimony is the disengenuousness of the argument about removing children from institutional care, especially as it refers to Guatemala. Most children adopted from Guatemala are never in orphanages! The Guatemalan system relies on private foster care while a private attorney/intermediary arranges the international adoption. Orphanages in Guatemala are also private, and usually extremely small. So the argument about liberalizing international adoption to free children from institutional care is a red herring, at least for Guatemala. (The IA programs in Honduras and Peru are extremely small.)

The report is relying on the horrors of institutional care to persuade people of the need for international adoption, when the authors know that the children they're really talking about -- infants in the pipeline for international adoption -- won't spend one day in institutional care. That play on emotions is completely deceptive.

The report also struck me as disingenuous about adoption corruption, too. The report addresses only the most extreme forms of corruption:
We recognize that abuses such as kidnapping and baby-buying occur, and we condemn these practices. But we urge the Commission to reject the kind of policy responses that many including the U.S. have encouraged, and that these three
countries have adopted -- moratoria on International Adoption, restrictive regulations that require holding children while searches for in-country homes are conducted, and prohibitions on the private intermediaries that often function as the lifeblood of such adoption.
Yes, kidnapping and baby-buying are corrupt practices that can make children illegally available for adoption. But the testimony ignores more subtle practices of coercion. And the report doesn't seem to see anything culpable or curable in one of the main reasons children are available for adoption that they did note: "Limited welfare support exists to enable poor and single parents to raise their children."

And those "private intermediaries that often function as the lifeblood of such adoptions?" They also function as the situs for corruption. These private intermediaries only make money when they can provide children to be adopted. They are not always too concerned about where those children come from. It was the actions of these intermediaries in Guatemala that led to one reform -- DNA testing to match mother and baby, necessary because these private intermediaries were presenting women to masquerade as birth mother to "relinquish" the child gotten from who-knows-where.

Bartholet's version of human rights for children, the right to a fungible family, ignores long-standing recognition of the central role of intact original families that is strongly protected in human rights law. And she minimizes the role of corruption in international adoption, arguing for a fast-track adoption process that will assuredly leave corruption uninvestigated and original families broken in its wake.

I'm giving Bartholet's version of human rights in international adoption a "pass," preferring the rights she and her colleagues disparage, the human right to grow up in your family of origin IF AT ALL POSSIBLE, the heritage right to grow up in your country of birth IF AT ALL POSSIBLE, and then, IF ALL ELSE FAILS, the right to a loving family wherever it may be found.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

China Daily: Obama Visits China

If you're interested in President Obama's visit to China from the Chinese perspective, China Daily has an entire online section devoted to the visit. Of course, China Daily is the "official" face that China presents to the world (in English), but it is interesting to see that and compare it to U.S. reporting about the visit.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Mrs. A at American Family has a post up about a recent episode where her children's grandmother told her explicitly that she (the grandmother) was favoring her biological grandchild over her adopted grandchild:

MIL: Well, I have a retirement account and I want to list M [bio granddaughter] as a beneficiary of 50% of it in case something happens to me.

* * *

MIL: It isn’t that I don’t love L [adopted granddaughter], you know, because I like her. She is a very nice little girl. It is just that I feel like M is special. She shares her love with me, so I want to give my money to her.

Have you had to deal with such a situation in your family? Unequal treatment? Favoritism or disfavoritism? Exclusion of an adopted child? I'd love to hear about it from the adoptee perspective as well as from the adoptive parent perspective. And lets hear from some grandparents, too.

We're very lucky that we have not had any issues with family-- in fact, my siblings are likely to say that my girls, not their biological boys, are the favorites! [They're the only grandchildren who live in the same town] It might have been an issue with their great-grandfather, who was not at all in favor of my adopting, but he lived in France and died when Zoe was young.

If you have had such experiences, what have you done about it? Adoptive parents, have you talked to your children about it? As one commenter asked, how do you arm them to handle this kind of unequal treatment by extended family as they grow up?

Recipe -- Kung Pao Chicken

And here is Lucy's much more respectably Chinese Kung Pao Chicken recipe!

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, 7 to 8 ounces each

2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon sugar

8 small dried red chili peppers
2 cloves garlic
2 green onions (spring onions, scallions)
4 tablespoons oil for stir-frying, or as needed
1 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorn, optional
1/2 cup peanuts or cashews
a few drops sesame oil, optional

Cut the chicken into 1-inch cubes. Combine with the marinade ingredients, adding the cornstarch last. Marinate the chicken for 25 minutes.

While the chicken is marinating, prepare the sauce and vegetables: In a small bowl, combine the dark soy sauce, rice wine, and sugar.

Set aside.

Cut the chilies in half so that they are approximately the same size as the chicken cubes. Remove the seeds. Peel and finely chop the garlic. Cut the green onion on the diagonal into thirds.

Heat the wok over medium-high to high heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil. When the oil is hot, add the chicken. Stir-fry until it turns white and is 80 percent cooked. Remove from the wok.

Add 2 tablespoons oil. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and stir-fry until aromatic (about 30 seconds). Add the chili peppers and the Szechuan peppercorn if using. Stir-fry briefly until they turn dark red.

Add the sauce to the wok. Bring to a boil. Add the chicken back into the pan. Stir in the peanuts and the green onion. Remove from the heat and stir in the sesame oil. Serve hot.

Recipe -- Kung Pow! Chili

Inquiring minds want to know if I won the chili face-off -- shouldn't you have asked before asking for the recipe?!

Actually, I have no idea who won -- the fact that I don't know suggests to me that I didn't! If I had had to pick a winner, I would have picked the black bean chili -- but I bet the Judge's Texas Chili won.

But here's the recipe for my made-up chili dish, anyway. To add to the cultural confusion, I'll say, "You asked for it, you got it, Toyota!"

Keep in mind that I was making TONS for a chili face-off. And keep in mind that most of the spices are approximations, because at the end I was kind of tossing things in to taste. Fair warning, any Chinese person reading this will laugh and laugh and laugh . . . .

6 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup dark soy sauce
3/4 cup sesame oil
1/4 cup honey
2 cups Chinese rice wine (sake will do if you can't find Chinese rice wine)
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tbs chili paste
3 to 4 heads of garlic - chopped & crushed
½ cup (or more) fresh ginger, shredded
4-6 medium to large yellow or brown onions - chopped in big pieces
5 to 6 large bell peppers (any/all colors) – chopped in big pieces
6 to 8 large stalks celery – chopped in large chunks
6 or 8 red thai chili peppers (chopped very small, seeds and all)
1 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 cup fresh oregano leaves, chopped
1/2 cup fresh chopped thyme
2 bottles Kirin beer (yes, I know it's Japanese!)
1/2 cup light soy sauce
3 oz. Mexene Chili Powder
8-10 small dried red chili peppers, crushed, seeds and all
6 tsp white pepper
2-4 tbs Chinese 5-spice powder
2 15 oz cans tomato sauce
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
3 6 oz cans tomato paste
2 large cans crushed or chunk pineapple (drain & reserve juice)
1 cup unsalted peanuts
6-8 green onions/spring onions/scallions, just the green part, cut on diagonal

Cut chicken in 1-inch squares. Marinate for 30 minutes in soy sauce, ¼ c. sesame oil, honey & 1 c. rice wine.

While chicken marinates, put olive oil, 2 tbs. chili paste, garlic, ginger, onions, bell peppers, and celery in large sauce pan and sauté for about 15 minutes. Add chili peppers and fresh herbs. Saute for about 10 minutes. Add 1 bottle beer. Simmer.

In a large wok or skillet, heat the rest of the sesame oil and 1 tbs. chili paste. Add chicken and marinade. Stir-fry chicken. Slowly add remaining cup of rice wine. Stir until chicken is cooked about 80% through.

Add chicken (and any remaining liquid) to the large pot of simmering veggies. Add tomato products – tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and tomato paste. Add pineapple. Add powdered/dried spices – chili powder, crush dried chili peppers, white pepper, and Chinese 5-spice (add 5-spice a little at a time, and taste as you go!). If no one you are serving has peanut allergies, add peanuts at this stage. Set out for guests to add instead of cooking if peanut allergies.

If additional liquid is needed, add reserved pineapple juice and/or water. If you feel like adding more beer or rice wine, that’s OK, too!

Cooking time -- about 2.5 hours from the time you add the veggies to the big pot.

Serve over rice or eat alone. Sprinkle with sliced green onions before serving.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Homage or Cultural Co-option?

One of the student groups at the law school had a Chili Face-off last week, all proceeds going to charity. Faculty members square off for "Hottest Professor" and staff compete for "Staff Hottie." I was asked to participate, and the student who asked me complained that they didn't have much variety in chili last year.

For some odd reason, it just popped into my head, I said, "I'll make Kung Pao Chili!" Of course, this dish doesn't exist, and I've certainly never made it before! But having committed myself, I had to figure out how to do it.

I got a great Kung Pao Chicken recipe from Zoe's and Maya's Chinese tutor, and went hunting online for a Chicken Chili recipe. I combined the two, and substituted all the Mexican-style chili spices with Asian spices. I thought it turned out good, and most of the students seemed to like it. I had a GREAT time making it, experimenting with Chinese Five-Spice and chili paste and lots and lots of fresh ginger and garlic, and Thai chilis.

Of course, it was complete sacrilege for Texan chili aficionados (Chicken?! Is this chili from New York City?!).

But my question is whether the chili was an homage to Chinese cooking, or cultural co-option?!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Chinese School Speech Contest

This afternoon was the speech contest for Chinese School. I wasn't able to get audible video of the girls during the contest, so I thought I'd post these practice videos. The girls are holding their home-made microphone -- props are so important!

I still get amazed each year at speech contest time as each student from age 3 to adult gets up to do their piece -- all alone -- in front of fellow students, teachers and parents. There was only one contestant who refused to say a word! It's great fun to see significant improvement in each student from year to year, too.

Maya's submission was recitation of two poems, one about seven fruits, one about a rubber ball.

Students in Zoe's class had to make a poster either about themselves or a favorite toy. Zoe used the poster from this summer's Chinese Language Camp, so I told her she had to do something else, too. She sang Ni Wa Wa.

I was one proud mama today!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Writings by Korean Adoptees

Two links to recent writings by adult Korean adoptees:

Journal of Korean Adoption Studies
Includes 3 pieces accessible on the internet. Pay special attention to Tobias Hubinette's study, On Being Swedish and Not Being White: Conversations with Adoptees and Adoptive Parents on Everyday Racism in Sweden:

Abstract: This study consists of analyses of interviews with 20 adoptees of colour and 8 white adoptive parents in Sweden. The study finds that the nonwhite bodies of the adoptees are constantly made significant in their everyday lives, and argues that race has to be taken into consideration by the Swedish adoption community and adoption research to be able to fully understand the overrepresentation of psychic illnesses and suicide among adult adoptees ofcolour.
Asian American Poetry & Writing has an issue that is all Korean adoptees. It's both poetry and prose, including an excerpt from Jane Jeong Trenka's upcoming book, Fugitive Visions. And here's an excerpt from a poem I especially liked by Kim Sunee, Farewell Song:
I've said good-bye so often
I don't know what else to say

Good-bye to my language
and the country that gave shape
to my eyes

Good-bye to the fig trees,
almonds and peach leaves
I didn't have time to taste

To my chair and my bowl
my sister and my pen
and some of the men

who pretend
to forget
I too had said good-bye to them
As you can see, I've been bitten by the poetry bug -- so another reminder to enter your haiku in our contest for Adoption Awareness Month!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Two Pictures, a Poem, and a Note

I had a birthday yesterday (an event I'm trying to forget ever since a smart-aleck reminded me that though I was "only" turning 49, I was entering my 50th year!). I received hand-made bookmarks from each girl, and then I received intangible gifts from Maya -- a sweet kiss and a hug (yes, she told me that was my present!). Zoe gifted me with two pictures, a poem and a note.

The picture above is Zoe's artistic interpretation of our first meeting. LOL! Not historically accurate, but very sweet! The drawing illustrated a poem:

Mom, you're so sweet and so nice.
When I'm always in trouble you give me advice.
You always know just what to do,
whenever you do that I just want to say I love you.
You always help me when I feel confused.
I just want to say, "Thank you!"
Awwwww! I'm feeling pretty good about myself at this point -- what a great advice-giver I am! And the next illustration made me preen even more: The picture above , is of Zoe and me talking about adoption (OK, when did I grow a pony-tail?!). I'm congratulating myself, because Zoe really does value having the opportunity to talk about her birth parents, her adoption, China, etc. I really do feel we've become closer as we've talked more and more about these topics which are so often on her mind. The drawing illustrated a note:
Dear Mama,

Thank you for talking about adoption with me. I still don't understand wny they let me go. Do you think someday I'll find my birth parents?

I like living in America and being from China.

Whenever you yell at me, it's like I'm back in the orphanage.

I hope you enjoy your grandchildren.


Ouch. Two zingers in there! You shouldn't talk about grandchildren to a woman who has just entered her 50th year. And then the yelling thing. I wish I was one of those parents who never yells, but I'm not. When I asked Zoe how it made her feel, what it meant to feel like she's back in the orphanage, and she said it makes her feel alone.

So among the sweet things, I get a birthday reminder to work harder on the not-yelling front! Kids keep us humble, don't they?

"He Killed People Who Looked Like Me"

A heart-wrenching account of a shared poem in an article by Max Money, a member of the Cape Cod chapter of Veterans for Peace:

One of the student winners in this year's Veterans for Peace poetry contest was a seventh-grader whose poem read, in part, "I am a Chinese girl/Adoption is good/ Now I am an American/My grandfather fought in WWII and Korea/He killed people who looked like me/He welcomed me into the family." We talked, she and I, about how words can heal and be redemptive, how different generations can come together in relationships of forgiveness and hope. I told her, "I'm sorry."

* * *

The young poet's poem jarred this "jar head." I had considered Korean and Chinese soldiers as nameless "gooks." Hadn't I grown up in a community with a Chinese immigrant history? Had Chinese college classmates? Had a personal friend, my company executive officer, who was Chinese-American, a Navy Cross recipient, who had fought against "kin"? How mixed up is that?

[Speaking of poetry, don't forget to enter your Haiku poem about adoption in our contest to commemorate Adoption Awareness Month. Prizes, prizes, prizes!]

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mixed-Race TV Contestant Ignites Debate In China

From NPR's All Things Considered, a report by Louisa Lim:

President Obama's arrival in China on Sunday is being eagerly awaited by many people, especially one young woman in Shanghai. Lou Jing is of mixed race, with a Chinese mother and an African-American father. She became famous nationally after her participation in an American Idol-type program sparked a spate of vitriolic online racist abuse.

* * *

"When I was young, I didn't really know I was different from other people," she says. "It was only after entering the competition that I realized I was different from others."

The show drew attention to her background, which is very unusual for China. She was raised in a single-parent family by her Shanghainese mother, who is a teacher.
Her African-American father, whom she has never met, returned to the United States without even knowing he had conceived a child in China.

On air, her mother, Sun Min, said she had only ever had one conversation with Lou about her father. She described how her then-7-year-old daughter had asked about him. "I didn't answer and immediately started crying," Sun recalled. "From then on, Lou Jing never asked again." [Ya think?!]

In her two months on air, Lou was nicknamed the "Chocolate Angel" and the "Black Pearl" by the media. She wasn't bothered by these names, she says.

But online, the poison pens were venomous. Chinese posting messages on the Web criticized her skin color as "gross" and "ugly;" they called her shameless for appearing on television. The worst insults were reserved for her mother for having had a relationship with an African-American out of wedlock.

Lou and her mother are now suing one Shanghai newspaper for libel.

I heard the report while driving to school to teach my evening class -- very thought-provoking. I remember quite distinctly my students in Xiamen telling me that there was no problem of racism in China (I didn't believe them!) because of the racial homogeneity. In fact, this is what I wrote:
The discussion of racism was almost amusing, since China takes the firm position that there is no racial discrimination in China. That’s a pretty easy position to take when you have a mostly homogeneous society. But, I asked, how about the various minority groups in China. Would it be considered a problem if a Han (the majority ethnic group) were to marry a Miao (a minority group)? No, they said, most of the minority groups are so assimilated that there are few distinctions made any more.

I asked the students whether inter-racial marriage was considered a problem, and they assured me that it was not. I asked how their parents would react if they were to marry a Caucasian person. The men said this would be no problem, and as they were talking I could see the women laughing and whispering to themselves. So I asked them how their parents would react, and they said their parents would see it as a big problem. They would worry that the children were not Chinese, and would not be raised to understand Chinese values.
This story about Lou Jing makes the point that with increased openness, China will be confronting the issue of racism more and more in the future. And the stigma about out-of-wedlock birth is also going to be an issue that China will face more frequently in the future [remember the sex-ed story?]

[The audio won't be online until 7:00 p.m. ET, but the link to the written story, above, should give you access to the audio when it is available.]

Beyond Culture Camp -- Analysis at Harlow's Monkey

At Harlow's Monkey, first in a promised series on the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute report on adult adoptees:
Some of the feedback I've been reading centers on the idea that the findings aren't anything "new." Well, I both agree and disagree on that point. I agree that the results don't seem surprising to anyone who has been around a lot of transracial adoptees. If you've read my blog, or any of the other Korean adoptee/transracial adoptee blogs, or read Outsiders Within or participate in some of the Yahoo groups like IAT, then no, these findings are nothing new. We (meaning adult transracial and transnational adoptees) have been speaking out publicly for a good 20 years or so now. When I read the results, I just nodded my head in affirmation, like a non-verbal "yep."

From a research perspective, however, this report is significant, since in many disciplines these days (especially social work and psychology) the Very Big People want "evidence based research" and so this study goes a long way in providing some of that. Anecdotal stories are considered non-significant since they are just "one
person's view." This study of 468 adult adoptees (of all race/ethnicity) so far is hailed as the largest sample of adult adoptees surveyed (and the Korean adoptees made up the largest portion of the adoptee respondents at 179 participants). This study now produces some "evidence" and even more important to me, evidence that reflects changes from some older studies that reported little or no struggle with identity for transracial adoptees.

Trafficking reports raise questions for adoptive parents

As a follow-up to their story about family planning officials confiscating babies from birth parents in China, the L.A. Times reports about the effect of this -- and other -- adoption corruption scandals on adoptive parents:
When television producer Sibyl Gardner adopted a baby girl in China in 2003, the official story was that the infant had been abandoned on the steps of the salt works in the city of Guangchang, where a worker found the day-old child and took her to a social welfare institution.

But after reading with "utter horror" the latest revelations of child trafficking in China in the Los Angeles Times, Gardner found herself contemplating a trip to back to Jiangxi province to investigate how Zoë, now 7, came up for adoption.

"I don't think I could live with myself for the rest of my life thinking that my desire
to have a child could have caused tragedy in someone else's family," Gardner said. "I'm going to need answers, and for my daughter's sake as well."

China has long been the most popular source for U.S. parents seeking to adopt from overseas. Since the early 1990s, more than 80,000 Chinese children have been adopted by parents from other countries, the United States leading the way.

In the last five years, U.S. parents have adopted nearly 31,000 children from China. The conventional wisdom has been that the children were abandoned because of China's restrictions on family size and the nation's traditional preference for boys, who serve as a form of social security for parents.

But adoptive parents have been unsettled by reports that many children have been seized through coercion, fraud or kidnapping, sometimes by government officials seeking to remove children from families that have exceeded population-planning limits or to reap a portion of the $3,000 that orphanages receive for each adopted child.

Some adoptive parents "looked the other way" when they heard reports about child trafficking in Hunan province year ago, said Jane Liedtke, founder of Our Chinese Daughters Foundation, a nonprofit organization that offers programs and tours for families with children from China. Now that trafficking cases have been documented not just in Hunan but also in Guizhou, Guangxi and other provinces, "people say, 'Oh, I didn't know. My agency didn't tell me. If I'd known, I wouldn't have adopted.' "

To that, Liedtke responds: "Oh, yes, you would have. You wanted a child."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A generation fights to reform adoption laws

An informative article in the Korean newspaper JoongAng Daily (English edition) about Korean adoptees' attempts to affect the adoption laws of Korea:
Six Korean adoptees filed an appeal with the Anti-corruption and Civil Rights Commission last year to request a probe into irregularities in their adoption documents and possible illegal procedures at local adoption agencies.

Now, they’re involved in a full-fledged battle to reform adoption laws and procedures, and they’re getting help from some heavyweights.

Adoptee rights and community groups as well as unwed mothers, the public interest law firm Gong-Gam and Democratic Party Representative Choi Young-hee have joined forces with the adoptees in an effort to convince lawmakers to revise the Special Law Relating to the Promotion and Procedure of Adoption.

The National Assembly has now taken up the issue and is exploring changes through a series of hearings.

The latest hearing took place yesterday.
The article includes personal stories of falsified records and lies from adoption agencies -- the reason, says Jane Jeong Trenka, that only 2.7% of adoptees succeed in finding birth family. Wow, that's way too low. I thought it would be better than that in Korea.

Adoption, Guns & Ammo Style

Well, isn't this charming?! The NRA doesn't want adoption agencies to ask prospective adoptive parents if they have guns in the home, according to this article:

The National Rifle Association is pushing legislation to ban adoption agencies from asking potential parents if they have guns and ammunition in the home.

NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer said adoption agencies are violating gun-owners' rights by asking about firearms in an adoption form. She said any request about gun ownership from an agency connected with government was tantamount to establishing a gun registry.

"Gun registration is illegal in Florida," Hammer said. "An adoption agency has no right to subvert the privacy rights of gun owners."

Thanks to Family Preservation Advocate for the link! As AdoptAuthor cogently notes there, no one has a right to adopt. If you don't like questions about your gun ownership, then don't adopt. Courts frequently note that there is no privacy right in adoption.

Adoption agencies ask about all kinds of LEGAL activity -- do you have a swimming pool? do you spank your children? do you smoke? -- without anyone looking to change the law!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Beyond Culture Camp:Promoting Healthy Identity Formation in Adoption

Great title, eh? Beyond Culture Camp -- that's the title of the research report from the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, reported in the New York Times.

Here are the central findings, verbatim from the executive summary:

Adoption is an increasingly significant aspect of identity for adopted people as they age, and remains so even when they are adults. A primary contribution of this study is the understanding that adoption is an important factor in most adopted persons' lives, not just as children and adolescents, but throughout adulthood. Adoption grew in significance to respondents in this study during adolescence, continued to increase during young adulthood, and remained important to the vast majority through adulthood. For example, 81 percent of Koreans and over 70 percent of Whites rated their identity as an adopted person as important or very important during young adulthood. This new insight has profound implications for policy, law and practice relating to adoption.

Race/ethnicity is an increasingly significant aspect of identity for those adopted across color and culture. Racial/ethnic identity was of central importance to the Korean respondents at all ages, and continued to increase in significance into young adulthood. Sixty percent of them indicated their racial/ethnic identity was important by middle school, and that number grew during high school (67%), college (76%) and young adulthood (81%). Based on their overall scores on the Multi-group Ethnic Identity Measure, Korean adoptees had a stronger sense of ethnic identity than did White respondents, but with caveats. While being equal to Whites in agreeing that they were happy about being a member of their ethnic group and feeling good about their ethnic background, they were less likely to have a strong sense of belonging to their ethnic group, despite identifying more strongly with it. They also were less likely than Whites to feel welcomed by others of their own race

Coping with discrimination is an important aspect of coming to terms with racial/ethnic identity for adoptees of color. The Korean respondents in our research were less likely than Whites to face discrimination based on adoption status, but more commonly confronted racial discrimination. Eighty percent reported such discrimination from strangers and 75 percent from classmates. Nearly half (48%) reported negative experiences due to their race in interaction with childhood friends. A notable finding was that 39 percent of Korean respondents reported race-based discrimination from teachers. It is clear that adoption professionals, parents and others - including schools - need more effective ways of addressing these realities.

• Discrimination based on adoption is a reality, but more so for White adoptees - who also report being somewhat less comfortable with their adoptive identity as adults than their Korean counterparts. Adopted people of all colors report that they experience discrimination, based on how they entered their families, in all settings of their lives - from classmates to employers to strangers. Most Americans probably do not perceive that adoption discrimination exists, per se, but this finding makes clear that stigmas and negative stereotypes linger in our culture and adversely affect adopted children and adults. When asked to identify the context of adoption-related bias, white respondents identified extended family as the most frequent source (for 40%). For Koreans, adoption-based discrimination was most common by strangers (31%) and classmates (25%).

• Most transracial adoptees considered themselves White or wanted to be White as children. Of those adopted from Korea, 78 percent reported they considered themselves or wanted to be White as children - a stark message to parents and professionals, even though the majority grew to identify themselves as Korean-Americans as adults. Analysis of their responses to open-ended questions demonstrates that integrating race/ethnicity into identity can be a complex process. While the most common reason cited for the shift was simply maturity, access to a more diverse community and affiliation with people of Asian background also facilitated the shift. For others, negative experiences such as racism or teasing led to reconsidering their identities and coming to terms with being Asian. A minority of respondents classified themselves as "unreconciled" --- that is, even as adults, they still long to look like their parents or members of the majority culture.

• Positive racial/ethnic identity development is most effectively facilitated by "lived" experiences such as travel to native country, racially diverse schools, and role models from their same race/ethnicity. any Korean adoptees were active agents in resolving identity struggles related to race/ethnicity, with 80 percent reporting that they tried to learn more about their ethnic group. Most had visited Korea (61%) and participated in adoption-related organizations or Internet groups. Korean adoptees offered practical suggestions to adoption professionals about actions that would have helped their shift in identity from White to Korean-American. Travel to the country of their birth topped the list. They also noted the importance of attending racially diverse schools and having child care providers, teachers and other adult role models of their race/ethnicity. One respondent poignantly described the loneliness of being in an all White community this way: "I was the diversity in my high school."

• Contact with birth relatives, according to the White respondents, is the most helpful factor in achieving a positive adoptive identity. When asked to name the experiences or services that are most helpful in achieving a positive identity as an adopted adult, White adoptees rate contact with birth relatives as the most important. A lopsided majority of the respondents - 86 percent - had taken steps to find their birth families. An unexpected finding was that a high percentage (49%) of the Korean adoptees had searched as well and 30 percent had experienced contact with birth relatives, despite the common assumption that those adopted from Korea have little access to information about their families of origin. For Whites, 45 percent reported having contact with birth relatives. This finding - like the one above - underscores the essential fact that adoptees, like their counterparts raised in their families of birth - want to know (as the cliché puts it) "who they are and where they come from." A deeper understanding of this reality has broad implications for adoption law, policy and practice.

• Different factors predict comfort with adoptive and racial/ethnic identity for Korean and White adoptees. This study sought to identify the factors that predict adopted adults' comfort with their adoptive identity, as well as with their racial/ethnic identity. The strongest predictor of comfort with one's adoption identity for White respondents was life satisfaction. For Korean adopted adults, three factors predicted comfort with adoption identity: gender (females were more comfortable with their adoption); satisfaction with life (higher satisfaction predicted greater comfort with adoption); and self-esteem (higher self-esteem predicted greater comfort with adoption).