Sunday, February 28, 2010

Conversation Starters

We know that it isn't enough to just have "the adoption talk" once with our children. It's an ongoing conversation, responsive to our children's growing understanding of adoption and different needs at different times. We need to be sensitive to non-verbal cues that they want to talk, we need to be asking questions periodically to make sure there isn't something they're wanting to talk about and to signal our willingness to talk about any adoption topics that might be on their minds. We need to introduce the topic of adoption periodically so our children know it's on our minds, too, and that we're open to talking about it.

Sometimes parents aren't sure how to introduce the topic. I think it's pretty easy to do if you look for opportunities. Certainly, special occasions like birthdays, Mother's Day, Father's Day, adoption days and the like provide that opportunity. And special accomplishments provide that opportunity (like, say, a first ballet recital or first home run, to say, "I bet your birth parents would be proud.") But what about the everyday conversations? Are there opportunities there, too?

I remember distinctly the first time I mentioned Zoe's birth parents outside our usual story of adoption ("You grew like a flower in your birth mother's tummy until it was time for you to be born. . . .") Zoe was around three years old, and we were eating our ice cream cones outside the ice cream shop. Zoe saw a little bird and exclaimed about how tiny it was, and said, "I was never that small." I said, "Actually, you were that small when you were growing inside your birth mother's tummy." Zoe was fascinated by this little tidbit, intrigued that we could talk about adoption outside a bedtime story, and we had an actual conversation about her birth mother.

Conversation starters are out there, if you are looking for them. Today, my girls handed me two conversation starters.

At breakfast, Maya asked why our nearby grocery store kept changing its name. It used to be a Minyard's, and then became City Market, and is now Albertson's. I explained that the store was sold to different companies that wanted to give their own name to the store. And then I took the opportunity to talk about their names, that I gave them new names when I adopted them as a way of claiming them. We talked about how they felt about that, whether they would have preferred to just have their Chinese names, whether they would ever want to use their Chinese names (Maya says no, Zoe says maybe!). We talked about how and why they named their dolls and stuffed animals, and that they sometimes even change the names of their dolls and stuffed animals! And I had a chance to tell them that my feelings wouldn't be at all hurt if they wanted to use their Chinese names. And I think I proved my sincerity about that, by telling Zoe I didn't care if she wanted to change the spelling of her name to Zoey, something she's been playing around with!

The second conversation starter occurred later in the day, while Zoe was reading a biography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She told me incredulously that when he went to seminary, there were only six African-American students and 100 white students. I asked her how she thought he felt about that. Zoe said she thought he must have felt lonely. I asked if she ever felt that way when she was one of only a few Asians in a group. She said sometimes she feels lonely that way at school, but that it helps to play with Sydney, the other girl adopted from China in her grade. And Zoe said she was glad she wasn't the only "brown girl," since there were other kids, Mexican-American, African-American, "and G. who is from the Philippines" in her grade.

She also said she doesn't tell the other kids about feeling lonely. She hasn't even told me about feeling lonely as the only Asian in a crowd. In fact, when the two of us had lunch at a Chinese restaurant in December, she asked if I thought she was the only Chinese person in the room, other than the people working there. I said I thought she was, and asked how it made her feel. Her answer then was a chirpy, "Great!" Hmmm. I'm glad I had another chance to explore the issue with her today.

Now, I don't really think that either girl was fishing for an opportunity to talk about adoption issues or race issues, and some would fault me for introducing the topic when they weren't obviously asking. But those are the parents who say they don't want to "plant ideas" in their child's head. I take the position that it's actually my JOB to plant ideas in my child's head! I plant ideas about manners and morality, about love and logic, about all sorts of things, including adoption. Of course, my kids will have their own ideas about all these things, and that's just fine. But part of parenting is passing on our own values. That's what planting seeds is all about.

A friend of mine who adopted from China told me about addressing an adoption issue her daughter raised while she was giving her a bath. When she told her husband about it afterwards, he was mad that she answered the question. He thought they should both sit down with their daughter, and explain all about birth parents and adoption, not just do it singly and off-the-cuff. I had to laugh -- as if! It never seems to work that way, in my experience. I don't think adoption talk has to be a serious sit-down speech; in fact, I think it is much better if it isn't.

So the alternative is to take opportunities as they are presented, and run with them. I stay attuned for opportunities to explore Zoe's and Maya's thoughts and feelings about adoption, birth parents, racial identity (and lots of non-adoption things, too!), and to plant my seeds. I don't have any illusions that my seeds will absolutely take root, or will crowd out weeds planted by others, but I know if I don't take the opportunities presented, I won't have any part of the garden of their minds.

So keep an eye out for the conversation starters -- if you're committed to finding opportunities to talk adoption, you'll find those opportunities.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

African Countries Urged to Adopt Hague Convention

At an up-coming meeting with high officials from Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia,and Zimbabwe, these governments will consider adopting various Hague conventions concerning children, including the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption:

Delegates will explore how these international conventions can translate into a practical inter-State framework to protect children. So far only Botswana, Burundi, Kenya, Madagascar and South Africa have ratified the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption, and many countries do not have adequate cross border legislation in place.

“When it comes to the cross-frontier protection of children, States cannot go it alone,” explains Professor William Duncan, Deputy Secretary General of the Hague Conference on Private International Law. “Close co-operation between child protection bodies and between judges in different countries is essential, and the Hague Children’s Conventions make this possible. It is very appropriate that this meeting is taking place on the eve of the Football World Cup, a time at which, with large cross-border movements of people, the risk of child trafficking grows.”

On the subject of intercountry adoption, Professor Duncan explained “the importance for African countries to be prepared to deal with the pressures to release more children for adoption abroad. Sometimes intercountry adoption may offer the only chance for a particular child to enjoy the warmth of family life. But often there are solutions through family support or alternative care in accordance with African
traditions within the child’s home country. It is also essential for countries to co-operate in combating the abuses, including profiteering, which sometimes arise in intercountry adoption.”
I wish Ethiopia was on the list of attendees, but I'm heartened to see other countries that are starting to create international adoption programs, like the Congo.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Racism Carnival

Ladies & Gentlemen, children of all ages! Come one, come all to the Racism Carnival!

OK, a particularly weird combination, but can't blame 'em since the 'netiquette name for a blog roundup on a single topic is Carnival, so Grown in My Heart's racism round up is a Racism Carnival. Ride the Serpentine Stereotype Roller Coaster, take a turn on the Model Minority Merry-Go-Round, take a ride on the Some of My Best Friends Are Ferris Wheel. . . .

Go to Grown in My Heart to link up your post on racism, particularly as it affects adoption and parenting, and read what others have to say.

I linked up an older post -- a how-to piece on talking explicitly to children about race and racism. And I want to link to another older post, this one about how my kids dealt with "Chinese eyes" teasing at school. The kids were tickled to see that the April 2010 issue of Adoptive Families magazine (print edition) has reprinted that blog post in their excellent article on Transracial Parenting. What fun to find themselves memorialized on a magazine's pages!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Not the same. . . .

We were driving home after Chinese tutoring, and both girls were complaining about tummy aches. Actually, Maya started complaining after chugging her hot chocolate -- too much, too fast. Zoe wanted her fair share of attention, so she joined in with the tummy complaints.

We were talking about taking "tummy medicine (Pepto Bismol)" when we got home, and Zoe said, "Will it work? Being Asian is not the same as being American." I asked if she meant it was different being Asian and being Caucasian, since she was Asian and American. Yes, that's what she meant.

After that clarification, I still had to ask, "How is it not the same?" Zoe said, "Medicine isn't the same. Like you take headache medicine and your headache goes away, but when you give it to me, I still have a headache." Hmm, first I've heard that the Tylenol hasn't worked for her. But how interesting that she attributes it to being Asian, especially since she really isn't prone to attributing every difference to being Asian.

I told her that sometimes medicine worked differently for different people, even if they were all Caucasian or Asian. But, I explained, there was also scientific research that showed medicine working differently on people of different races, and scientists were still working to find the answers about how medicine worked for different people. I asked if she had learned about that in school, or if she'd heard anyone else talk about it, and she said no. (Have you been sneaking in lessons on medicine, Dr. Lisa?!)

I'm still pretty stunned that she kind of stumbled onto a heavy scientific issue, based on her observations about how headache medicine works for me and how it works for her. I can see it now -- my daughter the doctor. . . .

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Adoptee Culture

Ok, I know I recently blogged about putting the person first and talking about persons who are adopted rather than using the label "adoptee." But the author here talks about "adoptee culture," so I'm doing so, too.

Emma Carew was adopted from Korea, and in a piece called How I Came to Accept My Adoption, talks about "adoptee culture," noting that knowing Korean adoptees while she was growing up was important, and marked a difference from her generation of Korean adoptees and the generation that came before her:

Two years ago, I enrolled in the first known college course about international adoption called “Cultures of Korean Adoption.” About half the class was made up of Korean adoptees, and the class was taught by a Korean adoptee who was doing her Ph.D. work in the area of Korean adoption.

Most of the other adoptees in my class had very different experiences growing up than I had. Certainly the writers of the memoirs we read had very different experiences, having grown up a generation or two before us. In the 1970s, Korean adoptees seemed to be few and far between. Resources like Korean culture camp, language villages and dance groups didn’t exist for adoptees and their families. Schools didn’t offer counseling groups for adopted students. Agencies didn’t encourage parents to introduce their children to their native cultures.

I grew up in Minnesota, the so-called Korean adoptee capital of the world. An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 adoptees currently live in Minnesota. I met my first Korean adopted friend when I was in first grade and went to Korean culture camp for the first time when I was 8. I went to Korean school on Saturday mornings for a year and performed Korean dance for eight years. Our dance group was mostly adoptees, including our teacher.

From fifth grade all the way to college, I had adopted friends and an adopted role model. I had a support network that understood that sometimes I felt out of place in my own family and that knew it felt weird to be the only Asian kid in a class at school.
And in her evocative conclusion she says:

It’s unlikely that I’ll ever be fluent in Korean, a fact that seems to drive my Korean birth family a little crazy. I probably will never live in Korea, because it’s a culture I feel so disconnected from. But it’s also unlikely that I’ll ever lose my connection to the adoptee culture, one which I firmly believe exists. It’s a culture of conflict, loss, identity, tragedy and confusion, but it’s mine and I’m okay with owning that.
Serves as a reminder of how important it is to involve our children with groups of adopted kids as they get older even as they are juggling so many activities in school, doesn't it? I'm really grateful to the FCC Older Child Group in our area, where we work hard to maintain those relationships.

FYI, this isn't a new piece, but I like it, and it gives me a chance to introduce AsianWeek, the online magazine where it appears. It's subtitled "the Voice of Asian America," and it does a good job of presenting the various voices of Asian America.

And since I'm speaking of AsianWeek, I can also mention their Asian American Short Story Contest with an entry deadline of March 31, 2010.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Here we go again. . . .

In Vietnam, parents are promised their children will be educated and returned; instead, the children are adopted abroad:

It was in September 2006 when officials from Quang Bing province's capital Dong Hoi visited the tiny hill tribe, which numbers only 500 people.

They picked out 13 children aged 2 to 9 and offered to house and feed them at a children's social welfare centre in Dong Hoi and return them when their education and vocational training was complete, the families say they were told.

The parents - all poor farmers and most illiterate - agreed and were driven to Dong Hoi with their children where they signed consent forms placing them into the care of the local authority.

Four months later, in the Lunar New Year holiday in 2007, Thu went to visit her daughters. 'They looked well but they missed me very much. They said 'Mummy, please take us home',' she recalled.

'I couldn't bear to see them so sad so I decided to take them home. I took them by the hands and led them out of the children's home towards the bus stop - but the security guards stopped me and told me I couldn't take them away.

'The officials at the children's home said I had signed papers and had to leave them in their care. I was crying and very upset but I believed them and I went home alone.'

A year later - shortly before the 2008 Lunar New Year holiday - Thu travelled to Dong Hoi to visit her daughters again. When she arrived, she was told both girls had been adopted overseas.

'Those men lied to me,' said Thu, who has three other children. 'They said the children would return to the village when they finished school. But they sold them as if they were livestock.'
Click here to read the whole thing. With a story like this, it's sometimes hard to figure out the truth. But it is certainly easy to imagine illiterate parents being duped into signing adoption papers that they thought were school enrollment papers instead. And it is quite possible that even if the parents were told about adoption they did not share the same cultural undertanding of adoption as you and I might have. And how sad that the officials would target a hill tribe with only 500 members remaining -- practically extinct -- and take away 13 of their children.

ADOPTED the comic

Take a look at this cute blog, ADOPTED the comic, where two adults adopted from VietNam are creating comics about adoption. Jessica Emmett, the artist, is British, and tells about her adoption like this:
Needless to say, I’m adopted. My birthmother was a Vietnamese refugee that fled to Hong Kong after the Vietnam War. I was adopted at the age of one by a British couple who were living and working in Hong Kong. I also have a younger sister that is a HK adoptee. I grow up in an ex-pat English speaking community in HK until I was 16, when i moved to the UK with my (adopted) family =). I now live in Oxfordshire with my husband after spending most of my UK life in Manchester=).

Bert Ballard, writer, is the author of a book for adopted teens, Pieces of Me, Who Do I Want to Be? He relates that he was adopted as part of Operation Babylift from Vietnam, and grew up in the United States. He and his wife are currently in the process of adopting from Vietnam.

Some of my favorite comics -- Parental Worries and Getting Culture. And the Santa one DEFINITELY reminds me of Zoe!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Rooting For Gold

I've blogged here about my kids' questions about who to cheer for in the Olympics when China and America compete against each other, and Zoe and Maya have offered their advice on that question here. A Korean-American mom, at the blog More than Serving Tea, blogs about her son's questions about who to cheer for in the Olympics:

The Olympics are fun. We see great sportsmanship and whiny losers. We see patriotism is not unique to America, and apparently neither is the practice of covering your face/balding head/body in your country’s/team’s colors with face paint. We test the kids on their limited knowledge of national flags. We dream, even for a moment, that our kids will be inspired to try something new but not something as crazy as the skeleton. And we pick our favorites and cheer for, root for, celebrate with or shake our heads in defeat for our team.

But in some families like my extended family, it’s complicated and fun because of who we are – Americans, Korean-Americans, Koreans.

* * *

What has been so interesting to me has been my older son’s reaction to the Olympics. During one of the speed skating events, he was quick to notice that there was a Korean skater competing against an American skater. His reaction? “Hey, look! There’s a Korean and an American! Cool! Who do we root for?”
Click here to read the whole thing. Interesting to see the similarity in dealing with identity issues in adoptive and non-adoptive families that straddle the hyphen between another country of origin and America.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

"I'm not an adoptee!"

The kids and I have been talking off and on about Florent Amodio, the Olympic skater who was adopted from Brazil by a French couple. I said something along the lines of, "I think it's cool that you have something in common with an Olympian -- you're both international adoptees!"

Zoe replied, "Whoa, wait a minute. I'm not an adoptee, I'm just a kid!"

Wow, what does that mean? She knows she's adopted. But is she rejecting the view of herself as adopted? Is she saying she doesn't want to be labeled? Is she clarifying that "adopted" isn't all she is?

So I asked, "Why aren't you an adoptee?"

Zoe's simple answer: "I'm just a kid whose adopted, not a grownup! Grownups are adoptees!"


I was talking to a friend of mine about this; S. is a professor of education who teaches a course about special education. She was reminding me of the importance of not labeling, and that with special needs kids, the preferred trend is to focus on the PERSON first. So it is a "person with autism," not an "autistic person."

An important reminder for how to talk about people who are adopted? I use the label "adoptee" for simplicity's sake, same for adoptive parents and birth parents. I've learned some things over the years, like being careful about the phrase "birth mother" for someone who is pregnant but has not relinquished -- that might be a "potential" birth mother, but she isn't a birth mother yet. I try not to use the term adopter, because some adoptive parents find it insulting. I often see the phrase "adopted person" instead of adoptee, but even that doesn't follow the "put the person first" rule.

This isn't just "political correctness." I believe that words do matter. "Adopter" seems to deny adoptive parents the title of parent. "Birth mother" for a woman who has not yet relinquish seems to suggest that relinquishment is a foregone conclusion. And a label like adoptee suggests a singular identity instead of a whole person.I'm still pondering the issue of "adoptee" v. "adopted person" v. "person who is/was adopted (is or was is the subject of another post!)" -- any advice?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

DNA Brings Siblings Together

This is a slightly different take on the "unknown siblings" stories we sometimes hear in China adoption. In this story, a family adopts a child from China and discover that she was abandoned together with her two brothers:

Little did I know when I headed to China to bring her (13-year-old Chloe) home we were about to get a shock of our life. When receiving Chloe I was handed a police report about when she was found. It stated she was found with 2 other children and I knew this was not typical. So I asked, “who are these other children?”

My question was met with silence until our guide asked my new daughter and she said “my brothers.” Well, can you imagine my shock? My mind was racing- what? How? Why were we not told? Where these REALLY her brothers or just boys she was close to and called her brothers? So many questions.

We learned the boys were both at the orphanage, they were known to be a sibling group at the orphanage but when found, were not reported as siblings, therefore creating a legal difficulty in proving they were siblings now, so many years later.

* * *

We KNEW these children had to grow up together. . . . So as we realized that we needed proof of their relationship,as originally asked for in China, to aid in our quest to get these boys home.

But how? We didn’t have spare funds. I said a prayer and sent off an e-mail. This ended up bringing us to Identigene. We were so thankful when they contacted us with a “please LET us help!” It was just amazing to us, they sent kits, the tests were sent in and when the results came in just DAYS later, a phone call to Marilyn aided my shaking hands to the right page for the results.She “sat” with me, as I cried, could hardly speak, for there in front of me was answer this momma’s heart KNEW would be there. All 3 children- biological siblings. No doubts.
Click here for the whole story!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Chinese New Year Celebration

This evening, we went to Dallas to the Crow Collection of Asian Art for their Chinese New Year Celebration. The girls (Zoe & Maya & their friend Sydney) liked decorating lanterns, watching a kung fu demonstration, and watching the lion dances and the dragon dance. It was way crowded and disorganized, but the girls had a great time!

Photo Credits: Mimi!!!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Who to cheer for in the Olympics?

Zoe and Maya want to give advice to those conflicted about who to cheer for in the Olympics, since they're experts on the issue, having dealt with it for the 2008 Summer Olympics:

Q: If you were born in one country and adopted to another country, and you were watching the Olympics, who would you cheer for?

Zoe: That’s a tough question. Because you might feel bad about cheering for some country where you don't live. But you’re also part of the country where you were born. You can feel sad and happy at the same time when one of your important countries loses and one of your important countries wins. It can make you feel like you’re doing something wrong if you cheer for one and not the other. Or you might feel bad if you’re not cheering for the place where you live.

My mom says people feel loyal to their country, and it can be hard if you have two countries. So I decided to cheer for all the countries important to me. I cheer for China, where I was born, and America, where I live now, and France since that’s where my Mimi comes from.

So that’s my advice to you if you are wondering who to cheer for in the Olympics. Cheer for all the countries that are important to you. I was really happy when Shaun White got a gold medal in snowboarding, and was excited when the Chinese figure skating couple won the gold medal, and I liked watching Florent Amodio from France skate, and I like that he was adopted like me.

Maya: You should cheer for who you want to cheer for, and not feel bad. Or you could cheer for China, France, and America, like my sister said.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

NY Court Vacates New Yorker's Adoption of Cambodian Boy

From the AP:

A four-year adoption fight between jet-setting Manhattanites over an ailing and abandoned orphan from Cambodia is ending, at least for now, with the boy able to see the only father he's known.

New York's top court on Tuesday overturned the adoption by Johnson & Johnson heiress Elizabeth "Libet" Johnson, closing a case that wended through international law and involved what the adoptive father's lawyer called a "stealth adoption" by Johnson.

One of Manhattan's richest women, Johnson has been fighting over the adoption of the 7-year-old with her former lover, Dr. Lionel Bissoon, the one-time weight-loss
guru to the rich of Manhattan, West Palm Beach and Beverly Hills.

"It means they will be able to have the father-and-son relationship they had since
he was just a few months old and not have it cut off," said Bissoon's attorney, Bonnie E. Rabin. "The irony is that this child was orphaned and they tried to take away the only father he ever had ... this child loves his father."

The child continues to live with Johnson in her multimillion dollar Manhattan apartment, although the decision gives Bissoon legal standing he sought to see the child he helped rescue.
OK, ignore all the "rescue" references for now, I want to talk about the legal aspects. If you want to read the full opinion, click here.

The facts of the case are pretty confusing, as the prospective adoptive parents tried several different avenues to adopt the child who was originally brought to the U.S. on a humanitarian visa to get heart surgery. They thought the U.S. moratorium on adoptions from Cambodia would prevent them from adopting the boy, so the dad reestabalished his citizenship in Trinidad-Tobago, and sought to adopt the boy there, with the intention of having the mom so a second-parent adoption in New York after the adoption in Trinidad. Cambodia granted permission for the dad to adopt in Trinidad, after mom told them that she would no longer be pursuing an adoption of the Cambodian boy in New York. Unfortunately, the couple had not fsctored Trinidad-Tobago law into the mix -- that country would not allow adoption by a single man.

When mom learned later that she might be able to adopt the child under New York law, dad agreed to help out, even though the romantic relationship between them had ended. He wrote the Cambodian government saying he was not going to adopt the child after all, and requested that the mom be allowed to adopt him. Cambodia gave mom the same letter it gave dad, granting mom permission to adopt. Dad still thought that he would be parenting the boy after the mom adopted him, because he and Mom still had cordial relations after their breakup. That didn't last, though, and the mom eventually petitioned the New York court to adopt the boy without providing any notice to the dad. That adoption was uncontested, and granted.

The legal issues are three-fold: 1) Is the dad a legal father who should have been given notice of the mom's adoption petition, and who had to consent before the mom could adopt the child; 2)does the doctrine of international comity or the act of state doctrine require New York courts to recognize the Cambodian adoption; and 3) what is in the best interest of the child?

The court concluded that the letter granting permission to dad to adopt the child was actually a valid Cambodian adoption, thereby making the dad an actual legal father. The only way that the child could be adopted by the mom, then, was with the consent of the father or because of a valid termination of the father's parental rights. The court concluded that the father's rights were not terminated in accordance with New York law, nor was consent validly given in accordance with New York law, just because the father wrote to the Cambodian government to disavow his intention to adopt the child.

This merges with the issue of international comity, the doctrine that requires a U.S. court to recognize foreign decrees of adoption, unless some exception applies. This is on its face a bit contradictory -- the court recognizes the Cambodian adoption, but won't recognize Cambodia's conclusion that the dad disavowed the adoption. The court explains the difference this way:

But once parental rights have been validly established under New York law, between an adoptive parent and child who continue to live in New York, the choice of law governing the parental relationship is much less difficult: New York law applies.

Under established conflict of laws principles, the applicable law should be that of "the jurisdiction which, because of its relationship or contact with the occurrence or the parties, has the greatest concern with the specific issue raised in the litigation." (citation omitted). New York's interest in a parent-child relationship between two of its residents is plainly greater than the interest of Cambodia in a relationship between an adult who never lived in Cambodia and a child who, with the approval of the Cambodian government, has been adopted by a non-Cambodian and taken to live elsewhere. When New York parents have acquired, by virtue of a foreign country adoption, parental rights that are recognized in New York, those rights can no longer depend upon the vagaries of a foreign country's law. The rule [mom] seeks would create unacceptable uncertainty for every New York parent raising a child he or she has adopted in a foreign country.
So, New York will recognize a foreign decree of adoption, but after deciding that a parent-child relationship has been validly created by that foreign decree, the choice of law to be applied is not Cambodian law, but the law of New York.

The court disposes of the "act of state" doctrine, which says that a U.S. court will not question the acts of a foreign government when done within that foreign government's territory, by simply saying that even if it was an act of state, to terminate the dad's parental rights and issue an adoption decree for the mom, those were not acts that occurred within the territory of Cambodia. Neither of the parents were Cambodian citizens, all three parties -- father, mother, child -- were in New York at the time of these acts, so the act of state doctrine did not apply.

The court's decision to apply New York law is likely to favor adoptive parents, and further disempower sending countries who might want the return of a child, or some say in the custody of one of their child citizens.

Finally, the mom claimed that the lower court erred in failing to consider the best interest of the child before vacating the adoption decree. The court responded:

The best interests of a child, important though they are, do not automatically validate an otherwise illegal adoption. In particular, the parental rights of a child's father cannot simply be ignored because a court thinks it would be in the child's best interests to be adopted by someone else. The courts below were clearly correct in declining to hold the best interests of the child to be dispositive in this case.
This is not, however, the way a lot of courts rule. In many jurisdictions, even when there is an illegal adoption, the court will require a hearing on the best interest of the child. The argument for not returning children to birth parents is usually along the lines of "how can we remove this child from the only parents she's ever known to turn her over to a stranger?" And often a court will answer that question, "We can't." That's one of the reasons adoptive parents will delay and dodge and fight in a contested adoption -- they (and their attorney) know that the longer the child is with them, the more likely the court will say it's in the child's best interest to stay with them.

The court gives a nod to that best interests argument, saying, "For all the legal complexities in this case, no one dealing with it can forget that its subject is a child, now seven years old, and that that child has lived for virtually his whole life with [the mom], who he no doubt thinks is his mother." Their comfort level in disavowing the need for a best interest of the child hearing was probably aided by assurances given by the father:

[The dad] assured the courts below, and has assured us, that his own first concern is[the child's] best interests, and that he has no intention of removing the child from the only home he has ever known. Indeed, [the dad's] brief in this Court says that if [the mom] accepts his status as father, he is still willing to agree to a second-parent adoption by [the mom]. [The dad] does maintain that, as [the child's] father and only legal parent, he is legally free to prevent the boy's adoption by [the mom], and to remove him from [the mom's] home, if he wants to. But since he says he does not want to, neither we nor the courts below have had any occasion to decide whether [the dad's] rights are as extensive as he claims. That question is academic, and we hope it will remain so.
All in all an interesting international adoption case.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Florent Amodio: International Adoptee and Olympian

We watched this amazing French figure skater, Florent Amodio, in the men's short program tonight. Zoe was cheering for him because he's from France and Mimi's from France! But after a few seconds of watching, she asked, "Are you sure he's not from China? 'Cause he looks Chinese." I reminded her that he could be Chinese-French, just like she's Chinese-American.

Just then one of the commentators said he was born in Brazil and said something about his being one of the street kids of Brazil, or something like that. The story went on that was "discovered" at age 4 at a public skate in France, and has had the same coach since that time.

I was curious how he made it from Brazil to France, how long he was on the streets in Brazil if he made it to France in time to be discovered at age 4. A touch of the google provided the answer -- he was adopted as an infant by a French couple. Doesn't sound like he was living on the streets in Brazil, but abandoned as an infant on the streets in Brazil. According to his website, he left Brazil at 1 month of age.

So, Florent Amodio is not Chinese, but he and Zoe and Maya have one thing in common -- they are international adoptees!

P.S. Apparently we weren't the only ones confused as to Amodio's ethnicity or curious about how he got from Brazil to France. Sitemeter showed me a number of searches about Amodio that brought people to this blog:
Florent Amodio Asian
Florent Amodio ethnicity
Florent Amodio abandoned
Florent Amodio orphan
. . . and quite stereotypically:
Florent Amodio gay

Ethiopia Adoption: U.S. Agency Buys Child

From CBS News, a story, including video, of the adoption of three sisters from Ethiopia who were old enough to know that their father was paid money to release them for adoption:
Three children, sisters from Ethiopia are shown in a video - ages, you are told, 7, 4 and 6. Their mother is dead, their father dying of AIDS. A life of prostitution is all but assured - if not adopted - saved - by a loving American family.

It was just such a pitch that spoke to Katie and Calvin Bradshaw, reports CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian. They adopted all three girls through a U.S. agency, Christian World Adoption.

"Aside from the gender of the children, everything else proved to be a complete lie," said Katie.

In truth, the three sisters, Journee, Maree and Meya - were actually much older: 13, 6 and 11.

* * *

Adoptive families allege that many children brought to the U.S. are not even orphans, that prospective parents are misled about a child's health and background, that local families are recruited - and sometimes even paid - to give up their kids.

Which the Bradshaw sisters say is exactly what happened to them.

"Your dad was paid," Keteyian asked Meya.

"Yes," she said.

"From Christian World Adoption," Keteyian asked.

"Yeah," she replied.

"For you to be adopted?"


"You were sold?"

"Yeah," she said.
I've never been fond of the hyperbolic "adoption is slavery" meme, especially when applied to legal adoptions -- but what else is buying and selling human beings, if not slavery? Not just illegal adoption, but slavery.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Beyond Chinese New Year

Yes, that's an homage to the Beyond Culture Camp report from the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, motivated by the inclusion of quotes from Adam Pertman, director of the Institute, in this Chicago Tribune article titled, Between 2 Worlds: Parents help adopted children bridge 2 cultures:

Tricky questions of ethnic identity are surfacing as the babies who arrived in the U.S. during the peak of Chinese adoption are entering grade school. The attendance at the New Year's events shows that experts and parents continue to move away from the old model of downplaying foreign culture so their children don't feel different.

But in a sign of how complicated these questions can be, there is growing worry that focusing on cultural symbols such as food and music can sometimes delude parents into thinking they do not need blunt conversations about the deeper implications of race and culture. Children should know that differences aren't always celebrated and often lead to prejudice, experts say.

* * *

Americans have adopted an estimated half-million children from overseas in the last four decades. During the early period of international adoptions, most parents believed their children's lives would be easier if they shed their native culture, said Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a nonprofit that focuses on improving adoption practices.

Parents believed that their children were a "blank slate" that should be filled in exactly the same as biological children, Pertman said. This sort of evenhanded treatment would be a buffer from any possible discrimination — or so parents believed.

* * *

Now that a consensus has formed that cultural immersion is useful, a debate has started within some segments of the adoption community that some parents are taking misguided approaches.

"The traditional culture — fan dances, tea ceremonies and holidays — is more accessible, more alluring, than the actual, complicated experience of being Asian-American," journalist and author Mei-Ling Hopgood, who was adopted from Taiwan, wrote in an op-ed piece in The Boston Globe last year.

The Donaldson Institute spoke to the challenges when it published a significant study last fall called "Beyond Culture Camp." The study, which surveyed 468 adults who were adopted from South Korea, quantified the conflicted racial identity that many feel.

The study found that nearly 80 percent of respondents said that as children, they considered themselves white or wanted to be white. Pertman said it wasn't the "taught stuff" — language classes, dance troupes — that adults say they found most effective as children. It was experiences such as being with other children and adults who were Asian-American.

"I hope that we're finally getting it, that this isn't a one-shot deal, but an ongoing process," he said.

* * *

Andrea Louie, an associate professor of anthropology at Michigan State University who has researched the experiences of Chinese adoptees in the Midwest, shares the worries that some parents are avoiding difficult questions by looking backward into Chinese tradition. But she said more and more parents are forming a nuanced and realistic understanding of how racism affects their children.

Louie hopes that adoptive parents are not criticized excessively, especially when few Americans find these sorts of subjects pleasant.

"They are trying their best," she said, "but the truth is, no one likes to talk about race or acknowledge race."

We do our fair share of the "pretty and perfect" Chinese culture stuff. It's FUN to dress up your girls in a Chinese silk qi pao and eat Chinese food. It just can't be ALL you do, unless you want your children to have a "let's play dress-up" relationship to Chinese culture. And I wholly agree with those who say "culture" isn't enough. Our kids need to know about racism in America (now and in the past), anti-immigrant sentiment in America, the model minority myth, the perpetual foreigner meme, gendered stereotyping of Asians . . . and the list goes on and on, far beyond a Chinese New Year celebration.

"I wouldn't want a Chinese mom"

The girls and I have been talking off and on about the Jim Crow era since I blogged about it. Maya has said several times that she was glad the era was over and that I was allowed to adopt her. She added something new the other day: "I wouldn't want to be adopted by a Chinese mom, she wouldn't show us all the wonderful things you have in America."

Wow, where did that come from? How to answer that? Multiple choice time! What would you have said?

A. "Well, you could have been adopted by a Chinese-American mom, and she'd show you wonderful things in America."

B. "There are wonderful things in China, too."

C. "Actually, you have a Chinese mom -- your birth mom!"

D. All of the above.

E. None of the above.

F. Other.

I'll give y'all a chance to answer the pop quiz in the comments, and then add a P.S. to tell you what (if anything!) I said.

P.S. You're all right -- I said D, all of the above, though I can't vouch for the order in which I said it! A was about reminding Maya that not all ethnically Chinese people live in China. B was about helping her value China and things Chinese. I wish I had been as eloquent as Mei-Ling, but I did make the point that being adopted in China would have been good, too. And since Maya was focusing on the wonderful things I've shown them in America, we talked about all the wonderful things I've shown them in China, too. C was about reminding Maya of her Chinese roots, that she has a Chinese mother, that she is ethnically Chinese. We actually talked quite a bit about B & C, because it's a recurring theme for Maya that she doesn't want to be different, which I'm always concerned will turn into dislike of all things Chinese, including herself.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day/Spring Festival: Culture Clash in China

What to do when Chinese New Year (the first day of Spring Festival) and Valentine's Day fall on the same day? That's the question posed by Xinhua News:

As Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, coincides with Valentine's Day on Feb. 14, many young Chinese have struggled to choose between their family and their lover.

"In light of Chinese traditions, I should make my way back home and savor the moment of family reunion on the first day of the Lunar Year of the Tiger," said 27-year-old Chen Xin, a business analyst in Jinan, capital of eastern Shandong Province.

"But it will be a great pity if I spend Valentine's Day without my girlfriend," Chen said, adding that the couple's hometowns were about 200 km away from each other in north China's Hebei Province.

* * *

The coinciding of the two festivals is a kind of culture clash, and it would understandably present young Chinese, who have been greatly exposed to western culture, with a hard choice, said Li Hao, vice-secretary of the Shangdong Folklore Society.

Despite all the reluctance, most young Chinese still put Spring Festival ahead of Valentine's Day.

According to an online poll conducted by and MSN from Jan. 29 to Feb. 8, 59 percent of about 1,500,000 voters said they would be with their family on Feb. 14 while 29 percent of them planned to be with their lover.
The tiger-eye heart combines our wishes for you -- Happy Valentine's' Day on this first day of the Year of the Tiger! Wishing you lots of love in the Lunar New Year!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Welcoming the Year of the Tiger

At Chinese School today, Zoe and Maya and friends welcomed the Chinese New Year, which starts tomorrow. In case the masks didn't clue you in, it's the Year of the Tiger! Surely you would have figured that out when you heard Maya's class sing the Two Tigers song.

Can't tell which one is Maya? Here's a hint -- she's wearing one of the dresses her foster mother made and sent for her second birthday, and her foster mom is quite expert with beading and embroidery. Foster mom sent two dresses, one for Maya and one for Zoe, which was really sweet. I so appreciate that she always includes Zoe in the annual gift she sends. Maya has outgrown her dress, but she can still wear the one made for Zoe.

I had to miss the performances -- my cold has transmogrified into strep throat. I've started antibiotics, but I'm still contagious! The girls recreated their performances for me and Mimi and Grandpa this evening (we're at Mimi's & Grandpa's house tonight since we've lost power, the joy of an unprecedented snow storm in Texas!).

Zoe's class sang a Chinese New Year song, and then each shared a new year's wish-- that's what's written in Chinese characters on the pieces of paper each student is holding.

Zoe says her favorite part of the celebration at Chinese School was eating dumplings and doing calligraphy. Maya says her favorite part was playing with the Chinese yo-yos. In lieu of attending, my favorite part was napping on the couch and having a kind friend bring the girls home -- thanks, Sue!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Asian Americans, Adoption & Jim Crow

Between Martin Luther King's birthday in January and Black History Month in February, my kids always have tons of questions this time of year about how Southern segregation would have affected them in the era of Jim Crow. I don't mean to co-opt Black History Month for Asian Americans, but my girls are quite convinced that they are the center of the universe, even at this time of year!

Zoe, motivated by a story read in class, asked her reading teacher last week where she would have had to sit on the bus in Rosa Parks' day. Answer from the teacher -- "That's a good question. I don't know the answer, though." I bet most would have to answer that way; we usually only think of Jim Crow as separation along the black/white divide. And the application of Jim Crow laws and customs to other races differed from state to state and from area to area in the states. To complicate things even further, a lot of Jim Crow was based on custom, unwritten rules, not statutes.

This site, the History of Jim Crow, has an overview of the Jim Crow laws, but it's not that detailed (or that easy to dig out!). But it is fascinating to see the application of legal race separation for Asians. Outside of the South, many Jim Crow laws applied to Asians, also called "Mongolian."). In California, for example, Chinese and Japanese specifically and Asians or "Mongolians" in general, were prohibited from going to school with white children or marrying whites. Laws disallowing marriage between whites and Asians were passed in Oregon, Idaho, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Nevada, Not a big surprise to see Western states specifying Asians in their racial classifications, since most Asians came to America via California, and migrated east as discrimination and oppression in the West grew.

Many of those Asians fleeing the west headed to the South. So in some southern states, the segregation laws were not just black/white, but were white/non-white. Thus, in Georgia, it was against the law for a white person to marry a "Negro" or "Malay" or Asian. South Carolina and Missouri also prohibited marriage between Caucasians and Asians. Virginia added Asians to their prohibition on blacks and whites marrying in 1930. Mississippi disallowed marriage between a Caucasian or Asian, with Asian defined as anyone with 1/8th or more of "Mongolian" blood. And speaking of blood -- Louisiana required donated blood to be labeled "Negro," "Caucasian," or "Mongoloid," and if it wasn't so labeled, it could not be used.

No explicit answers here for where Zoe would have had to sit on the bus. Most of the description of the statutes calling for separation in public accommodations like buses didn't mention Asians specifically. But in those states that included Asians in their intermarriage statutes seem to have operated along the white/non-white divide, which would suggest Zoe would have to sit in the back of the bus.

The first time we talked about her position in the Jim Crow bus, Zoe said, "You mean I couldn't sit with you?!" That tickled me, because she obviously hadn't connected any of the race separation talk to adoption, that I probably would not have been allowed to adopt across the color divide.

Indeed, adoption was a topic of Jim Crow laws. Kentucky forbade transracial adoption in 1951. Same for Lousiana and Missouri. Maryland and Oklahoma required that race of petitioners and child be disclosed on adoption petitions. South Carolina passed a law in 1952 making it a crime to place a white child with a black person (this would have applied to foster care, guardianship, and custody after divorce (if a mixed-race marriage ended in divorce, the children and parent who looked most alike racially was given custody). Outside the South, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota required the race or color of adopting parents to be included in the adoption petition. In Indiana, Ohio, New Hampshire , Massachusets and Michigan, the law required judges take "due consideration of race" in adoptions. I suspect that the information and "due consideration" states approved very few transracial adoptions. What makes this approach Jim Crow is that it was motivated by race separation and keeping each race in its place.

And suppose somehow I had managed to adopt Zoe and Maya in the Jim Crow era? Could we sit together on the bus? Well, in Florida, where separation of races was required on all streetcars, a statute gave Caucasian women the right to have their children attended in the white section of the car by an African-American nurse. So some accommodation was made for child care issues. But an African-American woman did not have the right to have her child attended in the African-American section by its Caucasian nurse, so we weren't that accommodating. And might interpret the rule to say white children in the white section, non-white children in the non-white section, and not fitting for white caregiver to be in the non-white section. That separates us again.

As I've been typing this, Zoe has been reading over my shoulder, and has had many questions. I've explained it a bit more simply to her, and she just got tentative answer to the bus question. Zoe and Maya say they are happy we don't live in the Jim Crow era, because they would miss me if they couldn't sit with me on the bus. But at least they'd be together!

They'll have to come to grips later with the fact that we might not have been allowed to be a family at all. . . .

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Snow! In Texas! Really!

Zoe, Maya, and our neighbor, Harper, managed to make a snowman that was taller than at least one of them! That's unprecedented for us -- we usually have to scrape up every little bit of white stuff just to make an 18-inch snowman.

Not a thing adoption in this post. Sorry. Couldn't help myself!

Mexico/Texas Cross-Border Trafficking for Adoption

Another birth-mother-as-portable-incubator story, reported at

A Texas man and his girlfriend were sentenced to nine years in prison for recruiting Mexican women to give birth in the U.S. and sell their babies to couples there, a judge said Wednesday.

Amado Torres of Harlingen and Maria Isabel Hernandez of Mexico paid women up to $3,000 for their newborns, Tamaulipas state Judge Jose Luis Bazan told The Associated Press. He handed down their sentences for child trafficking Jan. 29.

Bazan said the pregnant women were smuggled into the United States to give birth so their babies would be U.S. citizens, making them more easily adoptable.

Torres and Hernandez received up to $13,000 from U.S. couples for the babies, court secretary Mario Alberto Cervantes said.

This isn't an uncommon tactic in the border states, even absent the smuggling of and payment to birth mothers. Even adoption agencies have been known to "encourage" Mexican women to cross the border to give birth in the U.S. so that the simpler domestic adoption rules can be followed instead of the more difficult international adoption rules.

Cowboy Adoption

Schott's Vocab, a New York Times blog about modern words and phrases, notes that "cowboy adoption" has entered the lexicon thanks to the Idaho 10 in Haiti. The blog cites a BBC report:

“In these kinds of situations, there are all types of charities and church groups with, to be fair, good intentions,” says Richard Danziger, head of counter trafficking at the International Office of Migration (IOM).

“But that’s not the way to go about it – it doesn’t help an already messy situation.
Children with no documentation get whisked away, and their families don’t know what has happened to them.”

Mr Danziger describes it as “cowboy adoption.”

Seems a fitting description, but I wish it were a phrase that hadn't entered the lexicon. And come to think of it, is it fair to give cowboys such a bad name?

I've tried to coin my own descriptive term for the debacle. I'm trying out "Idaho 10" here -- but is it fair to blame Idaho? the number 10?! How about "vigilante adoption?" My favorite is still "Bumbling Baptist Baby-Snatchers," which is nicely alliterative. But as Dawn Davenport notes in response to my comment to her excellent post, most of those snatched were older children, not babies, which ruins the whole alliteration thing.

Sometimes it's easier to focus on the minutiae instead of the full scope of a truly horrible story. . . .

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Zoe loves me sooooooo much. . .

. . . that she gave me her terrible, awful, horrid, no good cold! And as usual, it has hit my old body much harder than it hit Zoe. Frankly, I'm miserable enough that I'd take brain surgery again over this; at least they give you really good drugs with brain surgery! Okay, I'm not really serious about trading this in for brain surgery. . . probably.

The girls were very sweet "taking care of Mama" after school. I got to veg on the couch while they covered me with blankets . . . and then abandoned me to go play Barbies in their room.

But I really shouldn't joke about the brain surgery; since that episode in 2007, every time someone in the family gets sick, Zoe or Maya or both with ask me if that person is going to die. And sure enough, Zoe asked tonight if I was going to die. I didn't tell her what I wanted to say -- no, but death would be an improvement to how I'm feeling now! I didn't think they'd appreciate the levity. Instead, I told her that people don't die from colds, and reminded her that she had the cold first, and she's alive and well.

And then we all snuggled together in my bed, and strangely enough, I started to feel better, with my girls cuddled up next to me! It's hard to feel sorry for yourself when you're the middle of a Zoe & Maya sandwich.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Realistic Assessment of Skin Color

This has been puzzling me for some time -- years, in fact. I think my kids see their skin as darker than it really is. They will use a dark brown crayon for their skin on a self-portrait, even when other colors are available that seem to me to be a more accurate match. When comparing their skin color to skin color in the book the Colors of Us, they'll declare a match for colors far darker than they are. In making an avatar for a computer game, again they go darker. And yesterday, Maya was telling me that she didn't like the color of her skin and wished she had skin like mine and Zoe's. I wasn't surprised to hear her say she didn't like her skin -- that's part of her don't-want-to-be-different thing (that's a subject for another post). But wanting skin like mine and Zoe's, as if Zoe and I have the same skin?! At one point in the conversation, I said she did have skin like Zoe's, and she said that her skin was far darker than Zoe's. Nothing could be further from the truth -- Zoe is in fact darker than Maya.

So. What does this mean? Is this a problem? Is this common for children of color?

My worry is that the girls have internalized the "lighter is better" message that society promotes, and thus see themselves as darker in comparison. And if "lighter is better," are they seeing themselves as "darker is bad?" Or am I falling for the "lighter is better" trope, and seeing them as lighter than they are?

And I don't know how to deal with this directly -- which is unusual for me, since I'm willing to talk about anything! I don't want to suggest that they are in fact lighter than they think, because it suggests that I think lighter is better. And no way was I going to tell Maya she's lighter than Zoe for the same reason. I once had a Japanese student look at pictures of Zoe and Maya and be very dismissive of Zoe as "dark" and obviously an ethnic minority, while praising Maya's light skin and confidently declaring her to be Han Chinese, and of a higher class. I don't want to promote that kind of within-race color stratification that has been so notorious.

The girls generally seem to have pretty good self-esteem when it comes to their skin and hair and eyes (despite Maya not wanting to be different). Zoe went through a phase where she wanted her skin to be light, but she's mostly out of that phase now, it seems. We talk often about how beautiful their skin color is, but hearing it doesn't mean they've necessarily embraced it . . . .
Any suggestions? Thoughts? Anyone seeing the same thing in their child? In themselves? Does anyone know of any studies about self-assessment of skin color? Any help would be appreciated.

P.S. Kantmakm suggested this video link in the comments (thanks!). In addition to young Asian American women discussing standards of beauty, the filmmaker reproduced the famous doll study from the 1950s, where African-American children invariably picked a white doll as more beautiful than a black doll (an experiment recreated in 2006, sadly, with the same results). Using a white, blue-eyed, blond doll and an Asian brown-eyed, black-haired doll, he asked 20 children which was prettier. Fourteen out of the 20 picked the white doll. Wow.

But where are you really from?

Schema Magazine, a Canadian website that says it's about "being more than ethnic," brings us 6 "But where are you really from?" stories from 1.5 and 2nd generation immigrants. Here's a snippet from the introduction:

A seemingly innocent question, one that many people would never even imagine to
contain layers of subtext or carry with it a history of exclusion and authenticity. "But where are you really from?" rarely appears in a conversation all by itself. It's the sum in a complicated equation that reaches deep into personal identity, diversity and belonging.

Many of us know that feeling, that combination of anger, resentment, hesitation and confusion that bubbles up from your gut whenever someone asks you the question, "Where are you from?" Yes, it's a simple question, and, yes, you know that the answer can be simple as well, but that's not the problem. Before you even open your mouth to respond, a very familiar thought runs circles inside your head, "No matter what I say, this person will not understand."

The six stories are numbered VI-I on the right. No adoptee stories (but that could change, see below!), but the "cultural navigator" stories of these young adults are quite interesting. For what it's worth, my favorite is number one -- what about you?

The magazine is also seeking more submissions to its "But where are you really from?" series. Looks like they could use a story from a Canadian international adoptee (hint, hint, Mei-Ling!)

Monday, February 8, 2010

"I don't want her to be sad"

The overwhelming desire of parents to protect our children from all harm, all hurts, all disappointment, all sorrow has reached mythic proportions --Mama bear protecting her cub. Helicopter parents. Mother hen. Overprotective dad.

And for adoptive parents, sometimes that protective instinct applies to our children's feelings about adoption. An adoptive mom told me once why she didn't want her daughter attending an adoption workshop -- "I don't want her to be sad about her adoption." Another adoptive mom had told her of her daughter's experience attending the workshop two years earlier -- she reported that her daughter sobbed for days afterwards about the loss of her birth mother.

My friend thought she could protect her daughter from that sadness by keeping her away from the workshop. It never occurred to her that the other child, and maybe even her own child, was already sad, that the workshop had done no more than provide permission to express those feelings of sadness.

When waiting for Zoe's referral, I read a book excerpt in a magazine at the hairdressers. I think the book was Ten Thousand Sorrows -- I didn't read the whole thing, just the magazine excerpt, but one thing always stuck in my head. No, it wasn't the horrific story of this young Korean girl seeing her birth mother murdered, or being abused in an orphanage there, or her abusive marriage. I had to look at the book description to remember all of that. What stuck was a simple anecdote about her adoptive mother -- she said that her adoptive mother completely ignored her unless she smiled. She never wanted to see her with any other facial expression. How awful. That may not be the worst thing her adoptive mother did, but it's the one that really struck me.

No, we don't want our children to be sad. But we can't control whether they are sad, about adoption or anything else. We can only give them the opportunity to express those feelings, and teach them tools to deal with those feelings. Far more than the sorrow, grief and loss in adoption can harm them, we as parents harm them with insistence that they express no other feeling but joy.

And we harm them by "shielding" them from information about adoption -- the fact that they had birth parents, that they lost them, that there were reasons like death and poverty and disease and war and stigma and oppression that might account for that loss -- that might make them feel sad. They can learn these things from someone else, or we can tell them as lovingly and truthfully as we can, in ways that they can understand at whatever age they're at. And if they are sad, we can hold them while they cry.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Is the Tide Turning? Do We Have the BBBS to Thank?!

In the immediate aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, the adoption blogosphere was shouting about how important it was to get the orphans OUT of Haiti and get them out NOW. Yes, there were some notable cautionary voices, but the majority seemed to favor Operation Pierre Pan, the plan to airlift 400,000 Haitian children to the U.S. Anyone speaking against it was surely anti-adoption. All the child welfare organizations speaking against it -- UNICEF, SOS Villages, Save the Children, World Vision -- were anti-adoption, too.

If the Bumbling Baptist Baby-Snatchers (heretofore known as the BBBS) in Haiti accomplished nothing else, they seem to be responsible for the tide turning. They are now the poster children for why it's so important, especially after a disaster, to follow the rules for international adoption. Some of the biggest names in the mainstream media are using the BBBS to talk about the situation in Haiti specifically and international adoption in general.
The Economist weighed in with an article titled, International Adoption: Saviours or Kidnappers? , with the BBBS highlighted in the first paragraph. Time Magazine trumpeted, Haiti's Children: Help Them, Don't Just Take Them, with the prerequisite mention of the BBBS, and a hope that their arrests "might get more foreigners to recognize that perhaps the best way to help Haiti's children isn't by plucking them out of their country but by helping to rebuild Haiti so they'll have a safer place to grow up in."

The editorial in yesterday's Boston Globe makes no bones about using the BBBS as the what-not-to-do example, stating bluntly:

Perhaps it was compassion that motivated the church-going Americans who were detained in Haiti for trying to bring 33 children across the border to the Dominican Republic without the proper paperwork. But officials’ discovery that many of the children were not actually orphans highlights the dangers posed by undocumented international adoptions, especially in a time of disaster.

* * *

International adoption can seem needlessly cumbersome. Yet even when the rule of law has eroded in a country, it is crucial to adhere to the rules that protect children from being sold away from their homes and into illegal labor or sexual exploitation. They also prevent mismanaged adoptions that leave birth parents without any say in their children’s fate. Parents who have been separated from their children in the recent earthquake need the opportunity to find their sons and daughters. Missionaries and adoption agencies alike must respect that right even as they seek to help.
Ironic, isn't it? Such a gung-ho, pro-adoption group as the BBBS being the wake-up call that America needs to understand that taking children for illegal adoption is child trafficking, that not everyone an adoption group claims to be an orphan is actually an orphan, that poverty and desperation is often the untold back-story in international adoption. Do you think they'll appreciate going down in history for that?!

P.S. And maybe it's not the tide turning, but the waters parting! Check out this piece by a Baptist minister: Prosecuting missionaries good for Haiti, families, church.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Thank You!

I owe a few thank yous -- to the group blog Grown in My Heart, for including this blog in their list of 101 best adoption, infertility & loss blogs! It is an awesome list, with lots of my old favorites and lots that look to be new favorites. They've broken the list down into categories, including Informational/Adoptee Rights, Domestic Adoption, International Adoption (further broken down into locations), Foster Care/Adoption, Adoptees, and First Parents. If you don't usually read blogs that are outside "your category," I challenge you to read at least one blog in each category -- I promise it will be amazing fun! And be sure to look at the individual blogs of those who also blog at Grown in My Heart -- they were nice enough to exclude themselves from the list of 101, where each of them surely belongs.
And thanks to my "Followers" (it sounds so cultish, but it only means you've used the little Google thingie to the right so it will be easy for you to find this blog!). We've reached 100! I appreciate looking at your little pictures, and give thanks every day for everyone who reads (and if you haven't done it yet, if you were to "follow," I'd know you were reading, too, and could give thanks for you, too! Hint, hint. . . .)
And as always, thanks to all who comment. There have been some exceptionally sweet comments lately, and I've really been touched. And I'm always impressed with how well-thought-out comments are, and how people "play nice" even when they disagree. Keep up the good work! If you haven't commented yet, come on in, the water's fine! You could comment here, for instance, and tell us a little about yourself -- and this goes for frequent commenters as well as first-time commenters.
So one hundred and one thanks to you all!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Ignorantia Juris Non Excusat

Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

We all know this old saw, right? Well, I was playing around with a post about the Bungling Baptist Baby-Snatchers in Haiti, explaining that their criminal stupidity could not provide them a defense. We presume that everyone knows the law, just so people charged with a crime can't claim lack of knowledge -- something we'd all be tempted to do. There'd be a strong motivation to bury one's head in the sand so that one could claim ignorance. In law, we actually talk about it as "willful blindness" or "the ostrich defense."

And this group can't claim ignorance based on the fact that they were in a foreign country; no matter how transient your connection to a place, we presume you are aware of that country's laws. Nor can they claim ignorance because they were engaged in activity beyond the ken of most ordinary persons; we presume that you will inform yourself of the laws when you're doing something outside the norm.

But now it seems completely unnecessary to explore the defense of "mistake of law" as more facts are developed -- they weren't ignorant at all! They consulted a Dominican Republic official who told them their plan was criminal. There's even the suggestion that they bribed a Haitian police officer, which seems inconsistent with claims that they had no idea what they were doing was wrong.

Sometimes "mistake of fact" can be a defense, if you were ignorant as to certain facts that made your conduct criminal, and if that ignorance was reasonable. But that won't help them, either, it seems. They lied about where the children came from -- only a few came from a destroyed orphanage, as they first claimed, while most came directly from the arms of their living parents. And there's little doubt but that they knew the children weren't orphans -- they were actually THERE when the children's living parents handed them over.

Even the group's Haitian lawyer says at least the leader of the group knew:

The group's Haitian lawyer, Edwin Coq, who attended Thursday's hearing, portrayed nine of his clients as innocents caught up in a scheme they did not understand. But Coq did not defend the actions of the group leader, Silsby, who helped organize the mission to Haiti and has spoken for the Americans since they were detained last Friday.

"I'm going to do everything I can to get the nine out. They were naive. They had no idea what was going on and they did not know that they needed official papers to cross the border," Coq said. "But Silsby did."
(Nothing like having your own lawyer throw you under the bus! Looks like Silsby needs her own lawyer!)

Given all of this, it isn't surprising that the Haitian authorities have charged them with kidnapping.

But it seems to me we should be able to charge them with moral failings that would condemn their souls. The most chilling thing to me is that this group KNEW the villagers from whom they took most of the children. They KNEW these parents were giving them the children because the parents were homeless, living in tents, with no money and little food. How can these 10 able-bodied Baptists NOT say, "Let's rebuild these homes so families can stay together?" How can they NOT take the money they intended for this ill-fated adoption scheme and buy food so the families could stay together?

It isn't criminal to fail to act, unless one has a legal duty to act. No one is legally obligated to provide relief to these Haitian families. But in these circumstances, it certainly is a sin. And you'd think these missionaries would care about that. If only they hadn't be so blinded by their image of themselves as "child savers" instead of "family savers."

Thursday, February 4, 2010

China: Boy Chained While Father Worked

Here's a sad testament to the child trafficking problem in China, as well as the difficulties of migrant workers:
Unlicenced rickshaw driver Chen Chuanliu told the Chinese wire service Xinhua News he chained his son Lao Lu to the post while he picked up customers because he feared kidnappers would steal the boy.

Chen's four year-old daughter was stolen earlier last month. His wife was unable to care for Lao Lu because she was "mentally disabled."

"I have to work to support my family," the 42-year-old told Xinhua News.

"I don't even have a picture of [my daughter] to use for a missing person and ... I cannot lose my son as well."

Shoppers saw the boy outside the Huaguan Shopping Mall near Liangxiang, 20km southwest of Beijing, before contacting authorities. Chen was ordered to remove the shackles.

The boy cannot be taken to a local nursery because the family is from another province and therefore does not qualify for state help.

Chen, who earns just $8.10 a day, said he could not afford childcare. He has also refused "many good offers" to put Lao Lu up for adoption.

"To chain him is better than losing him," Mr Chen said.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Adoptee = Perpetual Childhood

In the video Vital Records, an adult adoptee recounts a conversation she had about open records with a legislator. He kept talking about how the child shouldn't have access to the original birth certificate, the child can't do this or that, the child, the child, the child. She refuted his argument, and said she was an adult, not a child. As she tells it, he then shook his finger in her face and said, "You are a child."

That conversation replays in my mind each time I think about reform efforts to allow adult adoptees to have access to their own records, their own original birth certificates. If you'd like to help change the rule of sealed birth/adoption records, go to and vote to return to adult adoptees the right to their original birth certificates.

But that perpetual childhood for adoptees applies to other issues, too. In an interview with Jane Jeong Trenka about her latest book, Fugitive Visions, and her first memoir, the Language of Blood, she had this to say:

Q: How is “Fugitive Visions” different than (or similar to) “The Language of Blood?”

A: “Language of Blood” extends the adoptee’s (my) timeline into the past, to connect with the Korean family. Fugitive Visions extends the adoptee’s timeline into the future, into middle adulthood. I’m saying that it’s an extension of a timeline because adoptees are usually thought of within a very short timeline — the span of time in which they live in their adoptive homes — which they only inhabit from the point of separation from their birth families or countries to young adulthood.
Is that right? When we think "adopted," do we inevitably think "child?" Consider the Evan B. Donaldson report on adult adoptees-- there were children on the cover, an insight I have to credit to Sang-Shil's Land of the Not-So-Calm blog.

I've noticed this tendency in some adoptive parents who have adopted transracially, particularly when it comes to race. I know readers sometimes think it's weird that I'm already worried about Asian Fetish Man, about Asian American standards of beauty, about makeup tips for Asian women with monolids. After all, my kids are only 6 and 9!

I tell my kids that they are my babies, and that they will always be my babies. But the rest of the world won't see them as my babies forever. So I feel that I really need to be thinking about preparing them for an adulthood as a member of a racial minority. While my kids are with me, they are clothed in my white privilege much of the time. But that will end when they leave my house.

Not only do I have to make sure they develop a moral compass that helps them choose right from wrong even when I'm not at their elbow, not only do I have to make sure they develop academic and critical thinking skills to that they can succeed in college and in their work lives, not only do I have to make sure they develop life skills like exercise and healthy eating and learning to relax and have fun, I also have to help them develop a healthy racial identity and life skills to handle racial discrimination and stereotyping. Whew!

One of the things we learned from the recent Evan B. Donaldson report on adult adoptees is that adoption issues do not end with the end of childhood: "Adoption is an increasingly significant aspect of identity for adopted people as they age, and remains so even when they are adults." Duh! Adopted persons still have to work to develop healthy adoptive identity and healthy racial identity into adulthood. Adopted persons do not stop being adopted after their reach adulthood. And reach adulthood they will, despite all desire to keep them children forever.

So, we need to stop thinking about adoption as just a childhood issue, we need to acknowledge that adopted adults are just that -- adults -- not perpetual children, we need to extend the timeline of adoptees beyond the time they live in their adoptive parents' homes. We adoptive parents need to keep that vision in our minds -- our children as adopted adults -- as we parent them as children.

Beauty and Women of Color

A video in two parts and a few links. . . .

Video, Asian American Beauty -- covers stereotypes, plastic surgery, eating disorders, identity issues:

A few links:

Is Blond the New Black? At NPR's Tell Me More blog, comment about the number of African-American women at the Grammy Awards sporting blonde locks.

Balm, from the Washington Post, an African-American mother writes of bonding with her daughter while fixing her hair.

Vanity Fair's "New Hollywood" Issue Lacks Diversity, noting that "Every woman on its new cover is extremely thin and very, very white."

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Using DNA to Fight Trafficking in Haiti & Philippines

I've posted before about the organization DNA-ProKids, which offers DNA services to identify trafficked children and match them with their parents. They are at work in the Philippines:

Humanitarian workers using DNA tests are offering to help track down Filipino babies illegally sent to Singapore for adoption in affluent countries.

“Women posing as their mothers would go to Singapore using fake identification to make authorities believe that the babies are theirs,” said Amihan Abueva, regional coordinator of the NGO Asia Against Child Trafficking.

“But once in Singapore, the babies are left behind,” Abueva told a forum on “DNA-Prokids: Using DNA To Help Fight Child-Trafficking.”

“The trouble is that there are no complainants,” Justice Undersecretary Ricardo Blancaflor told reporters on the sidelines of the forum at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.

“Parents also do not know where to go. They do not even know whom to accuse since no one knows where the child went,” Blancaflor said.
And thanks to a link from kantmakm, I can report that the organization is at work in Haiti, too:

The project called DNA-Prokids in Haiti will enable to initially take 6.000 samples of genetic data from adults who have reported missing children, immediate relatives with blood relationship, and from children with no family or doubtful relatives. The aim is to deter human trafficking of children and help reunite abducted and homeless children with their parents after the devastating earthquake, a problem which UNICEF and other organizations are warning of.

* * *

The collaboration offer to the Haitian Government will start immediately and is scheduled in five stages, the director of the program Dr. José A. Lorente said: ”On site training on sample collection; sample collection kits distribution (saliva, blood) for children under 18 with unknown family; sample collection kits distribution (saliva, blood) for parents (or relatives, if needed) who report their children disappearance; DNA analysis of the cases and design and development of ad hoc databases; and, finally, data delivery to competent Haitian authorities. Data interchange will make family reunification possible in same cases, it will force to continue searching in other cases, but it will save the children from abuse and organized crime in all cases.
How wonderful that DNA provides the means for family reunification, and that this organization can offer these services for free. And I admit a very personal interest -- I think DNA databases hold the promise to find birth family in China. . . .