Friday, March 5, 2010

The Case for International Adoption

In Newsweek, Jeneen Interlandi, adopted as an infant from Columbia by a white American family, defends international adoption, using her life as an example:
My own parents suffered through a string of miscarriages and failed attempts to adopt in the U.S. before fetching my older sister, twin brother, and I from a dilapidated orphanage in Medellín, Colombia. It was the late 1970s, and we were
infants—two of us premature and very sick. They nursed us back to health, brought us to a working-class suburb of New Jersey and promptly went about the business of raising us. Among the many things they took pains to instill (like work ethic, faith in God, and a healthy appreciation for good lasagna), a sense of Colombian-ness was not included. Nor was it to be acquired elsewhere: together my siblings and I made up about half the town's Colombian population.

But if we lacked a clear blueprint for our ethnic identities, we still had plenty of other parameters from which to forge our sense of selves: we were blue-collar kids from Jersey. We grew up amongst the mostly Irish- and Italian-American children of nurses, plumbers, and store clerks. Like them, we indulged in all the rituals of our particular American upbringing. And like most internationally adopted children, we turned out just fine.

To be sure, there are some significant and seemingly unclosable gaps in our cultural
identities. I remember eagerly befriending two Colombian kids that moved to our
town in junior high, only to find out that we had nothing special in common. "I'm Colombian too," I exclaimed to one of them, a girl the same age as me. She smiled and started speaking in Spanish. I furrowed my brow to show that I didn't understand. "Where are you from?" she asked in English. "Medellín," I said. "No," she said, laughing. "You definitely aren't."

In later years my twin brother (who is darker than my sister and I) would occasionally be subject to racial profiling. And, as we belatedly discovered, all three of us would have to go through the complicated and lengthy process of naturalization before we could obtain driver's licenses (or register to vote or apply for financial aid
for college). We were immigrants and minorities—but only sometimes. The same was true of our Italian experience. I know more about Palermo and my father's upbringing in 1950s Bensonhurst than I ever will about Medellín, but I feel as dishonest calling myself Italian or Italian-American as I do calling myself Colombian. That's OK by me. My loss of ethnic heritage has been more than compensated for in the multitude of opportunities afforded by my adoption. Besides, I kind of like being a cultural chameleon (Colombian by birth, Sicilian by adoption, and American by upbringing). It makes me unique.

There's much more, so go read the whole thing. And the author writes more for a Newsweek blog.


Lora said...

I can not tell how old this writter is, but she reminds me of myself in my 20s and 30s. I am a regular 50s era adoptee, but I had those same feelings of its all good, and its great that I can have different groups of friends for different things.

The truth of it is that I had to compartmentlize my life because I had to be different things to different people.I was a chameoloen, but I did not know who I really was. I was way to busy people pleaseing and being who they wanted me to be. In the end, I realized I was so out of touch with my own feelings I did not even know I had them.

Anonymous said...

I'm always horrified when I read about families who adopt internationally and then don't go through the process to have their children naturalized. I can't believe there's no accountability from the agencies or SOMEONE about this. Even more than the stuff about race and culture, that's what jumped out at me.

Jessica O'Dwyer said...

I'm the adoptive mom to a 7-yr-old daughter and 5-yr-old son, both from Guatemala. I read this article with relief--not many positive articles on international adoption lately. The writer seems well-adjusted and happy, at peace with her life. I'm grateful she shared her experiences so I can learn from them.

Anonymous said...

I am appalled that the author of this touching article is being attacked in the comments to the article as a "tool" of adoption agencies, uninquisitive and brainwashed. It is that type of mean spirited, conformity demanding tactics of adoptee advocates that causes people to question their more valid and legitimate points.

I thought the article was even handed, acknowledging both good and bad and conveying the author's personal experience that the benefits outweigh the costs.

Wendy said...

I was VERY concerned before reading the entire article, not that I think there are not issues with the article that people will cling to in order to say "I knew it" or "see, we can do nothing and it will be fine". However, I was happy to see she at least mentioned that this may not be the experience of all TRA's, especially those who do not "match" their parents. Looking at her photo you can easily see how she could "pass" as Italian and/or fit into her family more easily than a darker skinned child or Asian with white parents; she even mentions this issue with her brother. Yes, there are similarities with all adopted people, but I really think her perspective is limited when it comes to generalizing about adoptees who face the immediate reaction from peers/strangers.
Also, I wonder about her glossing over of the racism her brother faced. Is it because she did not face it as directly, maybe if her family (Italian) lived in another area where they too were the minority and seen as foreign in addition to her Columbian roots.
Another thing that struck me was the "poverty ridden/crime invested" ideals about Columbia. She was adopted as an infant, how many times has she been there? Who ingrained those ideals and from what age?--we all can guess there. Yes, Columbia had major issues in the past; however, that does not dismiss an entire culture and country to the point where it is "less than", you would never know that from her article.
Sadly it sounds like a cheerleader article. You know, the one everyone points to to say "yes, all issues can be overcome!" No progress, no recognition, no allowance for those with a different experience. Yes, her experiences are valid, but all to often that is all anyone hears in the mainstream media.

Von said...

Lora has hit the worrying part of this story on the head with those last two sentences.Sometimes our 'issuse' don't come out for decades because it takes that long to stop playing the good child and living out 'the good adoption' story.Trauma always leaves it's mark, no-one gets off scot-free whatever we might like to think and hope.
How can part of a process be neglected? Is that good caring adoption?

Anonymous said...

Please, the country is called ColOmbia, not ColUmbia.

Anonymous said...

I don't know. Isn't it conceivable that SOME international adoptees actually feel this way? She isn't saying it was all rosy and good, just that she thinks the pros outweigh the cons. Does anyone come through childhood without issues, whether they are adopted or not? I figure my kids will have issues. I do what I can to minimize them. I just hope that they can look back on their childhood and think, like the author of the article, that the good outweighed the bad. I am not adopted, but I can pretty much say the same thing. I have issues due to the way I was raised, but I also have had a lot of advantages due to my upbringing.

Wendy said...

Yes, error-sorry.

Lanita Moss said...

I loved reading this article because it gave me some insight into how my daughters may feel one day. Not so much my Russian daughter, but my Guatemalan daughter since there is no way she could ever pass for our biological daughter. (I could kill for her skin color!) It was nice to read a positive article after all the bad press IA has been getting lately.