Wednesday, October 12, 2011

On Adoption and Identity

Ostensibly a review of Korean adoptee Dana Weiner's latest gallery show, this piece is really a rumination on adoption and fractured identity by Max Sparber, Irish by birth, Jewish by adoption:
I am an adopted child. Ordinarily, this isn't much of an issue, unless, of course, you hide it from your child until he is near adulthood and then spring it on him in a moment of anger. I understand this happens every so often, at least in movies, although it perplexes me. I am nearly 6 feet tall, and my adopted family tends to be between 3 and 11 inches shorter than me, which made things handy when I wanted to hide things from them, as I just needed to put it up on the top shelf. They have darker skin and brown eyes. I am pink and blue-eyed. They have tight, angry coils of dark hair that, left to its own devices, becomes wavy and, in one instance, blossoms into what in the '70s they used to call a "natural." I had blond hair as a boy that darkened into brown and eventually fell out. You'd have to be pretty oblivious to miss these differences until an enraged parent sprung them on you. I mean, for Pete's sake. They are clearly Jewish. I am clearly not.

Except, through adoption, I am.

* * *

But the thing about adoption is that these sort of cultural identities will necessarily be fragmented. There is an Irish Jewish community, but I would have to go to the bigger communities in Ireland to experience them, and so I am left with a jury-rigged sense of who I am, glued together from bits of Judaism, bits of Irish, none of it really sitting together easily.

* * *

This is a long introduction to an art show, but the truth is it's a piece I can only understand through my own lens. The art show is "Who Are You?!?" at Burnet Gallery at Le Meridien Chambers, by Dana Weiser — a solidly Jewish last name. Except that Dana is Korean-American and was adopted by a Jewish family in the Midwest.

* * *

But Weiser is, in part, exploring the fragmenting of identity that comes with adoption. Unlike me, who tacked bits and pieces of my biological and adopted identities together to form a makeshift sense of self, Weiser seems very much adrift in the show's artistic statement. "I never felt a strong affiliation to any of my communities," Weiser writes. "I was not white, I did not feel part of the Jewish community and I wasn't Asian enough."

* * *

I can't blame Weiser for feeling disconnected. And, in some ways, the fact that I could piece together a strange hybrid Jewish/Irish identity is a mark of privilege. I am a white guy, and so society will see me as a white guy, which is, socially, sort of a blank slate; white is neutral.
This piece is well worth the read (even if you won't be seeing the art show it reviews).We often think of identity issues as the exclusive province of the transracial adoptee; this piece is a good reminder that it isn't, though transracial adoption may make the identity issues more obvious. . . .


Anonymous said...

So true... last saturday I was sitting with a friend who was in tears because she was born and raised in Taiwan, lived past 20 years in the States. She says now she feels she belongs to neither...

Anonymous said...

Malinda - domestic adoptees have identity concerns to work through if possible including nationality. Transracial and/or international adoptees have additional layers on top of that.

Lora said...

Although I looked like my adopted parents it still threw me for a loop when I discovered at age 50 that I am a large part irish.

I don't know how to incorperate that into my picture of myself.