Friday, August 27, 2010

"International adoption instructs our culture"

Another old white guy heard from -- Michael Gerson, Washington Post columnist, concurs with Scott Simon that adoption is a miracle, and like Simon, it's for very personal reasons:
When a columnist has a conflict of interest, he should disclose it. My wife, born in South Korea, was adopted by an American family at the age of 6 and welcomed into a Midwestern community. I first saw her when we were both 10, and I have never recovered. Years ago, we visited the orphanage where she lived in Inchon — orderly, cheerful, but still with dirt floors. The director said she remembered my wife. She produced the police record relating how On Soon had been found as a newborn abandoned in the market, a note with her name pinned to her blanket.

Life is a procession of miracles, but this one stands out to me. A 6-year-old girl walks off a plane in America, speaking no English, loved by a family she had never met, destined to marry, of all people, me. A series of events that began in a Korean market created my family, my sons, my life. And now my Italian, Jewish, English, Korean boys view themselves as normal, unexceptional Americans. Which they are.
 Not surprisingly, his view of adoption is positive and positively sentimental, and all wrapped up in patriotism as well:
It is an unexpected form of human affection — meeting a stranger and, within moments, being willing to care for them, even to die for them. The relationship results from a broken bond but creates ties as strong as genetics, stronger than race or tribe. It is a particularly generous kind of parental love that embraces a life one did not give.

International adoption has its critics, who allege a kind of imperialism that robs children of their identity. Simon responds, “We have adopted real, modern little girls, not mere vessels of a culture.” Ethnicity is an abstraction — often an admirable abstraction, but not comparable to the needs of a child living in an orphanage or begging in roving bands. Adopted Chinese girls are refugees from a terrible oppression — a one-child policy that Simon calls “one of the great crimes of history.” Every culture or race is outweighed when the life of a child is placed on the other side of the balance.

It is one of the noblest things about America that we care for children of other lands who have been cast aside.
Yep, another old white guy heard from, to tell people of color that "ethnicity is an abstraction." Another non-adopted person telling adoptees that their loss of culture doesn't matter compared to what they gained. A white non-adopted person telling adoptees that the bonds of adoption create ties "stronger than race or tribe." Another Westerner extolling Americans for rescuing "children of other lands who have been cast aside." Another ignorant person calling adoptive parents saints, praising us for our "particularly generous kind of parental love that embraces a life one did not give." 

A whole host of distasteful and uninformed international adoption themes is presented here -- the superiority of receiving countries to sending countries, the superiority of adoptive parents to birth parents, the need for adoption as "rescue," a preference for assimilation into dominant culture to maintaining a distinctive racial identity, the "othering" of foreign people who "cast aside" their children, the complete sufficiency of the adoptive family so that knowledge of the biological family ("tribe") is unnecessary.

And this is what passes as a feel-good piece on international adoption. . . .


maybe said...

Wow, one writer congratulating another writer for publishing a self-absorbed, navel-gaving book about the glories of adoption. It never ends. (I started to use the word "jounalist" to describe Simon and Gerson, but the drivel they publish is certainly not "journalism" in any sense of the word).

Unfortunately, it is still popular in many upper-middle class social circles (read: white)to wax poetic about the end of race and ethnicity. In their minds the color-blind society exists as a reality - as opposed to the reality lived by people of color each and every day. Interesting that I've never heard a person of color speak so naively about our supposed post-racial society.

Well, white folks, dream on and keep deluding yourselves that ethnicity is an abstraction. Just remember the rest of world does not see race, ethnicity, and BLOOD (another naughty word amongst the bourgeoisie) as figments of our imagination.

(Re-posting my comment from Margie's blog.)

Dawn said...

"It is one of the noblest things about America that we care for children of other lands who have been cast aside."

And who is caring for the children that WE cast aside? How noble is THAT? That line sickens me.

Anonymous said...

Malinda, I was struck by the comment quoted that a customs/immigration official told Simon that once his daughter crosses a certain line, she'll be a US citizen. Is that actually how it works or is it the kind of thing that people believe that keeps them from actually getting their children's citizenship resolved promptly?

Jeff and Madeline said...

motherissues--Chinese adopted children become citizens the moment they step on American soil. There is no need for re-adoption or additional citizenship paperwork, unless only one parent in a married couple traveled to China.

malinda said...

Yep, Wendy is right on the citizenship issue -- at least since February 2001. Anyone adopted after that date automatically becomes an American citizen on passing immigration in their first port of entry to the U.S.

The problem is kids who were adopted before that point -- their parents have to have them naturalized before they reach age 18. If they don't, the child is not a citizen, and that's why we see all those cases of deportation of international adoptees who've committed crimes. Deportation is automatic when a non-citizen commits certain crimes, and these life-long U.S. residents are not citizens.

Von said...

Tha't all very lovely but if it doesn't recognise what caused the situations in other countries in the first place it's hollow.America is so often interventionist, creating havoc, poverty and destruction, plus many children who are neither Americans nor of the country they were born in.Perhaps America's love of adoption comes from a guilty conscience.
Colour blindness looks nice on paper but it denies ethnicity and identity, who we really are.

Dee said...

Ugh! I just read the piece, which our local FCC sent the link to via email. The self-congratulatory, sentimental, and colorblind assumptions paraded by Gerson make me, a white mom of a Chinese born daughter, feel Ill. I can't help but think these adoptive parents like Gerson and Simon may be in for a surprise when their grown kids don't see things through the same rosy lens.

Dee said...


I went to Jane Jeong Trenka's latest blog piece, about her interview by PBS, right after entering my previous comment. I'm on an ipad so don't know how to easily link, but it's definitely worth reading! Link on Malinda's blog roll.

Elaine said...

I've always liked Scott Simon, though was dismayed at his reaction to 9-11 when he abandoned his Quaker sensibilities and supported the war. And I've been trying to find some way to understand his position on this -failing mostly. But in a Fresh Air interview he said something about having seen the negative effects of ethnic identification and wanting to back away from that. Now, given that he's probably talking about Bosnia and other places in the world where ethnic is followed by words like "cleansing" or "warfare" I can *kinda* get his perspective. I don't think it is completely self-absorbed navel gazing - though his perspective reeks of white male privilege in so many ways that it obscures anything helpful he might be able to say.

We need to have a more analytical and nuanced national conversation on culture and ethnicity and race. So how do *we* get on Fresh Air???

travelmom and more said...

I am reading an article that is discussing multicultural civic education and came accross this quote that fits well with this discussion as well as many of our outher topics on race/culture and identity.
"Although the immigrant youth in Nguyen’s (2008) study
viewed themselves as citizens of the United States, they did not
view themselves as Americans. They felt that they were not
Americans because to be American required an individual to be
White and mainstream. Their construction of the criterion for
becoming American was a consequence of the racism, discrimination,
and exclusion that they experienced in their schools and
communities. Both El-Haj (2007) and Nguyen describe how the
marginalization that immigrant students experience in schools
and in the larger U.S. society reinforces their national identification
with distant nations, in which they imagine that they would
experience equality and structural inclusion."
Here is the link to the whole article, but beware it is long and very academic (not light reading)

Mirah Riben said...

BRAVO! MY blast of this arrogance:

I encourage you to do as i did. Write a brief comment on the Washington Post page with a link to this blog post!

Let readers considering international adoption and the public hear us, and hopefully change their thinking.

Mirah Riben said...

I'd also like to add, if international adoption "instructs our culture" - that is not a task that should be put on the shoulders of young, innocent, vulnerable children.

See also news of two Chinese adoption PBS documentaries, and news of India adoption law changing...all at htp://

Bukimom said...

Even as we take Simon anad Gerson to task for their sugar-coated views on adoption, I am wondering what others here think about Gerson's assertion that China's OCP constitutes one of the greatest crimes in history.

It has occured to me before that elimination of the OCP in China would go far to help the cause of first-family preservation in that country. What do you in the adoption community think about this and is there anything that we could do about it anyway, even if we wanted to?

Mei Ling said...

On one hand I believe it would help greatly, and I have brought this up before in other adoption discussions. The response I normally receive is something along the lines of this:

"While removing the OCP would help out China to a limited extent, there are far more social problems than just the OCP. Even if we in the adoption community agreed on the issue of bringing up human rights on the OCP to the government, why should they listen to us? They don't even listen to their own people."

Dee said...

This post is not a reply to Bukimom's question, which is an excellent one (about China's OCP). But I wanted to post here a link to Scott Simon's book tour dates:

Maybe some of us can attend the events in the cities where he will be hawking his new book.

Dee said...

Okay, I didn't get the link to post correctly to Scott Simon's events. But if you go to his main web page, you can click on the events link to find the schedule.