I’ll admit it: My work is an unapologetic retrospective dissection of transracial adoption’s history from the 1950s up until my 1980s debut, with a strong tendency toward dwelling on the past to justify the present. I recognize the danger in doing this; I may be stuck gazing into the looking-glass while real progress blows by, making my viewpoints obsolete and discrediting the industry’s great strides.
Today I’d like to spend some time discussing how my experiences – and many others – shaped transracial adoption’s current landscape. Although my history may have been traumatic, I know that they weren’t all for naught.
However, this doesn’t mean there isn’t still work to do. Younger generations of transracial adoptees (TRAds) and their parents (TRAps) may have access to more resources than their forebears (Facebook, Families with Children from China, etc., are awesome), but it’s crucial to acknowledge the rocky path that brought them together.
In one way, this new generation of TRAds enjoys the United States’ overall improved racial awareness. What was acceptable several decades ago (Long Duck Dong’s character in Sixteen Candles, for example) would never fly today.
They’re living during an era of same-sex marriages, same-sex parenting, single parenting, and stay-at-home dads (which aren’t without their own sets of controversies but are a huge improvement over the past). Thirty-plus years ago, none of this was openly discussed.
An adoptee’s inherent losses aren’t diminished, though; grief is adoption’s timeless quality. But the awareness of and the support for this grief marks the distinct contrast between TRAds now and TRAds then.
A conversation with a friend and TRAp of a South Korean boy reveals the differences between our experiences. Her adoption agency encouraged interactions with her son’s foster parents and even promoted writing a letter to the orphanage in case the birth family ever comes searching. This is in direct contrast to the proxy adoptions touted by the same agency in the eighties, when adopting didn’t require a country visit and were completely closed.
Also, homeland visits are encouraged by both agencies and parents and have become a right of passage for many adoptees. Since the overall income bracket of TRAds and TRAps has gone up since the eighties, such trips may be a reality – unlike for me, where it was described as a distant dream.
Based on my friend’s reports, modern TRAps realize the importance of emphasizing culture, versus back in my day when colorblindness was key. Again, this is a move in the right direction, but she pointed out that most of the activities are fairly superficial (as I proposed on ICAV’s site), like celebrating holidays or eating a child’s ethnic food. Still, this is more than what I received – I never even used chopsticks until I was a sophomore in college.
What’s important to remember – and from which I won’t waver – is that it wasn’t always this way. Early adoptees are struggling with the wounds left by a societal experiment gone awry; only now are we seeing the damage it inflicted. Not only that, but we must acknowledge that in transracial adoption, there will be a permanent racial gap between parents and adoptees, requiring a lifetime of sensitivity and compassion to keep from widening.
The beauty, though, is that we have the power to shape the system. We did an early tour of duty through a country that didn’t know how to handle us, yet we persisted; now we are qualified to speak about our experiences for the benefit of those who come after us.
So ironically, maybe those who called us lucky were right. We are lucky because our suffering has turned our lives into stories for change. Our loving but sometimes unprepared parents forced us to forge our own paths, to confront head-on the racism and disconnect we’d forever feel as outsiders; but we don’t have to dwell on this, to ruminate on it as the fate of our lives. We are the agents who can help rewrite society’s concept of family.
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4 thoughts on “facing forward, looking back”
Sunny, I get the feeling that you feel there’s improvement for others following you on the road of TRAds, and I sincerely hope you are right. I’m sure it’s not been an easy path, but you are making the most of it I think. When you help others, as your writing does, you become a pioneer of sorts, and the many to come after you can benefit from what you’ve experienced. As you say, “We are the agents who can help rewrite society’s concept of family.” Continue on, Sunny Reed, your leadership is a good thing for those struggling with their lives as TRAds.
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Hi Nancy, I apologize for the delay in my response but I wanted to let you know your support is greatly appreciated! I know you are a much more experienced writer than myself, so your words of encouragement help drive me forward. Thank you so much!
I am a TRAp AND a mother-of-loss to adoption. I relinquished my firstborn in 1968 and adopted my black-Vietnamese son in 1974. My adopted son is the middle child of the three I raised. Should you want to know more about my experience, you can read my blog — pammcrae.blogspot.com There’s probably more than you’d ever want to know there, and I certainly don’t want to go into all that here, but I support and applaud your research into TRA. It’s a huge subject that most people know little or nothing about. In the 1970’s I believed the best approach to our adoption was to be colorblind. I was wrong and made many mistakes. I love my son, but he has had a troubled life with many setbacks. My relinquished son has struggled as well. Our reunion of six years has recently fizzled out, and my adopted son is in prison. If I can add anything to your work, I would be happy to do so.
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Thank you SO much for your response and I really appreciate your support. You’re so right about the public’s lack of knowledge about TRA. TRA is often left out of multiracial discussions, yet remains a source of those very same people of color that those conversations try to help.
I’m reading your blog and have chosen to follow it. Your perspective as a TRAp – and an honest one, at that – is extremely valuable but too often overshadowed by those who would rather you keep silent. I am so glad to hear your voice and that you shared it with me.
Colorblindness features prominently in my work. I use it as an explanation for why the racism I faced was unaddressed (or worse, blamed on me). Like I said, I believe adoption was a societal experiment that went wrong; it grew faster than our country’s attitudes toward race progressed.
Again, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. I can’t wait to get to know you through our work!