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.