race and adoption: the most important conversation I won’t stop having

When I first came to the public transracial adoption space, I was only tangentially aware of the “us versus them” mentality. It’s “adoptees versus adoptive parents,” “transracial adoptees versus same-race adoptees,” “everyone versus the system,” etc. I initially set out to discuss only transracial adoption, saw how interwoven transracial and same-race adoption traumas inevitably are, and thus started speaking on both transracial and same-race adoption, scared to rock the boat too much on race.

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I’m not scared anymore.

I’ve received vicious online assaults ranging from the relatively tame:

“You’re a heartless shrew!”

to the typically condescending:

“Please get help.”

to the hilariously bizarre:

“You useless amoeba!” and “You’re the Jim Crow of adoption.”

When I wrote the infamous Think Adopting Children of Color Makes You Woke? It Doesn’t piece, I was quite clear that I’m not against adoption of any kind; in fact, I recognized there indeed are white parents getting it right with their children of color and understand that yes, many are doing their best.  My experience with adoptive parents is the same as with any other group. There are excellent ones, terrible ones, and many in-between. I appreciate all of them and hope to reach most of them.

This struck a nerve that continues to sting today. When I say, “Let’s ensure cultural competency and racial awareness informs transracial adoption, so children’s racial identities are harmed less,” others hear: “You’re terrible, white people just want to help kids, or else they’ll starve in Ethiopia!” (yes, really).

“Helping” kids of color isn’t “rescuing them.” Many adoptees have said this before, but it bears repeating that rescue is a supremacist-rooted term implying the “greatest country in the world” is the best place for transracial/intercountry adoptees (yes, really, someone said that to me). Is that true? Is the West really best? I’ll let you decide, but consider this: The opposite of helping children of color is ignoring their color.

Far from being racist or Jim Crow of adoptionesque, questioning a system that places kids in colorblind yet loving homes has little basis in segregation. In fact, people of color were systematically excluded from adopting in-race because of exclusionary criteria, usually masquerading as economic, financial, and religious “qualifications.”

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My critiques are founded in historical policies, the social history of family, and race. And yes, my personal experience. Circling back to the accusation that I “make adoption all about race,” there’s truth in that statement. Adoption, like so many other government institutions, is about race. Race, power, and control. No matter how hard some push back on the issue, race matters. Denying its existence and influence on power structures denies the experience of people of color, adopted or not. As a person of color, I feel obligated to speak of color in this space and I won’t stop.

Astute readers know I’ve made the same statement over and over: Adopt kids of color, but be aware of the possible implications.

Regardless of transracial adoption’s obvious minefields, there has never been a call–from myself, anyway–that all white people should stop adopting kids and instead let children of color simply rot away in the system. Or, even more puzzling, is the interpretation of my work as calling for “same-race only” adoptions, which again doesn’t exist in quantity due to reasons already stated.  I’d love for more POC to adopt children of color. As always, nothing is that simple.

Astute readers know I’ve made the same statement over and over: Adopt kids of color, but be aware of the possible implications. It’s that sentence’s second clause that offends and touches nerves of would-be or current adopters; the awareness of love’s inability to protect against societal racial bias, and the idea that perhaps you can’t save a child of color by simply giving them a loving home.

Adoption, it would seem, is far more complicated. It should be, because a child’s life is at stake. Is it naive to believe transracial adoption can be done in the child’s best interest, aside from simply taking extreme “banish it” stances? I don’t think so. Parents, adoptive or not, exist on a continuum of shared flaws and toxic values. It doesn’t mean there isn’t room for the existence of open minds and open hearts, both of which all good parents embrace.

Like this? Want more? So do I! Find out about my upcoming ventures on my Patreon page!

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living in my shadows; emerging into truth

It’s a privilege reading and reviewing adoptee work. I do this not just for myself, but for all of you who struggle to find relatable resources and portraits of adopted life. No one can possibly know everything, so books and art help enrich our knowledge-base. I review adoptee writing not on the literary quality, but on its earnest storytelling and its balanced perspective.

I chose this post’s work since I know embarrassingly little about black adoptees, beyond what’s been explored in the academic literature and on social media. Like other adoptees, they struggle with separation trauma and attachment issues, but their race adds a deep complexity that isn’t discussed as often as I’d like (hint: keep producing content, black adoptees!).

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Living My Shadows: Dreams Do Come True (Kevin I. J. A. Barnett, Sr.) reads like a conversation with a friend over email. Barnett employs a casually engaging writing style, sharing his journey through a clear and linear lens. Such a style keeps his memories fresh and raw.

It a fairly quick read. Where it lacks in deeper introspective analysis, it makes up for in sometimes-painful vignettes that will keep readers nodding their heads in either agreement or disgust. As a memoir divided into three parts, Barnett traces his life from foster care, adoption, and finally, reunification with his biological family. Such a timeline fits most adoptee’s adoptee typical life paths. Typical, though, doesn’t mean unoriginal.

What surprised me wasn’t the physical abuse and emotional abuse Barnett experienced, but the colorism Barnett suffered from within his first same-race foster family. Though I speak heavily on the impact racism has on transracial adoption, Barnett’s account brought to life the colorism spoken about in Lori T. Tharps’ Same Family, Different Colors. Of his foster family, Barnett writes:

They called me “Negro.” They called me “Black Nigger.” They called me “Ugly,” and “No-Good.”

Colorism within foster and adoptive families needs a closer look overall, but Barnett doesn’t reflect on this abuse. Instead, Barnett shares the impact of this poor treatment with further anecdotes. For example, the day his foster father died—his main abuser—the last meal eaten by the now-dead man was black-eyed peas. To this day, Barnett avoids the beans, because when he “sees ’em that’s the only time I think about [my foster father].” A poignant statement as many adoptees and abuse victims can understand these triggering associations. Hopefully, Barnett’s account will inspire in-race adoptees to reflect upon their own similar experiences.

After being adopted by a black family, Barnett slowly discovers personal security (or at least security as an adoptee can manage). It’s after his adoption and foray into adulthood that Barnett begins his search for his biological mother. After many discouraging false leads, Barnett soldiers on and eventually finds the woman who birthed him almost sixty years prior.

It’s at this point I felt both inspired and envious: Inspired, because Barnett shares a letter he wrote to his birth mother, which I read at a point of my own birth family considerations. Pulling back from Barnett’s memoir, I was struggling with disappointment that my own biological mother had died only a few years after my adoption; seeing Barnett’s process admittedly made me step away for a bit. Still, this is the life of an adoptee–a few steps back and then forward into a conflicted present.

But back to Barnett. After tentatively making contact with this biological siblings, he composed a sweetly vulnerable letter to his birth mother:

I understand the circumstances that surrounded the reason why I was put up for adoption and have no hard feelings…I sincerely hope I didn’t cause any problems with the [earlier] phone call and I wish in my heart we can meet. My contact number is listed below if you decide to want to chat.

Take care and God Bless.

Kevin Hodge.

My heart broke. As an adoptee, such hesitancy and forgiveness is part of a daily push-pull cycle as we attempt identity reclamation. At this point, I started really rooting for Barnett, despite knowing his story’s outcome (spoiler alert: it’s good). I suspect many adoptees and former foster youth reading this will feel a bittersweet sense of camaraderie.

For some reason, I emotionally struggled through this section. Perhaps it was his straight-shooting writing style; or maybe, it was here that Barnett truly let the reader in so I could be in his story with him. It’s here the story truly shines.

The last section reveals current information about his reunion with his birth family, an overall enviable experience for many adoptees. From Barnett’s telling, he was welcomed with open arms into his biological family, serving almost as a center from which life radiated around him.

Still (and I won’t give away too much), Barnett’s story shouldn’t be considered “just more adoption reunion porn.” Like many adoptees, not everyone shows up for his re-arrival, but there is a gut-wrenching scene where someone did come looking for him–and never came back again.

Living My Shadows draws strength from its humanity. After a long military career, Barnett is now a motivational speaker, a profession I initially feared would color his adoption story as yet another hope-spun tale of adoption’s great wonders, despite a few pesky hardships. But no, Barnett left me inspired, not patronized—a feeling many adoptees encounter. Many readers will find this refreshing.

Barnett simply asks readers to “push harder,” and if “you’ve got a passion, or something or somebody that’s missing in your life, don’t give up the hunt.” Barnett faced doubt, a foster family who told him no one could ever love him and he’d never amount to anything. But he realized as I hope so many others who read his book do, to recognize those doubts but move forward anyway.

You are the author of your own life. You can change the plot, and rewrite your story any way you choose. -Kevin Barnett, Sr.

And you know what?

He’s right.

 

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Barnett at a recent book signing and speaking event in Easton, PA.

Thank you, Kevin, for the honor of reading your book and reviewing it.

For those interested in Kevin’s work, follow him on Twitter and learn more about him on his website, Living My Shadows.

transracial adoption: how can we ever get it right?

This post is a little off-the-cuff today and started as a Twitter thread, so apologies for lack of editing!

I’m often asked if getting transracial adoption “right” is possible. My response is always, “This isn’t a science, but by reaching out and talking to transracial adoptees with diverse and uncomfortable experiences, you’re on the right path.”

I know speaking critically of a practice sometimes leaves little room for hope. With transracial adoption, hope means a parent’s ability to confront unfamiliar racial conversations and barriers remains at the forefront of their parenting journey. I relate my experience as extreme circumstances, although having an openly racist family isn’t as unusual as you’d think. Even still, much can be learned from extreme positive or negative experiences, since examining both will help land on a more favorable outcome.

I still don’t proclaim myself an expert on anything but my own life. Biases and emotional attachments trap me, too. But in order to help transracial adoptees and their open-minded parents–and ultimately, myself–I frequently question and confront my own potential prejudices and must remind myself to stay open-minded.

Doing transracial adoption “right” doesn’t require uncovering a super-secret checklist of things that definitely won’t f*ck up your child. I wish there was one I could offer, but like my mom said, “You figure it out as you go.”

Figuring it out in transracial adoption, though, does require more digging than what typical parenting might. First, there’s the obvious cultural and heritage loss. Second, your relationship ultimately began with traumatic separations chosen not by your child but strangers. Third, your child’s race will play a significant role in his identity and it can’t be hand-waved with camps, holiday celebrations, food, or even language classes.

I’m aware this leaves little room for a parent to succeed. Perhaps it’s not about success, since I view parenting as an ongoing duty, one in which I’m constantly forced to challenge my emotions and preexisting values. So, what’s a transracial parent to do, once they realize love is not enough?

One, acknowledging our racialized society before transracially adopting is crucial. This means understanding you are considered privileged and by adopting transracially, you’re in a privileged position to “take” or “obtain” a non-white child. This will be uncomfortable for some, while others will view this as an act of bravery. It’s more helpful to review white saviorism and, while you may not subscribe to that believe, transracial adoption stems from that mentality and should be understood.

If you’re feeling defensive right now, that’s fine. Sit with it and be mad, but think not of yourself as the accused but consider the society that grew these issues.

Next, start exposing yourself to POC’s books, music, movies, news outlets, etc. Get a Twitter and see what #BlackTwitter and #AsianTwitter, etc., are saying. Read their struggles and observe how you are feeling when you encounter them. Stay out of the adoptive parents’ groups for now and start following the transracial adoptees’ feeds, because they are POC, too.  Don’t filter out the stuff that speaks against white people or white parents; if it hurts, keep going.

Hopefully this makes you realize no matter how hard you try, the color gap between you and your transracially adopted child will never close. Families of color struggle with colorism within their own environments, so transracial adoptive families will undoubtedly experience conflicts.

Then, when you’re ready, ask questions. Not to other transracial adoptive parents right now; ask the adoptees. Many of you who are already doing that–and taking time to listen and consider our experiences/advice–are light years ahead of everyone else which is why I love you all. By getting uncomfortable, by questioning your parenting ability, by thinking about your situation–those are signs you ARE putting your child first.

Look, there won’t be any easy answers for getting transracial adoption right. There will always be holes, there will always be loss, there will always be inner and external barriers and anger. Instead of focusing on doing it perfectly (or thinking you already are…), focus on reaching out to the transracial adoptee community.

Set aside your judgments and fears so you can give your child the best possible future, even if adoption mucks things up a bit. That’s the nature of adoption; it’s a complex thing, and it’s why so many adoptees dislike the “adoption is beautiful” myth because it overlooks the many ways it isn’t. You are experiencing parenting hardship by stepping outside your comfort zone, but the adoptee will forever live with some level of confusion. As a community, we can help mitigate that loss and work together to build from it instead of make it worse.

PS–Adoptees get offended by the cutesy adoption videos and photos because when we see those, we can’t comprehend how one person’s excitement is based on another person’s loss. As a mother, I understand the excitement over a new family member, but please remember how adoptees began their lives.

PS again–No, I don’t hate you and I don’t think you’re bad for adopting transracially, but yes there are pockets out there who might but not everyone does so please don’t let that discourage you.

PS YET AGAIN–always remember this:

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Please reach out any time to chat!

Like this? Want more? So do I! Find out about my upcoming ventures on my Patreon page!

“AFWM,” the online debate all Asian adoptees should know about

There’s an incendiary topic burning with both racial pride and community outrage and it’s one my fellow transracial Asian adoptees and their families should acknowledge. I’ve refrained from speaking on it because the Asian internet’s reactions range from ambivalent to enraged, but I no longer want adoptees–already suffering racial identity crises–unaware of what possibly awaits them.

Many transracial adoptees and their white parents seek Asian communities to mitigate cultural and heritage loss. They do this throughout the adoptee’s lifetime, or later when the adoptee becomes an independent adult. Most adoptees hesitantly approach Asian online communities and in-person gatherings, fearing “not being Asian enough” or confronting–sometimes for the first time–groups of people who “look like them.”

What an adoptee might find is not a welcoming brother or sisterhood, but one who offers acceptance based on two nuanced things:

  1. If the Asian adoptee is dating or married, their partner’s race, and,

  2. If the Asian adoptee–due to a proximity to whiteness they didn’t choose–is Asian enough to speak as a member of that race.

The dominant Asian community isn’t issuing such superficial judgments, but if someone’s Google search takes them far enough, it might dishearten them when uncovering such hatred lurking among a tiny vocal percentage. Deemed Asian Female/White Male (or AFWM/WMAF), it’s a divisive topic claiming any Asian woman dating or married to a white person is self-hating, suffering from internalized racism, anti-Asian male, anti-Asian, or, in extreme cases, fair targets for hate mail and death threats.

I tried addressing this from an academic and fairly neutral perspective, framing it within the narrow confines of transracial adoption. I tried exploring partner selection from a cultural perspective, citing studies examining how a white family’s influence over a person of color’s identity more related to unconscious absorption of family values and general attitudes toward race, not self-hate. I also say:

When examined through a…lens where Asianness isn’t so much denied as casually accepted and maybe feared, a child will be less likely to attach to their outward racial presentation.

For this perplexing AFWM debate, I suspect that even Asians who were “raised Asian” in diverse communities take away the media’s portrayal of the white standard and shape definitions of attractiveness. While this isn’t excusable and more ethnically diverse media representation is necessary, this theory doesn’t imply self-hate as a catalyst for partner choice.

My informal and brief analysis was predictably met with scorn, because how could I, an Asian adoptee raised by whites, be anything but brainwashed into internalized racism and a strong desire to emasculate Asian males? Also, I am married to a white man but not because I worship my white parents (actually, for anyone following my work, it’s the complete opposite)–I married him because I am an independent-minded, grown adult who lived with racists, so why would I allow that into my life once again?

The AFWM argument insults an Asian woman’s ability to perceive racism. It implies there couldn’t be any other reason, aside from Asian hate, a woman could ever marry outside her race. The notion itself implies ethnocentrism, something minorities have spent decades overcoming. Yes, it’s true some Asian women excuse white male racist behavior but as humans, we’re all saddled with the same insecurities, racial confusion, guilt, low self-esteem, and other personal issues as any other race. To paint an entire community of couples, including their half-Asian children, as hateful forces ourselves back into oppression instead of forward into truth-seeking.

For adoptees, this hurts when we discovering this mostly online battle, as some of us were conditioned into internalized racism from the very people expected to love us. For others, it’s simply a matter of partner availability. Relocating to a more Asian region isn’t always realistic or feasible. Doing so while confronting their own conflicted racial identities and ensuring they choose a racially appropriate partner is even harder. Adoptees are especially sensitive to such isolation as it wasn’t self-imposed (though many anti-WMAF members imply it is) since our parents–like many parents of minors–controlled the majority of our life choices.

Any person of any race can racially “marry up” and not tarnish the reputations of every other person who dates interracially; those outliers exist everywhere and aren’t reflective of an entire group. People will worship whiteness while others campaign against such toxic behaviors, but adoptees must understand their proximity to whiteness isn’t automatic white worship or negative. We have enough identity issues; who we pick as partners should be our least concern. It also doesn’t mean we’re intending to emasculate Asian males or supporting any negative portrayal of them.

The second issue, that Asian adoptees aren’t “Asian enough” to campaign for our rights or activism, implies our losses exclude us because we haven’t enough lived Asian experience. But we still experience racism, we experience prejudice, we experience identity issues–and we do it completely without, for the most part, any support from the Asian community. We lost a heritage, the heritage non-adoptees have that we desperately seek, while living alongside the dominant racial group. Absorbing those white values wasn’t a choice, but we have the ability to make room for and care about our group’s causes. Perhaps because of our parallel lives we’re more powerful than we think because we have lived in two worlds and are ready to share our experiences.

One interesting related note is female Asian adoptees reporting accusations of “not being Asian enough” to date Asian men. One Chinese adoptee pursued an Asian partner, but because of her background and his strong cultural connection, he rejected her. This scenario is worth considering, as it involves being turned away once again, potentially driving some Asians to white (or other races). Again, it’s not assumed to be the situation in every case, but it questions why a person may date interracially (and why is this even a bad thing nowadays?).

Transracial adoptees, please know that many of us are working hard to raise our voices and your partner choice doesn’t diminish your value as an Asian or a person. But know this dispute exists, and know our warm receptions into the community may be absent from a small sector of people. Still, we will keep talking about this and adding our perspectives, so we can transcend hate, whether self-directed or external. We must unite against racism and fear. As blogger Eliza Romero says:

“While people in interracial relationships obviously shouldn’t be the only voice for a community, their voices and opinions should be heard because there is plenty of valuable insight to be offered.”

sundered: a call to unite female chinese adoptees worldwide

It’s a beautiful thing when transracial adoptees use their exceptional talents to raise our voices and tell our stories. Over the next few months, I’ll be featuring adoptees’ works, whether it be visual or performing art, literature, memoir, or even monthly subscription boxes for transracial family education. I do this in an effort to support my fellow adoptees, as the more we lift each other’s voices, the stronger we will rise. I hope you’ll enjoy their work as much as I do and support their missions!

SUNDERED: A Collective Art Piece by Eva Lin Fahey

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Eva Lin Fahey, a 22-year-old Chinese adoptee, is one such adoptee using art to tell an adoption story. Eva is currently coordinating a project called SUNDERED, a massive effort to unite female Chinese adoptees with their identities. By helping Chinese adoptees visualize themselves not as individuals with missing heritages, but as a collective family with a shared lost culture, this project will bring their stories alive among each other and their greater communities.

Why only female Chinese adoptees?

Eva’s aim is to showcase the female Chinese adoptee narrative, as they were the group most impacted by the One Child Policy.  The world largely overlooks the impact China’s One Child Policy and historical male gender preference had on its lost girls. Also, as a female Chinese adoptee, it’s also the group she understands most intimately.

SUNDERED: About the Project

Purpose

  • To explore the notion of origin and how it reaches beyond a physical birthplace or location
  • Visually explain the dramatic effects of China’s historical gender preference imbalance
  • Embrace our bonds within both our adoptive families and that we share with our birth country and families

The Goal

  • Creation of a hand-stitched document of Chinese adoptee photos, connected through a quilt of faces
  • Creation of a visually impactful painting, demanding the attention our stories deserve

SUNDERED: Your contribution

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As Eva says, “transracial adoption, regardless of your own personal experience with it, has dramatically changed who you are and how you live.”

This is your chance to tell your story.

Right now, Eva is collecting print photos from female Chinese adoptees born between 1978-2016.

Photo specifications:

  • Must be sized 2×2 or 5cm by 5cm
  • Can be of you from any age
  • Optional: A few sentences about yourself; this information may appear in the final project
  • Must be mailed to
    • Eva Lin Fahey
    • PO Box 1378
    • Northampton, MA 01061
    • United States
  • Print photos are strongly preferred. Please contact Eva via email if you’d like to submit a digital photo.

I strongly encourage you to share this post and Eva’s work with any adoptees you know. The more we network and share our work, the greater our chance to finally be heard.

For more information about SUNDERED or to find out more about Eva’s work, please visit Eva’s website.

 

my mission, examined

I’ve always been transparent and believe in disclosing my work and reasons for why I started this blog, and how I intend to continue.

I didn’t set out to be a writer. That was a profession revealed to me through your support. Initially, my goal–as it remains–was to compile an autoethnography of transracial adoption, using my life as the basis for a critical text on race, adoption, and the American family. I still intend to complete that book, one day. But it would seem, like any well-intentioned plan, my mission has slightly transformed.

I briefly put on hold my larger project, choosing instead to focus on building an audience (perhaps to prove to myself that people really do care?) so that, should I ever approach an agent or large publishing house for consideration, I could say, “Yes, people are reading this stuff!” In my quest to build a presence, I found instead a community rife with anger, misplaced blame, and desperation to be heard. Though my online interactions remained secondary to writing, I discovered my scholarly research would fit comfortably alongside this social discovery of truth.

At some point, I realized that I was an expert only on myself. I still had little working insight into the system still creating adoptees and their traumas; to remedy this gap, I recalled a book called I Speak for this Child, by Gay Courter. I read this several years ago, before my unfortunate hospitalization but after my slow awakening to adoption’s more sinister side effects. It described a woman’s experience as a Guardian ad Litem, or what is called in New Jersey and other jurisdictions a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA):

CASA/GAL volunteers are appointed by judges to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children, to make sure they don’t get lost in the overburdened legal and social service system or languish in inappropriate group or foster homes. Volunteers stay with each case until it is closed and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. For many abused children, their CASA/GAL volunteer will be the one constant adult presence in their lives.

Volunteering would be my next step to legitimizing my work, so I applied, went through training, and am now a CASA with an active case. (And yes, I know more about the child welfare system than before and I’m encouraged to only work harder.)

Throughout this time, I made and continuing to make new connections with the Asian American community. Although this wasn’t part of my initial strategy, I certainly welcomed these friendships and I’m thrilled at the relationships I’ve formed. It’s through these connections that I’ve cautiously re-examined my role as an Asian woman, questioning–finally–if my discomfort with my race was my fault, or taught. As I continue therapy and forging connections, I’m strongly leaning toward the latter.

What I’ve discovered is non-White community’s need for transracial adoptee voices, something I suspected before setting out on this mission but am content my hunches were confirmed. After all, transracial adoptees spent our lives entangled with Whiteness, not by our choice but by theirs, so the more reflective of us will understand our unique insight into power, privilege, and how both of those aren’t necessarily passed on to us.

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Despite this forward momentum, I realized I hadn’t shared my reason for being here, and it’s possibly because I wasn’t exactly sure.

Because of the work I’m doing and the voices speaking up, I see a different future now.

I see a future where those separated from their original families, their rightful heritages, and their intimate histories will link arms while shouting a unified cry for change, rallying for a peace we never experienced.

I see us all, those adopted ones, rising upwards out of grief’s relentless torment, leaving our losses not behind but standing on them to build a stronger future for anyone following our tumultuous paths.

I see us casting stones, finally, at the windows that allowed others to only gaze in at us, trapping us with unrealistic expectations and toxic values, while we–the begotten–see the true weakness in those lies.

I see us gazing outward for the first time in our lives, strengthened by the comfort in our own truths. For once, we’ll stare directly at the policies and legalities and structures directly, seeing clearly they weren’t made for us, but about us.

And I see those who long since watched us emerge from a biology unknown listening as we proclaim ourselves no longer the world’s begotten children, the poor waifs, the needy.

I see them stopping to hear us, not as an angry spiteful mob but a chorus built by fearlessness; they will see us, not as victims of a broken system but as survivors whose towering strength demand they listen.

I see us finally fulfilling not someone else’s dreams but our own, working together with those who long since imagined themselves our keepers. And as we at last come to this victory, we will chant

We belong,
We belong,
We belong.


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Perhaps this is idealism. Maybe, but I draw this confidence from you, the one who speaks up and the one who is forcing yourself to listen.

For me, I see myself one day standing together with my son, gazing toward a future where his generation and the ones after will be the instigators of a great empathy we ourselves still do not know. I hope one day my words and your words and those of so many others will coalesce into an apex of bravery, so our work will finally create a future revised.

And that, my friends, is why I do what I do. I will relentlessly pursue this work so our lives will matter to those who want to forget us. I will never soften a painful truth because if I survived it, those listening should survive its telling. I enjoy what I do, and I do it for myself, for you, and for those who will inevitably come next.

announcement: article feature on resonate mag

My auspicious connect with blogger and social commentator, Eliza Romera aka Aesthetic Distance, has led to so many incredible opportunities. She helped me get my infamous Think Adopting Children of Color Makes You Woke? It Doesn’t. article launched. Now, she and her editor friend over at We Are Resonate supported me enough to feature a second transracial adoption piece!

Below’s an excerpt and a link to the full post. THANK YOU!

FEATURE: WHAT THIS KID’S AMAZING AMERICA’S GOT TALENT AUDITION TAUGHT ME ABOUT RACIAL MIRRORING, ADOPTION, AND PARENTING

Humanizing Asians in popular culture will provide racial mirrors for those of us unlucky enough to lack them.

I’m not a singer, I’m not a consumer of pop culture, and I’m definitely not that into music. But when I watched this kid’s amazing rendition of Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up,” I was taken not just by 13-year-old Jeffrey Li’s unquestionable talent but by something else completely.

Through my work as a transracial Korean adoptee, I write a lot about racial mirroring and its importance for children of color. Without families or communities resembling them, many Asian adoptees grow up insecure about, ambivalent toward, or hating everything that makes them Asian, all characteristics–like their adoptions–completely out of their control. Unsurprisingly and without remediation, such attitudes become deeply ingrained in children who grow into adults with complex racial identities.

Read the rest here at Resonate!

the COLORSBIND BOX: a monthly journey to a not-so-colorblind transracial adoption community

Subscription boxes are one of those things people either love or don’t care about. I always fell into the latter category, because I found them pricey and/or hard to cancel…until, of course, I discovered ipsy. That’s a story for a different blog!

As a transracial adoptee, I’m flummoxed by the lack of ongoing transracial adoption education provided by adoption agencies. Perplexed and frustrated, but not surprised. What COLORSBIND boxes–lanched by Nedra L. and Bryan K. Hotchkins–nobly set out to accomplish is both admirable and massive; through a monthly subscription box, transracial adoptive families of black adoptees will receive a package of themed items (from t-shirts to books). Opening small worlds and forming community connections is the clear goal, offering education and interactions where societal gaps remain.

COLORSBIND boxes help your children see Black people as beautiful, smart and valuable, exposing your family to things that make you laugh and think. -The COLORSBIND website

Unboxing Transracial Adoptive Families

When I discovered COLORSBIND, my first instinct as a Korean adoptee was a slightly bitter, “Why just black transracial adoptive families?” It’s true Asians are routinely forgotten in racial discourse, and in the COLORSBIND box, it overlooks a key fact: Asians are among the most common transracial adoptee, as well as the most common intercountry adoptee, as well.

I got over my knee-jerk reaction quickly, especially after I offered to review one of boxes. Upon arrival, what appeared as a missed opportunity is actually an open door for inclusivity. The COLORSBIND box is a beautifully simple and scalable idea. Its creators, one of whom is a black transracial adoptee, launched the project in 2018 to promote child-centered culturally-competent transracial adoptive families. For Asians, Indians, Native Americans, and other groups feeling left out, don’t: The founders have loose plans for expansion and I know I’d be willing and able to help create a similar box for Korean transracial adoptive families.

The Beauty on the Inside

colorsbind june 2018 box
Look how gorgeous this box is printed! Take that, Amazon.

I was struck by the care and resources invested in this small, yet powerful, box. Here’s what was under the attractively-printed, full-color box lid (that’s never making its way to my recycling bin–ever):

A book!
A t-shirt!
A beautiful photo of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man printed across the author’s face!
A glossy magazine!
A flag!
Fancy shredded paper that my almost-four-year-old son adored!

The commitment, love, and care invested in this box’s contents (and its mission) were palpable. Each item was nestled on top of the other, carefully folded and arranged in an organized, professional presentation. I couldn’t believe how much it contained, delivering item after informative item.

A themed cultural experience

Each month’s COLORSBIND box is, as I said before, tied into some theme. For June, it was Juneteenth, an event I’d heard of but (shamefully) couldn’t articulate. As I move through each of the items provided, you’ll learn how they’re connected to the theme and transracial adoption.

Let’s go through its contents and I’ll provide the play-by-play of my thoughts.

Note: Due to my excitement, I forgot the actual order in which the items were packed. Sorry!

  1. An actual full copy of Ralph Ellison’s Juneteenth.colorsbind june 2018 book
    • “Are you freaking kidding me!? I LOVE books and can’t believe they sent this to me. Holy crap. I never read this book! I still need to read Invisible Man! I’m so behind in my reading! It’s like these people READ. MY. MIND.
      “What is Juneteenth though? I’m so embarrassed, I should know this…if I don’t know this, others surely don’t, too. Good thing they sent it.”I wonder if people will take the time to read it. They better.”
  2. A t-shirt!

    • “OMG they asked my size and really did send me a t-shirt. It’s gorgeous and actually not some crappy CafePress screenprint. Holy heck. But my readers still won’t get a picture of me in it so here’s a piture of some happy dude wearing it in what looks like a BJ’s.”
      guy wearing juneteenth shirt
  3. The full-color, glossy magazine, COLORSBIND Us Magazine 

    colorsbind box 2018 magazine.jpg

    • “Wow, this is legit. There’s a table of contents, a feature story, an Editorial section and…wait? What’s this? They actually featured an area of the USA and represented upcoming black cultural events? That’s a TON of effort. Go them. Respect.colorsbind 2018 events
      “Let’s see, what else…book recommendations for kids and adults, definite plus. Shows they’re thinking more deeply than ‘make this recipe and call it a day.’ An art section featuring drawings by black adoptees, pretty cool. Way to generate inclusion.

      “But what’s this Feature? An article by a white man calling transracial adoption ‘interracial’ adoption? Hmm…okay, common error. But wow, he’s admitting adopting black doesn’t make him ‘woke.’ I wish more people were like him. I hope the COLORSBIND people feature more parents like this, but you know what’s missing? A feature about a black transracial adoptee. That would slay.

      “Totally digging their thoroughness here. And…wow! They explain Juneteenth to me! They honestly did their work here to make sure nothing would be missed. Wow.”

  4. A mission statement and contact card
    colorsbind june 2018 mission cardTotally fridge-worthy. Should be sent to transracial groups all over.

    • “This is going on my fridge so anyone who comes over will ask me about it. Do they make car magnets? I’d totally rock a car magnet.”
  5. This gorgeous image

    ralph ellison
    I’m that person who doesn’t remove anything out of its factory wrappings, including the sticky plastic covers on new phones, remote controls, etc. I know, I know.
    • “I don’t know how decided to make this picture of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man transposed over his face, but this is awesome and I hope someday someone creates a portrait of my face with my words. I’m framing this.”
  6. The official Juneteenth flag!
    colorsbind juneteenth flag

    • “Have they literally thought of everything I needed to decorate my barren home office? I didn’t even know a Juneteenth flag existed. COLORSBIND is education and functional. These people are so invested in this project. I freaking love it.”

Is a COLORSBIND Box subscription worth it?

Yes.

I’m a discerning person, but this is an easy (literally, all transracial families have to do is subscribe) way to involve your entire family in your child’s racial tapestry. I

It’s not condescending, it’s not preachy, it’s not corny. And a portion of the proceeds go to the Think Positionality Education Foundation, an organization offering adoptee-led transracial post-adoption education (finally!).

It’s modern, it’s applicable to families no matter where they’re residing in the USA, it’s interactive, it’s accessible.

But again, it’s currently targeted at transracial adoptive families with black children. This limits its reach and might turn off families who already feel isolated. Obviously, with its co-founder being a black adoptee this totally makes sense. On the upside, COLORBIND’s attention to detail and reproducible model makes easily expandable for transracial adoptive families of all colors. And I totally wish I’d thought of it.

Is a COLORSBIND Box enough?

Like other post-adoption education and cultural trainings, signing up is voluntary. The folks who really need COLORSBIND likely won’t ever consider this (or anything else) as a resource, but for those families in the middle–you know, the ones who don’t know it all but are open to learning–will benefit and should subscribe (prices here). So, it’s an excellent start.

I want this idea to take off. I want it to work. I want others to initiate similar projects, not to steal COLORBIND’s thunder but to emphasize and fill in the gaps where adoption agencies leave off. Adoption is filled with memoirs and blogs and social media accounts promising and working for change, but COLORSBIND is taking that activism offline and bringing transracial adoptees’ voices to life through tangible objects and valuable keepsakes.

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Receiving a box for review was an honor and I hope to review their future boxes. This is a novel concept, whose creators embraced a monumentally difficult task (making cultural immersion family-friendly, informational, yet fun) and are, so far, doing it right.

No matter where you’re at in the adoption community, I urge you to purchase at least one box and support the COLORSBIND mission and a transracial adoptee’s work. And please let me know when you get yours–I’d love to hear from you!

Want to order a July 2018 box? They’re taking orders until July 5! New subscribers get 5% off.

adoption’s other stolen motherhood

On Father’s Day weekend, my husband and son took a trip out to see some family, planning on staying overnight so they could attend a Sunday baseball game. I went out to the car to say goodbye to Liam and as I pulled away from his sticky preschool boy hug, he said

Mommy, please come!

For many mothers, this is a standard, heartwarming child’s plea: “Mommy,” our children urge, “don’t go!”

Another example: At Liam’s end of school year party, he refused to participate in his class’s end of year show. Once he sees Mommy, he breaks down completely. He’s always the group’s only child unable to join in when Mommy’s around, needing me instead of his friends. This is a habit formed since he was two years old.

For adoptees-turned-mothers, these events are harsh skips in our daily soundtrack, forcing us not into the quiet reverie of motherhood but into that complicated place called abandonment. What, I wonder, have I done to reveal my life’s secret anxiety?

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I consider all of this in context of not just my own personal history, but the history of the many adoptees who become parents. Is our heightened sense of loss, our prescient understanding that at some point our children will grow into adults who may or may not reflect our parental failings, so tightly wound into our interactions that we pass it on to our children?

I can’t speak for others, but to me, it’s a fascinatingly painful fear. My son’s innocent pleadings for a Mommy he never realizes could leave both confound me and, somewhat embarrasingly, generate a deep sense of envy toward my own son. Because of my simple decision to not give up on him, I’ve constructed for him a foundation unshakeable–unless, of course, I walk away.

Seeing its utter simplicity, seeing just how easy it could have been for my life to not be marred by adoption’s persistent complications, repulses me. I know for a birth mother, adoption isn’t easy.

Still, when I consider this notion of presence equaling simplicity, my memories rewind themselves like a tape playing backwards. School plays and insults and Christmases and harsh words and smiles become garbled together in frenzied reversal. As I begin with my birth–the only thing my son and I have in common is that we were born–I start my life over, trying to replace my son’s experience with my own. Eventually I give up, unable to write a story that never existed.

At that point, I wonder: Is being a “a good mother” one who merely sticks around? Does that mean I get a pass to be as mediocre or terrible as possible, simply because I know that no matter what, a child almost always wants nothing but his birth parents–regardless of skill?

Obviously, parenting takes far more effort than just described. As an adoptee, however, the innocence of motherhood–the innocence allowing moms to make mistakes and forgive ourselves–was taken from us when we ourselves were taken away.

Like other parents, we know how carefully children watch their parents. But unlike the unadopted, we have a full appreciation of the long-reaching impact our presence has on a child. Adoption ends the childhood innocence of believing our parents will never stop wanting us. It destroys the myth of family as safe haven. Adoptees, unfortunately, know how untrue that can be, how carefully we tread the line between good and bad parents. Despite it not being an easy choice to walk away (I wouldn’t–ever), I don’t think we can ever fully believe that, since it happened to us.

Because of adoption, the joy of motherhood–one I’m owed–has been destroyed.

As Liam grows older, articulating his desire for Mommy’s closeness is becoming stronger and more frequent. With his developing sense of self and familial bond–that of which I still struggle to experience–he unintentionally and continuously highlights a permanent space between us. I actively work on closing it while remaining aware of our life’s distinct path, a path chosen not by either of us but by those who swore to love us forever.

who owns an adoptee’s story? overshare versus pride in adoption

Do a search for adoption in the news (human adoption–NOT pet adoption; Google likes to lump those two together) and you’ll be overwhelmed by the number of adoption “journey” stories told not by adoptees, but by adoptive parents.

Sandra Bullock, these random white parents of a transracial adoptee, and yet another white woman’s story of adopting a Chinese baby do make for compelling blog posts and articles. We’ve got the fuzzy-feels of saving a child, helping a child, and of course, lots of tears.

white tears.gif

But that’s not all! Countless books have been written on what it’s like to adopt, from the financial hardships, the invasive home studies, the marriage strain, and the pseudo-enwokening of transracial adoptive parents. Most conclude with a happy tale of a family formed, love gained, and a child destined for greatness.

Why is this a problem?

For adoptees, these parent-centric narratives have several unintended consequences:

  • Parents’ voice overrides the child’s before the child can articulate their side
  • By the time the child can speak up, the community’s already defined the kid’s  life, so any adoptee-generated criticism is automatically discounted
  • Weird photos and personal details of a kid’s life are shared without the child’s permission
  • The kid will be a CHILD FOREVER, based on their early portrayal
  • Traps kid in state of forced gratitude forever

quote_for_overshare

By selling or sharing these stories–undoubtedly coming from a place of parental pride–I wonder if this borders on exploitation.

As a mother, I’m hesitant to share my son’s um, birth journey. I guess the biological kid equivalent would be his story starting from conception to the push out the womb and all the details in between.

First of all, sharing that would be awkward. Second, he’s going to grow up one day and probably direct teenage angst at me for a zillion reasons and my oversharing of his trip from being the sperm that won to a disgruntled teenager doesn’t need to be complicated by my inability to keep my mouth shut.

overshare one.jpeg
This goes for ANY relationship. You know if you’re guilty, so don’t get mad.

Why is that any different for adoptees?

Being adopted, I get the process of obtaining me was fraught with complications, paperwork, stress, and probably heartache. Sharing that over several decades ago, however, was limited to conversations over wall-mounted corded phones and maybe a Christmas card. Today, I get that instant Facebook likes and blog post shares offer a validation more addicting than those provided by an adoptive-parent support group.

However.

We get you love your adopted child.

We understand the process was difficult.

And we acknowledge infertility sucks.

But please remember your child will inevitably become an adult.  An adult who, upon reflection, will want freedom of expression without being chained to their parents’ pre-existing portrayal and public back-pats.

There’s one other less obvious side effect of these stories and that’s the continuation of adoption as a practice without consideration of an adoptee’s experience.  The sunshine-and-roses narrative–while realistic for some adoptive families–means prospective adoptive parents will use these articles as mirrors for their own experiences, leading to potential horror and disillusion when their child grows up and doesn’t fulfill these pre-existing stereotypes.

To borrow a slightly cliched and Biblical saying, pride comes before a fall. In this case, I ask adoptive parents to restrain themselves a bit for their child’s sake, remembering their kid grows up and deserves to tell their adoption story themselves. Adoptees own their adoptions story. You don’t need the validation of thousands of strangers to justify your decision to adopt your child.

pride
I’m always hesitant to share so-called unsourced proverbs, but this is totally appropriate here.