Saturday, December 11, 2010

Birthday Letter to My Birth Mother

Dear Birth Mom1,
Today is my birthday, but you already know that. I’ve attached a picture of me, taken in 2008. If it’s alright with you, I’d like to tell you what’s happened to me since my birthday forty-two years ago.
I was adopted into a loving family at two months old; a family that already had a young son, but they told me that they always wanted to adopt. The mother2 is extremely proud of her Norwegian heritage. Her mother – the grandmother2 – was the first generation immigrant to the United States from Norway. She came here when she was six. Anyway, I tell you this because I grew up with lots of Norwegian cultural influences all around me: Norwegian flags trimming the Christmas tree, Viking motifs and sometimes fiskeboller (a fish meatball) for dinner. I didn’t care for fiskeboller too much, because we would usually get them from a can, and it always tasted like the can to me. Overall, I enjoyed learning Norwegian table blessings and songs. It can be fun for a child to celebrate heritage and culture.
My childhood was, in some ways, pretty normal. In other ways, it’s pretty special. This family brought me up in a Christian household, attending church regularly, not just on Christmas and Easter. The Philadelphia neighborhood we lived in is called Mount Airy. It is a very diverse place with people of all races, creeds, and even socioeconomic statuses (to some degree). I attended private Quaker schools all through my childhood. After high school, I was able to attend Smith College, where I majored in East Asian Studies with a concentration in Japanese. As I got older, I appreciated my upbringing more and more.
Additionally, as I got older, I also needed to find out who I am and claim my identity for my very own. This was a challenging process. It’s a never-ending journey for all of us, I think. It was hard to grow up and not have anyone around who looked like me. After I was adopted, the mother and father gave birth to a girl (younger sister2). As all three children grew up, the older brother2 and younger sister2 began to look more and more like the parents; I felt like the odd kid out.  It was frustrating to want my eyebrows to match the pictures I saw on TV and on the cover of Seventeen magazines, knowing that my eyebrows were the complete opposite shape of the beauty standards. And where did my eyebrows come from anyway? Only when I went to Japan did I realize where they came from, noticing “my eyebrows” on every Japanese person walking down the street. During my preteen and teenage years, my insecurities would manifest themselves in emotional outbursts of “I don’t belong in this family” or “You’re not my REAL mother anyway”, directed at the family2. Intellectually, I knew that this was untrue but I let emotions get the best of me.
During college was the first time I was able to identify emotionally with my Japanese heritage; I watched a documentary about the U.S. Japanese Internment during WWII and then cried my eyes out afterward. After immersing myself in Japanese language and studies at college, I was able to live and work in Japan for twelve years. It was then that I soon discovered that all of my Japanese pride and education didn’t mean a hill of beans to the Japanese Nationals. If neither I LOOKED 100% Japanese nor had a Japanese surname, I wasn’t Japanese to them. I learned how to be comfortable in my own identity – I am White and I am Japanese; I am a 100% citizen of the United States of America.
After I became comfortable with this part of my identity, the father2 in the family died suddenly in February 1999. We were extremely close, and his sudden death put me into an emotional tailspin. Once again, I needed to look within to find out who I really am. I kept asking myself, “Why am I taking this death so hard? Why is it affecting me so much?” It was then I realized the depth of what was happening to me; I was reliving the day I was separated from you. While his passing was painful for me, his death brought a whole new self-awareness for me; for that, I am grateful.
Now, I am married and have two boys.  I met my Minnesotan husband in Tokyo, Japan. Both of my sons were born there. We returned to the U.S. in 2004, when the kids were 5 and 7 years old. As I watch the kids grow up and navigate their own identity journeys, it’s amazing to see how much they identify with their Japanese heritage. It helps me continue to travel my identity journey.
I’m writing to tell you that I’m okay. I want you to know that, even though I do not know all the circumstances surrounding my birth, I can appreciate the difficult choices you had to make in order to carry me to full term and then make plans for my adoption. I have nothing but the deepest respect for you because of the choices you made. If you ever feel that you would like to meet me, I am more than willing to do this. Just know that it would take a lot of courage and humility on both our parts.
Your Daughter3

1 Even though I have my original birth certificate, I chose not to use her name out of respect for her privacy. We have not had a reunion yet, and I am unable to ask her permission to share her name publicly.
2 I have intentionally addressed my adoptive family in the third person. They are/were the only family I’ve known, but refer to them in this way to be sensitive to my birth mother and to them. Addressing them as my “adoptive” family doesn’t feel right to me. Addressing them as my “family” might not feel right to my birth mother.
3 I know that name my birth mother gave me, but chose not to use it here. Also, she would not recognize the name I have now, so I chose not to use it.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Scottsboro Boys: Holding onto the Truth

Let me start off by saying that this has NOTHING to do with transracial adoption. But after my experience on Wednesday, December 9, I feel compelled to speak through my blog.

Last night, I went to one of the final shows of The Scottsboro Boys on Broadway, as it will close on December 12, 2010. This is an incredibly powerful musical, telling a difficult story of nine African-American teens who were falsely accused of raping two white women in the state of Alabama in the early 1930s. Not exactly your typical happy-feel-good musical.

I admit it: I went into last night’s performance with a peripheral knowledge of the topic. When asked, ‘What’s it about?’, I didn’t have a clear answer except ‘Something about racial injustice.’ I did not do my homework.

It seems that the people I went with did not do their homework either.

Let me start from the beginning. This outing on Broadway was organized by my employer. See, I work in alumni relations and development for an independent school (a.k.a. private school). I’m intentionally leaving out the name of this school because, frankly, what I experienced could have taken place at ANY independent school. Heck, it could have happened at any of the performances. It probably did.
We hosted a pre-performance reception all attendees to get a drink, grab a quick bite, meet each other and pick up their tickets. As I went around talking with people and taking pictures for our school magazine, it was clear to me that most of us were entering into The Scottsboro Boys with very little knowledge about the musical itself. As all 60 of us filed into the Lyceum Theatre and found our seats, I marveled at the intimacy of the small theatre. What a magical place! There’s nothing like seeing a Broadway show. The bell rang, the lights dimmed, and the opening number began - we were off on our magical Broadway ride. And as each song told its story and I’m being wowed by the extremely talented performers on stage, it happened.

Two people in my row got up and left the show.

The fact that I had to get up to let them out of my row made it all the more stunning for me. My mind raced with thoughts: ‘Really? Are they really leaving? Can’t they see how talented these performers are? Don’t they see how hard everyone worked on this show? Can’t they at least give the show a chance to speak to them?’

Then I reminded myself: Not everyone likes to lean into discomfort to challenge themselves. It takes practice to do this. It takes a presence of mind and the ability to be in the moment when something pricks our conscience and challenges our thinking.

The powerful message of this musical is to hold onto the truth. Have the courage to break free from opinions and traditions. After the musical ended, the words of the Declaration of Independence kept ringing in my mind:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
By telling their stories, The Scottsboro Boys reminds us how the U.S.A. has a long way to go before we achieve the goal of “all men are created equal.” I leave with this thought and question: Holding onto the truth comes with a cost. Is the cost worth it?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The picture says it all

My mom is awesome! She sent me a letter with an adoption article from The Guardian Weekly inside. Look how she decorated the envelope! Thanks, Mom:-).

Sent via BlackBerry

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Off and Running - a letter to Avery

(This documentary aired again on PBS’s P.O.V. on September 7, 2010. You may watch it online until December 7, 2010)

Dear Avery,

Thank you for letting Nicole Opper tell your story. As a fellow adult adoptee, I appreciate your bravery and willingness to share your life with me. I’m especially glad that your family is featured in the film to show the world that “family” has a new definition nowadays. I hope that your mothers and brothers are well.

Let me tell you a little about myself. I’m an adult adoptee, born and raised in Philadelphia. I’m Japanese-American, meaning my bio-mom had Japanese heritage and my bio-dad was a mixture of Welsh, Irish, German, et al. My adoptive family is white: Norwegian on my mother’s side and German on my father’s side. When I was growing up, my mother always took great pride in her Norwegian heritage, so I grew up with some of their food, phrases and customs. I learned about my birth culture (Japan) after I left home and went to college. I have an older brother and a younger sister – both born of my parents. We grew up in a great neighborhood in Philadelphia called Mount Airy. It’s still a wonderfully diverse neighborhood to this day.

My adoption was closed and my birth records sealed. However, my mother is a great researcher and a librarian by trade, so she did a lot of detective work to obtain my original birth certificate, which has my name and my birth parents names on it. That’s really rare for someone who was born in the late 60’s like me. I have made attempts to contact my birth parents, but have not had any luck so far. I’ve made a few attempts, and I’m not sure if I feel the strong need to make contact. I’d like to know my medical history, but I’m also resolved if I never make contact or have a reunion with them.

I am glad that you have made contact with your birth mother. I know that it was difficult for you to hear from her once, and then not have an ongoing relationship with her. I hope you have made peace with that.

Seeing Rafi go off to college and then witnessing your struggles really spoke to my experiences. When my father (adoptive) died, I was in Japan. It was a difficult time in my life to be separated from him. But in the end, it helped me to learn about feelings of abandonment, separation and loss. I saw some of the same separation struggles happen when Rafi went off to Princeton. For me, knowing that I have trouble with separation from those I’m close to helps me to weather those tough times.

Watching your mothers’ reactions to your struggles was hard for me to watch. They seem like loving, and understanding parents, but as you went through your stages of racial identity, I wished that they could have reached out for help. Perhaps they did and it was not captured on film. Oh, and if you haven’t read Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations about Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum yet, I highly recommend it. Get your moms to read it, too. It’s great at explaining the stages of racial identity (William Cross's model).

Thank you again for working with Nicole to tell your story. I know that it will help a lot of transracially adoptive families.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mommy - movie critique

This documentary aired on PBS’s P.O.V. on August 31, 2010 – and the blogs were buzzing with criticism and comments. I must admit – my feathers were also ruffled at first.

After watching only eleven minutes of this documentary, which led up to the first meeting of Donna Sadowsky and Fang Sui Yong (now named Faith Sadowsky), I was incensed that the mother had come to China without learning any Chinese! (I later saw that she knew a word here and there, but not enough to have a basic conversation).  As the two of them spent time at the agency together, with the filmmaker herself stepping in as a translator, it became very apparent that adopting an older child from another country presented a whole new level of unforeseen challenges for this family. This was my main disappointment in the Sadowsky’s life: the unforeseen. Why did the family not learn Chinese, in order to be able to communicate with this child? I cringed when I heard the mother announce to Sui Yong that her name would be “Faith”, and then hearing the adoption agency translator struggle to pronounce it correctly. Did Donna Sadowsky not know that East Asians have a difficult time pronouncing “TH” before choosing such a name? Could not more effort have been made to find a name that would have been easy for Americans and Chinese to pronounce?
It was hard to see the lack of racial and cultural awareness in the family at first. Did the family not understand what it meant to bring Chinese girls (yes, they adopted an infant from China a few years earlier) into their white, Jewish, Long Island family? Were they not asked the four questions before they adopted internationally and transracially?

Luckily, by the last thirty minutes, the family made some real strides in attempting to raise their Chinese daughters (yes, they adopted an infant a few years earlier). The high point of the movie for me was when Donna Sadowsky picked up the phone and made an appointment with Dr. Amanda Baden, who came over to the house.  If only more time had been spent in the documentary focusing on their dialogue! If only we could have witnessed their progress on learning how to raise two Chinese-American daughters, not Chinese daughters in America.

Overall, I found the film to be a catalyst for “leaning into discomfort” and would recommend viewing it. I think that the photo and the title set the audience up for a sweet story – which it is not. The family was loving and provided many physical comforts that native-born Americans don’t even enjoy. However, they admit that they are learning and have some growing to do.  I also chastise the many Sadowsky criticizers out there by applauding this family for exposing their life to public view and critique. It’s an extremely brave thing to do. In the end, Faith makes a brilliant transition, to the point of not being able to speak with her foster family over Skype. Faith now needs the translator.

If you watch this online (from now until November 30, 2010), please make time to watch the interview with the filmmaker. It gives valuable insight on the filmmaker’s motivations for the film and what she’s trying to accomplish. It helped me to feel much more sympathetic toward the Sadowsky family.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Adoption Fusion on holiday

...and just when I was getting back into the swing of blogging again, I going to take a brief vacation.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I'm starting a new job, moving, leaving my family behind (temporarily)...there's a lot on my mind. What better way to start it all off than a vacation with family.

Never fear, I shall return with a new post in September. I promise.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Growing up in a family

I just read an interesting blog post, originally posted on July 21, 2010.  It appears on Both Ends Burning, an organization run by Craig Juntunen, which bears the same name as his book. Their mission is stated here:

Both Ends Burning is a campaign to reform the current system of intercountry adoption so that more orphaned children can grow up in loving, caring homes. Our goal is to make intercountry adoption more affordable and less bureaucratic. Both ends of the adoption spectrum are troubled: Orphaned children need loving homes, and willing families face undue barriers to adopting them.
One statement in this post resonated with me:
There is no greater basic human right than a child’s right to grow up in a family.
Never before have I heard such a succinct expression of the heart of adoption. It its purest form, this is what adoption is all about.  In my trolling of the internet, I have read of some exceptions to this experience (adoptees who were misplaced into abusive families, child trafficking, etc.), but I applaud Both Ends Burning's campaign to bring adoption back to its essence: giving a child the right to live in a family. They work tirelessly to make intercountry adoptions more affordable and less bureaucratic. They are not quick to scoop up children who are orphaned (or appear to be orphaned) in times of national crisis and ship them overseas. If possible, the birthfamilies should be located and birthfamilies hopefully will be willing and able to take care of the child(ren). If not, orphanage stays should be minimal.

Isn't this what adoption is all about?

Perhaps I am too idealist and optimistic. But I do believe that everyone has the right to experience the unconditional, foundational (sometimes too-close-for-comfort-and-get-under-your-skin) love that comes from being part of a family.

Readers, do you agree with me? Or are my ideals too high and unattainable?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Potentially annoying questions...

Older Brother, Me, Younger sister

As I read people's experiences through NYTimes articles, blogs and other sources, I can always find a "rant". Here's mine: annoying questions.

For me, my annoying questions relate to my adoption. However, I'm noticing others who rant about these questions, particularly when people don't "match." It is not necessarily limited to race or skin colors, but can also happen between family members who do not resemble each other physically (eyes, nose, etc.).

For example, when I introduce someone to my sister, occasionally, we are on the receiving end of what I have termed "The Tennis Match Gaze." The person first looks at me, then at my sister, then back to if it were a Serena Williams/Maria Sharapova volley at the U.S. Open, incredulous that we are actually sisters in the same family. If we have pity on the person, I will quickly explain "I'm adopted"...but not always. If I wait long enough, the annoying question will inevitably come: "That's your sister?" Why can't we be taken at face value (no pun intended)? Just because our hair colors, eye colors and skin tones don't "match," it doesn't mean we're NOT family. I mean, don't we live in the 21st Century? Why do we cling to an old-fashioned view of what it means to be family?

I'm not trying to be mean and nasty here. Most people are genuinely curious and just don't seem to know how to phrase their question. But I think as the recipient of these questions over a period of thirty to forty years, they can tend to wear you down...and sometimes make me want to shut down.

So, here are some of common questions, potentially annoying. If you're interested, click on the linked questions to read articles/blogs that speak to these questions:

Is that your baby/child? a.k.a. Are you the nanny?
Are those your kids?
What are you? (for those who have an unusual "ethnic" look)
Is that your mother/sister/brother?
Where did you come from?
Any history of (insert medical condition here) in your family? - this one is particularly annoying for me if I have to keep repeating it to the SAME physician each time I visit. Can you keep the fact that I'm adopted and have no access to this information on record, please? Thanks.

Readers, what are questions that annoy you? Please share.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Adoption Stories on PBS and elsewhere

Recently, I was able to find a moment to relax with my kids in front of the T.V. I admit it, THEY were in control of the programming. However, during one commercial break when I happened to wrestle the remote control away from their tight little grip, I quickly flipped to our local PBS station. There I was: smack in the middle of a documentary about international/transracial adoption. Oh, what a serendipitous find! Albeit a short glimpse, I was mesmerized by the story of a Korean American woman who was visiting her birth family.  Soon afterwards, and following protests from my kids, I had to relinquish the T.V. and return to their program (America's Got Talent or something like that).

I discovered today that the program I had stumbled upon was PBS's P.O.V. and the film: First Person Plural. In fact, PBS is running an "Adoption Stories" series starting August 31, 2010.

Watch the full episode. See more POV.

After doing a bit of research, I realized that there are SO many wonderful documentaries about adoption that I'd like to see. In addition to the three documentaries above, here's a few more I'd like to see:

Adopted by Barb Lee
Living on the Fault Line: where race and family meet by Jeff Farber. Actually, I own it and recommend it.
DMC: My Adoption Journey by Rick Sasson. The story of Darryl McDaniels. Follow weblink to view online.

Readers, any other adoption documentaries that you have seen, enjoyed, or wish you could see? Please share.

My Next Adventure

Dear Readers (that is, if I have any left after such a long blog silence),

Let me start by thanking you for your patience through my grand pauses, to use music terminology.

The reason I have been silent is because I have been going through an intensive job search from June until now. As anyone who has searched for a job knows, it is an all-consuming process.

I am happy to state that my job search is now complete and I will be heading to Massachusetts to start working at Deerfield Academy later this month. It's a very exciting time, and while I do not expect to be any less busy, I do expect that I will have the discipline to be able to continue to blog here on Adoption Fusion.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mother and Child

Anyone else seen the ads for this movie? It's been in the theaters since May 7. Here's the synopsis:

Three women's lives share a common core: they have all been profoundly affected by adoption. KAREN (Annette Bening) had a baby at 14, gave her up at birth, and has been haunted ever since by the daughter she never knew. ELIZABETH (Naomi Watts) grew up as an adopted child; she's a bright and ambitious lawyer, but a flinty loner in her personal life. LUCY (Kerry Washington) is just embarking with her husband on the adoption odyssey, looking for a baby to become their own.

I think it's interesting how this drama has slipped into the "artsy" theaters in my town (Ritz 5) with big stars (in addition to those listed above) Jimmy Smits and Samuel L. Jackson plus screenings at the Toronto Film Festival 2009 and Sundance Film Festival 2010. No promos (save one I saw with Samuel L. Jackson) on Jay Leno or David Letterman. No barrage of TV ads. Interesting.

I applaud Director Rodrigo Garcia for taking on this topic. And it looks like he has done his research: I can already see the separation trauma issues he addresses in the film. But after watching the trailer, I'm not sure if I have the courage to actually go see it. I may have to wait to buy the DVD, so I can stop it and walk away if I have the need.

My walk-aways would not be because of frustration, however. From the trailer, it looks like Garcia has captured these so well that I'm afraid this movie would hit too close to home. It would show me too much of myself or it might stir up emotions and thoughts about what my biological mother might be thinking.

Like I said, courage. I need courage to see this film.

And at the same time, I am curious to see this film. I must see if Garcia does justice to the adoption triad. Or will I see it and say, "Oh, no. Is everybody going to make assumptions about adoption based on this film?"  From the trailer, I have a feeling that it is the former, not the latter because Garcia is allowed to take the feature length film to go deeper that a 1 hour TV drama (see my post on Glee earlier this month).

If any of my readers has seen this movie, I would love to hear your impressions.

I have a feeling it's going to be a long time before you read my full review on this blog. The curiosity and courage will have to outweigh the fear.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Glee and Adoption

*SPOILER ALERT* If you are a "Glee" fan and have not seen this season's finale...continue reading at your own risk...

I admit it.  I started watching Fox Network's "Glee"...and I'm hooked. I know that the plot lines are so "high school," but, hey, it's set in...a high school! I can overlook the juvenile drama because I love the singing. Anyone who was, is or will be an a cappella/show choir fan will love this show for performances. And the tunes are classics so you can sing-along. What could be better?

Another thing that I applaud the show for is its attempt to address teenage issues, at the risk of leaning into discomfort at times: teenage pregnancy, sexuality (gay/straight), physical limitations (one of the characters is in a wheelchair), fitting in/being comfortable with who you are, etc. One of these issues is the adoption triad: adoptee, birth parent (two fathers - who are never seen) and birth mother.

Now - on to the finale, which aired on Tuesday, June 8. I have to admit, at one point I changed the channel to the NBA Finals because it just got too ridiculous for me. Our teenage pregnant mother (Quinn Fabray) went into labor during the Regional competition. Her whole birthing scene was paralleled by cut-aways to the show choir rival Vocal Adrenaline's performance of Queen's "Bohemian Rapsody," even to the point of her pushing when the lyrics scream "Let him/me go." It was absurd. Later I had to explain to my two sons that: 1) even Mommy's *quick* labor took 8 hours, not 8 minutes. 2) most women in labor take much longer, even up to 36 hours or more (ohhhh, they said).

All that being said, Quinn decided to choose adoption instead of parent her baby. And, as was quite serendipitous, the woman who adopted the baby was the rival show choir's coach, Shelby Corcoran, who chose adoption for her own child many years ago. Quinn, as far as we know, does not know that Shelby has adopted her biological daughter. 

Now, here's my beef: 
After Quinn has given birth (all of 8 minutes), she goes straight back to school and sings with the glee club - as the focus has now shifted to the fact that they lost the Regional Competition, must disband the glee club and say goodbye to Mr. Schue (their teacher). 

Seriously? Again, perhaps my expectations are too high for this show, but this representation of the birth mother was maddening. Especially after they portrayed the adoption reunion between Rachel (lead singer in New Direction) and her birth mother so well, I thought.  The twist in this story line is that Rachel's biological mother is Shelby (see above).

Quinn's birth and relinquishment (sorry, I know it's not the PC language...but it's an accurate descriptor from Quinn's perspective) showed the peachy-peachy side of the adoption process and made it appear that is was "no sweat" to chose adoption for your child. See, girls, you can get pregnant, make an adoption plan, and be right as rain immediately afterwards. Just go sing with your friends - no worries! No post-partum depression. No hormone changes. No regrets. No feelings of loss. All is right with the world.

Glee: if you're going to attack the complex issues of teenage-dom, then do it right. Don't hollywood-glamorize them! I'm willing to wait until next season to see if you address this. But if not, I may have to stop watching you, Glee.

Did anyone else watch this season finale? If not, watch it here on Hulu.

What do you think about this?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Gene Luen Yang: why I won't be watching the last airbender movie

OK. Thanks for being patient with my blog silence once again. I've been following my favorite blogs faithfully...just could not find time to write.

Here's an easy AND IMPORTANT post! And something close to my heart.

There's been a buzz in the blogosphere about the upcoming movie: The Last Airbender, directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Making a long story short, this movie has intentionally cast white actors/actresses in roles that are originally portrayed by Asian/Inuits. If this story is new for you, check out some links about this on Racialicious or Angry Asian Man.

Gene Luen Yang, author of American-Born Chinese, posted a comic on his blog about why he won't be watching this movie, which opens nationwide on July 2, 2010. I'm re-posting it with permission. It's the same reason I will not be watching it either.

(if this graphic is too small, here's the PDF version)

Monday, March 29, 2010

The U.S. Census Controversy

As I eagerly looked forward to receiving my 2010 Census form, I quickly realized that across the blogosphere and web, not everyone shared my enthusiasm.

There are a few posts out there (listed below) that comment on the Census 2010 and their questions about race (and how "race" is worded) AND household relationships, marking whether the dependents are biological, adopted, step-, foster, etc.

As an adult mixed-race adoptee, I'm thrilled that I can now check as many boxes as I want, need or desire to define my "race." I also wholeheartedly support the asking of the "relationship" question.
So, in a Q & A format, here are my thoughts on the U.S. Census contoversy.

Why should I have to mark my child as "adopted" when their adoption certificate states they "shall be considered the (child) of the adopting parents, entitled to the same rights and privileges, and subject to the same duties and obligations as if the said person had been born in wedlock to the adoptive parents"? Doesn't it single them out?

Answer: When I started doing my own research on adoption in the United States, I cannot begin to tell you the relief I felt finding the Census 2000 results. For those who may not know, the Census 2000 was the first time that the "adoption" question was asked.  The results confirmed what I knew intellectually, but had little statistical proof to back it up: I'm NOT the only one. Most of my life, I've emotionally struggled with feeling like the "only one." Adoptees all have their unique story but from my experience, this can be a point of commonality. Adoption identity formation is quite complex - and one part is feeling a sense of "belonging" and "outside" at the same time, like I am not OF your family. This is especially true of transracial adoptees.  The family hegemony of "all families look alike" is so prevalent across countries and cultures that it is truly hard to break away from this.  It is so affirming to have concrete facts to show how many people in the United States are touched by adoption. When I found the Census 2000 facts on adoption (and for everyone who answered honestly, I'm sure there were a few more who chose NOT to answer this question), it made me want to go door-to-door to encourage everyone to fill out their 2010 form! When you meet someone face-to-face or in public, you can choose whether to share your adopted relationship or not, but - please - don't withhold information from the Census that could be useful in changing legislation and how we view and approach family formation in this country. Adoption has the potential to be a wonderful way to form a family, and should get acknowledged as such in legislation, federal funding and in society.

Why is the U.S. government making me recognize my child(ren) as adopted when legally and emotionally there is no difference? Can't the government get the information they need from other federal agencies or research organizations?

Answer: For the first part of the question: There is no difference for adopted children? Legally, no. Emotionally, yes.  Perhaps from the adoptive parents' perspective, there is no emotional difference. But for any adoptee who's explored their place in this world emotionally, there IS a difference (sorry to break the news to you). I do recognize that there are adoptees out there who will tell me that they are perfectly happy with their family situation, they have no desire to search for the birth parents and that they are one with their adoptive family. I acknowledge and recognize that side of adoption and make no judgements. However, there are plenty of adult adoptees who view their adoption to be an integral part of their adult identity, no matter how much they are loved by their adoptive family.

For the second part of the question: While I understand the thought of turning to other federal agencies for information about citizenship/immigration through adoption, I have a problem with this. I am a domestically adopted person. If the government got all their facts from another agency, like USCIS, then I would not be counted. Certainly there are other studies conducted by independent reseach organizations like the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute or the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, but they usually have agendas or theories they are trying to prove. I admire their work to promote healthy family formation through research and legislation, but the Census has the power to give the raw data about us...if we participate in it!

My plea to the adoptive parents: Please deny yourself and answer the question honestly! If your adopted child(ren) decide to seek out this side of their identity, they will thank you for your action in the 2010 Census. Really. And, who knows, I'm optimistic that with the correct data on how many lives across the U.S.A. are touched by adoption, perhaps laws can change for the better and more support for our youth can be given.

Readers, would love to hear your thoughts on this. And if there are more articles addressing this issue on the web, please share the link(s) in your comment!
Web Links with Census commentary:
Faith And Illusions
Adoption Talk - which has more links, too.
Love Isn't Enough - March 22 - 25 posts
Washington Post: In multiracial America, the census puts us in a box.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Transracial adoption: a two-way street?

I was recently asked by a friend what my thoughts were on the adoption trends of white families adopting "cute" Asian kids. My friend wondered why we don't see more of the opposite: Asian families adopting white kids, or Black families adopting white kids.

Because my friend posed the question, I thought my email response would make for an interesting blog post. Reader's Caveat: I acknowledge that my response is anecdotal and my theories are not founded in thorough research. If you're still interested then, by all means, read on!:

Oh, boy.  You've really asked the million-dollar question! I could go on and on about this...but I'll try to keep it relatively brief.
I've seen the article you referenced (a black family who adopts a white child)...and have not seen any other since. I do know of one blogger, atlasien, who writes about her experiences at Upside-Down Adoption because she self-identifies as an Asian "hapa" and adopted a non-Asian child.
Yes, the "trend" of whites adopting Asians (particularly Chinese and Korean) is probably the most common international adoption trend I've seen. There are SO many bloggers who prove this theory (see my Similar Blogs links).  Unfortunately, I've never done a study on why this is.  However, if you're really interested as to the "why", I'm sure that the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute would have some answers. They are a great research institute.
Anecdotally, here are my thoughts:
I don't see many Japanese adopting white children because the closer they are to their Asian roots (meaning: if they have traditional Japanese families), the more stigmatized "adoption" is.  They keep adoptions in Japan very hush-hush. When I lived in Japan, I stopped sharing with Japanese people about my adoption openly because it put them in a awkward position - they didn't know how to comprehend it. It also exposed them to a side of me that is very personal (which is not common for Japanese people to be so open with a private matter).
I think that China has set up a situation for abandoning girls (due to their one-child law and the socially-desirable child is a boy).  That's why we see many Chinese girls being adopted by families here in the States.  A similar situation happened in Korea, as women have out-of-wedlock pregnancies which are just now (slowly) becoming accepted by society...
On a larger scale in the U.S., the Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA) of 1994 and Removal of Barriers to Interethnic Adoption Provisions (IEP) of 1996 attempted to provide equity in adoption for African American children because they saw the large number of black kids available for adoption and found a shortage of willing same-race families to place them in. The "color blind" interpretations of MEPA-IEP actually restricted agencies from providing post-adoption support for transracially-adopted kids.  Look at the Evan B. Donaldson Institute's website for their recent statement in 2008 about how this didn't quite accomplish what the government intended.

Since this letter was written, I have since found an earlier article about Mark Riding found here in 2007 and a reference to another family in an archived Detroit News article here. But, even I have to admit, this black family-white child topic is hard to find.

I did find one interesting comment on Yahoo! Answers in response to the question, "Has a black family ever adopted a white child?". Check out Julie J's answer which takes into account the supply/demand in adoption.

I would love to hear your thoughts: why is transracial adoption not more of a two-way street? What do you think about seeing these new, "blended" families in your neighborhoods? Would they be well received?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"Mixie" Olympiads!

OK. The Winter Olympics are here. And having experienced the Snowpocalypse on the East Coast, I am actually stuck in the house...I mean, sitting down to watch the events.

Now I know this is NOT about adoption - but I couldn't resist posting about the latest speed skating medalists, Apolo Ohno and J.R. Celski. A little background on these athletes: Apolo Ohno's father is Japanese-born and his mother is American. J.R. Celski's father is of Polish descent and his mother is of Filipino descent. Here's a nice article on Apolo and his supportive dad. And if you missed the edge-of-your-seat Short Track: Men's 1500M race, then you can click here to watch it on

I can't help feeling a certain sense of pride when I see these mixed Asians! All of my knowledge about "model minority" stereotypes go right out the window. I mean, who cares that these athletes epitomize the "hard-work ethic" that is often attributed to Asian cultures (and absolutely necessary for anyone aspiring to be an Olympic athlete). I'm just elated to see some athletes that look like me. Or more importantly, athletes that my children can identify with.

As I watch the Olympics with my sons, they cheer for Team USA and Team Japan equally.  They know their roots and connect with both countries on some level. And I'm glad to see that they can find someone who "looks like them" in popular media.

I'd love to hear of more "mixie" Olympiads out there. If you've found them, please share!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Gotcha Day!

After I first returned from living in Japan and began to meet friends who are adoptive parents, they educated me in the ways of "gotcha" celebrations.  What's this? I had never heard of such a thing.

"Gotcha Day" celebrates the anniversary of the child's adoption. It is the day that they were brought home into their new family.  Adoptive families celebrate this day in different ways (as shown here and here) and balance the celebration if there are biological and adoptive children in the family. Actually the term "gotcha" is quite controversial, as seen here.

I've recently been able to flip through the pages of my baby book that my mom (adoptive) kept for me.  I've always felt a special affinity for Valentine's Day and I think there are a couple of reasons for that. One, my "gotcha day" was Feb. 10, 1969 and my parents often mentioned how I was their "Valentine present", which made me feel pretty special growing up. Two, my mother always made Valentine's Day a special occasion with small gifts on our dinner plates that we could open before dinner.

So, Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! And today,  I celebrate my own "gotcha day" (or close to it) and the family that brought me into their lives.

I'd love to hear from any readers who are part of the adoption constellation who celebrate their "gotcha days." I know you're out there! Or perhaps you'd like to share which term you prefer: Gotcha, Adoption Day or something else?  What term do you use to celebrate the anniversary of bringing an adopted child into your family?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Shout out for FUSION!

About two years ago, I attended the White Privilege Conference.  For those who may not follow social justice issues, the title for the conference may seem a bit strange.  But, rest assured, this conference brings in big name speakers and has amazing workshops around all sorts of social justice themes.

It was there I first encountered a group called iPride based out of the San Francisco Bay area. One of their board members was leading the WPC Youth Leadership portion of the conference.

I signed up to receive their e-newsletters, and what should appear in my Inbox this week, but a notice for the FUSION program for Mixed Heritage Youth. I'm so thrilled to see this kind of program in place, "supporting multiracial, multiethnic and/or transracially adopted youth and their families."

MUST give a shout-out to the FUSION program - check it out!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Off and Running-movie about race and identity

photo credit: First Run Features/New York Times

I MUST share this New York Times movie review for "Off and Running," a new film about transracial adoption.  Right now, it is playing in Denver, but  has playdates booked all over the United States. Can't wait until it comes to Philadelphia in May!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Thinking about Haiti

With the Haitian earthquake tragedy the last few weeks, the adoption blogosphere has been on fire with commentaries, like at Adoption Talk or Family Preservation Advocacy. It seems everyone has an opinion.  Here's mine:

I was relieved to see that the U.S.-Haitian adoptions that were in progress before the earthquake were expedited and those children were able to be brought to the U.S. to be taken care of my their new family.  I can only imagine the distress that the "expecting" adoptive parents felt when they saw how these earthquakes have decimated Haiti. After all, those adoptive parents could have been waiting up to three years to be united with their new son or daughter.

I was also relieved to hear on NPR (listen here) that the United States is not rushing in to scoop up the "orphans" and bring them to the United States.  When a tragedy like this hits, it is important to act quickly for rescue, food and medical care. But when it comes to the children and surviving families, I believe that the United States should practice patience. The risk of child trafficking is too high.

We must be vigilant not to separate children from relatives in Haiti who are still alive but displaced, or to unknowingly assist criminals who traffic in children in such desperate times.
- U.S. Department of Homeland Security spokesman Matt Chandler

This is where, as an adoptee, I have strong feelings.  Moving forward from today, I feel that every effort should be made to find a child's biological family - whether they will be placed with their aunt, uncle, grandparent or second cousin-once removed.  There are greater chances that a child's biological family will know medical histories of family members or anecdotal family stories, giving the child a sense of connection and belonging. I would hate to see history repeat itself after the 1970's adoptions of Vietnamese children (see above NPR link).

However, it doesn't mean that I am against adoption. I'm just against the all-mighty U.S. of A. using their superpower to swoop down from on high to "rescue the children."  If we place these children into American families (and, most likely, transracially adoptive families), will the children grow up with a sense of their Haitian culture?  It depends on where they live.  If it's southern Florida or New York City, I'm not so worried.  If it's in a location that does not have a well-established Haitian community, I'm more concerned. And it depends on their adoptive parents. Hopefully, they will be well-informed, learning parents who appreciate the child(ren)'s heritage culture and will be able to teach them how to live in a race-conscious United States.

And for the adopted Haitian, will they grow up understanding their privilege in the United States? Will they feel moved to use that privilege to better their homeland?  If they do feel moved to return to Haiti, can Haiti afford to wait for ten to twenty years before these children grow up and become doctors or teachers?

For those who are suddenly "moved to adopt" and take care of these needy children, I give this challenge: why not move to Haiti? That way you can raise the child in their native country and not strip Haiti of their future - the children. Doesn't Haiti have every right to keep their children? (I'm getting sarcastic, I know...)

At the very least, I think that Haiti should have a strong say in this decision.  Please, U.S. government, listen to the Haitian voices before you make decisions about their children. Haiti is an autonomous country. Please ask them what they need, and don't try to make decisions for them.

Readers, I would love to hear your thoughts on Haiti and her children.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Out with the with the New!

Once again, there has been "blog silence" here. But not for lack of content: I've just been going through a lot, and it's been a little overwhelming.

December is a rough month for me.  And (as my colleague said to me) even though I can see the train wreck coming down the tracks, I feel powerless to stop it.

Let me start by saying: The commercialism behind holiday shopping is getting more and more depressing for me each year.  Could it be because I've outgrown it?  I yearn for deeper spiritual focus during the year's end, and it can tend to get lost in the blaring commercials on TV or the event invitations which fill up calendars quicker than sand flowing through an hour glass.  Spending so many years in Japan didn't help either: we don't have years of family heirloom ornaments to put on our tree (not that I want them) and I haven't built many family traditions around the holidays either.  Also, being a more eco-friendly family, lots of the American ways to celebrate the holidays seem ecologically unjust: chopping down trees, increasing your electricity usage for lawn displays, purchasing wrapping paper that will end up in the trash (or, perhaps, the recycling bin). The list goes on and on. I'd like to be more festive and I love the "goodwill towards men" attitude around Christmas time.

However, December is also the month of my birthday.  About ten years ago, I realized that I get pretty emotional around my birthday because, as an adoptee, what does my birthday really celebrate?  While for some, it's an accomplishment of another year of life, my birthday is tainted because it marks for me the day of separation from a biological family that I've never known.  So many questions run through my mind: Will I ever be reunited with them?  Am I at peace if I never get to meet them?

I try not to be so negative and depressing around my birthday.  After all, I'm a grown woman and know the reasons why I might feel sad, so that's more than half of the psychological battle, right?

That's why I appreciate New Year's so much.  I think that I learned it when I lived in Japan.  The Japanese have a superficial sense of Christmas: you'll see signs of Christmas in the department stores and in the bakeries.  But the real holiday is New Year's.  The preparation before this holiday is cleaning and cooking to get rid of the old and start the New Year afresh. Then you have three days off to do nothing but relax with family, watch kooky New Year's TV shows and eat all of the cold food you prepared the week before.

So now that it's January, I say "Happy New Year" and let the new beginnings start! And to celebrate the New Year, I've chosen a new title and focus for my blog: Adoption Fusion - discovering where adoption, race and culture blend together.  Enjoy!