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.


Anonymous said...

Recently, I found the 2010 Census form hanging on my door. As I began filling it out, I came across a dilemma. The U.S. government wants to know if my children are adopted or not and it wants to know what our races are. Being adopted myself, I had to put “Other” and “Don’t Know Adopted” for my race and “Other” and “Don’t Know” for my kids’ races.

Can you imagine not knowing your ethnicity, your race? Now imagine walking into a vital records office and asking the clerk for your original birth certificate only to be told “No, you can’t have it, it’s sealed.”

How about being presented with a “family history form” to fill out at every single doctor’s office visit and having to put “N/A Adopted” where life saving information should be?

Imagine being asked what your nationality is and having to respond with “I don’t know”.

It is time that the archaic practice of sealing and altering birth certificates of adopted persons stops.

Adoption is a 5 billion dollar, unregulated industry that profits from the sale and redistribution of children. It turns children into chattel who are re-labeled and sold as “blank slates”.

Genealogy, a modern-day fascination, cannot be enjoyed by adopted persons with sealed identities. Family trees are exclusive to the non-adopted persons in our society.

If adoption is truly to return to what is best for a child, then the rights of children to their biological identities should NEVER be violated. Every single judge that finalizes an adoption and orders a child’s birth certificate to be sealed should be ashamed of him/herself.

I challenge all readers: Ask the adopted persons that you know if their original birth certificates are sealed.

Anonymous said...

Well, since you asked for links, here's what I wrote recently:

A note concerning adoptees with sealed records, not in reunion, and the census.