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.