Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Adoption satire premieres on stage in MN


Thanks to my husband's mother, I was able to hear about this new play about...adoption! You go, Minnesota!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Who Are My Brothers And Sisters?

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I returned from the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference on Saturday, Dec. 3. Yes, it IS a mouthful. This year, the conference took place in my hometown, Philadelphia: the city of Brotherly Love (and Sisterly Affection). The title, and themes for discussion groups centered on the nation's birthplace and it's Mural Arts Project. It does my heart good to attend this conference - especially in Philadelphia - for many reasons.

First, I get to see amazing keynote speakers and attend thought-provoking workshops. Every year, they find people - big name people - like Wes Moore, Lorene Cary or Martin Nesbitt. But what is strikes me about these General Session Speakers is how real they are. They get up in front of thousands of people (this year's total for adults and students was just over 3800) and tell their story. They tell it like it is. Respectfully. Meaningfully. And occasionally through some tears.

Second, I reconnect with my fellow independent school educators and I get to meet new ones. I met many of my friends from Philadelphia, Delaware and New York. However, since I've relocated to the western side of Massachusetts, it is crucial for me to know who is in my neck of the woods (quite literally). At a regional meeting, I represented my independent school and proudly display my school's colors for the other schools to see. And I met new allies in the independent schools that are close to me. Like the Girl Scout saying goes, make new friends and keep the old.

Third, I get to see my "family". No, not my family who live in New Hampshire, Vermont, Minnesota nor the Philadelphia area. My new "family" of transracial adoptees. There are specific times in the conference set aside for reflection on your own identity and what it means in the greater world. Last year, the NAIS PoCC created another break-out group  - for transracial adoptees. After three sessions of exploring our identities together, there is a kindred bond that is hard to explain...these friends are my new brothers and sisters.

Don't be surprised if the next few blog posts are about my "take-aways" from this conference. Those two-and-a-half days DO leave a lasting impression. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

No Need for Family Trees

As I am heading out to the NAIS People of Color Conference to lead my Adoption Fusion workshop/dialogue, I check in one last time to my favorite adoption blogs. Yet again, I see a post about the dreaded "family tree" lesson.

Perhaps "dreaded" is a strong word. It's just that there are so ways to portray your family nowadays - why settle for a linear, one-dimensional model? Why not be more inclusive of how we define "family"?

Here is one alternative that I share in my workshops: the family wheel. It includes ALL kinds of families formed in ALL kinds of ways. And it puts the subject at the center - rather than out on a limb (so to speak). This is my personal wheel - and a static template, but the wheel could easily be drawn freehand to allow for more "slices of the pie". Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

National Adoption Awareness Month: A Princess Found

It's National Adoption Awareness Month! And here is my first contribution of the month (better late than never!).

At the NAIS People of Color Conference 2010, I was thrilled to see that Sarah Culberson, an adult adoptee pictured above, was a featured speaker. Sadly, I was not able to attend her session or book signing, but I did buy her book. As fate would have it, she walked past me in the lobby of her hotel so that book got signed after all!

Sarah Culberson and Traci Trivas write  about her adoption/search/reunion story in A Princess Found: a memoir retold in quick, soundbyte chapters.

Sarah's story inspired me - the courage to share her story and the candor with which she shared. Once she discovered that her father was Sierra Leonean and was able to visit her biological family, she realized her calling to bring healing to the townspeople's lives. She recognized her place of privilege as a way she could give back to the people of Bumpe - to restore their village and to educate their children by rebuilding her father's school. Much like Esther in the Old Testament, she saw that her life had been lived for such a time as this.  She was able to connect her two worlds and unite her families.

As I tweak and revise my own workshop on transracial adoption for this Saturday, I draw strength and encouragment from her story. Many thanks, Sarah, for your courage!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Chinese, Japanese, Dirty Knees, Look at THIS!

I don't know exactly how to start this post. I'm still in shock from my innocent Google search.

Let me start from the beginning. At work, we have a new online project management tool that is shared with many employees at work. I have a Profile and can upload a picture to identify myself - a sort-of-avatar, if you will.  At first, I uploaded my work ID photo (nerd). Then I thought, "Why don't I upload something fun and unique to me?"

Since I'm partially Japanese and lived in Japan for so many years, why not a Japanese flag? I do what every web-surfer does: I googled "Japanese flag". Lots of images come up, but when a national flag is a white background with a red "hinomaru" (circular sun) in the center, it doesn't translate well to a 100x100 pixel icon. It ends up looking like a big, red dot.

I click on "Images" to expand the repetoire. I find a nice photo of a Japanese flag, waving in the wind with trees in the background. It really makes the flag stand out nicely. But I scroll down further...what's this? I can hardly believe my eyes!

This picture is simply named: "Lovely young female holding a Japanese flag" and shows this attractive woman (most likely a mixed race asian person), holding a small Japanese flag, smiling - perhaps even laughing - and pulling the sides of her eyes. Chinese, Japanese, Dirty Knees...

Sadly, I cannot post the picture on this site (but you can click on the link). To post it here would mean actually purchasing the photo from the stock photo company. I was tempted to do so, for the sake of creating a shockingly visual post. However, I do not want this company to make one single cent off of me or anyone else if they do not review or even censor their photos for racial insensitivities. Shame on the photographer (whose first name could be Japanese!). Shame on the model. But I hold the stock photo company ultimately responsible for purchasing it and posting it in their catalog.

What's worse is that all of the other "flag" photos taken by that photographer (and all with the same model) - Brazil, Germany, Sweden, France, Switzerland, Australia, Saudi Arabia, China, South Korea - were normal. No funny faces. No pulled eyes.

I'm not sure if it was serendipitous for me or stupidity for them, but below the picture there was a "tweet" button to push the web link on Twitter. Which is exactly what I did, with my commentary "Can't believe this is on a stock photo site. I'm offended."

Ask any adult Asian American you know, and I bet they have their own "Chinese, Japanese, Dirty Knees" story...and I bet it's an ugly one. Hopefully, Asian American children of the last decade have been spared this cruel joke. But if one of my students - or even my own teenagers - tells me they have heard this chant when they were young, I wouldn't be surprised.

Gentle Readers, I would love to hear your thoughts about this photo. Am I overreacting?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Adoption Nation-second edition

Oh, the joys of getting a new book in the mail!

Well, new for me, anyway. Yesterday, I received the "new" Adoption Nation, by Adam Pertman, Executive Director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. To quote from his website: You’ll note that I put the word “new” in quotation marks; that’s because – as some of you eagle-eyed readers will note – it’s really a revised and updated 10th Anniversary Edition of my first book, and it bears the same main title. But it contains so much new research and information, so many new perspectives and up-to-date stories, and such significant changes and enhancements throughout, that I hope even the most careful readers of the original “Adoption Nation” will agree that it’s worthy of the adjective “new.”

I'm off to read this book...stay tuned for my book review later!

Friday, August 12, 2011

To Place or not to Place...

...that is the question in transracial adoption.

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of racial tensions by placing a child of color with a white family permanently,
Or to take arms against this placement - to wait for a same-race family member or same-race adoptive family,
And by opposing the MultiEthnic Placement Act-Interethnic Placement Act of 1994/1996 end the troubles?

I hope that The Bard will forgive me for borrowing his words from Hamlet, but it seemed all too fitting as I read this interesting op-ed article here called "The Radicalization of Adoption Threatens Black Children". The writer Ryan Bomberger goes straight to the heart of this issue: what is best for the child - a permanent home or ethnic identity? He makes some good points, and being a transracial adoptee himself, disagrees openly with the stance taken by the National Association of Black Social Workers in 1972. He is speaking out against the many brown-skinned children who remain in foster care because of the inability to cross racial boundaries by admitting our own prejudices. He openly acknowledges that not all families can or should adopt, but he does believe that it is up to us to make this world a better place for our children - especially those without parents or permanent families.

And what do I think? I think that adoption across racial lines is a fine way to build a family with one important condition: that the adoptive family work together to continually educate themselves about their (adopted) child's culture AND to develop their own identity through self-examination and realization of their own biases, prejudices, and cultural lenses. While adoption advocates, agencies and organizations often talk about "what's best for the child", they must also include a support system that educates the parents and extended family members who may encounter the ugly side of racism for the first time.

The truth is we live in a world (particularly in the United States) where skin color does make a difference. The "color-blind" mindset does not hold because it ignores what makes us each unique. Sadly, with darker skin color comes greater responsibility: in a world where overt racism is illegal in most situations, microaggressions abound. If a family adopts a child with a darker skin color or with smaller, almond-shaped eyes, they need to be prepared to help that child when these microaggressions happen. And if they have never experienced these themselves, education and awareness is vital.

What do you think, readers? Can we put aside our racial biases and create a culture that accepts a family of many colors, breaking the hegemony of same-race families for the sake of permanent homes for many orphans? Or is it better to place these children with same-race families who can empathize with them when racial hardships come their way?

As always, I'll be waiting for your comments...

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

New challenges unite adult adoptees

An insightful and courageous article about Adoptees Have Answers - an Minnesota state program which provides a place for genuine adoption conversations to begin.
I applaud the journalist, Katy Read, and Minnesotans for this ground-breaking program, started one year ago.
Click on the link below and enjoy!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2 takes on adoption

OK. I admit it. I am a full-length-feature-animated-film lover. I've seen every Disney animation (although Disney and I have a "love-hate" relationship...which another story altogether), Dreamworks and Pixar film.

So when I saw the trailers for the first "Kung Fu Panda" by Dreamworks, I was a bit skeptical. "Oh, man. Here we go. An animated movie that is going to take all of the Asian stereotypes and blow them out of proportion. Another cartoon where the main character is voiced by a white person, and the Asian people are in supporting roles." I did not see this one in the movie theaters. But when I watched it on DVD later, I was nicely surprised. It was thoroughly entertaining and not as packed with offensive stereotypes as I thought! There was one pressing question on my mind: how come the Panda hero has a Goose for a father? How come Po the Panda feels like he doesn't fit into the noodle-making family?

Enter Kung-Fu Panda 2. They should have subtitled it: "The search for self" or "The journey for inner peace." Po the Panda finds out that he was "abandoned" as a child and discovered by his noodle-making father, Ping the Goose. During the movie, the underlying theme is that Po must find himself. In order to have inner peace, he must know who he is. And, through the course of the movie, he does indeed find out his true story, which has painful roots that tie directly to the new arch-enemy he faces.

I loved how Dreamworks took on this challenging topic and, I confess, I did shed a few tears when Po realizes that "it is not where you come from that matters, but where you are going." As an adoptee, this is something I truly believe. Do I want to know where I am from? Yes. Have I tried searching for my birth parents? Yes. Do I want to continue searching until they are found...no matter what the end result is? Yes, although my actions and my courage wane from time to time. I do not discount my past - especially when it comes to my birth parents - but knowing I am adopted gives me firm roots in who I am and also gives me the freedom for where I want to go.

It's a complex life, as you well know, my readers. But for all the joys and pains, it's my life...and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

For another opinion: read this article.

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

For First Time, Majority Of U.S. Babies Are Non-White

"WASHINGTON (AP) - For the first time, minorities make up a majority of babies in the U.S., part of a sweeping race change and growing age divide between mostly white, older Americans and predominantly minority youths that could reshape government policies."

I can't wait to see the 2010 Census report - especially the detailed breakdowns of household relationships (including adopted children and same-sex couples...who tend to adopt to form families).

Please click through to read the article and let me know what you think!

Article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/23/census-whites-now-make-up-minority-of-babies_n_883082.html

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pan-Asian Misconception

This is a wonderful article by a Dartmouth student, describing the joys and pitfalls of what it means to be "Asian"!

Enjoy - and let me know what you think. I'm listening.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Defining Race: Part 2

So, it looks like I'm not the only one who wrestles with this question! Thank you, readers, for those who responded online and by email.

The straight definition of race from Merriam-Webster is:
1: a breeding stock of animals
2 a : a family, tribe, people, or nation belonging to the same stock b : a class or kind of people unified by shared interests, habits, or characteristics
3 a : an actually or potentially interbreeding group within a species; also : a taxonomic category (as a subspecies) representing such a group b : breed c : a category of humankind that shares certain distinctive physical traits

But the more complex question is: where did the concept of race come from?

What Merriam-Webster does NOT tell you is that race in the United States has its roots in history, when Western Europeans arrived in North America. Over the years, it has become socialized and legalized - so that the color of one's skin DOES impact their lived experience.

As I tried to address this question in a couple of blog posts, I realized that I would not be able to do so...or at least not as eloquently as other researchers have done before me. So, in great humility and acknowledgment of researchers I admire, I DO want to point you to a fabulous website and movie about the history of race (follow the previous link). It is an excerpt from the "RACE: Are We So Different" exhibit. I would encourage you to see when this amazing exhibit is in your neighborhood. You will never look at race in the same way again!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Foreigners Looking to Adopt Japanese Earthquake Orphans Need Not Apply

Not a big fan of FOX News, but I agree with their point: Japanese people do not comprehend adoption in their daily lives (linked article below: dated March 21, 2011).

When I first arrived in Japan and explained that I am Japanese-American and adopted, they had no idea what to do with that information. It is truly a foreign concept and Japanese people would much rather search for a distant relative before sending "their" children to live in another country.

Read the article - and please comment. I'm listening.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Videos: Adoptee Rights in Pennsylvania

This video makes me...
...thankful to my mother, who obtained my original birth certificate before the passing of the Adoption Act of 1984...
...proud to be a Pennsylvanian...
...sad that I no longer live in PA because I would gladly volunteer my time to support Pennsylvania Adoptee Rights...
...happy that I can post this video on my blog, share it with others, and continue to educate others wherever I go...

I also like the PAR's other video "Who Am I?" (below):

Readers, I would love to hear your thoughts about these videos.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Defining Race: Part 1

Recently, I was able to share my transracial adoption experience at an independent school's diversity conference.  This school set aside a full day for workshops: everything from movie screenings, discussions about race, religion, gender, and culture to...knitting. Truly, it was a day to celebrate this school community's talents and diversity in the true sense of the word.

The first session went well - the junior high students, high school students and adult participants were engaged and laughed at my jokes, which is always a plus. The second session of my workshop was much more intimate with fewer participants, perhaps because it also overlapped with the first lunch sitting.  The students were polite, listening to my story and raising their hands when I called for it.  But then my friend posed an interesting question to the group, "Jenny, you keep referring to your 'race' and your 'ethnicity' throughout your sharing. So I'd like to ask, how do you define race?"

 I was glad that she asked the question and brought it to the consciousness of the high school participants, one of whom nodded as if to say, "Yes, please tell us how YOU define it."

And so, for Part 1, I'd like to pose the question to you, my readers: How do you define race?
(Hint: it's not as easy as you may think)

I'll give you my answer in Part Two...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Starting off on the right foot

Happy New Year!
It's only January 11, and I'm so excited about the New Year. Here's why: I'm thrilled to be back in Western Massachusetts, after a twenty-year hiatus. I'm even more amazed at the adoption connections already being forged. Perhaps it is just my "adoption radar" going into overdrive, but I can't remember when this many great community connections have just appeared before my eyes.
  • I was able to attend the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference in early December. At that conference, I was one of the facilitators for the Transracial/Transnational Adoptee group - an incredibly powerful experience. I'm grateful to my mom, who helped me to afford this conference.
  • Through a colleague at work, I was able to meet another independent school educator at the aforementioned conference. My  transracial adoption workshop was just accepted at their Diversity Conference, where I will be presenting to Middle and Upper Schoolers (grades 7 - 12).
  • I submitted a short article to a Philadelphia-based independent magazine, describing my upbringing and family dynamic as a transracial adoptee. Check out their blog!
  • Friends around me are adopting, hoping to adopt or have adopted already - and there is an immediate bond that we share.
My thankfulness is overflowing.

One of my goals this year is to keep up my regular posts to the blog. And with the community connections so far, the year is starting off on the right foot.

Readers, any exciting news about adoption or multicultural families out there? Please share!