For all who have been to Santiago Atitlan and visited the church there and know the story of Father Stanley Rother, the Catholic priest from Oklahoma who was assassinated during Guatemala’s armed conflict. Or if you know something about the history of Guatemala, or even if you do not: Pope Francis has recognized Padre Aplas (as he was known) as the first American-born martyr and approved him for beatification. Tears here because we have been to Santiago and stood in the room where his heart is buried, with the people he loved and served. And because we love Guatemala.
My friend who lives in South Korea pointed me to this video on “aka SEOUL” about adoptees searching for and meeting their birth mothers. (One of the adoptees profiled is Min Matson, the transgender Korean adoptee who lives in San Diego and recently published his views on being adopted and transgender as well as an adoptive dad. Read it here.)
I’m deeply moved by stories of reunion and grateful we’ve been able to connect our children with their birth moms at a young age–Olivia and Mateo were each seven.
My friend posted this NY Times video about a Guatemalan man, Eduardo Jimenez, who lived in New Jersey for a decade before returning to Guatemala. Jimenez lives in western Guatemala and speaks Mam. In his village of Cajola, as in so many villages in Guatemala, 70% of the men are gone, left for the US in search of better opportunity.
But after living in the US, Jimenez realized the untapped potential of Guatemala’s women and girls. With the financial support of an American woman, Jimenez set up systems in his hometown to teach women and girls to read and help them begin small businesses. He also set up a school for their children.
I don’t have the energy to debate immigration, but over the years, I’ve visited Guatemala many times and seen immigration’s other side: women and children left behind, living without husbands and fathers.
As I watched the video, I wondered where the government of Guatemala stands in all this: What does it mean when a person believes his best and only chance for success is to leave his family and his country? What action is the government of Guatemala taking to retain its precious resource, its citizens?
Kudos to Eduardo Jimenez for working to improve the lives of his fellow Guatemalans. Wishing him continued success. ~
A friend who lives in Korea shared this powerful essay by Min Matson, a transgender, adopted, Korean-American father of an adopted Latino-American son. If you scroll down after the essay, you can read an update on Adam Crapser, the Korean man adopted at age 3 by US parents in Michigan who abandoned him in Oregon, and readopted by an Oregon couple who assaulted him and other children in their care. (Crimes for which they were later convicted.) No one secured citizenship papers for Crapser, and after a felony conviction, he was deported and returned to Korea.
From Min Matson’s essay:
Sure, I had always known that I was adopted from Korea in the way that we know we have a spleen, but don’t really understand what it is, what it looks like, or what it means. I had always understood that my Caucasian parents — of Dutch and Norwegian decent — had chosen my sister and me from a place called Seoul (that’s where babies came from), but I never understood that the child others saw was not the one I saw in my dreams of becoming president of the United States.
When I think back, my heart breaks for my eight-year-old self who, in that moment, understood the reality of the words from my classmates, teachers, and strangers over the years — “g—k,” “ch—k,” “flat face,” “your kind can’t see as well as others” — and other cruelties that my parents unsuccessfully encouraged me to ignore. That moment shaped the years to come of what I understood as my destiny to “stand out” and never truly belong.
As Korean adoptee Adam Crapser awaits deportation, his birth mother in Yeonggju, South Korea prepares to welcome him home.
YEONGJU, South Korea — Kwon Pil-ju is trying desperately to teach herself English before she is reunited in the coming weeks with a son she sent away almost 40 years ago.
“I have so much to tell him, especially how sorry I am,” she said, sitting in her bedroom, which doubles as her kitchen, in her one-floor rural home in Yeongju. “But I am at a loss, because I don’t know English and he can’t speak Korean.”
Her son is Adam Crapser, 41, a Korean adoptee who is awaiting deportation from an immigration detention center in Washington State because he lacks American citizenship, even though he has lived in the United States since he was 3 years old. Last month, an immigration court denied his final request to stay in the United States.
South Koreans have lamented their country’s international reputation as a leading baby exporter. But in a society that held deep prejudices against single mothers and children born outside marriage, and that shunned domestic adoptions, sending children abroad was often the best option for poor South Korean women. Adoption agencies solicited their babies, promising better lives abroad.
In recent years, however, some have returned to South Korea as adults, reporting adoptions gone wrong.
I read Saroo Brierley’s amazing memoir A Long Way Home and highly recommend it. Saroo’s story starts when he is five years old and ends some twenty-five years later. The film will be released this month, with Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, and Nicole Kidman. The film’s title is Lion. (The book explains why.)
As a reader, I was right beside Saroo on every step of a journey that begins with getting separated from his brother in a train station in India and continues with homelessness for a few perilous weeks. Later, a helpful stranger brings Saroo to police who place him in an orphanage, from which he is eventually adopted to a loving couple in Tasmania.
As an adoptive parent, I was especially captivated by Saroo’s sensitive telling of his feelings around adoption and why he was compelled to search for the family he lost. The narrative that recounts his returning to his hometown and finding his birth mother are powerful and heart-rending. He writes: “My mother described her reactions better than I ever could mine: she said she was ‘surprised with thunder’ that her boy had come back, and that the happiness in her heart was ‘as deep as the sea.’”
The book is fast-paced, accessible, and written in a voice that is utterly engaging. Surprisingly (or not?) the only sections that dragged slightly for me were passages recounting Saroo’s hunt for the name of his hometown, which required days and months searching Google Earth.
But overall, A Long Way Home is a worthwhile and wonderful read–perfect for book clubs who like to discuss topical themes.~
The Washington Post published this photo-essay by writer Chloe Coleman about an 8-year-old boy from San Cristobal, Totonicapán, with T Cell Lymphoblastic Leukemia. The piece is drawn from Scott Woodward’s documentary film project, “How I Live,” that looks into children’s cancer in resource-limited countries. “The treatment of childhood cancer in the developed world is largely viewed as a success story, with survival rates as high as 80%. By contrast, in Low and Middle Income Countries, the child cancer survival rate averages just 20%.”
To me, the essay is powerful on two levels–first, because of the boy’s brave journey in the face of cancer. And second, because the images convey rural daily life as it is lived by a majority of Guatemalans, in a way not often seen or recorded.
I’m thrilled that my essay is included in the sixth annual “30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days,” a November series that features posts by people who are adopted, birth parents, adoptive parents, waiting adoptive parents, and foster parents-turned-adoptive parents.
My first sentence: “The Guatemalan searcher I hired to find my daughter’s birth mother, Ana, told us to meet in Panajachel, the town guidebooks refer to as Gringotenango. ‘In the village where Ana lives, San Luis, they don’t see a lot of white people,’ the searcher explained, referring to me, the white adoptive mother. ‘Better to meet someplace else.’”
Thank you for reading!
In honor of National Adoption Awareness Month, we feature an interview with Gloria Oren, award-winning author of “Bonded at Birth: An Adoptee’s Search for Her Roots.” Oren was adopted as an infant in Brooklyn, New York in 1955, during a period when secrecy surrounded adoption. She grew up in New York and Israel, and now lives in Washington State. In conversation with Jessica O’Dwyer, Oren discusses her lifelong quest to fill in the blanks of her early life, her search for her birth mother, and the reasons she wrote a memoir. Oren is founder of “Women Writers Editors Agents and Publishers” on Facebook, serves as editor of “Muse It Up Publishing,” and belongs to the Redmond Association of Spokenword and Society of Good Grammar. Learn more at gloriaoren.com.
What made you write “Bonded at Birth”?
The realization that adoptees have the right to their own information regarding their origins and medical histories. I had almost no information to go on, yet things have a way of happening, and because of them and the help of others, I was found.
What do you hope readers will find in the memoir?
I want my readers to be inspired. I want to share my message that there is no place for secrecy in adoption.
I had to share my story with adult adoptees who wish to search but hesitate, adoptive parents confronted by their adopted child’s wish to search, and by birth parents who fear searching — not wanting to intrude on their biological offspring’s life. “Bonded at Birth” will also attract memoir readers who enjoy a unique story. And couples contemplating adoption will learn the damage secrecy can lead to, and with hope, this book will ensure that they will be the ones to talk to their adopted children about their adoptions.
Your adoptive parents, Zindel and Hannah, were born in the early 1900s in Eastern Europe and immigrated to Brooklyn. You were born in 1955. You learned of your adoption at the age of four, through an anonymous note. Your adoptive mother, Hannah, told you to keep your adoption a secret, using a tone you describe as “serious, perhaps frightened.” What do you think she was afraid of?
I really don’t know what she was afraid of. Perhaps she feared the evil eye since their first adopted child died at a young age. Perhaps it was just the times. Today people are more accepting of adoption. The stigma of the 50s no longer exists.
In the book’s introduction, you ask, “Who was I? Where did I come from? Did I have roots?” At what age did you begin to grapple with these questions? Did you discuss them with anyone?
The questions came up from around ten, but intensified on my eleventh birthday when my adoptive father died. I felt like an outsider. I was kept in my room, allowed to the kitchen for meals, but was kept away from the mourning scene. I had lots of time to think. But since the fact that I was adopted was kept secret I didn’t discuss them until a few years later, but not getting any further in gaining info. The last time I questioned my adoptive mother was when I was eighteen. Still no further info was provided so I stopped bringing it up. But the questions were always there.
What advice would you give adoptive parents today, regarding truth-telling and secrecy?
My advice to adoptive parents today is to recognize the fact that your adopted child has a right to know the truth of his origins and heritage. Please don’t keep it a secret. Tell him what you know, and if you don’t know, admit it. Also offer to try to find out for him or her. Whatever you do, please don’t resort to secrecy.
Your birth mother, Marcia (Fritz) McCabe, was seventeen and unmarried when she placed you for adoption. What led to her decision?
She was young and living in Nova Scotia at the time. In the 50s, it was a place where everyone knew each other and word of mouth spread quickly. At the time, teen pregnancy was a stigma and not looked at in a positive manner. Her mother didn’t want anyone to know so she took her to New York on the pretense of visiting relatives, but [my birth mother] really went to live with my adoptive parents until I was born. She had no say as she was a minor and her mother did what she thought was best.
You were twenty-three when your adoptive mother Hannah died. Soon after, you began to search in earnest for your birth mother, Marcia. The advent of the internet allowed you to join online communities where, for the first time, you corresponded with other people who are adopted. Can you talk about the impact of that connection?
It was like a whole new world opened up for me. To my knowledge, I had never met or spoken to another adoptee. Now, suddenly I was meeting so many. I even participated in a Reg Day event one year and met other adoptees in person. (Years ago, on National Adoption Awareness Day, adoption registries held fairs in malls throughout the States. The one I helped with was in Bellevue, WA. We had forms for people to take, fill out, and send to the registry in hopes of a match. It’s a shame Reg Day exists no longer. The fairs were well attended.)
What I learned through these communications was that adoptees are drawn to each other. When they meet, they share a common language. They share the same questions, fears, rejections and successes. I’m still in contact with some of those I met back then. To the adoptive parents reading this I can say don’t fear the connections your adoptee makes with other adoptees. It is a very helpful step in overcoming many of the issues of adoption. They will love you more for allowing them to openly discuss what bothers them, rather than keeping it secretive.
You were almost forty-one when you reunited with your birth mother Marcia in 1996. You describe your feelings this way: “For once in forty-one years I am a completed puzzle, a whole person, and for the first time in many months I am sleeping well at night and not getting up tired.” What a beautiful description of a life-changing event! Earlier in the book, you emphasize your love and appreciation for Zindel and Hannah, and your life together. How are you able to hold both these realities?
How are kids from families experiencing divorce and remarriage able to cope with multiple families? A child has enough love to go around. The relationships are different. My adoptive parents raised me and did the physical work involved, but my birth mother gave me life. I love them all and appreciate all that each provided to me as I grew up and post-reunion.
At some point, Marcia legally adopted you. When did the adoption occur, and how was the decision made to do this?
Post-reunion Marcia asked me if I would want her to adopt me back so she could legally claim me as her daughter. I had no problem with this. She created me and carried me in her womb for nine months, and having not seen her for forty-one years, it was an easy decision. My adoptive parents were no longer living and I wanted my children to have a grandmother.
You never met your birth father because he died eight years before your reunion with Marcia. But through Facebook and other social media, you’ve connected with half-siblings and cousins. Do you have tips or recommendations for other people searching for relatives?
Read as much as you can about adoption search and reunion. Be ready for the worst, and rejoice in your successes. Be accommodating. Build a relationship slowly, let them take it in at their pace.
What has been the response to your reunion from relatives in your birth family?
We are in contact, by phone, email, etc. I’ve met some in person. They were welcoming, but there were some who to this date are still having their doubts.
And from the family of Zindel and Hannah, your adoptive family?
My adoptive family members were excited that I was able to reunite with my birth mother. Actually, I got most of my information from my cousin. She was ten when I was born and remembers a lot from that time. They were all accepting of the fact that my birth mother wanted to adopt me back. I’m still in contact with them, so I guess they had no problem with it. At least no one has said they did. One did say he was concerned that my feelings for my parents would diminish but that is not so. I love them each in a different way.
Do you have any parting words for an adoptive parent, a person who is adopted, or a birth parent who might be reading this?
Read books, use Internet resources, connect with other adoptees online and off and be ready for anything before you start your search. Adoptive parents – be supportive, helpful and understanding. Birth parents – don’t hesitate, most adoptees want to be found.
Thank you so much, Gloria. I appreciate your insights and candor.
Jessica O’Dwyer is the author of “Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir.”