Archive for March, 2011

Conference call on Guatemalan adoption, 3/31/11

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

I just hung up the phone from the U.S. State Department conference call on the status of Guatemalan adoption and I’m in awe of the composure of the other people who were on the line. Not the State Department employees, who are doing their best and are trained to remain composed. But the parents who have been waiting for their children for more than three years–the group known as the Guatemala900. How did those mothers and fathers not shriek with outraged fury–My child is growing up in an orphanage without me! My kid needs a loving family! Does anyone care about the fate of our children?

I’m afraid that’s what I might have done.

The first thing we were told was that the call was “off-the-record” for journalists. I doubt anyone considers my blog “journalism,” but in case they do, I’ll respect that caveat. Besides, there is little new to report since the 12/21/10 conference call. Guatemalan working groups continue to review cases. The universe of cases seems to remain around 385. The ones in PGN are staying in PGN; the ones in CNA aren’t moving from there, either. The pace is still slow. Excruciatingly so. Six cases per week, on average. At that rate, we’re looking at another year and a half to two years, minimum, for large-scale resolution.

I understand how important it is to remain positive. But the more I read articles, books, and other blogs about international adoption, the more I realize that emotion, and not reason, often seems to drive the decision-making process.  Take adoption from Ethiopia. Recently, the government there announced that due to “irregularities”–real or perceived–only five cases a day would be processed. A spate of blog posts followed, pro and con, including an excellent overview at Creating a Family. In the Comments section, “abiye” wrote this: 

“Most Ethiopians are not happy in what’s going on in the Adoption dram[a]. Ethiopians, particularly in Addis Ababa, get angry seeing white people coming into their country and leave with a child – as if that child is a pet. This is/was a talk of the town for last few years & the government knows it that at any time the anger can reach a boiling point.”

I posted in response: 

“As an adoptive mother to two children from Guatemala, I admit there are problems in the system that must be fixed. However… From my observation, some of the controversy around international adoption stems from th[e] anger [abiye describes]. If that’s the case, perhaps no level of reform will ever be perceived as satisfactory.” 

In a February 17  blog post, I wrote about the Kyrgyzstan 65, a group of adoptive parents in the U.S. whose pending adoptions have been hung up for years.  Yesterday, March 30, an article titled Bishkek Lawmakers Reluctant to Lift International Adoption Freeze appeared on Eurasianet.org.  

In 2008, responding to local rumors that foreigners were adopting babies to harvest their organs, the Kyrgyz government imposed a moratorium on international adoptions. Since then, American families… have been waiting to bring home 65 children whose adoptions were in progress when the freeze was announced. According to the Ministry of Social Protection, 30 of the 65 orphans have special health conditions and need regular treatment that is difficult to find in Kyrgyzstan. Two have died. Families in Kyrgyzstan have adopted only four.

Could it be that, around the world, unreasonable delays are happening because, bottom line, some people really don’t want these adoptions to be resolved? That, for reasons of their own, a nation would prefer their children live in orphanages than go to the United States? Recently, I was asked to participate on a panel about adoption from Guatemala. In preparation, the question arose about domestic adoption in Guatemala–that is, Guatemalan families adopting children who are not blood relations. How many such adoptions have occurred, now that adoptions are closed to outsiders? If an answer exists, none of us could find it, including a Guatemalan national with close ties to adoption. “Domestic adoption first” is held up as a solution, the better way to provide permanent families for children who need them. Wonderful. But in the three years since the December 2007 shutdown, few, if any, families in Guatemala have stepped up to adopt orphans.

Meanwhile, the families on the phone line today continue to wait.

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A new baby

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Most days, Mateo takes the bus to kindergarten, but sometimes we drive so we can read together in the classroom for 15 minutes before school begins. I chat with the other mothers on the playground as we watch our kids jump and run, their little bodies radiating energy and happiness. At the sound of the bell, the teacher, Ms. S, emerges from the classroom and the kids fall into an orderly line. Ms. S has been teaching kindergarten for more than 20 years. She knows how to set a tone.

This morning, the excitement is especially high. Ms. S’s oldest daughter, a married woman who lives back East, is pregnant, due to deliver any minute. I know this because all week Mateo has been telling me, “Ms. S is about to become a grandma!”

As the kids file into the classroom and Ms. S is telling us about her daughter’s long and seemingly endless labor, her cell phone rings. “Oh, oh, oh!” Ms. S spins in a circle as she flips open her phone. “It might be news!”

Another false alarm.

Inside the classroom, I settle into a miniature-sized plastic chair and Mateo goes over to his cubby to pull out his book box. Then he does something he has never done when I come to the classroom to read. He crawls into my lap and snuggles. He wants to be held.

Chatter about babies swirls around the classroom–”During my first pregnancy…” “She was ten pounds eleven ounces!,” “And then the doctor said twins,”–and I remember the arrival of my nieces and nephews. For a few stunning moments, the world stopped: It’s a girl! It’s a boy! He’s got the same eyes-hair-chin-nose. She’s gorgeous!

As I hug Mateo, and he clings to me, I wonder about his birth. Mateo is from Guatemala, and one of the few facts I know about his life is that before he was born, his biological mother made her decision to give him up. I imagine that in order to separate, she had to distance herself from her son. No calls to a grandma waiting on the other end of a cell phone. No announcements sent to aunties and uncles and far-flung kin. Did Mateo’s mother count his fingers and toes?

I reach into my pocketbook for my glasses and blink away a few sharp tears. Through some miracle, Mateo found his way to me and my husband, to his sister, Olivia; to our family.  Forever, I am Mateo’s mother and he is my son. But today I’m reminded, again, that like all children who are adopted, Mateo has a story that started before I met him. His prologue is one I may never know.

When Mateo was born, did anyone celebrate? Please tell me yes.

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NY Times article, Trekking in Guatemala

Monday, March 28th, 2011

No sooner did I post The Economist article about Guatemala’s hope to promote “rural tourism” than another, related article appeared in the Sunday, March 27 edition of  The New York Times. Guatemala By Hiking Boots, Not Tour Bus, written by Mark Sundeen, is a feel-good, glowing account of a three-day hike from Quetzaltenango to Lake Atitlan.

My reaction to the article surprised me. I’m a little offended by it.

For example, this paragraph:

Our accommodations were a municipal building, a cinder block structure around a courtyard with a fountain that didn’t work and an ash heap where skinny mutts gnawed leftovers. We were to sleep on the tile floor of a room with no furniture and a nonfunctioning light bulb hanging from a wire. I recognized the place from Hollywood thrillers: this was where the narco-cartel tortured its enemies.

I’m often accused of being overly-sensitive, but I don’t find jokes about narco-cartels funny. Especially narco-cartels in Guatemala.  This paragraph also offended me:

Remember when Guatemala was the world’s coolest destination, when your dorm-mates returned from winter break bedecked in purple ponchos for which they’d bargained— in Spanish! — from some actual Maya on market day in Chichicastenango? As decades of civil war calmed enough to allow tourism, your friends reported hair-raising rides aboard rickety chicken buses, those Blue Birds pimped like low-riders with flashing lights, naked-lady mud flaps, and Jesus and the Virgin airbrushed on the hood.

I object to the phase “some actual Maya,” because it treats a group of human beings as though they are specimens or a sideshow.  I also don’t agree with the writer’s description of  chicken buses as “Blue Birds pimped like low-riders… with…Jesus and the Virgin airbrushed on the hood,” (although I understand his intention). The Guatemalans I know are respectful people, very sincere in their religious beliefs. So while a bus may be painted with the word “Jesus,”  feature an outline of Guadalupe, and even be festooned with balloons, that’s a far cry from anything close to ”pimp my ride.” And after “decades of civil war,” the country has “calmed” down, really?

Maybe I’m just jealous because Mark Sundeen got to hike across Guatemala, and I didn’t.

In any case, it’s always a good day when the esteemed New York Times runs a positive article about Guatemala. As Mr. Sundeen writes, “Remember when Guatemala was the world’s coolest destination?” No argument there. Still is.

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State Department conference call on pending adoption cases

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Maybe we will get some answers on the pending adoption cases known as the Guatemala900 during the State Department’s upcoming conference call on Thursday, March 31 from 10 – 11 a.m. Eastern time.  If past calls are an indication, the conversation should be frank and informative. Here is the State Department’s announcement:

Teleconference on Guatemala Adoptions

Thursday March 31, 2011 @ 10:00 am – 11:00 am (EDT)

The U.S. Department of State Office of Children’s Issues Adoptions Division would like to invite prospective adoptive parents, adoption service providers, and adoption stakeholders with an interest in Guatemala adoptions to a teleconference with the Office of Children’s issues and the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to discuss the status of intercountry adoption processing in Guatemala.

The focus of the call will be primarily to provide an updated outlook for resolution of the remaining “grandfathered” adoption cases involving U.S. citizens.   This update will include information from a recent trip to Guatemala during which USCIS and the Office of Children’s Issues met with Guatemalan government officials for updates on the status of “grandfathered” adoption cases still pending in Guatemala.

Please join us for this call to learn more about adoption processing in Guatemala.

To Join the Call

If you are calling from within the United States, please dial: 1-888-363-4749

If you are calling from outside the United States, please dial: +1-215-446-3662

The passcode for all callers is: 6276702

 

 

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Politics, rural tourism, micro-loans in Guatemala

Friday, March 25th, 2011

This article in The EconomistGuatemala’s First Couple: Divide and Rule, gives the best general overview written in English about the divorce of Guatemala’s presidential couple, Alvaro Colom and Sandra Torres, that I’ve read so far. In reads in part:

Ms Torres is not the only candidate running on dubious constitutional grounds. Álvaro Arzú, a former president, is campaigning despite a ban on re-election. Zury Ríos, a congresswoman, may be blocked by a prohibition on the relatives of the organisers of coups, since her father, Efraín Ríos Montt, toppled a government in 1982 and installed himself as dictator.

***

One of the few candidates free of constitutional entanglements is Otto Pérez Molina, a former general who narrowly lost a run-off vote to Mr Colom in 2007. Mr Pérez Molina is the strong favourite: a recent poll put his support at 43%, with Ms Torres next on only 11%. In 2007 he promised an “iron fist” against crime. Since then Guatemala has become far more dangerous, as Mexican cocaine smugglers have put down roots in the wild jungle areas near the northern border. After four years of the soft-spoken Mr Colom, some Guatemalans might fancy an ex-army man to drive the gunmen back across the frontier.

Guatemala has been challenged with political and social instability throughout its history, including during  the years since the 36-year civil war ended in 1996. That instability has far-reaching implications. Tourism, for example. Danilo Valladares reports in Alternative Tourism Seeks to Overcome Major Obstacles.

GUATEMALA CITY, Mar 24, 2011 (IPS) – Most of the countries of Central America are lagging behind the rest of the tourist destinations in Latin America, despite their impressive natural and archaeological treasures. To turn this situation around, the area is increasingly focusing on alternatives like rural tourism.

“Tourism has become the main livelihood of families here,” Olga Cholotío of the Rupalaj K’istalin community association of eco-tourism guides in San Juan La Laguna in the northwestern Guatemalan province of Sololá, told IPS.

The association, run by the Mayan Tzutuhil indigenous people, works in the area around Lake Atitlán, one of the region’s main tourist attractions, offering tours of rural areas and villages where visitors see traditional weavers making colourful textiles, watch small-scale fishers plying their trade, take in traditional music and dance performances, and go on nature walks.

***

The Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report, produced every year since 2007 except 2010, seeks to measure the factors and policies making countries attractive for developing the travel and tourism industry. The index includes three main subcategories: regulatory framework; business environment and infrastructure; and human, cultural, and natural resources.

Cholotío is not familiar with the report. But she has no doubt that Guatemala’s high crime rates have a negative impact on tourism and keep it from fully becoming an engine of development for communities like hers.

In 2010, revenues from tourism, the country’s third-largest source of foreign exchange, fell 14.5 percent from 2009, to just under 986 million dollars, according to Guatemala’s central bank.

The first question I’m asked when I talk about our travels to Guatemala is “Is it safe?” My answer is that it is, as long as you’re careful. My personal preference is to avoid Guatemala City, but I may be more cautious than most. We plan our trips thoughtfully and make arrangements in advance. Our family loves the villages around Lake Atitlán. Like many other adoptive families, we try to visit as much as we can. I hope that the region’s plans to boost rural tourism succeeds.

Finally, a friend posted this link to a video on the Kiva website made by a Bay Area family who made a micro-loan to three women in Guatemala to help fund their clothing enterprise. You’ll enjoy watching a recap of the family’s trip to Guatemala, where they met the three women whose business they helped finance.

Happy Friday!

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NY Times article about US-born girl returned to Guatemala; her parents are undocumented

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

On March 22, the New York Times reported that a four-year-old United States citizen, Emily Ruiz, born to parents who are undocumented Guatemalans living in Brentwood, New York, was returned to Guatemala by authorities at Dulles Airport after returning home from a trip to Guatemala. Emily was traveling with her grandfather, who possessed a valid work visa, but was stopped for an immigration violation from two decades ago. In the article, U.S Returns Young Girl, a U.S. Citizen, to Guatemala, Sam Dolnick reports:

That has left Emily, a pigtailed native of Long Island, in an unusual limbo. As a citizen, she has the right to re-enter her country. But her parents are illegal immigrants, which has complicated the prospect of a reunion.

Today, Emily is in Guatemala, her parents are struggling to bring her home, and lawyers and federal officials are arguing over parental responsibility and citizenship rights. The Ruizes find themselves on the front lines of a heated immigration debate: how to treat families in which the parents are here illegally, while their children, born in the United States, are citizens.

The case comes as elected officials across the country have pushed for bills to end automatic citizenship for children, born here, who are sometimes referred to pejoratively as anchor babies. Immigrant advocates say the proposals are antithetical to American ideals.

Cases of families where some members are citizens while others are not are common in the area where we live in California. This case may have far-reaching implications for them and many other families living in the U.S.

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Guatemala’s First Lady files for divorce

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

Guatemala’s First Lady Sandra Torres de Colom is seeking a divorce so she can run for president in the country’s September election, it was reported in the March 22 English edition of Aljazeera.  Torres is supported by the governing National Unity for Hope (UNE) party and the right-wing Grand National Alliance (GANA). Incumbent president Colom, who assumed office in 2008, cannot run for re-election.

In a statement released to the newspaper Prensa Libre, Otto Perez Molina, the main right-wing opposition candidate, called the divorce a “fraud”. “We will not allow them to mock the law with this move,” Molina said.

According to the constitution, close blood relatives of the president and those of “second level of affinity” are banned from running for office.

The divorce papers, which indicated a mutual desire for separation, came despite previous comments from the president that divorce was not an option and that his wife was eligible to run.

If both parties agree, the divorce could be final in about a month.

In her announcement of her candidacy, Torres said she decided to run “for the people, for my country, for the elderly, children, disabled, abandoned, orphaned, for all the needy in Guatemala.”

I don’t know a tremendous amount about history, but I know enough to hear echoes of Eva Peron in Torres’s platform statement. When Colom was elected President in 2008,  several people in Guatemala told me they viewed his election as a stepping-stone for his wife’s political aspirations.  Her willingness to divorce in order to be eligible reveals a strong desire to win.

For further background on Torres, read this March 10 article by Renata Avila in Global Voices.

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Open Letter from Dr. Jane Aronson to President Bill Clinton

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

 I saw Dr. Jane Aronson’s open letter to President Clinton on another blog, Whatever Things Are True. Dr. Aronson is founder and CEO of Worldwide Orphans Foundation, and writes with the authority of a physician involved in international adoption for some twenty years. Her message is so passionate I’m also printing it here, in the hopes of adding to the letter’s readership. Dr. Aronson’s subject is the recent news about adoption from Ethiopia, and her interpretation of its meaning.

March 13, 2011

An Open Letter to President Clinton 

Once again, tragedy strikes orphans  – children who might have been adopted into a permanent home have had their hopes and dreams demolished.  This time it’s  Ethiopia, where international adoption has been growing rapidly over the last six years, beginning with a handful of older children in the 1980’s and 90’s.  By last year 2,500 children – sweet babies and toddlers – were adopted by American families.

Now, the Ethiopian government has announced that it is reducing the number of visas approved for adoption from 50 per work day to five. The outcry from those waiting to become parents, from adoption agencies and from not for profit organizations advocating for children, is predictable and equally predictable, the world at large appears to be indifferent to the anguish this ruling is causing.  And so, the numbers of children adopted from Ethiopia will decrease, the time it takes to adopt will increase, and international adoption in general, and the children in particular, are the losers. (more…)

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Friday

Friday, March 18th, 2011

 The past few days have been hectic, beginning with the annual St. Patrick’s Day party at our church and ending with this moment now, as I stand at my kitchen counter writing a blog post, 40 minutes before I’m due to pick up Mateo from kindergarten. In between, I drove to Sacramento to meet with the book club of my great friend and fellow writer, Laura-Lynne Powell, whom I met through Writing Mamas, the writing group sponsored by Book Passage. (How’s that for back story?) Laura-Lynne’s book group has been meeting for 15 years, dating from when Laura-Lynne met one of the other moms on a playground. Last night, they were planning the wedding of one of their daughters, so you know they have a history.

Based on my recent experiences, I’ve decided the most fabulous women in the universe belong to book clubs. Really, I must join one immediately! And I love how the groups seem to meet forever—beginning with babies in diapers and continuing through middle school, weddings, and beyond.

Two of the women in the group are adoptive mothers–Laura-Lynne included, which may explain why we bonded quickly–so the conversation centered largely around our collective experiences. The other women asked great questions”– ”Why Guatemala?”, “How do your children react to having a relationship with birth family?” and “Were you ever afraid?” among them—and we adoptive mothers did our best to fill them in. The more I meet with people to talk about Mamalita, the more I realize that a big part of my mission in life is to “normalize” adoption. As one mother pointed out, adoption has been with us at least since biblical times. The story of Moses, anyone?  There is no reason why the subject should be shrouded in mystery and shame.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures, so I have none to post here. However, on my way home, I did stop by Davis, California, an absolutely charming university town, where I discovered the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame, and snapped a shot. I also stopped into the Yolo County Public Library to ask the librarian if she would consider adding Mamalita to the collection. I explained the book is circulating in the Marin and San Diego county systems, before giving the librarian copies of the book’s great reviews in Publishers Weekly and Kirkus. Fingers crossed that Mamalita will be added to the shelves. If you live in Yolo County or surrounding environs, please ask for Mamalita at your local branch. I hope you enjoy the read!

On to kindergarten pick-up!

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Heritage Camp and Mamalita

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

I cannot believe that it’s almost time for Heritage Camp. Something else I cannot believe is that I have been blogging at this site for more than a year! Yes, friends, the first Mamalita post appeared in February 2010, nine months before my book was published, and soon after my publicist at Seal Press, Eve Zimmerman, said “You need to build your platform. Have you thought about starting a blog?” To which I answered, “Honestly, no. I haven’t.” 

What I didn’t say, but I’m sure Eva understood, is that writing Mamalita had required my every molecule of writing energy and focus. Answering emails drained me enough, and thank goodness I hadn’t yet discovered Facebook. Could I add blogging to the mix? Add it to the mix I did, and found I really liked the practice. (My husband often calls me “the mad blogger.” ) My plan is to continue until I finalize my ideas for my next book and commit myself to a schedule for writing it. There are super-human people who can do both–focus on a manuscript and blog daily–but I don’t think I’m one of them.

Meanwhile, back to Heritage Camp. The great news is that for the fourth consecutive year, our family is attending Latin American Heritage Camp in Fraser, Colorado, and this year Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir is the book club selection. Yippee! If you’re going, please plan to join us on Friday night for a discussion. At some point during the weekend, I’ll also be leading an adult workshop on memoir-writing and the adoption experience. Stay tuned for details.

For those who are unfamiliar with Heritage Camp, I’m re-posting a section of my blog from last April so you can read all about it.

One of the very few places in the world where our family does not stand out as different is Colorado Heritage Camp. For the uninitiated, heritage camps are designed specifically for adoptive families of all kinds. The camp we attend is geared toward families with children from Latin America; camps are also designed for families with kids from Africa and the Caribbean, Cambodia, China, India and Nepal, the Philippines, Korea, Russia, and Vietnam.

Our family loves Heritage Camp. This will be the third year we attend. For a long weekend in June, we’ll stay in a YMCA lodge in the Rocky Mountains, along with other adoptive families from around the country. During the day, our kids will play games and do art projects that emphasize their Latin American culture. We adults will attend workshops and roundtables led by experts in adoption and child-rearing. Not all activities are scheduled: Families also find time to swim, hike, shop at the mercado, and practice their samba dancing at the Saturday night fiesta.

Every year, camp opens with an opening ceremony where the kids parade into the meeting hall carrying flags from the countries where they were born. As Olivia waited her turn the first year, she said to me with awe in her voice, ”Everyone here looks like us.” I was too choked up by the sight of our beautiful children carrying their flags to respond, but I squeezed my daughter’s hand to let her know I agreed. Olivia and Mateo hope to attend Heritage Camp every year until they turn 17. After that, their plan is to become counselors so they can be the “big kids” they now look up to.

For more info, check out this link.

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