Roma film

February 13th, 2019

I watched the movie, “Roma,” nominated for multiple Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actress. The film is set in Mexico, but I kept seeing Guatemala. “Roma” tells the story of an indigenous woman who works as a housekeeper for a middle-class family, and every detail in it felt real, tender, sad, and true. Two friends strongly disliked the movie, but I left the theater devastated and stunned (that’s a good thing), almost as if I’d lived the experience myself.

Here’s the link to the NY Times review and an interview with Yalitza Aparacio, in which she speaks of being discriminated against in Mexico as a person who is indigenous.

Photo: Claudia Lucia, The Hollywood Reporter

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Three Identical Strangers documentary

February 9th, 2019

Mateo and I watched the 2018 documentary, “Three Identical Strangers,” last night. (Yes, the film finally came on DVD to our local library, because, as Mateo claims, we’re the only family in the country who doesn’t have Netflix.)

Wow. If you haven’t yet seen it, you must.

You probably know the rough outline—three identical triplets separated at birth, adopted to families in the greater New York area by the Louise Wise adoption agency. They find one another through pure chance at age 19, when two of the boys attend the same college and everybody calls one by his brother’s name.

I hesitate to say more, because the movie is full of surprises. Just when you think “Unbelievable!,” something more outrageous happens.

One small observation: The film focuses, rightfully and effectively, on the profound repercussions of being separated at birth. The practice is wrong, period. The boys continue to pay a heavy price. What the film overlooks is the repercussion felt by any and every child who is placed for adoption, the answer to the question, “Why did she give me up?”

The boys’ relationship with their birth mother is mentioned only once, in a short scene, when the brothers describe finding her name in New York Public Library records and meeting for a drink. Their mother was a high school student when she got pregnant, and for reasons not explained—Social pressure of the times? College looming on the horizon? Lack of family support to care for three babies?—she placed the boys for adoption.

I kept wanting the boys or their parents, spouses, extended family, or the psychologists involved in the boys’ case—many people are interviewed—to at least acknowledge this first, deep, primary loss. But everyone is so focused on the horror of the triplets’ separation that the core “hard thing” of adoption—being separated from your mother—isn’t even named. It’s completely overlooked. And, no matter what the circumstance or reason why, and no matter how loving and supportive an adoptive family is, being separated from your mother is a loss that never goes away.

Still, “Three Identical Strangers” is a provocative, engaging, important documentary. Mateo and I recommend it.

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Questions of identity

February 6th, 2019

There’s a trope in writing that the part of the story we read, the part we write, is only the tip of a gigantic iceberg. So much is happening below the surface. So much is unsaid, underneath. Isn’t the same true of our children? They may not talk about struggles with racial identity–about who they are and how they fit into their worlds–but that doesn’t mean they’re not thinking about it.

The older my children get, and the more they walk in the world without me, the larger identity looms in their lives. My job is to acknowledge their challenges in navigating complicated identities, to encourage conversation about those challenges, and to listen.

In this video produced by Heritage Camps for Adoptive Families, Sam Severn, a young man born in South Korea and adopted to the United States, offers powerful and profound insights into his identity journey. He got me at the first lines: “The worst transition of my life occurred between middle school and high school… I saw myself as what I saw: white.”

The video is a great reminder of what may be going on in the minds of our kids, especially those who are of color and growing up in white families. It’s worth watching.

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DNA

February 3rd, 2019

DNA kits are affordable and easy. Millions of people are taking tests and discovering blood relatives may not be who they were led to believe. We in the adoption community have dealt with family complexity for years, but for many people, the information comes as a shock.

In this Wall Street Journal article by Amy Dockser Marcus, a DNA counselor says, “I have become of the mind-set it is not a matter of if the secrets will come out…It is a matter of when the secrets will come out.”

After meeting her 90-year-old biological father, a woman says, “Every child has the right to know her origins. We missed 65 years together.”

I keep these observations in mind as an adoptive parent.

Finally: At least three families in my adoption circle have found biological siblings and cousins of their children, through DNA kits; the sibs and cousins were also adopted to the United States. The discovery has been amazing for these families: a miracle.

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Adam Crapser update

January 31st, 2019

A refresher for anyone who has been following the saga of Adam Crapser, the man born in South Korea some 40 years ago, adopted at age 3 through Holt Children’s Services to one American family and later placed with a second, the Crapsers:

The situation with the Crapsers was perilous: “In 1991, the couple was arrested on charges of physical child abuse, sexual abuse and rape. They were reportedly convicted in 1992 on multiple counts of criminal mistreatment and assault.”

Adam Crapser was kicked out of the Crapsers’ house, and later convicted of breaking and entering to recover (“steal”) a Korean-language Bible and stuffed dog that had come with him from the orphanage. (Objects that were emotional touchstones for Adam and any child in a similar situation. Sacred to him!)

Later, Adam was convicted of assault and unlawful possession of a firearm. A green card application triggered a background check, when it was discovered Adam lacked US citizenship. No one in the adoption chain–Holt or either set of adoptive parents–had secured for him a Certificate of Citizenship.

Adam was deported to South Korea, where he doesn’t speak the language, and is separated from his American wife and 3 children. He was reunited with his birthmother, but (quote): “…he also expressed frustration over what he sees as a social stigma against adoptees here.”

Crapser is now suing the government of South Korea and Holt. He deserves to win. So many people let this man down.

Finally: Certificate of Citizenship. I’ve posted about it many times. Securing a Certificate of Citizenship is one of our non-negotiable responsibilities as adoptive parents. I know we all know this. But in case someone else needs a nudge.

AP photo by Ahn Young-joon

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MFA and Finish

January 30th, 2019

My word for 2018 was “Finish.” Finish the MFA degree and finish a decent draft of the manuscript for my first novel. Friends, I’m happy to report I did both. Here’s me with Olivia on graduation day, in my cap and gown, and giving my final reading in the Antioch library. I read the opening scene of my novel-in-progress, which seemed to provoke a strong reaction.

My word for 2019 is still to be decided.

Happy New Year! (no longer so new.)

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“The Long Up” by Kay Ryan

December 30th, 2018

I’d never heard of poet Kay Ryan when I picked up a copy of “The New Yorker” and read her poem “The Long Up” while sitting in a waiting room for one of our seemingly never-ending therapy appointments. This was 2011, when Ryan already had been named the sixteenth United States Poet Laureate and awarded the Pulitzer Prize. In those years, I didn’t know of Ryan’s accomplishments, and how could I, when my days and months were consumed with searching for whatever it was that would help peace descend on my house, my family, my kids. I couldn’t dedicate energy or time to anything except placing one foot in front of another to get through another day.

Everyone says teenage years are the hardest, but for us, it was the beginning: those early years when I didn’t understand my children or their internal journeys, so unlike anything I’d ever seen or experienced or heard of.

On that afternoon in the waiting room when I picked up the magazine, Kay Ryan’s simple, vivid lines soared off the page and landed straight in my soul. I dug out my journal from my purse—the journal in which my most constant refrain was a scratched and repeated “I can’t do this!! Help me!!!,” underline, underline—and copied the poem in its entirety. Her words gave me hope.

On the eve of 2019, Ryan’s poem may resonate in your soul, too. I’m with you in spirit. Xoxoxo

“The Long Up”

By Kay Ryan

You can see the
land flattening out
near the top. The
long up you’ve faced
is going to stop.
Your eyes feast
on space instead
of pitch as though
you’d been released.
The measured pace
you’ve kept corrupts
with fifty yards
to do—fifty
times as hard
against the blue.

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Two children die in border custody

December 29th, 2018

There is so much information embedded in this NY Times article by Elizabeth Malkin about the Guatemalan government’s muted response to the now two deaths of children in US Border Custody it’s almost hard to absorb it all. Excerpts:

“The reason for the government’s reticence… is … Guatemala’s centuries-old discrimination against its indigenous Mayan communities.”

President Trump has threatened to cut aid to Guatemala if President Jimmy Morales doesn’t stem the flow of migrants to the US. President Morales is reported to be less concerned with decreased aid from the US than with US support for his ousting CICIG (the international anti-corruption tribunal). To that end, says the NYT:

“For more than a year, Mr. Morales and his government have been carefully developing allies in Washington, nurturing ties with evangelical groups and conservative legislators.”

The Times reports that the deaths of two children following their dangerous migration to the US have underscored the

deep failures of successive Guatemalan governments to improve conditions for the country’s poorest people, particularly the indigenous Maya who make up at least 40 percent of the population.”

Says Anita Isaacs, a Guatemala scholar at Haverford College:

“We have a de facto apartheid society. This country continues to be almost as racist as it has been historically… These lives are worth less, and these people are fundamentally invisible.”

Why is this true? For many reasons, but one is that the land on which the indigenous have lived and farmed for generations is valuable and coveted. Recently, palm oil plantations have begun encroaching on properties in order to develop them. Says Anita Isaacs:

“Historically, these communities have been evicted to make way for cash crops like sugar or coffee. What better form of eviction than them leaving the country completely? That’s a major reason why the Guatemalan government doesn’t care.”

Read the entire article here

 

 

 

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Opinion piece in SF Chronicle

December 21st, 2018

Today I’m thrilled that the San Francisco Chronicle published my essay, “Jakelin was also a brave immigrant.

Thank you for reading. You encourage me to raise my voice.

https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/openforum/article/Jakelin-was-also-a-brave-immigrant-13482184.php?fbclid=IwAR0vo5CL2WSEpqXYIVlz_-HMxR-ujSzqA3QpChKzAfiL-uENgbo3_BXD60A

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Jakelin Caal Maquin

December 19th, 2018

Many of us know the world of Jakelin Caal Maquin because our children are from villages like hers in Alta Verapaz. Their families are Q’eqchi, K’iche, Kaqchikel, Ixil, Mam, Tz’utujil, Chuj, Garifuna. They struggle in ways hard for us to witness, much less understand: The daily walks to the public pila for clean drinking water, the scarcity of protein, the homes that get washed away during rainy season, the inability to attend school due to the need to work, the lack of jobs beyond subsistence farming, the absence of any viable and lasting opportunity.

I read this paragraph in the New York Times and almost weep:

On paper, Guatemala is not poor; the World Bank classifies it as an upper-middle income country. But those statistics mask profound inequalities, the legacy of centuries of racism and economic control by powerful groups that even now resist attempts to soften the sharp edges of the country’s systemic discrimination.

We see it when we visit: the endless, crushing, inescapable poverty that defines the lives of indigenous Guatemalans. We hear it from our families, who tell us their only chance for a better life is to leave the country they love.

When I read stories like Jakelin’s, I remember my grandparents, who sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from Scotland and Ireland to America so their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would not go hungry and suffer the way they did. My father was the first of his strain of the O’Dwyer clan born on US soil. Today, I benefit from their brave sacrifices.

My heart breaks for the soul of Jakelin, for her mother and father, her siblings and cousins. Their family is my family. We are one.

 

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