Posts Tagged ‘adoption from Guatemala’

My son and the NPR program on transracial adoption

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

If you’re reading this blog for the first time, you should know that I’m a white adoptive mother to two children born in Guatemala. My daughter, Olivia, is almost 9; my son, Mateo, is 6. Olivia is indigenous Maya; Mateo is what Guatemalans call “Ladino,” meaning his heritage is Hispanic. Each has brown skin; one darker, one lighter. Our family discusses skin color often; see two previous blog posts, Peach and Brown.

On Friday afternoon, as he climbed into the car after school, Mateo asked me “Can brown people marry white people?”

“Of course they can,” I said. “You can marry someone with any skin color.” I skipped my usual speech about marriage, which includes a requirement for love, college graduation, money in the bank, maturity, self-awareness, etc. etc. This conversation was about something else.

I continued, “Did someone say you couldn’t, because you’re brown?”  Mateo nodded, looking miserable. I paused and took a deep breath. “Another kid? Or a grown-up?”

“Another kid,” Mateo said. (And here I will disguise the child’s identity.) “X.” 

Why am I writing to tell you about this? Because I want you to know that, yes, even here in Marin County, Northern California, which considers itself one of the most enlightened, educated places on earth, another kid said those words to my 6-year-old son. And I’m guessing X didn’t make it up out of thin air. He must have heard it from an adult.

On May 11, NPR ran a great “All Things Considered” program that really resonated for me:  The Parenting Dilemmas of Transracial Adoption. Here’s an excerpt from the NPR website:

Today, approximately 40 percent of adoptions in America are transracial — and that number is growing. In decades past, many American parents of transracial adoptions simply rejected racial categories, raising their children as though racial distinctions didn’t matter.

“Social workers used to tell parents, ‘You just raise your child as though you gave birth to her,’ ” Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, tells NPR’s Neal Conan… Pertman’s organization has conducted extensive research on transracial adoption in America. He says turning a blind eye to race wasn’t good for anybody. “We don’t live in a colorblind society,” he says.

University of Chicago professor Gina Samuels — who is multiracial and was raised by a white family — has also researched the experiences of children of color who were raised by Caucasian parents. She tells Conan that parents who take a colorblind approach to raising their children often do so with the best of intentions.

“[It] reflects maybe how they hope the world will be someday,” Samuels says. “But oftentimes what this ends up doing is having children [meet] the world — the real world — unprepared.”

On Friday, my son Mateo came up against the “real world” referred to by Professor Samuels. And please let me assure you, this wasn’t the first time. I’m glad Mateo trusts me enough to talk about it.

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Please sign the Guatemala900 petition to Senator Mary Landrieu

Friday, May 6th, 2011

The Guatemala900,  the group comprising families stuck in adoption limbo with the closure of adoptions from Guatemala in December 2007, is circulating a thank-you note in the form of a petition to Senator Mary Landrieu. I signed the petition and urge you to do the same. The Guatemala900 petition preamble reads:

The children and families of pending adoptions in Guatemala have been waiting anywhere from 3 to 8 years for the process to complete.

Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu recently traveled to Guatemala to meet with President Alvaro Colom as well as the heads of the various entities that govern Guatemalan adoption in an effort to break the gridlock that these children’s cases have encountered.

For this amazing devotion, the Guatemala900 offers this letter of thanks to Senator Landrieu.

Please show your solidarity for the children in Guatemala and their waiting families by clicking on the link and signing the petition.
Thank you.

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Article in “The Guatemala Times”

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

From a report in the Friday, April 29, 2011 edition of The Guatemala Times titled CICIG requests explanation from US Senator Landrieu regarding illegal adoption comments in Guatemala:

The Guatemalan media edition of Prensa Libre, dated 26 April 2011 (pages 4 and 5), published a story about the visit of U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu which reads:  “Landrieu said she does not share all of CICIG´s findings presented in a report in late 2010, detailing abnormalities in the adoption processes which are still in transition between the previous and the current law.”
***

CICIG informs the public opinion that the report is a result of the work of a team of professional experts who analyzed for 18 months over 3,342 notarial notices from the records of the Attorney General’s Office (PGN) related to adoption processes: 1,412 issued by the PGN and the National Council on Adoptions (CNA); 879 requests and protection measure processes from the Youth and Children Courts; and 153 declarations of adoptability issued by the Courts of Children and Adolescents. Furthermore, more than 50 criminal investigations conducted by the Public Ministry (MP) were analyzed in relation to the crime of trafficking in persons for illegal adoption.

From the analysis of the data gathered, it was found that over 60% of the processes for adoption contained abnormalities such as theft and illegal purchase/sale of children, threats and deception to biological mothers, and forgery of documents to carry out “adoption processes” both before and after the entry into force of the Adoption Law (31 December 2007).  In many cases there are multiple and clear indications that the illegal procedures were promoted by transnational organized crime who acted along with the participation or acquiescence of state officials. Currently, the Public Ministry investigates more than 325 adoption processes which present serious irregularities.
***

Moreover, specific cases were identified in which the representatives and/or facilitators of international adoption agencies in Guatemala were aware of the illicit origin of the children placed for adoption and yet continued illegal processes through altered DNA tests, deception and threats to biological mothers, and the use of forged documents.

CICIG supports that the international adoptions are an option of life for those children who need it. However, given that the pending processes have serious irregularities, CICIG supports the position of PGN, CNA and MP – competent institutions on the issue – and in particular promotes that each adoption process approved individually, as a minimum, should establish the following:  (1) lawful origin of the child; (2) ratification of the biological mother´s consent; (3) determination of paternity through DNA testing; and (4) veracity of the identity of the child and the mother.

Please read the entire article here.

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A film about Guatemala by Greg Brosnan

Monday, April 25th, 2011

In the film Right to Life Guatemala, part of a series called Birthrights, filmmaker Greg Brosnan takes on the subject of illegal abortion in Guatemala.  The film’s description:

“Today, illegal abortions are the leading cause of death among young women in Latin America. Whether they are performed in major cities or in the isolated countryside, these ‘back room’ abortions are leaving thousands of young women dead each year.

Guatemala has the highest fertility rate among women and yet it remains the poorest country in the region where women can ill afford large families. Unwanted pregnancies, coupled with the forces of tradition and politics, leave few options for these families.

Through the work of an activist and the medical team she leads, this film explores the questions of family planning, which many see as the right to life.”

I learned about the film through the Guatemala Solidarity Network, a UK-based network of individuals. Greg Brosnan also made the film In the Shadow of the Raid, which documents the impact of an immigration raid on a slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa.

Any discussion of intercountry adoption from Guatemala should begin with a look at the role of women in Guatemala. In my opinion, adoption should be viewed as one reproductive choice.

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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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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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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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After the visit

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

What I want to talk about is what it feels like for me after I visit birth family in Guatemala.  Not what it feels like for anyone else, because I’m not qualified to speak to that, but what it feels like for me.

And I don’t mean to imply that making contact with Olivia’s birth family is not the greatest thing I have done in my life. Because, really, it is. If I do nothing else in my life, I’ve done that. For my daughter, for her birth mother, for the rest of her biological family. And it feels huge.

But there is a sadness attached to it. The sadness of life’s realities. That circumstances are hard, that life is not fair. That situations are unstable. That some have so much while others have so little. Relationships end. People get sick. Wars happen, and people are killed. Illnesses wipe out entire families. Nine children are born, but only three survive.

When we go to Guatemala, when we insert ourselves into families’ lives, we change their perception of the world. We represent “elsewhere.” Another possibility. Someplace they’ve heard about, maybe from the man in another family who left and never came back. Who sent money for a while, then stopped sending it. Or the mother who sends it, but is still gone.

This is neither a good thing, nor a bad thing. Either way, it’s not simple. There is love, there is loss. There is longing. We each have something the other doesn’t.

We have changed the lives of Olivia’s birth family, as they have changed ours. I’m grateful and humbled.

Every visit brings back the emotions I felt the first time I held Olivia. Simply being in Guatemala triggers many memories of her adoption–good and bad. It takes a while to process the experience. Today, I give myself permission to be quiet and just feel.

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Valentines to Guatemala

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Having worked in PR in my former life, I was happy to see a press release about the Guatemala900 posted on PRWeb,  a site that provides story ideas and information to news media outlets. The title tells it all: Valentines to Guatemala: Heavy-hearted US Adoptive Families Reach out to the Guatemalan Children they Desperately Love and Wait For.

February 14, 2011 will mark the fourth Valentine’s Day, at a minimum, for hundreds of US families awaiting the homecoming of their adoptive children from Guatemala. The Guatemala900, a family initiated campaign dedicated to bringing home the hundreds of children caught in a political nightmare, is hosting a heart-wrenching collection of expressions of love this month. In the spirit of Valentines Day, the entire month of February will be devoted to showcasing love letters written by the adoptive families to their waiting children. A daily valentine will be posted from a waiting family: http://www.guatemala900.org

***

All those associated with Guatemala900 believe in the sanctity of family and promote fair and ethical adoption practices. Families are committed to the children of Guatemala; they are proud of their heritage and embrace the beauty of their country of origin. Families entered into these adoptions in good faith with the expectation that their rights to a fair adoption process and their adoptive children’s rights to a family would be protected and honored by the U.S. and Guatemalan Governments.

On the day that celebrates love, I hope this story receives the media coverage it deserves.

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Melissa Fay Greene article in February 2011 Good Housekeeping

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

This month’s February issue of Good Housekeeping includes an article by Melissa Fay Greene that left me almost gasping. Never before have I read an article in a mainstream publication that addresses so honestly the challenges faced by some adoptive families.  Greene wrote ”Love Medicine” in response to the case of the Russian boy who was “sent back” to Moscow by his overwhelmed adoptive mother, Torry Hansen.  In the article, Greene profiles two sets of adoptive parents whose children exhibited similar attachment issues and violence. But the adoptive parents in Greene’s article sought help and fought through to better outcomes. Their families remain intact.

Greene begins “Love Medicine” by explaining:

In the universal condemnation of [adoptive mother Torry] Hansen, one population remained mostly quiet. Adoptive and foster parents of neglected, abused, or traumatized children …

Greene goes on to say:

Adoption literature brims with upbeat slogans… Roughly two million adopted children living in American households prove there’s truth in those phrases. But “A Match Made in Heaven” fails to capture the commitment and resilience demanded of adoptive parents, and the courage traumatized children need to attach to new caregivers.

Here I will add that Guatemala was often held up as the gold standard of foster care, but those of us who adopted from Guatemala know that foster and orphanage situations varied widely. Greene writes:

For infants, there really are only two continents: the land of well-being, and the land of lack.

***

[W]hat if, on top of physical or neurological damage, love, kindess, and delight don’t envelop the baby? If she is fed from a bottle that is propped against the bars of a crib, or lies in soiled diapers for long hours; if no one burbles baby talk to her and no one rejoices when she rolls over and no one comes when she cries, the baby stops reaching out. As the infant withdraws and shuts down, her brain fails to develop key pathways, the elemental approaches to love. Love is a duet, not a solo.

Greene outlines ways in which the two adoptive families in “Love Medicine” coped. “Theraplay’ saved one family whose children from Ethiopia struggled. The other family, with a daughter from China, reached out to fellow adoptive parents and their own parenting abilities (the father is a mental health clinician). As the article stresses, there is hope for families who are struggling, and for parents who wonder if they can get through another day. Imagine what life is like for your child: new faces, new food, new smells, new clothes, new language. Even for children who haven’t suffered neglect, everything familiar has disappeared. As the families in Greene’s profile demonstrate, the key is love and commitment. Get help. Don’t give up.

Greene concludes:

[E]very year, a fraction of adoptive parents will be unnerved by a new child’s issues. Finding a way to love a traumatized child, and helping that child learn to love, takes years, say battle-weary parents. Those parents who survive and thrive often say that it was the hardest and most satisfying work of their lifetimes, and that it unlocked the door to their greatest treasures: their own beloved children.

In my opinion, this article should be required reading for every adoptive parent and every person who is considering adoption. But you’ll have to buy it on the newsstand; I couldn’t find a link on the Good Housekeeping website. Sorry~!

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