Posts Tagged ‘international adoption’

Questions of identity

Wednesday, 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

Sunday, 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

Thursday, 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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David French interview on NPR

Thursday, August 30th, 2018

Two days ago, I published a link to an Atlantic article by David French, “America Soured on My Multiracial Family.”

Today, NPR aired an interview with French, which you can listen to here.

Two quotes: First, French says the question to ask someone who is thinking about adopting is not “Are you excited?” but “Are you ready?” And Second, his advice to prospective adoptive parents: “Adopt with your eyes open and your heart resolved.”

In case you didn’t read my response to French’s original article, it’s below:

My background is different from David French, as are our reasons for adopting our children. But I agree with much of what he says in this Atlantic article, “America Soured on My Multiracial Family.”

When it comes to my family’s configuration, I don’t seek approval or permission from anyone. I’ve become used to the judgement and, yes, hatred directed at us, largely by strangers who know little to nothing of our story. As French notes, the judgement and hatred comes from all sides, for different reasons. Some believe we as white parents have no right to raise children of color. Others believe foreign-born children (especially foreign-born children of color) have no right to enter the US under any circumstance, including adoption; this faction hates everyone they view as “not American.” Still others believe adoption is wrong, period, and hate us on principle.

This is not a bid for sympathy, just a statement of what is: Our kids are our kids and we are a family. Nothing anyone says will ever change that.

 

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On being a multiracial family

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018

My background is different from David French, as are our reasons for adopting our children. But I agree with much of what he says in this Atlantic article, “America Soured on My Multiracial Family.”

When it comes to my family’s configuration, I don’t seek approval or permission from anyone. I’ve become used to the judgement and, yes, hatred directed at us, largely by strangers who know little to nothing of our story. As French notes, the judgement and hatred comes from all sides, for different reasons. Some believe we as white parents have no right to raise children of color. Others believe foreign-born children (especially foreign-born children of color) have no right to enter the US under any circumstance, including adoption; this faction hates everyone they view as “not American.” Still others believe adoption is wrong, period, and hate us on principle.

This is not a bid for sympathy, just a statement of what is: Our kids are our kids and we are a family. Nothing anyone says will ever change that.

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Interview on birth country connection

Wednesday, May 9th, 2018

A week or so ago I posted about Sliding Into Home, the new YA novel by my friend and fellow Guatmama Nina Vincent. One of the themes in Nina’s book is connection to birth country. Nina interviewed me on the subject, posted today on her blog. Thanks, Nina!

Here’s an excerpt:

NV  I know that you have made it a point to have your children learn Spanish. Can you talk a little bit about why you felt that was important?

JO’D  The first year we went to Latin American Heritage Camp in Colorado, we attended a panel discussion led by young adults who’d been adopted from Central and South America. The audience was filled with adoptive parents and the question was asked, “What’s your advice for us? What’s one thing you’d like us to know?” And to a panelist, each of these young adults said, “Teach your children Spanish. Even if your kids rebel and resist. Keep trying.”

Language is power. It’s the way we connect with one another. You’ve heard the expression: “We speak the same language.” When we go to Guatemala, it’s great to be able to communicate directly with people. Speaking another person’s language often leads to deeper understanding of that person.

What’s interesting is the way my kids’ attitude toward Spanish has evolved. When they were younger, they studied the language because they didn’t have a choice. They took Spanish in school; they studied for a month every summer in Guatemala; and for five years, Olivia attended a two-week Spanish immersion camp in Minnesota (Concordia).

All that learning was directed by us, their parents.

But as teenagers, they’re out in the world as independent operators. Because of the way they look, strangers start speaking to them in Spanish. Kids at school who are bilingual speak to them in Spanish. My kids want to speak Spanish if only because everyone assumes they do. To become fluent is their goal now, not mine.

And let’s face it, being able to speak another language is totally cool.

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Our front door 2016

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

Every year when Olivia and I return to Antigua and visit the house where we lived together in 2003, we take a photo of us standing by the front door. Last summer, we forgot to take the picture, or so I thought. I found this on Tim’s phone, from 2016.

Kids hurtle through changes at this age! Here’s Olivia in 2011 and 2013..

And 2003.

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Sadness, Certificate of Citizenship

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

A 42-year-old Korean adoptee who was deported in 2012 was found dead in Korea, an apparent suicide. Phillip Clay was adopted at age 10, and his adoptive parents never secured his US citizenship. There is so much about this story by You Soo-sun in The Korea Times that is devastating and sad. One particularly devastating detail is that Phillip Clay was sent back to a country where he knew no one, probably did not speak the language, and lacked necessary and vital support.  (You may recall the case of Adam Crapser, also deported to Korea, who is quoted in the article.)

As noted here many times, US citizenship is not always automatic for people who are adopted. Only a Certificate of Citizenship proves citizenship.
Thank you to my friend Sveta, who lives in Korea, for sending me this link.

May Phillip Clay rest in peace.~

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At the bookstore

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

Last night while standing in line at Barnes and Noble, Mateo noticed the woman waiting behind us carried a purse made of fabric from Guatemala.

“Ask her where she got it,” he said.

“Do you want me to tell her you’re from Guatemala?”

“Just ask,” he said.

The woman finished her purchase and walked toward us. “Excuse me,” I said. “We’re admiring your handbag.”

She looked down at her purse and then at me and then at Mateo. “This? I got it at a county fair, years ago.”

Mateo nudged me, staying quiet.

“It’s from Guatemala,” I said. I pointed out the two different fabrics, cut from the embroidered blouse and woven skirt. “This part is from the blouse called a huipil. This part is the corte. The designs are specific to regions in the country.”

“Wow, I didn’t know,” the woman said. “I always get compliments on it. Now I can tell people it’s from Guatemala.”

Mateo took my hand and smiled. ~

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Movie Review of “Lion”

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

Yesterday, the kids, my sister Patrice and I saw “Lion.” As you probably know, the film tells the story of a five-year-old boy in India, Saroo, who is separated from his older brother at a rural train station. When Saroo gets off the train hours and miles later, he is alone and lost in the teeming city of Calcutta. Saroo spends several harrowing months surviving on the streets before a woman who runs an orphanage places him with loving adoptive parents in Tasmania, Australia, where he lives for the next twenty years. As an adult, Saroo is happy and healthy and seems well-adjusted. But, inside, Saroo is tormented by the loss of his family in India—Where is his mother? What happened to his brother? And wouldn’t they have spent the past twenty years worrying about him?

Through the wonders of the newly hatched Google Earth and after months and years of obsessive calculation, Saroo is able to recreate his journey and locate his family in India. His mother, thankfully, is alive. His brother, tragically, was killed on the same day he and Saroo were separated. The film ends with a gorgeous scene of reunion.

If you’re reading this, you may know my daughter Olivia is fourteen, my son Mateo twelve. We searched for and found each of their birth mothers in Guatemala when the children were seven. We visit Guatemala every year, often with my sister Patrice, and are grateful we are able to maintain birth family contact.

Okay. Back to the movie. Caution: The themes are mature. The theme of adoption, first. The theme of losing one’s family and being separated from people who share one’s blood. The theme of not-knowing where your birth mother is or what happened to your siblings. As every adoptive parent knows: Those themes can trigger very strong reactions in our children. Nightmare-level reactions. And they’re front and center in ”Lion.”

Second, the theme of treachery by adults. When Saroo is lost and alone, bad people do bad things, to him and to other children. Nothing awful is shown on screen—everything is alluded to and suggested. Yet, still: It’s terrifying to watch, certainly for young children, and, depending on the individual, for tweens, teens, or adults.

That said, the film was mesmerizing. My normally squirrelly kids didn’t move or talk. They forgot to eat their popcorn. We knew how it would end, but the ending still deeply moved us. When Saroo finally walks through the streets of his village, remembering places and colors and smells, and then his mother appears and they recognize each other and embrace, my very cool teenage daughter, who rarely reveals her emotions, sobbed. Broke down, weeping. Twelve-year-old Mateo was also moved, although he didn’t cry. “Here come the waterworks,” he whispered to me as he leaned in close. “You and Olivia.”

The film allowed Olivia to witness a reunion from the outside—as an observer instead of a participant—and gave her room to experience emotions that may overwhelm her when the reunion is her own. She reacted the same way I react when I see either of my kids with their birth mothers, every time. A complex mix of great love and great sadness, resulting in many tears.

Afterward, Olivia said “Lion” was the best movie she’d ever seen. Her summary: “Saroo grew up in a safe place and then he found his birth family. That’s a good story.” Mateo especially liked the relationship between the brothers; my son’s greatest distress came with the news that Saroo’s brother had been killed. My sister Patrice saw the movie twice. She said the second time around, with us, the film seemed “even sadder.” After a moment, she added, “Aren’t you glad you found their birth mothers? So they don’t have to go through life wondering.”

Yes. Yes. Yes.

“Lion” is based on the memoir by Saroo Brierley, “A Long Way Home,” which I recommend, and which our Adoption Book Group is discussing later this month.

Consider seeing “Lion,” by yourself or with your children. Like all powerful works of art, it will make you feel and think. It may leave you changed. ~

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