Amazing Resource for Young Adoptees: Creating Home

Anyone connected with adoption is aware of the need, value, and scarcity of post-adoption resources, especially for teens and college-age young people. It’s a complicated, vulnerable time for figuring out identity, independence, and values for any adolescent/young adult, and often especially so for adoptees.

How about an opportunity to be with other young adoptees as well as with adopted adults/mentors and accomplished artists from many fields, sharing stories, creating art, and building community?

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Creating Home will be a great new resource aimed at connecting young adoptees with artists (many of whom are also adoptees) to tell their stories and explore their realities in a safe, affirming way. The pilot project is beginning in Minnesota, and will hopefully be replicated in many other places. The need is there–let’s get this into action.

An excerpt from the Kickstarter page:

Creating Home is a multidisciplinary storytelling program for teen and college age adoptees, and is driven by the idea that finding one’s voice through the arts can be an empowering experience. The three month pilot program will feature world-class teaching artist mentors (like the artists, actors, and writers featured in our video), interactive workshops, performance opportunities, and much more. It will serve as a space to affirm identity and build community in whatever ways that makes sense to the participants. Whether through spoken-word, visual art, dance, or other forms, the teen and college age adoptee participants will be given tools and resources to tell their stories and talk about their thoughts and perspectives on their own terms.

Sun Mee Chomet: actor/playwright. adoptee, featured in Coming Home Kickstarter video

Sun Mee Chomet: actor/playwright. adoptee, featured in Coming Home Kickstarter video

As the adoptive parent of 4 now-young adults (all in their mid-late 20’s now!), I know that this program would have been embraced by them, and would have been extremely useful to them. It brings young adoptees together in a creative, active way. It’s a partnership with COMPAS (Community Programs In the Arts), Land of Gazillion Adoptees, and the hip hop artist/activist/slam poetry champion Guante. Creating Home meets a huge, gaping need in the adoption community.

And it needs your support! Please take a look at the Kickstarter page and make a donation. Adoption agency professionals, adoptive parents, adult adoptees, artists, performers, photographers, poets, anyone who cares about solid, appropriate, meaningful resources for young adoptees–please join me in Creating Home.

 

Telling Genuine Adoption Stories

I used to think a story had a beginning, middle, and end. If I have learned nothing else in my decades as an adoptive parent and in my work as an advocate, it’s that a story has multiple beginnings, middles, and endings. It’s rarely a neat package. It’s mostly a work in progress, fluid, subject to change.

Adoptive parents often struggle with telling their children about how and why the children needed to be adopted. Their stories are, by their nature, filled with loss, and often with abuse, poverty, violence, and neglect. How these stories are held, honored, and told can be complicated.

An additional enormous complication is whether the stories are accurate. Another is whether the stories are available to the adopted person, who may search for the people and details that made up his or her life before adoption. What was thought to be The Story can turn out to be something extremely different.

On November 16, I attended the amazing, adoptee-led, adoptee-centric “Reframing the Adoption Discourse” conference sponsored by the Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative and AdopSource. Held in Minnesota, also known as the Land of Gazillion Adoptees, it was a day filled with panels, ideas, and insights.

All the panels (Research, Policy, Mental Health, Performance, Advocacy) were wonderful, and I’ll write about each of them over the next weeks.

Today, I’m going to start with the Performance Panel.

(L to R) Katie Hae Leo, Kurt Blomberg, Chad Goller-Sojourner, Marissa Lichwick-Glesne, and (facilitator) Kevin Haeboom Vollmers

(L to R) Katie Hae Leo, Kurt Blomberg, Chad Goller-Sojourner, Marissa Lichwick-Glesne, and (facilitator) Kevin Haeboom Vollmers

Click on the names to learn more about each talented panelist (poets, writers, dancers, playwrights, spoken word artists):

Katie Hae Leo

Kurt Blomberg

Chad Goller-Sojourner

Marissa Lichwick-Glesne

I’m starting with this panel because they spoke most about stories: not only their own, but also about the nature of stories and storytelling. Katie, Kurt, and Marissa were adopted to the US from Korea. Chad was born in the US, and is African-American. All are transracial adoptees. All are now adults, who have chosen to tell some of their stories through poetry, plays, spoken word, and dance.

I’ve written about Katie before, having seen her powerful one-woman show, N/A.

Here’s a quote from the Minnesota Star Tribune article about Katie:

“All she has is stories, some of which she has made up.”

Katie is an adult. She still doesn’t have the full story of her origins, something most of us take for granted. This lack of information has been particularly complex for Katie around medical issues.

Katie, like Chad, Kurt, and Marissa, has used art as a way to tell and understand her adoption story, even in its incompleteness.

We aren’t talking about Choco, or Horace, or foxes, bears, or the moon anymore. These are the genuine stories of adoptees, who are now adults, still working on understanding and processing the realities of how they started out in one family and were moved to another. In some cases, the doors seemed to have shut firmly on the first family, though the search for truth remains.

For these four, art has been a form of activism around their adoption stories, and around adoption generally. Katie talked about how meeting other Asian-Americans in theater work helped her to better understand herself, and created a community of creativity. Kurt participated in group sports in high school, and said that helped him handle group identity. It was dance, though, that genuinely allowed him to see his body as an individual, to further gain a genuine sense of self. The power of the arts, said Kurt, is that we remember, we create stories, and we create a platform then for talking about stories.

Chad said that, as a black child in a white family, he’d “been performing all along,” and that, for him, “things make sense on stage.” Performance and the arts create an “empowerment narrative,” a storytelling that can be liberating from the harsh realities of racism and isolation, though those are a core part of the story.

Telling stories, according to Katie, is “an interruption, an intervention, to the dominant narrative” of adoption told through other voices in our society, such as adoptive parents and adoption agencies. We need more adoptee voices telling their stories through their art: “we want more intersections” of truth, art, and personal stories, because that “brings strength.”

Marissa spoke about the power of stories to educate, and how telling stories can evolve into activism. When she is in the United States, she said, she is Korean American. When she is in Korea, she is American Korean. That difference informs her art, informs her story, informs her sense of self.

Brilliant, powerful, challenging. So important to be open to deep listening, even of painful truths.

And as Kurt said, “I hope we all dance soon.” Dancing through pain, dancing through closed doors, dancing through joy and healing.

Mapping Adoption Journeys: The Cartography of Healing

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As a writer and artist, I see maps in many ways, as canvases, as metaphors, as information. I love this quote from Peter Turchi’s Maps of The Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer.

“…The earliest maps are thought to have been created to help people find their way and to reduce their fear of the unknown. We want to know the location of what we deem life-sustaining and life-threatening. Now as then, we record great conflicts and meaningful discoveries. We organize information on maps in order to see our knowledge in a new way. As a result, maps suggest explanations; and while explanations assure us, they also inspire us to ask more questions, consider other possibilities.”

I considered that paragraph through the lens of adoption.

In adoption, we tend to create our own maps, and they often are missing significant signage, exact locations, and detailed directions. Our maps often change a lot over time, from what we thought we knew to be true when the journey began, to what we later see through different eyes, with new information, with deeper understanding. There are all sorts of roadblocks, dead ends, surprises, unexpected twists and turns. Maybe if we don’t have a map, we can create our own.

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In addition to Peter Turchi’s Maps of the Imagination, I also highly recommend Jill K. Berry’s book Personal Geographies: Explorations in Mixed Media MapmakingNeither book is specifically about adoption. I’m drawing (literally and figuratively) from both books in considering ways that adoptees, first mothers, and anyone with “missing pieces” in their family history can draw a new map, whether real or imagined, with the information they have at hand. In so doing, perhaps a new measure of healing can occur.

I think of my daughters, and how they might create a map from the small Ethiopian village where they  spent the first 5 years of life, drawing an arrow then about 200 kms north to Addis for several months, then to Bole airport, to Rome, to New York City, to Washington, DC, to Maryland. Those last 5 locations all were visited in one day.

That map would show an astonishing, life-changing journey. Imagine experiencing it through the eyes of a 6-year-old. Imagine contemplating it through the eyes of a 25-year-old.

I think of adult adoptee friends who traveled to the US from Korea as children, and genuinely have no idea where they were for years of their lives prior to arrival here. The map is blank. But their lives did not start upon arrival in America. Perhaps the creation of a new map could help clarify feelings, could consider possibilities in a healing, calm way.

I think of my friend Angela Tucker born in Tennessee, who then spent about a year with a foster family, and was adopted in northern Washington state. Her map would largely consist of Washington, Bellingham to Seattle, but recently she has revisited Tennessee, no well-marked map in hand, tracking down places and people she once knew, though in a different lifetime. (See the amazing, powerful documentary Closure to learn more about her journey.)

I think of birth mothers who can draw a map of pregnancy and delivery, but then the path goes dark. Their child’s travel continues, but the first mother is no longer part of that journey. Imagine the possibilities of creating a map that the two could share, showing where they’ve been and what they’ve seen in the intervening years.

Take a look at this “Computer Heart Map,” from Personal Geographies:

Computer Map Heart from Personal Geographies, p. 42

Computer Map Heart from Personal Geographies, p. 42

I love the possibilities here: a series of islands, shaped like a heart, with places like “Adolescent Straits,” the “Sea of Forgiveness,” and islands that the artist has named “Dreams,” “Ideas,” “Abandonment,” “Adoption,” and “Learning.”

I’m thinking of all these possibilities in connection with the Association of Personal Historians national conference in November. I’m presenting a workshop titled “Adopted and Estranged Families: Rebuilding a Personal History.” This is the description:

“Many people don’t have the luxury of knowing their family. Those who are separated by adoption or just estranged from their birth family still need to know where they came from and how to embrace their cultural origins. In this workshop, Maureen will discuss methods to find information, help normalize difficult pasts, and celebrate complex histories, even if birth records are not available. You will learn about innovative approaches using mementoes, DNA services, adoption records, new technologies, and more. And you will learn that even if conventional methods and research materials aren’t available, you still can have powerful personal history stories.”

One of the “innovative approaches” I will share include maps, and ways to create and re-imagine them through art, filling in some blanks, or at least re-framing them, with the goal mostly of moving toward healing.

Final thought today: Miles Harvey, author of The Island of Lost Maps, is quoted in Personal Geographies: “Sometimes a map speaks in terms of physical geography, but just as often it muses on the jagged terrain of the heart, the distant vistas of memory…”

Listening, Learning, Honoring, Understanding: Many Voices

Public Radio International did a great interview with three writer/activists from Gazillion Voices, the new on-line adoptee-led magazine that debuted in August.

In the PRI interview, Kevin Haeboom VollmersLaura Klunder, and Shannon Gibney speak about being adopted, as well as about race, identity, and responsibility. Read about and listen to the PRI interview here.

Volume 3 of Gazillion Voices, the first adoptee-centric, adoptee-led, on-line magazine came out today, Wednesday, October 2, in honor of my granddaughter’s birthday.

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Well, no. I’m just exercising my grandmother prerogative here by posting that excellent photo. Z is not adopted, by the way; her mother, her aunt, and her uncles are. She has grandparents here in the US and in Ethiopia; she has an Ethiopian uncle in Seattle. She is surrounded by family who maybe don’t fit in neat boxes but who treasure her.

Gazillion Voices came out today in honor of Gandhi’s birthday, also October 2 (1869).

Well, no. Just a delightful coincidence, all of it.

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Still, it’s all pretty great, and a sign from the universe of an intriguing convergence. This month’s Gazillion Voices includes a powerful guest post by Lee Herrick titled “A Certain Shape of Home: Notes on How I Became a Poet,” “Imaginations of My Mother” by Jenni Fang Lee (LGA columnist; if you saw the documentary “Somewhere Between,” you saw Jenn/Fang’s story), a podcast with Dr. Jane Aronson (The Orphan Doctor), and many other fascinating articles and features.

Go read, comment, enjoy, be challenged, spark a conversation.

In the adoption community, we need to keep talking, listening, honoring, and learning.

Beautiful Women, Ugly Realities: Miss America and Miss Saigon

Anyone in any combination of interracial family (marriage, adoption, in-laws, godchildren, beloveds, whatever) becomes attuned to racism in a special way: when we love someone, it’s painful to feel they are being judged by race alone, or to see that their racial group is being disparaged, excluded, or condemned.

For those of us born, raised, and imbued in white privilege, awareness of racism has a particular poignancy–we don’t experience racism often ourselves. I know that I’m sometimes treated in a store very differently than how my daughters or sons are, for example. That’s a trivial example, in light of violent acts, civil rights violations, housing discrimination, and so on.

Yet that’s the point perhaps.  It’s the seemingly trivial things, the ones where people say “Oh, you’re overreacting” that add up and evolve into the big, ugly ones.

So as a nice, white, middle-aged woman, who has had her fair share of privilege just for being born white, and who loves beyond words her children and grandchild of color, I’m writing today about beauty and racism.

This one goes out especially for folks like me, adoptive parents of children from a mother of another color:

Racism is alive and well.

Two current examples:

Miss America: Nina Davuluri, our newly crowned beauty queen, was born in exotic Syracuse, New York. She won, and immediately a big, ugly, racist backlash began on social media.

Here’s a good article from the beauty pageant magazine Forbes: “Why We Need An Indian Miss America.”

It’s important to speak out, and also to listen.

Miss Saigon: This hugely successful play has been presented around the world since it premiered in 1989. It also has been highly controversial.

The poet/spoken word artist/more Bao Phi has written this beautiful, powerful post called War Before Memory: A Vietnamese American Protest Organizer’s History Against Miss Saigon.

Here is an excerpt, describing a recent protest against the upcoming production of Miss Saigon at the Ordway Theater in St. Paul, MN:

The President and CEO of the Ordway, a white woman, suggests that we all see the show so that it can provoke feelings in us. Though several of us have in fact seen the play, I can’t help it. “My entire family was almost wiped out in that war,” I blurt out. “You think I need to go see your play in order to have my emotions provoked?” There goes my resolve to avoid losing my cool.

 I feel raw. Can barely sit still. I want to vent, to rage, to add my perspective as a Vietnamese person, but I also don’t want to dominate the conversation. I listen to several Asian American women talk about how men assume they or their mothers are prostitutes, or see them as submissive sex objects who will do anything for a white man – a behavior that Miss Saigon reinforces. David Mura is there. His daughter has graduated college. My daughter, not yet four years old, is at home. Her middle name is the Japanese name of Esther Suzuki, who died shortly after the second protest of Miss Saigon at the Ordway.

His whole post is prose, it’s poetry, it’s powerful.

I had posted on my blog here about Miss Saigon, and the protest about its Ordway staging. Really, though, I was primarily writing about the production of “How To Be A Korean Woman,” the nearly sold-out, one-woman play, written and performed by Sun-Mee Chomet at the Guthrie Theater. I’ll be attending the play Sunday afternoon, and then participating on the post-play discussion panel following the performance. Here’s the blurb for the discussion: “Moving Forward: Grappling with Unknowns and Never-Will-Be-Knowns” with Michelle K. Johnson and Maureen McCauley Evans. Michelle K. Johnson works for the State of Minnesota’s 4th Judicial District (Hennepin County) as the Guardian ad Litem Volunteer Coordinator. Maureen McCauley Evans is an artist, writer, and editor who spent many years involved with adoption professionally.

Michelle is a transracial adoptee. I feel confident we will talk about race, adoption, and their intersection, as those are all parts of Sun-Mee’s work.

I recognize these are all hard things to talk about sometimes, but they are important. And I’m grateful to those who are speaking out against racism, and helping me learn.

I’ll close today with the words of a brilliant Middle Eastern poet:

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
– Rumi

 

The Power of Plays, and Adoptees: “How To Be A Korean Woman”

I am a big believer in the arts, and the power and value of the arts. I’ve written on my “Upcoming” page about the performance of the play “How To Be A Korean Woman,” written and performed by (actor, dancer, playwright, Korean adoptee) Sun-Mee Chomet.

I first saw “How To Be a Korean Woman” last spring, when Sun-Mee performed it in St. Paul at Dreamland Arts Theater. It was brilliant and powerful. This time, she’s performing it September 19-22 and 24 at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, and tickets are nearly sold out. This in itself is glorious: about 1000 seats have sold in 3 weeks.

What makes this more significant is a controversy going on in the Minnesota theater community now. In October, the Ordway Theater in St. Paul is planning to revive the musical “Miss Saigon,” and there have been many conversations and concerns about the play’s stereotypes, over-sexualization of Asian women, romanticization of human trafficking, and overall disrespect to Asian-Americans, according to Sheila Regan, in an article titled “We should all boycott the Ordway’s revival of racist musical, Miss Saigon.”  Mu Performing Arts artistic director Randy Reyes provides more elaboration in this article, titled “Miss Saigon returning, stereotypes and all.

Why does all this matter? Well, at least in part because the Guthrie was skeptical about interest in a play like Sun-Mee’s, in her type of Asian-American theater and in adoption issues.

The Guthrie is now overwhelmed with the number of folks buying tickets.

If you want to buy tickets, do so now, because the performances are all sure to sell out. Information on the show and the Guthrie theater is available here.
You will have the pleasure of seeing a thoughtful, captivating, powerful play. You will also send a message to the Guthrie, the Twin Cities, and elsewhere that “How To Be A Korean Woman” is “the sort of theater people are hungry for: complexity, three-dimensionality, free of insulting stereotypes, and a truly compelling story that speaks to the dynamism of what is the 21st century Asian American experience.”
I will be attending the play on Sunday, September 22, and participating in the Talk-Back afterwards. Sun-Mee will be at the Talk-Back as well.  I can’t wait.
Sun-Mee Chomet, in "How To Be A Korean Woman"

Sun-Mee Chomet, in “How To Be A Korean Woman”

Asian Adoptees: Poetry from Diaspora Dreams

I believe so much in the power of art and in its ability to liberate emotions and create new perspectives.  I’m also interested in the art of adoption, as I define it: the creative work and energy that evolves from adoptees. I wrote about it in Art of Adoption: Playwrights and Poets.

From the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, here is “Tending the Speculative,”  a thoughtful, provocative, evocative group of poems by adult adoptees from Asia (including Vietnam, Korea, the Philippines) who grew up in the United States. They reflect yet another dimension of Diaspora, those individuals united in separation from their roots.

A quote from the introduction:

“…unlike the witness who remembers history or who can turn to birth family or ethnic community to ask, the poet writing from an adopted diasporic condition oftentimes cannot testify to the events that orphaned her or him. These conditions retain an uncanny presence in her/his dream life.”

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Gazillion Voices– An All-Adoptee Led Online Magazine

While there are lots of articles, magazines, and policies about adoption, most are written by adoptive parents or adoption agencies. Very few are written by adoptees. Well, that’s all about to change.

Gazillion Voices will be the first All Adoptee Led publication addressing adoption issues from an adoptee-centric perspective. They’ve assembled an astonishing group of (US and international) adoptee writers, artists, academics, chefs, musicians, actors, researchers, change agents, activists, iconoclasts, and more. It’s gonna be great.

Its roots are in the Land of Gazillion Adoptees blog, and its branches are now looking for a little green.  The Kickstarter campaign launched today. Your donation will be well-placed. The magazine launches in August–I can’t wait.

Full disclosure:  My daughter Aselefech–the one who wrote the most viewed post on my blog ever–will be a contributing columnist. I will also be writing an article for a fall issue.

Adanech, Art, Adoption, and Me

When my kids were growing up, I loved doing art projects with them. One daughter remains interested and is really good. This is Adanech’s painting from a photograph of her and her niece/my granddaughter about 6 years ago.

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For all of us, the arrival of the baby Zariyah in October of 2006 was wonderful, amazing, joyous.

My daughter Aselefech, Zariyah’s mother, was adopted at 6 years old from Ethiopia. For Aselefech, Zariyah’s birth may also have been a visceral connection to what her Ethiopian mother had gone through giving birth to her.

For Adanech (Aselefech’s twin sister), it may have been the same; plus, Zariyah was now a second person biologically related to Adanech, living under the same roof.

Biological connections are a big deal. Having people who look like us, have the same quirks, laugh or sneeze the same way, who are connected to us by blood, can matter a lot.

I have no siblings. My mom died over 9 years ago, and my dad lives in the memory unit of an assisted living facility, where he’s doing quite well. We skype every Friday, and that’s a joy. I have some wonderful cousins, but we are miles apart.

I have no biological connection to the children I adore more than words can say. Zariyah, now  6 years old, knows I’m her grandma. She is still sorting out what it means that I am white and she is black, and that she also has an Ethiopian grandma that we hope she meets maybe this summer. Zariyah knows she’s not adopted, and that her mom, auntie, and two uncles (my sons) are. She knows the word “adopted.” I’m not so sure she fully gets it.

Someone will probably tell Zariyah soon that I’m not her real grandmother, just as other kids told my children I wasn’t their real mother when they were little. Blood matters, and each of my children have a real mother who gave birth to them and cared for them–they also have a real father, real grandparents, siblings, cousins. I’ve met some of them, and what an incredible blessing that has been.

And my children have me, and their dad, and their grandparents, and on and on. We are real too. I’ve always told my children the more people who love you, the better off you are. I hold their first families in my heart (those I’ve met and those I haven’t), as I do my own mother and others whom I love and who are no longer here. It’s a very big family portrait: a bit abstract, surreal, impressionistic, realistic, chiaroscuro. A work in progress.

Zariyah intent on her art

Zariyah intent on her art

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A few of my collages–piecing colors and images together. Hmm.

Poetry Slam: Love and Loss

Rachel Rostad

I like poetry slams: the visceral energy, the passion, the manipulation of language. I admire those who are spoken word artists, because of the courage they show serving up their intimate thoughts in public.

Rachel Rostad is a freshman at Macalester College, and a member of their poetry slam team. She’s also a Korean adoptee. In this video, she delivers Adoption from the heart.

I heard about this video via two prominent game-changers in adoption thinking. Both are worth reading and contemplating: The Lost Daughters (a writing collaborative of women adopted as children, US and internationally) and Land of Gazillion Adoptees (adoptee-centric, highlighting experiences/expertise of adoptees in Minnesota and around the world). Be sure to check them out.