Birthdays and Adoptees: Finding Power in Both

My sons were adopted as babies; my twin daughters at six years old. When they were little, we had the mad abundance of birthday parties, at the pool, the soccer field, the grandparents’ front yard. The parties were full of presents, friends, family, ice cream, and cake.

Who was missing at these birthday celebrations? The women who gave birth to the children. The people (fathers, siblings, grandparents) who are biologically related to them.

I can’t help but wonder what those birth days were like for those family members.

Birthday parties evolve over time. Some adoptees have a rough time on their birthdays. In our family, we have all grown in our understanding of how a child’s beginnings can affect the child, and how powerful memories can be. We have seen how longing for what is not conscious can be quite deep. We have lived watching the ways that trust can be broken and losses felt, and how hard it is to heal that broken trust. My children’s birthdays are still celebrated, of course: they can count on receiving socks every year. And other stuff too. But they are in their late 20’s now. Still very young, but hardly children–except in the sense that they are always my children.

They are also the children–always–of their first families. Each child has had a different approach to connecting with their family of birth, and those stories are theirs alone to tell.

Today is the 27th birthday of my twin daughters, Adanech and Aselefech, adopted from Ethiopia in 1994. Aselefech has been actively involved with the adoptee community. She wrote a wonderful post today at Lost Daughters, a writing collective of women adopted in the US or internationally as children. In it, she celebrates her connections with other Ethiopian adoptees whose hearts are in the country of their birth, their mother land, their home country. These young people, part of the diaspora, are actively working to help their younger selves in Ethiopia: children who witness their mothers die, children who are deeply loved but whose families are horrifically impoverished, children who beg on the streets, children who are unable to walk or to see, children who never go to school.

Happy Birth Day. May all children know safety, love, education, and hope. May these adoptees bring light and healing to each other and to the children. May all the voices be heard.

My daughters, my granddaughter, and me. © Maureen McCauley Evans

“What Do You See?” Music Video: Family, Struggle, Resilience, Awe

“What Do You See?” is a lovely song by the talented musician-singers Mr and Mrs. Something.

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Today, they released the song, as well as a music video that has a story line about family, parenting, struggles, and resilience. When you watch the video, you will see and hear Mr. and Mrs. Something, and you will see my daughter, my granddaughter, and me. The video is available here.

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Bryan Tucker and Brian Lee, filming Mr. and Mrs. Something, August 2015.

The director of the video is Bryan Tucker, who directed and produced the prize-winning documentary Closure (the story of Angela Tucker‘s search and reunion), among other works. Bryan came up with the story line concept, a merging of the lyrics and a story of a family, and approached us about being in the video.  It was a brand new experience for us, and was a lot of fun. I have a whole new appreciation for the art of making top-notch videos–so much time and so many details.

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Bryan Tucker and Brian Lee, filming the video for “What Do You See?” August 2015

The lyrics and the music are strong and challenging:

What do you see…the dream that has died, or the hopes yet to be?

Someone who’s loved and lost, or someone who’s learned patiently?

The song and the video are about everyone: the struggles, the failings, the fallings, the willingness to get back up. They are about mothers and daughters, parenting, interracial families, raising children, loving each other, being angry or hurt, laughing, cheering each other on, hanging in, showing up.

We’ve heard today from dear friends who saw the video and know us (including in our unpleasant, imperfect, not in the video moments), and from strangers who saw themselves in the lyrics or story: adoptees, Ethiopians, single moms, women of color, grandmothers, dancers, aspiring ballerinas, adoptive parents, step parents, mothers, daughters, fathers, sons.

Wherever we are, we can choose to see the best in each other and ourselves, even in the midst of all our imperfections.

‘Cuz I see a will to rise again from every fall.

I see a soul that’s filled with awe at the wonder of it all.

What do you see? 

You can (and should!) download the song for free, for the next 2 weeks. Mr and Mrs. Something’s album Setting Sail will be released on November 17, 2015. We are honored to have been a part of it.

 

 

 

 

Adoptee Anthology “Lions Roaring” Featured in Ethiopian Diaspora Newspaper

We are so pleased that our anthology Lions, Roaring, Far From Home was featured in Gizeyat, the first weekly for the Ethiopian Diaspora.

The article, “Ethiopian adoptees to author book for the adoption community,” quotes the co-founders of Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora. Kassaye MacDonald says “we are creating this book because the voices of Ethiopian adoptees deserve to be heard.” And according to Aselefech Evans, “Many Ethiopian adoptees, wherever they have been raised, feel a connection to Ethiopia and want to give back in some way.”

Kassaye and Aselefech are co-editors of the upcoming anthology, due out in 2016. One of the main goals of the publication is not only to share the voices of Ethiopian adoptees, but also to fund a guest house in Addis for returning adoptees from around the world.

We are beginning the editing process now of the essays selected to appear in the anthology, and are honored by the stories that have been shared. We hope to have an Ethiopian adoptee design the cover art for the book.

Thank you to Gizeyat reporter Bereket Dereje and Gizeyat for featuring Lions Roaring!

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Original artwork by Adanech Evans © Maureen McCauley Evans

 

Call For Submissions: Anthology By Ethiopian Adoptees

 

Announcing a new and much-needed book for the adoption community.

Tentative Title:

LIONS ROARING, FAR FROM HOME: AN ANTHOLOGY BY ETHIOPIAN ADOPTEES

 Editors: Aselefech Evans, Annette-Kassaye Berhanu, and Maureen McCauley Evans

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© national parks-worldwide.info

 

We are delighted to invite Ethiopian adoptees from around the world to submit essays about what Ethiopia means to you, and how being adopted has affected you. Your voice deserves to be heard. The book’s tentative title–Lions Roaring, Far From Home–is related to Ethiopian history and culture.

Here are some ideas for an essay: Recollections of early childhood in Ethiopia, and what you remember of life in Ethiopia prior to adoption. What life has been like for you in your adoptive country, and might have been like for you had you been raised in Ethiopia. Reflections on family in the country where you were raised, and family in Ethiopia, known or unknown.

You can write about race and racism. What does it mean to you to be Ethiopian, and African, as well as a citizen of the country to which you were adopted? Perhaps you hope to return some day to Ethiopia: what are your dreams?

You can write about the image of Ethiopia provided by your family or the media or others when you were growing up. The churches, the architecture, the poverty, the history, and the economy might inspire you. Have you searched for your Ethiopian family, or reunited with them? You can write about that.

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Cattle in Ethiopia, August 2014. © Maureen McCauley Evans

 

You are not limited in what you can write about, as long as it is in some way about the connection to Ethiopia from the perspective of an Ethiopian adoptee.

Who are the intended readers of Lions Roaring, Far From Home? We envision that adoptees (Ethiopian and other), prospective adoptive parents, current adoptive parents, first parents, grandparents, adoption agency staff, social workers, policy makers, teachers and other child welfare professionals will want to read and learn from this book. We believe that Ethiopians in Ethiopia and around the world will want to read it, as well as the global family connected with adoption. Lions Roaring will be a book for anyone interested in the essential stories of love, loss, journeys, and family.

We will select up to 15-20 entries for publication in the anthology, due out in Spring 2016. Selected writers will receive at least one copy of the book, the knowledge that they have contributed to greater understanding of Ethiopian adoptees’ experiences, and the possibility of media coverage and other opportunities.

Your essay should be between 750 and 2,500 words (in any case, no more than 6 pages double-spaced). We will certainly look at essays that are fewer than 750 words. We are open to thoughtful overviews about your Ethiopian adoption experience, as well as focused narratives about a specific event or topic.

We can accept submissions in English and in French. The book will likely be published initially in English, though we are looking into Amharic and other translations.

Please include a brief bio statement of no more than 100 words.

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Sunset over Lake Langano. © Maureen McCauley Evans

 

Fine Print

Please be sure you have read through the information above.

This call is directed primarily toward adult adoptees, over 18 years of age. We are open to submissions from younger adoptees: please email for further information.

All submissions are due to maureen@lightofdaystories.com by July 15, 2015.

Let us know up front if and where your essay has been published in part or in full previously. We are willing to look at previously published pieces, though we’d prefer original work.

By submitting your essay to us, you acknowledge that you have read and accepted the terms of this Call for Submissions, that you are at least 18 years of age, and that you have the right to submit your essay for this project. We will notify you by July 15, 2015, if your submission has been accepted.

We are looking forward to hearing from you. Thank you.

From Aselefech and Annette: This book is rooted in our organization, Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora. We are publishing the book in part to honor adoptees like Hana Williams and others whose lives ended too soon or whose voices have been silenced. The book is also part of a larger project to open a guest house in Ethiopia for visiting/returning adoptees, a way of building a global community of support for Ethiopian adoptees.

Proposal on Common Ground in Adoption: Not Chosen By NCFA/JCICS

I submitted a proposal, “Finding Common Ground in Adoption Policy and Practices,” for the annual NCFA/JCICS conference. It was not chosen. I am disappointed, primarily because the conference participants will not get to hear my insightful, accomplished co-panelists (three transracial adoptees from the US, Colombia, and Ethiopia) speak on a vital topic.

NCFA is the National Council For Adoption, and JCICS is the Joint Council on International Children’s Services. This June, they are hosting a national conference together, titled “Putting Family First: From Family Strengthening to Adoption.”

My partners included Aselefech Evans, an Ethiopian adoptee who is also my daughter. She is a founder of Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora. Aselefech and three other Ethiopian adoptees recently created a powerful video for Black History Month about racial identity: black, African, Ethiopian, African-American, immigrant? The video, “I Am Black History,” is available here.  Another panelist was Susan Branco Alvarado, soon to be Ph.D. with a dissertation on “School Counselors Working with Transracially Adopted Students.” Susan is a Colombian adoptee, and a licensed therapist specializing in adoption. The third panelist was Nicole Soojung Callahan, a Korean adoptee born in the US. Her recent adoption-related articles are “Did You Ever Mind It?: On Race and Adoption” and “Friendship and Race and Knowing Your Place,” reflecting on her experiences as a transracial adoptee. She is currently the assistant editor of The-Toast.net; her writing has appeared in Slate, the New York Times, Salon, theatlantic.com, and elsewhere.

My proposal partnered with three adult adoptees because adoptive parents like me have held the microphone way too long in adoption forums, and because I believe deeply in the value of adult adoptees’ perspectives and experiences. I also would genuinely like to see positive movement toward common ground in adoption policies and practices. My co-panelists would have brought thoughtful, extensive expertise to the discussion.

International adoptions are declining. Adult adoptees are speaking out about falsehoods in their adoption paperwork, their struggles with racism, and their distrust of the adoption process. Adoption agencies are closing. At least one has been indicted by the US Department of Justice for fraud and corruption. TV shows and mainstream news articles critique adoption in an almost visceral way. The adoption community is increasingly angry, antagonistic, and divided.

All of that prompted my proposal on “Finding Common Ground in Adoption Policy and Perspectives.” You can read the proposal here, including more biographical information.

Final thoughts:

  • The attendees at the NCFA/JCICS conference have lost the opportunity to hear the wisdom and insights of three adult adoptees who would bring a critical but balanced viewpoint, and not the traditional narrative which dismisses the genuine, increasingly vocal concerns of many adult adoptees. NCFA and JCICS have been criticized for not including adult adoptees in policy discussions and for dismissing them if their voices were too critical. As one colleague said to me, “We adoptees and our allies are going to keep pushing back on policies that aren’t in our interest and well-being.”
  • While I easily admit that I have spoken out against some of the policies and practices of NCFA and JCICS, this proposal was intended to create a conversation about differences, and see if we could find positive, common ground in our community. I still see that as a viable, important goal. My co-panelists and I have already been offered some new opportunities, and look forward to new conversations.

NCFA and JCICS have every right to make the selections they want. I will continue to partner with adult adoptees and first parents on workshops, publications, and videos. Adoptees and first/birth families will continue to take over the microphones that adoptive parents and adoption agencies have held in the past, and will increasingly speak their truths, rightfully demanding change. Let’s move ahead.

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Ethiopian Adoptees and Black History Month: A Great Video

Four Ethiopian adoptees have made a thoughtful, provocative video for Black History Month, talking about what it means to be black, Ethiopian, and African, in the US and in Canada.

Their “I Am Black History” video is available here.

I congratulate Aselefech Evans, Rahel Tafere, Annette-Kassaye, and Mekdes SOulgarden for their willingness to share their valuable perspectives. It’s about adoption, it’s about identity, it’s about race, and it’s about empowerment.

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Kudos and gratitude also to Bryan Tucker, the producer of the wonderful documentary Closure. Bryan gave his time, expertise, and talent to “I AM Black History,” and that means a great deal.

This video is groundbreaking and personal. We need these conversations. Many thanks to everyone involved.

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Aselefech’s Ethiopia Journey: Adoption, Family, A Film

This is, of course, my daughter Aselefech’s story to tell: what it meant to her to travel back at age 26 to Ethiopia, the land of her birth and where she spent her first six years of life. What it meant to sit with her Ethiopian mother and siblings outside the house she might have also lived in, had she not been adopted. What it meant to her to see the cities and the countryside again, the breathtaking beauty and the breathtaking poverty. What it meant to consider what was, what is, and what might have been.

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She will be talking about that, about the film now in development, and more, on her newly launched blog. I’m incredibly proud of her. Please go read and share it!

It is Aselefech’s journey. Still, the thing about adoption is that those of us who love her also accompany her.

This past August, Aselefech, her then seven year old daughter Zariyah, and I spent about 20 days in Ethiopia, visiting with her family, cheering her on in a 10k trail race, and spending time with friends in Addis. It was my third trip there, Zariyah’s first, and Aselefech’s second since arriving in the US with her twin sister in 1994, when she was about a year younger than Zariyah.

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Aselefech and Zariyah in Addis Ababa.

It’s Aselefech’s story. The thing about adoption, though, is that it reaches far beyond the adopted person (the “adopted child” grows up). It’s more than the birth mother–it’s also the father, and the siblings, nieces, nephews, neighbors, grandparents. It’s more than the adoptive parents–it’s the siblings, partners, and the children of the adoptee. A very big family portrait, in which smiles and sorrows appear, disappear, and appear again. Sometimes.

We were tourists on the trip this summer, some of us less than others. We were accompanied by translators, tour guides, drivers, a talented photographer, and an insightful social worker. We didn’t all speak the same languages. We loved the food. We were saddened, inspired, enlightened, challenged, and blessed.

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Zariyah and I outside the Hilton in Addis.

The film about this trip will share Aselefech’s story, and that of her Ethiopian family and, to a lesser degree, her American family. I look into the eyes of my beloved daughter and  granddaughter, and know that while we have no biological connection, we are inexorably connected. I embrace my daughter’s Ethiopian mother, who is also Zariyah’s grandmother, and who share the same blood. So beautiful, so simple, and so complex.

Zariyah is amazing in the film clip, by the way. She is a gem.

One final note: Aselefech and other Ethiopian adopted adults have been networking and connecting with their fellow adoptees around the globe.  For anyone who is or who knows an (adult) Ethiopian adoptee, please take a look at Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora. Please “Like” the page. Many thanks.

Also, a big shout out to Gazillion Strong and to Red Shiba Media for their partnership with Aselefech. Powerful.

 

 

 

Adult Adoptees On TV News Shows: Flip The Script

The social media movement during National Adoption Month (November) to “flip the script” is the brainchild of insightful women at The Lost Daughters. The purpose of the twitter hashtag #flipthescript is to include the voices of adoptees in National Adoption Month, which for far too long has been dominated by adoptive parents and adoption agencies. The hashtag broadens the understanding of adoption, by adding the valuable insights of adoptees.

Rosita Gonzalez created this important #flipthescript movement. It’s gained a lot of traction on Twitter, as well as the attention of news outlets. Listen to the recording of Rosita’s #flipthescript radio interview with Adoption Perspectives radio show on YouTube here.

This morning, Aselefech Evans was interviewed on Good Morning, DC, a news show of FoxTV channel WTTG. You can watch the clip of her excellent interview here.

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Aselefech Evans on the set of Fox TV Channel WTTG’s Good Morning DC.

 

On Friday, November 28, you can see 3 more amazing people talking about why it matters to #flipthescript:

Minneapolis: Kevin Haebeom Vollmers‘ interview will air on KMSP-TV Fox 9 at Friday 11/28 at 7:45AM.

Philadelphia: Amanda Transue-Woolston‘s interview will air on Fox 29 WTXF-TV at Friday 11/28 at 8:15AM.

New York: Joy Lieberthal Rho‘s interview will air on Fox Good Day NY on Friday 11/28 at 8:40AM.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

An Ethiopian Adoptee’s Thoughts on Ferguson, Being Ethiopian, and Being Black

In response to the indictment decision in Ferguson and to conversations about race, my daughter Aselefech offered these thoughts to adoptive parents about what it means to be Ethiopian and to be black in America:

Reflections on Ferguson, and on raising black children:

It’s one thing for Ethiopians in Ethiopia to raise their children as Ethiopians. It’s completely different for white parents raising adopted Ethiopian children in the United States.
By adopting an Ethiopian child, what obligations do you have to your children? How embracing will you be of black culture? Will you take the path of least resistance and teach your children to only take pride in their Ethiopian heritage, or will you acknowledge the realities of being black?

White America will not give your Ethiopian child a pass. Your child will be subject to racial bigotry and unjust laws. Your child will be pulled over by the police. Your child will be admired for speaking good English, as if that’s a novelty. Your child will look like the majority population in U.S. prisons. Your child will rarely see herself in fashion magazines as being beautiful.

It’s not enough to eat doro wat at an Ethiopian restaurant or listen to Teddy Afro. Ethiopian children deserve to be raised with black role models surrounding them, loving them, and teaching them. We Ethiopian adoptees are Black in America. I am proud to be black, and to be Ethiopian. I want young Ethiopian adoptees to fully understand their truth.

Aselefech is a founder of Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora, a columnist at Gazillion Voices, and a contributor to The Lost Daughters. On Twitter: @AselefechE.

Heading for Ethiopia: Family, Half-Marathon, and First Mothers Project

Tomorrow morning, my daughter Aselefech, granddaughter Zariyah, and I will leave for Ethiopia. We will spend time with Aselefech’s family, with whom she reunited in 2008 (having been adopted in 1994), and with whom she and I last visited in 2011. It will be my granddaughter’s first trip to Ethiopia, where she will meet her extended Ethiopian family–grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins. Zariyah will see where her mother was born and spent the first five years of her life, and where Aselefech would have grown up, if she hadn’t been adopted.

I know there have been many reunions and ongoing connections between Ethiopian adoptees and their original families. I wonder, though, how many children of adoptees have been able to meet their Ethiopian relatives.

It’s all about family, and how we define it.

Our time with Aselefech’s family is certainly a huge highlight for all of us. Another exciting part of our time there will be Aselefech’s Ethiotrail half marathon via Run In Africa, a business co-founded by renowned Ethiopian long distance runner Gebregziabher Gebremariam, who among other accomplishments won the New York City marathon in 2010.

Aselefech is running the half marathon to raise funds for Bring Love In, a nonprofit in Ethiopia dedicated to family preservation, by creating new families from widows and children and by keeping children out of orphanages and with their families. She set a goal of US$5000, and has exceeded that goal; all the money (except for a small percentage to CrowdRise) goes directly to Bring Love In. We are so grateful to everyone who has supported her and contributed to her campaign. More information is available here.

We will also be spending time in the capital city of Addis Ababa, visiting with friends and family, and doing some sightseeing of beautiful Ethiopia.

I also hope to begin work on my First Mothers project, to preserve and share the stories of Ethiopian original mothers, those who have placed their children for international adoption.

I’ll be posting occasionally during the trip, and no doubt quite a lot when we return.

Many thanks to everyone who has been with us on this journey, offering words of support and encouragement, sharing ideas and possibilities, and being vital, vibrant resources. Thank you (in Amharic): Amaseganallo.

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