Hana Alemu Trial

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams)

In 2 weeks, if all goes according to schedule, the trial of Larry and Carri Williams, adoptive parents (and alleged murderers) of Hana Alemu (Hannah Williams) will take place: Monday, July 22, 2013, at 9am at the Skagit County Courthouse in Mount Vernon, Washington.

Jury selection will probably take 2 or 3 days, so the opening statements might begin on Wednesday July 24 or Thursday July 25. Additionally, there is a meeting among the lawyers scheduled for July 16, for last minute maneuvering. As I hear any news, I will post an update.

Please spread the word encouraging others to attend this trial if at all possible.  I plan to be there, to bear witness for Hana, in the hope that justice will be served.

For background information, please see my previous posts Update on Hana AlemuOn Mother’s Day, and In Remembrance of Hana.

The Williamses are accused of homicide by abuse: this charge means that they caused Hana’s death (May 12, 2011) due to a pattern or practice of abuse or torture. It’s apparently a difficult charge to prove, as a jury must believe beyond a reasonable doubt that a pattern of torture or abuse existed, and that the pattern caused Hana’s death. If the Williamses are found guilty, the average sentence is 23 years.

The Williamses are also accused of 2 other crimes. One is first degree assault on Immanuel, the other Ethiopian child they adopted. The charge means that they caused him serious bodily harm.

While much attention has rightly been placed on Hana’s death, Immanuel was certainly a victim here as well. May we all keep him in our hearts. What that child has apparently been through–terrible abuse by his adoptive parents, as well as witnessing Hana’s abuse and death–is wrenching. He will likely be called to testify at the trial. I have heard he is doing well in his foster home, where his foster mother is deaf (as is Immanuel) and is teaching him sign language in a safe environment. I wish him healing, strength, and justice.

The other criminal charge against the Williamses is first degree manslaughter of Hana, which means recklessly causing her death. That carries a sentence of 7.5 years.

I’m not a lawyer. It’s been over 2 years since Hana died, and the trial is only happening now. Her body has been exhumed and reburied. No doubt there have been dozens of meetings and hearings and other legal actions. No one knows what the outcome of the trial will be. We can hope for justice for Hana.  Whatever happens, we will not forget her.

And let’s remember Immanuel always as well.

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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Sibling Connections in Adoption

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That’s my 26 year old son Sean with Genet Tsegay, Miss Ethiopia 2012/13, in a photo taken recently in SIlver Spring, Maryland. Sean has found his way into many photos with beautiful women. The icebreaker between these two, though, might have been different from his usual (not that I truly have any idea what “the usual” might be lol). For this meeting, it might have been something like “Hey, my sisters are from Ethiopia,” and maybe a conversation would have started around the not immediately obvious connection between these two young people from very different places.

One of the areas I find most fascinating in adoption is one that needs more research: siblings. I have no siblings. I have four adopted children; my twin daughters are biologically related. Our family has had many conversations along the way about the fact that all the kids are adopted. They’ve wondered what it would be like to be in a blended family, where some children were the biological children of the parents. They could all share their experiences of “He’s not your real brother?” and “She’s your sister?”

My Ethiopian daughters have reconnected with their 5 older Ethiopian siblings. So my daughters have four brothers, but the way they connect is very different at this point. For one thing, they don’t really share a common language with their Ethiopian siblings, and that’s a big deal. My sons have not explored any biological siblings, but sInce they were adopted in the US, we know they share a common language.  How they would differ from their biological siblings (if any) in terms of childhood, economics, education, religion–it’s hard to say right now.

As an African-American young man, Sean has known racism and discrimination–as well as solid community, love from family and friends of different races, and the ability to travel in many cultures, because of his own (adoptive) family. He shares race with his sisters and brother. Believe me, there have been many conversations around skin tones, stereotyping, the travails of being asked “What are you?” especially while growing up, when my children of different shades didn’t fit neatly into a category, particularly when one or both of their white adoptive parents was on the scene. Adoption can be complicated, and transracial adoption adds another layer of complexity.

I’ve known families with bio kids who adopt, and then see how the newly adopted child changes their home life in unimaginable ways, not all positive, and wonder if they did the right thing for their bio child.

I’ve known adoptive families with one adopted child of color, who stands out vividly in family photos. That difference can promote feelings of incredible isolation and difficulties with identity, though I’ve known parents who work to empower children around their uniqueness.

I’ve known adopted children who wonder about their bio siblings, older or younger, who were not adopted, who stayed with the first mother. That has a poignancy all its own.

I’ve known siblings with no biological connection who are deeply connected, the lack of common blood making no difference.

My son Sean would probably have found a way to chat with Mss Ethiopia, but the fact that he has two Ethiopian sisters created an easy connection. Miss Ethiopia is from the Tigray region of Ethiopia,  a college student, studying architecture–in her own way, perhaps also challenging stereotypes. I don’t know how much she and Sean chatted about his sisters–prolly not a whole lot. I love the fact that we can make wonderful connections sometimes, when we don’t expect to.  And I hope that we continue to have conversations about siblings, race, and adoption.

Comments

I welcome and appreciate comments on this blog.  I’ve heard, though, that some folks have had trouble posting comments. If you have tried to comment but not been able to, would you please email me at Maureen@LightOfDayStories.com, very briefly saying what the trouble was? Many thanks, to those of you who have commented and those of you who would like to.

And Happy Fourth of July here in the US! When I was growing up in Massachusetts, my mom would say the 4th meant that summer was half over. Here in Washington State, folks in Seattle say the 4th is the beginning of summer, though today’s heavy clouds and chilly weather say otherwise. The last few days, though, have been wonderful.  I’m focused on just being in the moment, whatever the season.

Adoptive Moms Speaking Out: The Perfect Storm, The Paradigm Shift

There is great change occurring in the world of adoption and adoption policy. I mentioned some of them in my perfect storm discussion about Standards of Parents for Adoptive Parents. Margie Perscheid, my friend and also a wonderful person and talented writer, has a blog called Paradigm Shift, and has written an important post called Lead, Follow, Or Get Out Of The Way.

Like me, Margie is an adoptive parent; her children are from Korea. Like my children (who are from the US and Ethiopia), hers are now young adults.  (Also, Margie and I both graduated from Georgetown University. Hoya Saxa.)

We both believe in adoption, and we are both troubled about adoption policy today. We both have seen a lot of changes and perhaps a bit of light over the years (decades) in which we raised our children. We are nice white ladies (I’m a grandma!) with really strong feelings about transparency and integrity in adoption practice, about race, about rights, about diversity, about marginalization, and about the rights of first parents. There are more of us than you might think lol. Revolutionaries with great manicures.

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Here are some other adoptive moms writing for and about change in adoption. I can’t vouch for their manicures, but I can tell you they are insightful, discerning advocates for effective, respectful, transparent adoption practices.

Karen Benally’s site: Stories of Transnational Adoptees and Their American Parents. The site’s goal: promoting and facilitating dialogue between adoptees and their parents. Karen and her (adult Korean adopted) daughter, Lisa Charlie de Morais Teixeira, “are collecting survey data from a large sample and combining it with oral histories gathered from both adoptive parents and adult adoptees so that we can hear, compare, and combine those varying perspectives. Our goal is to open up a meaningful dialogue among and between adoptees and their adoptive parents on issues related to transnational adoption.”

Note: Along with many other adoptive parent-adult international adoptee pairs, my daughter Aselefech and I participated in this study. Karen interviewed me; Lisa interviewed Aselefech. The interviews took place separately. The questions covered race, identity, parenting, school, home and community life, and of course adoption. I don’t know how our answers will compare, but I feel certain that this study (to be published in a book) will be groundbreaking and hugely valuable.

Terra Trevor is mixed blood Western Band Cherokee, Delaware and Seneca, and is a contributing author of 10 Books. Her memoir, Pushing up the Sky, is widely anthologized with an excerpt included in Children of the Dragonfly: Native American Voices on Child Custody and Education. She explores themes of motherhood, race, culture, community, transracial adoption, raising a child with a life threatening illness, and the process of healing from the death of a child. She writes “from the perspective of a woman who has experienced a complicated motherhood, and straddles a complex ethnic and racial heritage.”

Cindy Rasicot’s site: Talking Heart to Heart. Cindy has a young adult son adopted from Paraguay. Her site is an online community that supports adoptive parents and adopted teens and young adults, particularly those involved with international adoption. It is intended to be a safe, grounded place for questions, listening, thoughtful discussions.

Adoptive parents hold most of the power in the adoption community. We can and should use that power in a new way today, to speak not *for* adoptees, but *along with* adoptees, and along with first parents, on issues like original birth certificates, access to medical histories, citizenship, the marginalization of birth/first parents, the realities of race, the need for improved post-adoption services for everyone, and more.

Burning and Building Bridges: A Korean Adoptee Returns to Korea

A powerful story from the New York Times about a writer, activist, adoptee: read it here.

South Korea is widely regarded as the country that began international adoptions, in the late 1950’s. There are now hundreds of thousands of adult Korean adoptees, all around the globe.  The voices, writing, and activism of Korean adult adoptees are particularly significant, given their numbers and ages, and are the face of the future for other countries involved in international adoption. 

Jane Jeong Trenka a adopted from South Korea as a baby in 1972, and raised in Minnesota. She struggled with racism growing up, as well as a hefty amount of mis-information about the realities of her origins and reasons for adoption. In the mid-90’s, she traveled to Korea, reunited with her birth mother, and learned many truths. Over the next several years, she wrote two memoirs, connected with other Korean adoptees, and moved permanently to Korea.

She is widely credited with being a pivotal force behind recent legislation to reduce the number of adoptions from Korea by providing increased protections for single mothers to keep and raise their children, and by promoting more adoptions within Korea. Jane is currently the president of TRACK, Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea. Here’s a part of TRACK’s Mission Statement:

TRACK is an organization advocating full knowledge of past and present Korean adoption practices to protect the human rights of adult adoptees, children, and families. We belief that birth families and adoptees need rights, recognition, and reconciliation with society in order to fully contribute to a strong Korean society.

Now 41, Jane has learned to speak Korean. Her birth mother passed away in 2000. The New York Times article quotes her as saying South Korea is her “unrequited love,” and Jane is living out that complexity now in her country of origin, speaking out, insisting on transparency and accountability. She’s controversial, insightful, effective. And along with other adoptees, she’s making huge changes, not just in South Korea, but in the world of adoption.

Summer Reading

As we move here in the US toward the Fourth of July holiday, I hope you are all keeping up with your Summer Reading List. I was one of those kids who loved that list of required reading over the summer–and we get to write reports about the books too? Yay!

The Washington Post has a great list of favorite books of their foreign correspondents for 2013. I share it here because it may be of interest in particular to international adoptees and to parents of internationally adopted children, but really it’s a fascinating list for anyone. The recommendations include books about Syria, India, North Korea, Jerusalem, China, Russia, and more.

The 2012 List is great too. Among the selections are these:

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Recommended by: Sudarsan Raghavan, Africa bureau chief, who says this about the book: “It’s a wonderfully reported and written profile of Ethiopian dictator Haile Selassie’s last days, from the point of view of his servants, aides and others close to him. The book is considered one of the 20th century’s best works of nonfiction literary journalism. It’s a must-read for anyone who wants to understand Africa.”

And how about this one?

Recommended by: William Booth, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean bureau chief. “I am delightfully shocked to learn the sublime Mexico City taco as I know and love it — a shave of pork from twirling spit, made happy with onion and cilantro (y por favor señor! that chunk of pineapple) — only dates back to the 1950s. Of course, wrapping something in a tortilla is as old as tortillas, though they didn’t call them tacos.”

And this one is absolutely a must-read:

This is me speaking now, not a foreign correspondent lol: Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a beautifully written book about India–its incredible poverty, and its astonishing potential. A challenging, well-worth-it kind of book.

Not on either of these lists is the newest novel by the brilliant Afghan-born American novelist Khaled Hosseini, And The Mountains Echoed. (He also wrote The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns.) Mountains has something of an adoption-related theme, in that one of the main characters was essentially trafficked, as a toddler, by her family, to a wealthier, childless couple, who never told her the truth of her origins. When Pari is a middle-aged adult, she re-connects with her family. In talking with a relative about her realization of what had happened to her, she says “You say you felt a presence, but I sensed only an absence. A vague pain without a source. I was like the patient who cannot explain to the doctor where it hurts, only that it does.” 

To me, that sums up the poignancy of the adoption journey.

I hope your summer time is one of rejuvenation and adventure, and one that includes lots of good books. Library cards are free. Enjoy.

 

 

A Basic Civil Right, Still Denied

It’s been a big week for Supreme Court judgements. We are reminded of old ones, and celebrating new ones: black people and women can vote. Asian people can marry white people, or Asian or black or whatever combo. Gay people can marry other gay people.

Those are significant civil rights victories.

How long will it take until another basic civl right is allowed? The United States continues to acquiesce to an enormous violation of civil rights: denying access to thousands of adopted adults, by refusing them full access to their own birth certificate.

No other group of citizens is denied such a basic right. As of today, only 7 states allow adopted adults to know who they are, and only 3 states allow unrestricted access.

It is way past time to allow adopted adults the right to their birth certificates.

Parents, grandparents, siblings, partners, friends, spouses, everyone: If you’ve been pleased with any of these landmark civil rights decisions, join us in insisting that adopted adults have the right to something the rest of us take for granted: our birth certificates.

Get more information here: Adoptee Rights Coalition

Webinar on Privacy and Children’s Stories

A robust, controversial, emotional, and complicated topic: Privacy and adopted children’s stories.

How much is too much to share? Do adoptive parents have the right to share some or all of their child’s information? If yes, with whom–friends, family, strangers in the grocery store? What about sharing a child’s personal story (or behaviors, medications, history) on a blog or in a Facebook group?

My daughter Aselefech and I will be talking about this knotty topic via a live webinar Thursday July 18, noon-1pm cdt, sponsored by Children’s Home Society and Family Services. Information about the webinar is available here.

Feel free to send me any thoughts, questions, comments prior to the webinar, either here on the blog or to maureen@lightofdaystories.com.

There’s a lot to talk about…

DNA Testing, Adoption, and Outrage

Imagine a room with a bunch of nice, older ladies. They are mostly smiling.  A few are cranky. I’m in there too, along with other grandmas. (It still shocks me I’m a grandmother, but Zariyah will be 7 in October, and I’ve come to terms with it.  Best thing ever.)

Imagine that some of these nice, older ladies are fundamentally denied two basic civil rights: access to their own original birth certificates, and knowledge of their medical histories. Imagine that your mother or grandmother has no idea what contraindications exist for medications. Imagine your grandma’s painful medical condition that could have been easily prevented with proactive treatment.

I tend these days to first think of adoptees as being not children, but young people, because of my own young adult children. I need to be more inclusive in my thinking and acknowledge more fully the adoptees in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and beyond. That’s especially relevant around medical histories.

I posted yesterday about DNA testing and its value to adoptees. I received an absolutely on-point comment from TAO, a blog which you should follow. Now.

Here’s a quote from her comment:

“I am glad there is genetic testing available for many of the same reasons you note and while I don’t disagree with the statement “Finding out about potential future medical conditions could be frightening.” yet, I can’t begin to tell you how frightening actually living through a medical emergency without FHH is, and that reality plays out for adoptees more often than people want to believe.”

Family Health History, or First Family Health History, should be a given. TAO (The Adopted Ones, from the Baby Scoop era) is so right, and has put my delicate statement “Finding out about potential future medical conditions could be frightening” into the light of day where I now say:

Denial of medical histories is an outrage. Knowledge of one’s medical realities is so taken for granted by those of us who don’t have to think twice about it.

Knowledge of one’s medical history can be a matter of life and death. Certainly that knowledge can hugely impact the quality of one’s life.

And yet there are hundreds of thousands who ARE NOT ALLOWED to have this information.

Yesterday I was polite, and provided DNA testing information as if I were giving out lovely little flowers to brighten your day.  I have no doubts that DNA testing is valuable, and provides great information.

But today, I am angry. US and international adoptees, whether they were adopted today or 75 years ago, should have access to their original birth certificates: there remains no doubt in my mind about that. They should also have as full, accurate family health history as possible. It’s an outrage that they don’t, and that they have to struggle to get it.

I would love to see more adoptive parents, grandmothers, grandfathers, adoption attorneys, adoption agency workers, and medical professionals joining in outrage.

TAO noted also in her comment to me that “not all genes have been found for common diseases let alone the estimated 7,000 rare diseases that affect 1 in 12 Americans…genetic tests are a poor substitute for a good FFH.”

Excellent point. Genetic tests are helpful on some level, no doubt. But genetic tests, as they exist now, are no substitute for a thorough, accurate first family health history.

From TAO’s “About” page:

“As you will notice as you read our posts both of us were impacted in different ways by the lack of current updated family health history because of being adopted.  While having the family health history may not have changed the course of our diseases – the knowledge in my case may have prevented two life threatening events, and for shadowadoptee the knowledge that she would go blind sure would have been nice to know…”