International Adoption in 2030: Predicting the Future

Although my workshop proposal for the Joint Council on International Children’s Services and the National Council For Adoption conference was rejected (read about it here), I was invited to participate on a conference panel called “Predicting the Future in Intercountry Adoption.” This post is a starting point for my remarks. I would welcome the thoughts of others, especially adult adoptees, on their predictions.

Here’s a glimpse into the future of international adoption, even as soon as 15 years from now: Adult adoptees hold the microphone in terms of adoption policies and practices. Part of their involvement will be insistence on improved post-adoption services. Transracial adoptees continue to deal with racism in a world where too often racism is dismissed. Thousands of adult adoptees, many raised by white parents, return to visit and to live in the countries where they were born. Many find out that the information their adoptive parents were given is wrong. Many who were told they would never find their first/birth family do, in fact, find them. The unadopted siblings (those who stayed with the birth/first family) of international adoptees search and find their adopted sibs via Facebook or vk.com or other Internet connections. Birth/first/natural mothers and fathers will begin speaking out and sharing their truths, and their stories will be translated, preserved, and honored.

How prepared is the adoption community for these changes? How well are agencies and others addressing the realities of racism, identity, and grief after adoption?

A glimpse at the past, from which we are supposed to learn: “Adversity, Adoption,and Afterwards,” a longitudinal report by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, looked at the lives of about 70 women adopted from Hong Kong to Britain in the 1960’s. The average age of the women in the study was 48. Most did well. Still, “The majority of the women encountered racism not just in childhood and adolescence, but also as adults in current day Britain. Some said that they were able to seek support from their adoptive families, or others close to them, in coping and managing racist incidents, while others described feeling isolated and not able to share this with anyone. For some it was not easy living with the fact of being from a different ethnic background and visibly different from their adoptive families. This could result for some having a sense of not belonging or not feeling able to identify with either white British or Chinese communities. By mid-life most of the women who experienced this had found ways to adequately deal with such feelings, which is not to minimise how difficult this had been for some.”

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While it’s good that by mid-life (!) most of the adoptees had found ways to adequately deal with feelings of not belonging and not identifying with their communities, that’s a long time to endure those feelings.

Recently, the global adoption community has been rattled by two mainstream media articles about adult adoptees. One was Shaaren Pine’s article in the Washington Post, “Please Don’t Tell Me I was Lucky To Be Adopted.” Another was the New York Times magazine cover story, “Why a Generation of Adoptees Is Returning to South Korea.”

There are some 250,000 Korean adoptees all around the globe. They are the oldest ones, in their 50’s and 40’s, many in their 20’s and 30’s. They are the bellwether activist adoptees in many ways. Fifteen years ago, in 2000, the Donaldson Adoption Institute published an insightful report based on the first Gathering of Korean adoptees in 1999. In the section on Experiences with Discrimination,”The majority of respondents reported that they had experienced some form of discrimination while they were growing up.” Race (70%) was cited more often as problematic than was adoption (28%). As we continue to struggle with race in the US and around the world, helping transracial adoptees negotiate the world as people of color is vital. When will we learn?

International adoption numbers have declined in recent years. While that may likely continue, there were about 250,000 international adoptions between 1999 and 2013; many were under a year old. We would do well to look at adoptees who will be young adults in the next decade or so. One example: Between 1999 and 2013, about 14,000 Ethiopian children were adopted to the US. Between 2007 and 2012, some 11,000 Ethiopian children arrived here from the US, about 80% of the total number between 1999-2013. (Statistics from the US Department of State) They will be entering adolescence and early adulthood around 2030. Those high volume years (2007 to 2012) have been cited as having a high degree of fraud and corruption.

Many Ethiopian adoptees here in the US and around the globe are still young children, and many of the families have already found inaccuracies in their child’s stories: Ethiopian mothers are still alive, children were not orphans, documents were falsified. Blame can go all around, but the point is: How will the adoption community best help these thousands of now-children who will be adults in the next 15-20 years?

My hopes for the future include these:

  • Adoption agencies will actively reach out to and welcome adult adoptees from around the globe to share their experiences, so as to better prepare for the upcoming wave of young adult adoptees in the next decades.
  • Adult adoptees who choose to do so will continue to speak out about their good and bad experiences. Adoptive parents and all others in the community will listen, without dismissing or marginalizing them as “angry,” “ungrateful,” or any other pejorative terms.
  • Appropriate, equitable services will be provided to birth/first parents around the globe, including provision of short-term and long-term resources and communication.
  • The adoption community will acknowledge and proactively address the realities of racism. This is complex and vitally important work, and we haven’t done a good job so far.
  • Here is a vision of past and future: the Adoption Museum Project, a physical space that explores the story of adoption, and a website and off-site programs that expand the work. How exciting is this. The Grand Opening event on April 16 in San Francisco will be “Operation Babylift: Adoptee Voices,” about the 1975 airlift (40 years ago!) of 2,000 Vietnamese children. The panel discussion will be moderated by the poet Lee Herrick, an adoptee from Korea.

IMG_8517Please join me in predicting the future. More importantly, please join me in creating a future  of international adoption that honors the realities of all those involved, and insists that no voices are marginalized. I welcome your thoughts and ideas.

 

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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CHIFF Meeting: Suggestions For Agenda Items

For quite a while, there has been deafening public silence from supporters of the Children in Families First (CHIFF) act. CHIFF is an international child welfare bill that sounds so good and reasonable: of course all children deserve safe, loving families. It is, though, full of flaws, and never gained the momentum that the proponents (mostly adoptive parents and adoption agencies/lawyers) thought it would.

The last piece of “News” on the CHIFF website was in June. Their Facebook site has articles about adoption, but nothing for months about the legislation. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a vocal proponent of adoption-related legislation during her tenure in Congress, lost her recent election, and thus her influence will be gone from Congressional actions. She was the leader on CHIFF, which has a 5% chance of being enacted at this point.

Still, there has likely been much action behind the scenes in Washington, DC. In fact, the CHIFF proponents may be meeting again soon, for all I know. If so, I’d like to make some suggestions for the agenda:

Discussion Items for CHIFF

1–The #flipthescript social media movement during National Adoption Month (November), in which adult adoptees (US and international) have shared their experiences and perspectives. Perhaps all the CHIFF meeting participants will watch the excellent video produced by the talented Bryan Tucker featuring 8 powerful women from the Lost Daughters’ writing collective.

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2–E.J. Graff’s November article “They Steal Babies, Don’t They?” The article focuses on Ethiopian adoptions, includes documents attained through the Freedom of Information Act, and provides cross-referenced lists of adoption agencies’ activities.

3–Dan Rather’s December news show on AXS TV, “Unwanted Children: The Shameful Secret of International Adoption.” Use the password danrather to watch the show here. Ethiopians in the US and around the world, as well as the adoptive parent community, have been hard at work to help the adoptees featured in the show. More information on these efforts is available on the Facebook page “Unwanted In America.”

4–Ethiopian Adoption Connection, a free, powerful, grassroots effort which has been successfully reuniting adoptees around the globe with their Ethiopian original families. Many people have found very different information than what they were told at placement. An important corollary is the increasing amount of adoptee-centric and adoptee-led organizations in many countries, such as KoRoot and GOA’L (for Korean adoptees traveling back to Korea). The Facebook group Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora is another example of the increasing presence and power of adult adoptees, who are increasingly engaged in adoption policy work.

5–The failure of CHIFF as introduced and currently to not include retroactive citizenship for international adoptees. More information is available here.

6–The reality that international adoptions in the future will have/must have some form of openness, and thus adoption practice must include far better and long-ranging services to original families, wherever they are in the world.

7–The reality and divisiveness of racism in the US, and how that affects all families involved with transracial adoption. This is a huge, raw, real, vitally important matter. Huge.

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I’ve been a broken record on these additional concerns regarding CHIFF, which may or may not be current agenda items:

* Much needed funding for improved pre-adoption and post-adoption resources
* Federal level legislation on “re-homing” of internationally adopted children
* Lack of support for CHIFF from the State Department, from international adult adopted persons, from international family preservation organizations, and from international first parents
* Pre- and post-placement resources, support, counseling, and information for international first parents

If indeed CHIFF proponents are meeting soon, let’s hope all the above items are on their agenda. These Discussion Items are big and complicated. Resolving them will require, at a minimum, the transparent inclusion of adoptees and of first/original parents if the legislation is truly going to make viable changes in child welfare. That’s the first, overdue step.

Adopt an African Child–Through US Foster Care

It’s true. There are listings of African children (from Ethiopia and elsewhere) who are now available for adoption through the US foster care system.

Here’s the deal: these children left their first country, after their American parents had (we hope) followed all legal requirements to adopt them. They then lived with those parents, in the US, with all those adjustments of internationally adopted children. Then those parents terminated their parental rights (voluntarily or otherwise), the children ended up in foster care, and now they have to find another family.

Wow.

Since they usually become US citizens upon arrival to the United States, internationally adopted children who end up in US foster care may not be immediately or publicly identified as international adoptees. I feel confident there are plenty of other internationally adopted children (from Russia, Guatemala, Haiti, and elsewhere) who have joined the approximately 100,000 children looking for families through the US foster care system. Children in foster care spend an average of 2 years there, while reunification and adoption are considered.

About half the children in US foster care return to their families. That does not seem a possibility for these internationally adopted children: they can’t return to their original countries, and they no longer have a US family.

In other news:

Black American infants, primarily from Florida, are being placed with Canadians, ostensibly because many of the mothers don’t want their children to face the racism here in the United States.

Petitions and protests are being heard from American parents who have legal custody of children from the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is not issuing exit visas to the children, because of concerns around fraud and corruption.

The Facebook site Second Chance Adoptions has many postings about internationally adopted children from Congo, Russia, Ethiopia, and elsewhere, whose placements with their American families have disrupted, and now they need new families. These children aren’t in public foster care, and they aren’t being re-homed in a Wal-Mart parking lot. I’m not sure who has legal custody of them, but the process and expense, I imagine, for a new family will be the same as a private adoption here in the US. In these cases, though, it’s the (first set of) adoptive parents who will sign legal rights over to the (new) adoptive parents. Many of the adoptions are eligible for the adoption tax credit. I wonder how many of their first adoptions were also eligible for the tax credit.

The adoption agency behind Second Chance Adoptions is Wasatch International Adoptions, located in Utah. On their web page, they offer information about adoptions of children from the DRC, with this caveat: “Children who come into our orphanage are generally between the ages of 2-5 or 6. We do not have children who are older because we have found that older children do not adjust well to an American home and family.”

I can only how imagine how they learned that sobering bit of information.

I have a few questions, although my head is spinning.

What more evidence do we need that better pre-adoption screening and better post-adoption resources are needed?

What is the trajectory for these internationally adopted children who arrive in the US and then their adoptive placement falls apart?

Do the US adoption agencies which placed the children the first time have an ethical responsibility to the children? And the second time? What does that responsibility look like? What is their ethical responsibility to the country of origin, if not the family of origin?

How does the US foster care system deal with the needs of internationally adopted children? How are their needs different from US children born here, raised here, and placed in foster care here? Children generally end up in foster care because of abuse and neglect. The international children would likely also have experienced that either in their country of origin or here in the US or both, but have some extra losses by virtue of leaving their countries.

What is the role of racism in the lives of any of these children who are from Africa, the Caribbean, Central America, or Asia? They go from living someplace where most people look like them, and then enter the US and live with families who may not look like them at all. Maybe they live somewhere in America where few people look like them. Then they must leave that family for another family (maybe). Racism here in the US will impact them now and for their entire lives, along with whatever issues of loss and trust they may be dealing with. Meanwhile, black American children are going to Canada, where the First Nations and the Inuit have certainly had their struggles

All children deserve safe and loving families. I hope that all these children find families and healing.

What is going on with our child welfare system? Before we consider anything like the Children in Families First act, we need to resolve the many issues facing current international adoptees.

My head hurts and my heart aches. That discomfort pales beside what these children are going through.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NPR Talks With Transracial Adoptee Chad Goller-Sojourner

Today, Chad Goller-Sojourner talked with NPR host Rachel Martin about the experience of being transracially adopted. Born in 1971, he was raised in Tacoma, Washington. It wasn’t until college, Chad says, that he underwent a “descent into blackness and out of whiteness. He describes it as a journey, giving up the privileges he claimed as the child of white parents and learning to accept his identity independent of them,” according to NPR’s website.

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The NPR show, called “Growing Up ‘White,’ Transracial Adoptee Learned to Be Black,” is available here. You can listen to the show, read NPR’s description, and submit a comment.

Two weeks ago, NPR’s Sunday Conversation on Weekend Edition featured the white adoptive mom of 3 black preschoolers. NPR says that conversation “drew a lot of responses.” Indeed–well over 200 comments on their website, most of them criticizing, not complimenting, the show. Many people in the adoption community (including me) took to Twitter and blog posting, frustrated and disappointed by the show, especially because it did not include the real-life experience of someone most affected by transracial adoption: the adopted person.

I’m glad NPR listened to the concerns, and took seriously the call to broaden the perspective on transracial adoption by not further marginalizing adult adoptees. Chad Goller-Sojourner’s experience will no doubt resonate with many transracially adapted persons. Little children grow up. Adoption is a lifetime of revisiting love and loss. As Chad reflects on the show, figuring out one’s identity is complex, and sometimes painful. We adoptive parents, and anyone involved with adoption, need to listen carefully to Chad’s insights.

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Chad is an award-winning solo performer, based in Seattle. According to Artist Trust, Chad’s show Riding in Cars with Black People & Other Dangerous Acts: Memoirs of a Post Honorary White Childhood “seeks to explore the dangers, complexities and occasional hilarities associated with navigating black adult maleness in America, when your only compass is eighteen years of honorary white citizenship and suburban privilege.” Read further here.

Learn more about Chad’s work: Riding in Cars With Black People, and his earlier show, Sitting in Circles With Rich White Girls: Memoirs of a Bulimic Black Boy.

Martin Luther King and Transracial Adoption

Were it not for Martin Luther King, perhaps I would never be the parent of my 4 beloved children.

Dr. King died in 1968. He transformed the way we see people and race, he changed deeply entrenched racist laws, and he did so in a volatile time with dignity, peace, integrity, and astonishing strength.

I can’t say that these other events directly correlate to Dr. King’s work, but I think there is a context for them. Some 10 years before his death, international, transracial adoption began from Korea. About a year before he died, in 1967, the Loving v. Virginia decision by the Supreme Court struck down laws forbidding interracial marriage. Four years after his death, the National Association of Black Social Workers called transracial adoption of black children by white parents “cultural genocide,” expressing concern that some 50,000 black children had been adopted into white families between 1968 and 1972, with inadequate awareness of the realities of racism, identity, and discrimination. Before 1978, 10 years after Dr. King died, “it is estimated that in some (US) states, between 25 and 35% of Native American children were taken from their families, and 90% were placed in white homes. (Read more about the last 2 points here, from PBS information related to the documentary “First Person Plural.”)

Here we are almost 5 decades since Dr. King died, and still so much work remains to be done.

In just this last week, transracial adoption has burned up the Internet, via the MSNBC Melissa Harris-Perry segment on Mitt Romney’s transracially adopted grandchild, via the NPR Sunday Morning Edition show that chose a white adoptive parent over a transracial adoptee, and via a “48 Hours” show on international adoption (the focus was adoption trafficking; children from the Congo and Guatemala being adopted by white parents were featured.)

My children–two US-born sons with one black and one white original parent (though not biological brothers), and twin daughters born to Ethiopian parents–were all born in the late 1980’s, about 20 years after Dr. King was killed. In the early years of raising them, as a white adoptive parent, I thought a great deal about transracial adoption issues, about racism, about identity.

Since then, I have learned so much about how little I knew then, and how much I need to keep learning.

Through raising them, through listening to their stories and experiences, through my heart aching over ugly racist episodes directed against them, through taking a hair braiding class at a community college, through laughing over what “we” or “they” do, through loving my children with all my heart and knowing that my raising them has both diminished and enriched their understanding of identity and culture: all this is part and parcel of the legacy of Dr. King.

I know there are lots of people who are weary of hearing the experience of transracial adoption through the voice of the adoptive parents. Point extremely well taken. At the same time, it’s my white privilege, now, in 2014, 46 years after Dr. King’s death, that allows my voice to be heard in some quarters where another voice would be (and is) discounted, even as we share the same message.  It’s the tender balance of getting the microphone so I can hand it to others: to transracial adoptees.

Angela Tucker writes beautifully about it: “This discussion is about how the mainstream media chooses to portray transracial adoption. This discussion is about adult adoptees. Please stop speaking for us and assuming that your speculations are our realities. This discussion is about coming to terms with the fact that adoption ethics, practice and policies will not change until the public is willing to hear out more than just the adoptive parents’ perspective or their hopes and biased desires for our lives.” Read her whole, powerful post here.

Here is another adoptee voice of insight, wrapped up in a tweet:

Nicole Callahan 수정 ‏January 12, 2014
Always handing the microphone to adoptive parents means that those most privileged in adoption direct the narrative.

Follow Nicole on Twitter by clicking here.

One more excellent example, by Matthew Salesses: “The adoptee voice matters because the adoptee says so.” Read his entire, wise essay here.

A fellow adoptive parent also wrote brilliantly: “Oh, media and adoptive parents, will we ever get adoption reporting right?” Read Margie Perscheid’s post here.

My final point today moves from race to civil rights (it’s all intertwined, I realize). Dr. King changed our lives, our planet, by speaking out for civil rights for all people. How is that we in the United States continue to deny adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates? There is no other group denied access to this basic, human right: knowing who we are. It is shameful, and an outrage.

You can read more about OBC legislation from American Adoption Congress, from the Adoptee Rights Coalition, and from my posts, including this one.

In gratitude for the life, voice, and courage of Martin Luther King.

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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.

The Band-Aid of Heritage and Culture Camps: An Adoptee Perspective

“I had the privilege of attending this summer’s Ethiopian Heritage and Culture Camp in Virginia as a guest speaker. The camp is wonderful. It is designed, not only for families with adopted Ethiopian children, but for Ethiopian-American families as well. Nevertheless, most of the families there looked like mine did when I was a child. While I loved seeing the little kids and enjoyed Ethiopian food, crafts, and clothing, it was through dialogue with many adoptive parents that I was better able to understand where adoptive families stand in regards to grasping the responsibilities of raising a child of color, and how much or how little agencies prepare families…”

That’s an excerpt from a powerful article called The Band-Aid of Heritage and Culture Camps, and What They Cover Up by Aselefech Evans, an Ethiopian adult adoptee, writing as a columnist in the current issue of Gazillion Voices.

I wrote about the Ethiopian Heritage and Culture Camp here and about the Ethiopian panelists (which included Aselefech) Speaking Their Truth here.

(L-R) Nunu Worke, Aselefech Evans, Adanech Evans

(L-R) Nunu Worke, Aselefech Evans, Adanech Evans

Full disclosure: Aselefech is one of my favorite people in the world. She is also my daughter, adopted in 1994 along with her twin sister Adanech, when they were 6 years old. (Adanech is another of my favorites, along with my sons and granddaughter.) Aselefech has reunited with her Ethiopian family, and wrote one of the most viewed posts ever on my blog, Far Away, Always in My Heart. She’s presented workshops and webinars about her experiences as a transracial, older, international adoptee. She speaks candidly, and from her heart. I’ve always encouraged my children to speak their truths, and they have. That can seem like a mixed blessing perhaps, if your children are writing and speaking out about their experiences as adoptees, and as people of color, and those experiences have not always been positive.

Therein, though, lies the genuine blessing: what a gift to be able to witness the honesty and reality and insights of my daughter. She demonstrates, I believe, the fundamental truth of adoption. It is often filled with both love and loss, held together at the same time, tilting one way or the other at other times. We adoptive parents decide to bring children into our lives, and in so doing, we are part of the lost life they might have had, with the family (and culture, language, heritage, race, traditions, history) into which they were born, into which (for good or bad) most children stay. Aselefech loves her dad and me, and we love her. Now 25 years old, Aselefech has struggled with the complexity that is transracial, international adoption. We (her adoptive parents) cannot take that pain away, but we can be open to her journey, joining her sometimes, knowing that the journey is hers alone.

Another excerpt from Aselefech’s article in Gazillion Adoptees:

“As an adoptive parent, when you choose to adopt internationally you must understand the cultural ramifications of removing a child from his or her culture. You must take on the overwhelming responsibility to keep them connected to their country of origin, the place from which you have taken them. You must surround them with a variety of people who look like them. Children’s attitudes towards their own race are deeply influenced by their interactions and observations of those around them. Will most of the children muddle through and eventually form a decent racial and cultural identity if you don’t offer all of this? Maybe. But what right do you have to make them pay that price?”

Powerful words. Aselefech has gotten some pushback, asking if she’s “anti-adoption.” She’s also gotten some wonderful, positive response for her courage and candor. I’m very proud of her. Like many adoptees these days, she provides a voice from a diaspora. I hope the world listens.

Honoring Trayvon, Thinking About Hana, Hoping for Justice

George Zimmerman was found not guilty today in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. I am sad, disappointed, outraged, and tired.

A black teenager with a soda and Skittles was shot by an armed man.  The shooter is found innocent.

I send a prayer out to Trayvon’s family. I am the mother of two black sons, who were considered sweet and cute when they were little. As they have grown into young men, now 26 and 23 years old, both about 6′ 3″, I’ve seen how they been treated by police, by store managers, and by strangers who cross the street to avoid them, judged way too often by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character.

I send a prayer out to the universe for the upcoming trial of the adoptive parents of Hana Alemu. May her soul and spirit be at peace. May she receive justice. May we all find strength and healing.

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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.