Save the Date: Angela and Aselefech Talk Together!

On Saturday, June 1, at 10am pdt (1pm edt), I will be hosting an on-line live discussion with Angela Tucker and Aselefech Evans.

Angela’s story is featured in the new, highly-acclaimed documentary Closure, about her adoption as an African-American baby from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to white parents in Bellingham, Washington, and her search and reunion as a young adult with her birth family.

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Aselefech is an Ethiopian adoptee, who arrived in the US in 1994 at age 6 with her twin sister. She has also searched and reunited with her birth family in Ethiopia, as well as in Seattle. She has presented workshops and webinars about her story, about transracial adoption, about hair care, and more. Full disclosure: Aselefech is also my daughter. She was recently invited to be a columnist for the soon-to-be-launched magazine of Land of Gazillion Adoptees.

Aselefech with her brother (reunited in 2009) and her daughter. Photo: December 2012

Aselefech with her brother (reunited in 2009) and her daughter. Photo: December 2012

As transracial adoptees, they have much in common. As a US infant adoptee and as an older child international adoptee, they have different experiences. Both are wonderful, thoughtful, amazing young women, and their stories are compelling.

I’ll post more details later about how to watch and participate. Meanwhile, please save the date!

Insisting on a Place at the Table for Everyone

Ethiopian food

If you’ve never had Ethiopian food, the first time can be challenging. The food can seem unfamiliar and strange. It can be spicy, raw, bland, mushy, crunchy. You tear off the injera (spongy bread) and eat with your hands. You share one big plate with your companions. You will probably ask questions about what is what, and watch how others eat. You might need some translation (see the photo above); it would be great if you learned some Amharic words. You dive in, hoping to be polite and to enjoy the experience.

The joys and challenges of Ethiopian food for us ferenjis (the Amharic word for foreigners) made me wonder if there was a correlation with improving services to children in Ethiopia, whether through adoption or otherwise. (I think about metaphors a lot lol, and mix them wildly sometimes–such an English major.)

I recently posted about several significant challenges in Ethiopian adoption issues. The main points were the rise and fall of number of children being adopted to the US, the approximately $330 million that has been paid for those adoptions since 1999, the impact of Facebook groups, the instantaneous sharing of bad news about Ethiopian adoptions gone wrong, a new film and new book related to Ethiopian adoptions, and the increasing awareness of cultural understandings of adoption.

Big, complicated stuff.

I heard back from a lot of people (thank you!). I’m diving today into something that’s crunchy and fearsome: how to begin to address the huge challenges in Ethiopian adoptions.

One reader asked : What can we do to get the adoption service providers (ASPs, which can include home study agencies and placement agencies) and adoption lobbyists to listen to all the damage that’s been done, and get them to change? Good question.

Ok, put the berbere spices on the table. Chop the vegetables. Turn up the heat.

Keep talking and telling stories. Do not underestimate the power of effective stories in bringing about change.

“Stories” means candid, honest narratives. They are very powerful.

My 3-placemat strategy for effectiveness:

Who should do the talking? Adoptive parents, yes. Speaking only from my experience, perspectives change as children grow up and one has decades of parenting under one’s belt. I am not dismissing the valid and valuable experiences of parents of young children–keep speaking out. I wish, though, that more “seasoned” adoptive parents would share their stories as well.

That said, I encourage Ethiopian adoptees to speak up and share their stories, positive and negative. The adoptee community award for Most Vocal currently would probably go to Korean adopted adults: they are the oldest, largest group of international adoptees, and are leading the way in terms of activism, networking, socializing, lobbying. Look at their models and learn: no need to reinvent that particular wheel.

Unlike most other international adoptions, Ethiopian adoptions are increasingly “open,” inadvertently or purposely. Adoption agencies have had birth families and adoptive families meet at the time of placement. Adoptive parents have done their own searches, found birth families, and connected with them, via occasional letters or routine visits to Ethiopia. Adoptees themselves have searched and reunited with Ethiopian family members by traveling to Ethiopia or using Facebook and Google.  Older child adoptions have often meant that the children themselves, while in the US, talk with birth family regularly in Amharic or Tigrinya or Oromiffa.

As a result of these increased and open connections, both adoptive parents and Ethiopian adoptees can be the key ingredients to providing Ethiopian birth/first parents with a seat at the table, to tell their stories and to be seen. 

In all adoptions, birth/first families are usually the most marginalized. They are usually the weakest economically. Poor people have the least power in any society.

We adoptive parents have a tremendous responsibility to care for children who were placed with us, to know the truth behind the reasons for placement as best possible, and to share that truth with our children. I recognize the need for privacy and confidentiality. I understand there is tremendous complexity for adoptees in traveling the journey of loss and grief that is adoption. But we are in this together, and sharing the loss eases the burden. Acknowledging the birth family, connecting with the birth family, speaking out about the realities that cause children to be placed for adoption: it’s time.

And that to me is one of the keys to bringing about positive change in Ethiopian adoptions, to getting ASPs to listen (and the State Department, the lawyers, Congress, and so on): that everyone’s stories are heard.

Those of us who are connected by Ethiopian adoptions have a great opportunity right now, to share a meal, to talk together, and to bring all our truths to the table. It is crowded and noisy. Good listening and excellent translators will be important. But like any raucous family meal, it can offer connection, information, communication, and the possibility for nourishment and change.

Tomorrow: Some thoughts on the responsibility adoption agencies have to the birth/first families, and how they might bring about change.

Of Search, Heartache, and Connection

“There is a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled.
There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled.
You feel it, don’t you?”
― Rumi

With my four children, two sons adopted as babies in the US and twin daughters adopted at 6 from Ethiopia, I felt the decision to search for first/birth family was theirs, and that it would be best to do so when they were at least 18. They are all in their 20’s now. Searching (and re-uniting) is a big, complicated, emotional, intricate process. My view as a parent was that this was their decision, their story, their information. Their dad and I also always let them know we would help and support them in their decision.

While they were growing up, the kids and I had lots of conversations about their first families. I offered to give them all the information, when I felt they were ready, that we had from the adoption process. I shared different information at different ages. They looked at it, or not. Over the years, they kept copies in their rooms, occasionally asked questions, talked to each other a little about their information, asked questions, went to basketball practice, came to me with heartbreaking insights, and asked more questions.

I believe rituals are important, especially in adoption. At Thanksgiving, we would sometimes all light candles before dinner to honor the people who were not with us that day.  I would say something about my children’s birth/first families. Over the years, their reactions might be eye-rolling, indifference, a slight tearing up, a slight smile.

Each of my kids had different levels of comfort and curiosity about searching, at different times in their lives, and that’s still very true today.

My daughter Aselefech, once she had been here long enough to speak sufficient English to understand what Mother’s Day meant, would weep deeply that day. She would talk through tears about how very much she missed her Ethiopian mother, and how deep the pain was of forgetting what her mother looked like.

I knew she and her mother had to have been very close, because of how much Aselefech loved me. Oh, my heart ached so for my daughter and for her mother. My daughter and I cried together.

And, not surprisingly, Aselefech has been the most proactive about searching and connecting with her Ethiopian family. She and her twin sister now know their Ethiopian family in Ethiopia, and here in Seattle,  as it turns out, where I live.

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They re-connected about 4 years ago. We all got together most recently last week here in Seattle for dinner. This photo shows Aselefech with her brother, and with her daughter/his niece (my brilliant, amazing granddaughter) who is the same age Aselefech was when she arrived in the United States some 18 years ago. There is to me an incredible light in everyone’s eyes here–a connection always, a void filled, a candle lit.