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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Rooted to Resiliency: On Mother Dreams...(in loving memory of my Mom, Janet Jue, 1941-1999)

DEAR SISTERS,


Yesterday would have been my (adoptive) mother's birthday. I was 19 when she was diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer. I watched her die beside me under our living room Christmas tree, and do you know that I have never been the same? It is one thing to lose a birthmother, and another to watch your (adoptive) mother die beside you. Do you think that I miss her?

Part of being rooted to resiliency (for me) is learning how to be in connection...even whilst living in disconnection. How can you keep your own connections active and alive (even, and especially, in the face of great adversity), thus keeping yourself alive in most vital ways?

Much Love, 

Jennifer

"ON MOTHER DREAMS...."


I dream about having a Mother.

Some people may dream about their favourite sports car, or winning the lotto, or becoming famous or about their retirement.  I dream of none of these things.

Instead, my dreams consist of much smaller things, such as...

  • Telling my mother that (yes!), I finally finished something that I was afraid to do...
  • Sharing a laugh together, or a memory.
  • Inviting her to my birthday party each year (she always used to get me an ice cream cake).
  • Telling her that I graduated from Harvard (I'm the first person in my adoptive family to have ever gone to Harvard) and being able to invite her to the ceremony.
  • Calling her when things go wrong, like when I accidentally had to be rushed to an emergency room in Norway after falling over my ankle running through a wild Norwegian forest.
  • Bumping into her randomly in the middle of the day on the street (this is one of my most common dreams).
  • Sitting together in a theatre.
  • Smiling together for a photograph.
  • Saying goodnight...or good morning.
  • Telling her how my day went, and listening to hers.
  • Remembering together, and letting her remind me of things I used to do when I was small...
  • Holding hands.
  • Sharing hugs.
  • Going to clothing stores and trying on outfits together.
  • Telling her about my latest writing project, about my Ph.D. research...
  • Inviting her to travel with me (this year I really wish I could invite her to Paris to do a writer's workshop on memoir writing, which I know she would have loved).
  • Rubbing noses together, and comparing the shape of our toes (so very different looking since we are not genetically related, of course).  Mom was tall, thin and gorgeous; I am short, petite and look absolutely nothing like my (adoptive) beautiful Mom.
  • Helping her decorate her summer house in Maine (now sold and gone).
  • Sharing my writing with her, and giving her feedback on hers.
  • Being able to celebrate Mother's Day.
  • Overhearing someone say, "I'm so proud of my daughter."
  • Even getting annoyed with one another -- I miss this as well.
  • Just being able to pick up a phone -- anywhere, anytime -- and being able to call her.
  • Telling her about life in London...

I once read about a lady who also lost her Mom whose greatest wish was just to have her Mom back for one day to be able to do mom-and-daughter things together. Just one day. One last day.

I cried reading that article.  
Because I never ever even dared to dream of an entire day with Mom. That would seem so greedy. So grand. So rich.  

It's just these little moments that I dream about the most, miss, yearn for, tenderly remember or witness between other moms and daughters...and wonder, "Who would I be without you, Mom?"

And also, I wonder, "Who will I become now that you're not here?"

It's small dreams like these -- of every day, oh-so-ordinary-but-extradordinary moments -- that I long for the most.


(Originally published in One World: Chinese Adoptee Links Blog)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

(Part 2) Internalized Adoptionism: Are You an Adoptionist?






If you have not read the post that preceded this one, "(Part 1) Internalized Adoptionism: What Racism Has Taught Me About Adoption," I recommend reading it for context. In short, I lay out a definition for internalized adoptionism (borrowing from Amy Sun's article on internalized racism):


Internalized adoptionism is the process where adoptees and original families develop beliefs and behaviors that collude or support the institution of adoption. Internalized adoptionism is a form of systematic oppression where people and communities affected by adoption unconsciously support the adoption machine and industry, which is built upon White privilege and power, White supremacy/superiority, and White American (and White European) colonialism.


Because the system of power consistently rewards those who support the adoption hierarchy through a false sense of acceptance, individuals affected by adoption (i.e., adoptees, original families) are encouraged to perpetuate a culture that oppresses them. Because of this cycle, internalized adoptionism can have deep psychological effects on individuals and communities directly affected by adoption, primarily including adoptees and original families.


But like I said, for further context, read Part 1. Because now, I'm just going to cut straight to it...


* * * 

Not certain whether you’re an adoptionist* or whether you are supporting our adoptionist society due to internalized adoptionism? Well, today is your lucky day. I’ve compiled a checklist below to help you figure it out. (And just a disclaimer, many of the points on the list are ones that I, myself, used to believe or with which I identified before emerging from a decades-long fog of internalized adoptionism…)


You may be an adoptionist or suffering from internalized adoptionism if...


  1. You believe that you were “saved” as a result of adoption.
  2. You feel like a traitor for wanting to search for your original family.
  3. You believe that you were unworthy to parent your child.
  4. You believe that your child is better off without you.
  5. You believe adoption = a better life.
  6. You believe adoption is “God’s plan.”
  7. You consider yourself a Christian.
  8. You think it’s disloyal and ungrateful when adoptees are critical of adoption.
  9. You believe most birth parents simply do not want to raise their children.
  10. You think original parents are doing the “best” thing for their children by giving them up for adoption.
  11. You perpetually view adoptive parents as such “special people” who “rescued a child,” while you automatically assume original parents did not want the child (and hence don’t deserve the child).
  12. You are offended by the idea that an adoptee might feel more than hypothetical love for his or her original parents.
  13. Whenever you find out that someone is adopted, you think or say things like
    1. “Oh, wow, you must feel so lucky!”
    2. “Your [adoptive] parents must be really special people”
    3. “I wish I was adopted, too!”
  14. When an adopted person expresses a desire to search for his or her original family you think or say things like,
    1. “Well, how do your [adoptive] parents feel?”
    2. “You know your adoptive parents are your real parents, right?”
    3. “Don’t you love your [adoptive] parents?”
  15. When an adopted person expresses any kind of grief, sorrow, loss, conflict, anger, hurt (or any emotion other than pure joy and unwavering gratitude) regarding his or her adoption, you think statements like the following are helpful and insightful,
    1. “Well, you’re lucky you didn’t grow up in an orphanage”
    2. “You could have been aborted”  
    3. “You just need to be more grateful.”
  16. You find yourself identifying with adoptive parents when you encounter cases in the media in which original parents are trying to raise their own children.
  17. You sympathize and identify with adoptive parents and their perspectives and rarely think about adoption from the perspective of adoptees and original parents. (Wait, you mean adoptees and original parents are affected by adoption in ways other than eternal gratitude and pure happiness?)
  18. You would identify me and other adoptees like me as “angry,” “ungrateful,” and/or “negative.”
  19. You view original parents and families in a kind of “noble savage” way by simultaneously identifying them as both sacrificial and noble as well as unworthy and incapable.
  20. You assume that a lack of resources and education are viable reasons to give up a child for adoption.
  21. You believe the UNICEF statistic of 163 million orphans actually means there are 163 babies and toddlers languishing in orphanages without any living family members who want to care for them.
  22. You are unaware of alternative solutions to orphanages and adoption. (Wait, what? Alternative solutions? You mean, like family preservation and resettlement and kinship care?)
  23. You have no idea what family preservation and resettlement and kinship care are.
  24. You generally believe that all kids in orphanages don’t have living family or their parents do not want them. (Wait, what? That’s not true? Kids in orphanages are not actually orphans? They have mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, grandparents who want to raise them?)
  25. It has never entered your mind that orphanages are a part of the problem rather than the solution.
  26. You have never asked yourself why so many organizations are building orphanages rather than family care centers?
  27. You think adoption agencies are wonderful charities rather than part of a for-profit industry that generates billions of dollars every year.
  28. You cannot conceive of why being an adopted child versus a biological child would present any unique difficulties or differences.
  29. You feel a well of indignation and anger, maybe even rage, swelling in your belly and throat as you read this post.
  30. You have already dismissed and discounted the ideas and themes presented in this post.

* * * 


This list is not definitive obviously, but if you can relate to more than a handful of these statements, then you may want to rethink your views on adoption. If you read through this checklist and suspect you may be an adoptionist or are suffering from internalized adoptionism, the point is definitely not to feel discouraged or condemned. Rather, do something about it! Take action!

Start educating yourself and supporting family preservation. Not sure where to start? Fellow Lost Daughter, Karen Pickell, compiled a great list of organizations supporting family preservation as well as a resource site of adoptee-centric literature.

Furthermore, the paper, "Orphan Statistics Explained," can help you to more accurately understand the "163 million orphans" statistic and how often it is grossly misused and misinterpreted.

I would also recommend the book, "Child Catchers" by journalist Kathryn Joyce and the blogs, Harlow's Monkey, Red Thread Broken, and Rileys in Uganda. The works of Christian professor, Dr. David Smolin, are also incredibly informative.

I, myself, used to be an adoptionist and suffered profoundly from internalized adoptionism. But over the years, I have been able to more honestly and critically process adoption experiences and practices in America. 

I’m not saying all adoptions are bad.

I am saying that adoptionism is detrimental and harmful. 

I am saying that there is an adoption culture in America that favors those in power and continues to employ willful ignorance in order to support and perpetuate practices that are harmful to those most affected, exploited, and abused by the adoption systems and institutions in place.

What I am saying is that my experiences of adoptionism and racism are inextricable and understanding one has helped me to understand the other. 

If you are an adoptee that can relate to what I've written, I hope these two posts on internalized adoptionism help you to feel understood and validated. If you are not an adoptee, then I hope this post helps you to better understand the complexities of adoption.

Because understanding is ultimately what will help us all to overcome adoptionism, racism, and all the ism’s that afflict our country and world. Because understanding is ultimately what brings compassion and peace, and the world can never have too much of either.



______________________

*Note: I realize that some may be opposed to yet another label such as "adoptionist." I, myself, felt conflicted over using the word "adoptionist" considering how loaded the word "racist" has become in our country. But for the purposes of discussing the topic of "internalized adoptionism," the word "adoptionist" seemed appropriate. Racism and adoptionism are both very real problems in America and having language with which to discuss the issues and potential solutions is necessary.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

(Part 1) Internalized Adoptionism: What racism has taught me about adoption






1.

A couple of months ago, I read an astute article about internalized racism by Amy Sun called, On Internalized Racism: 4 Lessons I Learned as an Undercover Asian. This article articulates precisely what I have felt and experienced all of my life as an Asian person living in a White World. 

The article has also helped me with another realization:

My experiences of race and adoption are inextricably intertwined. 

I cannot talk about my racial experiences without talking about my adoption experiences and vice versa. Furthermore, developing a framework for understanding and coping with racism has also helped me to do the same in dealing with what I am calling “adoptionism.”

Although the author of the above article is not an adoptee, the experiences she describes as an “undercover Asian” also apply to my experiences as--to appropriate Amy Sun’s term--an “undercover adoptee.”

Amy Sun writes, 

Internalized racism, according to Donna Bivens, is the process where people of color develop beliefs and behaviors that collude or support the institution of racism. Internalized racism is a form of systematic oppression where people and communities of color unconsciously support white privilege and power.

Because the system of power consistently rewards those who support the racial hierarchy through a false sense of acceptance, communities of color are encouraged to perpetuate a culture that oppresses them. Because of this cycle, internalized racism can have deep psychological effects on communities of color.

Now, I’m going to take a leap here and posit that there is a phenomenon that I will call “internalized adoptionism” that in many ways mirrors internalized racism.

If I take Amy Sun’s words and replace “internalized racism” with the concept of “internalized adoptionism,” we have a perfect description of what my experience has been like as an “undercover adoptee.”

Internalized adoptionism is the process where adoptees and original families develop beliefs and behaviors that collude or support the institution of adoption. Internalized adoptionism is a form of systematic oppression where people and communities affected by adoption unconsciously support the adoption machine and industry, which is built upon White privilege and power, White supremacy/superiority, and White American (and White European) colonialism.

Because the system of power consistently rewards those who support the adoption hierarchy through a false sense of acceptance, individuals affected by adoption (i.e., adoptees, original families) are encouraged to perpetuate a culture that oppresses them. Because of this cycle, internalized adoptionism can have deep psychological effects on individuals and communities directly affected by adoption, primarily including adoptees and original families.


2.

Furthermore, in my own words, I would add that internalized adoptionism, particularly in the case of transracial adoption, is intertwined with internalized racism.

For the first 3 decades of my life, I was a poster child for adoption, and more specifically for transnational and transracial adoption. My support and adulation of transracial adoption in large part relied on the internalized assumption that not only was I inferior due to both being adopted [not wanted] and Asian [not White], but that my family and country of origin were also inferior because neither were White nor American.

By internalizing the belief that I, along with my origins, were ultimately "unworthy" and "less" due to my adopted and non-White status, it required that I be grateful and laudatory of my adoption and the practice of adoption as a whole. Otherwise, I would lose my position of favor and acceptance in the adoption hierarchy.

In other words, I better comply and do the happy song and dance lest I be cast back out to that depraved family and heathen country that not only forsook me but are like dirty rags in comparison to the radiant glory of White America.

But, over the years as my views about adoption have evolved from simple to complex, I have experienced my descent down the totem pole of the adoption hierarchy. I used to be a "golden child" loved by adoptive parents because I would always oblige in making them feel good about themselves and their adopted children. I was asked to speak at adoption events and churches. I was held up and praised by adoptive parents and the like as a model of an "adoptee who turned out well."

Now?

Well, let's just say I haven't been invited to speak at any church adoption events in years and nowadays adoptive parents tend to avoid me like I have a plague, or if they do engage with me, it's reluctantly and usually to try to prove that they're doing it right and that I'm mostly doing it wrong.

Again, much of my adoption experiences mirror my growing understanding of my experiences of race. Similarly, I used to be the token Asian that made all my White friends and family feel comfortable by assuaging any notion that they were racist or exclusive (in the same way that I was the token adoptee who made all my adoptive parent friends feel comfortable by reassuring them that they had done the right thing, that their children would "turn out well," and assuaging any notion that they had somehow contributed to adoption corruption).

But I wasn't really Asian to them, of course, and that's why they could tolerate my presence. I was like that sweet, alluring Twinkie--Yellow and Greasy on the outside, but White and Creamy on the inside. And I was happy to oblige, because accepting my assigned role as the Twinkie meant that I could at least avoid being consigned to the very bottom of the race totem pole. I knew deep down I wasn't really accepted but it allowed me to maintain the illusion that I "belonged." In the same, accepting my assigned role as "model adoptee" allowed me to feel accepted and loved rather than rejected and marginalized.

As an adoptee and Asian who had ultimately internalized the White American perspective on adoption and race, supporting adoption along with the perception of my racial inferiority were crucial to maintaining my fragile identity and my tenuous position on the totem pole. My internalized adoptionism and internalized racism were necessary mechanisms for the maintenance of my position within my family, church, and community.


3.

Slowly yet surely, I have come to realize that modern adoption is built upon institutionalized racial, social, and economic inequality. Adoptionism, like racism, has evolved over the decades into a systematic and institutionalized way of life--so deeply embedded in American culture, society, and religion that very few question the status quo.

Instead, most folks simply view [international] adoption as the only and most ideal solution to impoverished and displaced families and children. Furthermore, adoptees and original parents who challenge and critique the status quo are often ostracized, marginalized, and treated as ungrateful dissidents who are unnecessarily and selfishly “rocking the boat.”

Adoptionism also has in common with racism that those in power refuse to acknowledge its existence and the damage and harm endured by those who are not in power yet affected most profoundly by it. Adoptionism has in common with racism that those in power fail to recognize how they benefit from a system that favors them over the disempowered (i.e., adoption agencies and wealthy White adoptive parents are favored over impoverished and oppressed original families and communities).

Now, you may be surprised to know, I, too, used to think the perspective I’m purporting was crazy and extremist. If you had talked with me 5-6 years ago about my adoption views, I would have sounded like Pollyanna. And I would have criticized and dismissed transracial adoptees discussing adoption in the context of White privilege and power as being negative and extreme--and even more so when I encountered adoptees discussing adoption as an extension of White American imperialism and colonialism.

But over the past decade as I have learned more and given myself the freedom to think critically and evaluate my own experiences, it’s so obvious to me the role that White privilege, power, imperialism, and colonialism play in international and transracial adoption. Yes, yes, sure--there are exceptions. But the majority of adoptive parents adopting internationally are White, and White Americans at that.

This is not just coincidence and it’s not because White Americans are simply more “altruistic and charitable” than others. It’s because there is a longstanding system built upon White privilege and power that has gone so awry that White people not only feel entitled to the Black and Brown and Yellow children of other nations, but they feel they are “saving” these children.

It’s a truly nightmarish combination of White privilege and White Saviorism embedded in a belief that they are doing “God’s work.”

I know this is crazy talk--even highly offensive--to some of you who are reading this. Some of you can’t even begin to wrap your mind around what I’m saying, in the same way that 6 years ago I too was unable to wrap my mind around these ideas--because I was still stuck in an adoptionist fog, blinded and weighed down by both internalized adoptionism and internalized racism.

But don’t fret. I have compiled a helpful list to help free your mind, which I will publish tomorrow in "(Part 2) Internalized Adoptionism: Are You an Adoptionist*?"




__________________________

*Note: I realize that some may be opposed to yet another label such as "adoptionist." I, myself, felt conflicted over using the word "adoptionist" considering how loaded the word "racist" has become in our country. But for the purposes of discussing the topic of "internalized adoptionism," the word "adoptionist" seemed appropriate. Racism and adoptionism are both very real problems in America and having language with which to discuss the issues and potential solutions is necessary.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Rooted to Resiliency: A CALL TO FREEDOM


Do you know how small island nations become imperial powers? They colonise and terrorise the mind. How else can they wield power with so few and so little land?

Can you free your mind?
Can you unlock the doors that small island thinking boxes into neat little origami shapes...to disguise the fullness of freedom?

Mind games are like chains we cannot see,
make them visible.

Rooted to Resiliency
is about connecting to our truths,
reclaiming our voices,
from lost lands and far off, frozen faces, forgotten places,
standing in the here and now
where your destiny is written 
by you.
By your heart.
By your truth.

I may have no family tree,
but I stand here before you,
rooted
to
RESILIENCY.
For my two mothers -- of body, spirit and eternal hope.
(t.b.c.)



Saturday, April 11, 2015

When Parenthood is Triggering for Adoptees: Sharing a Meal with My Daughter






This is just another mundane food photo to most.

But for me this photo represents a powerful moment that I shared with my daughter today--because it was a moment that my Omma and I lost forever, a moment that was erased from our relationship before we were ever able to begin. A moment that is easily taken for granted:

My two-year old daughter and I sat side by side eating lunch together.

A very simple Korean lunch that consisted of nothing more than bap (rice), kim (seaweed), and spicy oi (cucumber). As we ate, I spoke to her in what little Korean I know and then heard her repeat back to me with her sweet little mouth, over and over, “Mani, mani...kim, kim...bap, bap...juseyo…”

I watched her stuff kim by the fistfuls into her tiny mouth. I gazed upon her as she plopped little clumps of rice onto her tongue.

And I began to weep.

I felt a depth of simultaneous sadness and joy, loss and gain, pain and healing, grief and hope, turmoil and contentment…

Sometimes, in the smallest, most simple of moments I am blindsided by the profound loss and sorrow of my adoptedness, while concurrently experiencing an inexplicable and overwhelming satisfaction knowing that I can have with my daughter what my Omma and I never did and never will--experiencing both the ordinary and extraordinary moments of my daughter’s childhood...together.

It is in moments like the one that happened today that it felt almost as though I was my Omma and my daughter was me--and we were restoring a tiny piece of history that was thought to have been lost forever.

It was as though my Omma was sitting there with me, feeding me rice and kim and oi, speaking to me in my original language, as though I had never left Korea and my Omma had never left my side. And it almost...almost...felt as though it could have happened in this way, if only we had been given to each other at a different time, in a different Korea, in a kinder, more compassionate world.

Even though I know that my Omma and I can never get back what we have lost, it filled me with hope and relief to sit in that moment and realize that I could perhaps in some small way return to my Omma and to myself, even if only a sliver, a brief moment of the life we might have had.

A moment that is so easily taken for granted and yet collectively it is these moments that are the ones that I wish I could somehow resurrect because they are the ones that make us daughters and mothers.

These seemingly yet deceptively mundane, simple moments of sitting side by side, eating, talking, doing nothing more than existing as we were meant to be--mother and daughter, of the same blood and bone, calling out to one another in these quiet, ordinary moments.

Omma. Tal. Mama. Daughter.

Apart yet together.
Separated yet reunited.

Forever lost yet found.

May my daughter never know the burdensome duality and painful contradiction of adoptedness.

And may ordinary moments like that of today fill our lives with a long and joyful history that my Omma and I will never share.



Friday, April 10, 2015

Motherless Mothering

As children, we define the term mother or father with femaleness and manhood. We gather this definition from our role models, good or bad. Some lose that image through death and hold on to that ideal or negative image as something to work toward or run away from for the rest of their adult life.

For children who have no model, or a conglomeration of role models from strangers, this identification is daunting.  At 5,  I was taken from my own mother after I was found beaten and starved and hidden in a basement. My early years were spent attaching and detaching from her during confusing visits.  I attached hesitantly to foster siblings. By the time I reached my daughter's age, 12, my own mother vanished forever. My father too, had never resurfaced, though I had his name, and his nose. 


 I had adoptive parents for a few short years until they both died before I entered 8th grade. After that, I observed the relationships, identities, tragedies, and triumphs of my foster siblings who I lived with until I left high school. I sometimes watched the movements of friends' mothers, or strangers on the street, gathering up my idea of what a mother really might be. I watched women on the train holding toddlers hands, overheard women on the street bragging about their daughters, and I watched others hit and scold. Like a sponge, I took it all in, and decided what I could be someday in that role.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Disclaimer: I do not speak for every adoptee

Red-Sox Fan Me
I identify many different ways.  For example, I identify as a woman, who happens to work in a STEM field.  There are times I have conversations with people that are uniquely shaped with what I have experienced as a woman working in a male dominated field.  I can give statistics, I can explain how it feels to know I make less than my coworkers, I can explain how I've been in situations where my gender has influenced my coworkers to ignore my thoughts and ideas, and I can state my experiences as the only woman on a six man team.  I never have to say "and of course not all women working in a STEM field feel this way".  It's accepted that I'm speaking based on my experiences.  I've never had to qualify or defend my feelings.  My male coworkers except it.  They've seen it.  And they value my opinion on the matter.  I've even had some adjust their behavior because of these conversations.

I identify myself as a college graduate.  I went to a Jesuit school where I was also a Resident Assistant.  I've had conversations regarding my experience and education.  There were good and bad parts of my college experience.  I can explain how I happy felt when part of my education was based on service to others and how I was encouraged to go on service trips.  I can talk about how frustrated I felt when tuition was increased during my time at college and my scholarship did not increase with it.  I can tell stories about finding people I cared about sick with alcohol because they were too scared of getting in trouble with the school to get medical help because they desperately needed it.  But never do I have to qualify that not all college graduates feel this way, nor do all Resident Assistants see the same things.