Sunday, October 19, 2014

The White Saviors

I had an affair with a strapping young white man. It was beautiful but then fell into ruin. He used me and ignored me. I can see his bright, blonde hair and his sea blue eyes. I remember the hurt as he left me with a destroyed family life.

Then, I woke. I had this nightmare a week ago. It spoke to me as symbolic of the way in which I felt the white world sees me … to use until I am no longer of use.


Bill O’Reilly knows how to use me. The mere fact that he uses my race, “Asian,” as a means of discounting white privilege illustrates something. He is actually using his white privilege to perpetuate the stereotypes that pit me against my black sisters.

You see, I have a history. I was white in Appalachia. But not. The words “colored” and “negro” and “nigger” were commonplace in the community where I grew up. In school, I never spoke up about the prejudice I witnessed for fear of the tables turning.

Surprisingly, my family did not use these words. Obviously, we were often more likely to be called names since my father spoke in a very thick Spanish-influenced accent. My first friend in Tennessee was a young black girl. My daughter is named after her, and she moved away shortly after I moved into the community.

After she left, I had fewer black friends. Often, my tormenters were blacks. I understood that this was a case of “Shit rolls downhill.” There were few Asians to come to my rescue. But when I cycled over to the whites, I faced more bullying because I was reminded that I was not white.

When I went to college, I received a full scholarship to Austin Peay State University. That was my ticket out. The whites in my small community taunted me saying, “That’s a black school.” Their view of APSU was painted by college sports. The basketball team, predominately black, offered their only exposure to the college where one-fifth of the student population was black.

Over the years, my confidence has grown as I matured and formed my identity. I have friends of all colors. But the ones I hold closely now are my mothers of color. We fear for our children. The bullying and the profiling, the needless deaths … I hear their stories and my own son’s.

Since our President began his tenure in 2008 with fanfare and a renewed optimism, I have instead witnessed the old guard of racism rear its head. I am frightened for our sons and daughters.

Law enforcement scares me. Amidst all this fear, I also hold hope that there will be more dialogue … and I see the likes of Jon Stewart and Megyn Kelly coming to save us.

It takes those with privilege to open the doors and introduce us.


Feminist columnist, Rosita is a transracial, Korean-American adoptee. She is married to a Brit who refers to himself as an Anglo-American and is a mother to two multiracial children. Rosita was adopted in 1968 at the age of one through Holt International. Her road has been speckled with Puerto Rican and Appalachian relatives and her multiracial sister, the natural child of her adoptive parents. While quite content with her role as a “Tennerican,” her curiosity has grown recently as her children explore their own ethnic identities. She considers herself a lost daughter, not only because of the loss of her birth family, but also because of the loss of her adopted mother, who died in 2001 as she became a first time mother. Rosita has recently started her search for her natural family. With the help of G.O.A.’L., she visited Korea in August 2014. When she is not supporting her children on their individual paths, Rosita spends her time as an art educator, ceramicist and an art photographer. She also shares her adventures as an adoptee and parent on her blog, mothermade.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Anniversary: A Guest Post by Karen Goldner

It was ten years ago this past March when I got the call that my sister had died. It was relatively early in the morning, around 7:00 am. That was my first indication that it was bad news. Nobody ever calls at 7:00 am with good news.

“Are you sitting down? You had better sit down, “ my sister-in-law Jenifer said. “There’s been an accident. Cristi is dead.”

I was shocked and confused to hear my sister, who was 14 months younger than me, was dead.  I was very upset to hear this news, but the predominant emotion I felt was confusion.  Cristi was my full biological sister, but I had only known her for about 15 years. I was adopted as an infant in a traditional closed era adoption in 1966.  I met Cristi during my reunion with my birth family in 1988. I did not know how I was supposed to feel about her death.  In my head, I thought, “I should  be really sad about this,” so I pretended I was. Don’t get me wrong, on one level, I was sad. She was young, she had two young children, it was a tragedy. But she wasn’t really my sister. She was someone I met 15 years ago. I had little in common with her, except genes. We were not close at all.

Like most adoptees, I had spent an entire lifetime denying my feelings. When you are adopted you have to deny your feelings in order to survive. It becomes a way of life. You deny your feelings, repress you feelings, stuff your feelings, medicate your feelings. You do whatever you can to try and make them go away. You learn that expressing your feelings, or actually feeling your feelings, can destroy you.

When you are told you should be grateful, and that you are lucky for having been adopted, you tend to doubt everything.  In your heart, in your gut, you know something unspeakably terrible has happened to you. But no one will say it. No one ever says,  “I’m so sorry you couldn’t stay with your mother. There is nothing worse that could ever happen to you.”  Instead, you are told that she loved you, that you were chosen and you are special.  You are told you should be glad.   Listening to your feelings gets you in a lot of trouble. If you listen to your feelings, you will come apart.

As a child, this ability to deny your feelings benefits you. It helps you survive a situation that is completely out of control. But when you get older, it becomes a hindrance.  It makes it virtually impossible to know yourself, to know what your truly feel. Your feelings are still there, but so mixed up in a murky, camouflaged morass, they are indistinguishable.

So I went to the funeral  home and pretended I was devastated.  I cried, I hugged people who were genuinely devastated, and pretended like I was one of them. That part was fairly easy.  Since my reunion with my birth family 15 years earlier, I had plenty of experience pretending like I was one of them. I sat around a table at the funeral home with my birth mother, my brother, and Cristi’s husband trying to help decide what the obituary should say.  All the while thinking to myself, “what the hell am I doing here?  Why am I being included in this?  I don’t belong here. I hardly knew her.”  But I never said that out loud.  I ignored my feelings in order to fit in. Part of me felt so grateful to be included in the process.  It felt like a privilege to finally be part of this family I had been banished from decades earlier.

Three days later, when I returned home from Cristi’s funeral, my then-husband met me at the door and said, “You had better sit down. Your brother just called. Your father died.”   My adoptive father, whom I had just been to Arizona to visit two weeks earlier, had dropped dead from a stroke at the age of 79.  

The feelings came fast and hard this time.   There was clarity, and it tore through me. There was no ambiguity.  I dropped to the floor and sobbed.

The truth is, I was not close to my adoptive father, either. He was a good person, well-liked, but not a very good father. He was aloof, distant, unengaged,  and often seemed uncaring. But the pain I felt was real, it was genuine, and I didn’t have to pretend.

 Ironically, one of the things that I remember most clearly about his funeral was my adoptive mother telling me not to cry.  I was getting ready to leave, saying goodbye to her before getting on a plane for Michigan. I couldn’t stop crying and was worried about leaving her there alone, without my father.  She patted me on the shoulder and said “Oh now, don’t cry.”

I thought ‘Jesus Christ, if I am not even allowed to cry now, when my father has died, will there ever be a time when it is ok for me to cry?’  But guess what?   Just like every other time in my life when she told me to stop crying, I did. Good little adoptee that I was, I denied my feelings and I stopped crying.

That time in my life was pivotal. It was very complicated and many things were changing, but most of all me. I had two young daughters, and my marriage was disintegrating. I was trying to leave my agency job and start a private practice as a clinical social worker. But it was just a year or two after that when I decided to stop having contact with my birth family.  I was tired of pretending I fit in when I didn’t.  I had already spent a lifetime doing that with my adoptive family, and it was too much to bear. Seeing them altogether with their shared memories, and their genetic bond I could never be privy to.  I couldn’t take it. It was excruciating.   I always felt so sad after being with them for holidays and birthdays.  The guilt and shame that erupted in me after these visits were crippling.  After one visit in particular, my husband asked, “If you were not biologically related to these people, would you have anything to do with them?”

“Absolutely not,” I replied with certainty.

“Then don’t, “ he said.  

“That’s really an option?”  I asked.

“Of course it is.”

 In my mind, choosing who was in my family had never been an option.  When you are adopted, the right to choose who you call family is stripped from you.  You take what you get, and pretend to be grateful. The luxury of choosing who is in your family, and who is not, was reserved for birth parents and adoptive parents, not for the children jettisoned in between them.

Those beliefs have changed too. As part of my adoption journey, I had an epiphany last year. I read a post someone had written on one of the online adoptee support groups I participate in. It basically said; I did not ask to be adopted, nor did I want to be adopted.  The whole thing did not work out very well for me at all.  I do not owe anybody anything.

Wow.

It was as though my blinders had been removed. I suddenly realized that I no longer had to try and painfully navigate my very complicated relationship with my adoptive mother. I have always felt like I owed her something because she took me in and raised me. I had no choice but to put up with her narcissism and callousness. I had to tolerate her cold self-centeredness, her manipulation and emotional  abuse. All my life I have desperately struggled to try and fit with her, and beaten the hell out of myself because I didn’t.  I would never have chosen to have a casual friendship with a person like my adoptive mother, much less chosen her to parent me. I don’t even like her.

If I had been given a choice, I would have chosen to stay with my real mother, with my real father, with my real family, my clan. Who wouldn’t choose that?   I had no choice at the time, but I do have a choice now.

I am becoming very careful about who is part of my family. It is a select and exclusive few. The requirements for membership are simple. You must truly love, appreciate and unconditionally accept me for exactly who I am, not who you need me to be.  Authenticity and genuineness are required.  Trust is a must.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Xenopbia or Patriotism

I am well aware of that this place that I have come to love so much is supposed to be our place. A place were there is no need to censor, restrain or filter ourselves, our thoughts, experiences or opinions. Since I not only am a Woman of colour since I am an Asian adoptee I also am the only European adoptee. Even though I do not like to discuss politics since the Swedish election (which happens every fourth year) was just completed. I thought I would use this post to discuss the recent developments in Europe. (This will also be the only post were I will discuss politics.) I would also like to stress that Lostdaughters does not support or believe in xenopbia. We believe that people should be treated equally and with respect people's ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation should not matter. 



The last election ended with a major win for the Swedish Democratic party an traditionally extremist right wing party that now will be the third biggest party in the Swedish government. Sorry that clip is entirely in Swedish. This was the election commercial for the Swedish Libralist Party, who wants to restrict migration and instead help people in war torn countries with aid while they stay inside the nation. This commercial is remarkable since you clearly can see that the man and woman in the clip is not ethnic Swedes. Yet they support a party who does not approve of immigrants like them. Please rewind the clip to 20 secs- that is when it gets interesting.(Sorry that it's not subtitled). Also I do not support this party's politics I choose to include it because I find it interesting that an extremist party decides to use imigrants as a way to improve their reputation. Not to mention that the girl is a Korean adoptee like me and the guy is an adoptee to- from Sri Lanka.






Sweden has the Swedish Liberal Party and a smaller even more extremist party called the Swedes. Norway is no different they have the Progressive Party, Denmark has the Danish People's Party and many other European nations have at least one extremist liberal party. Britain, France, and Belgium has it to even Germany even though it has banned extremist liberal parties by law (due to the World Wars). Besides these countries Italy, Greece, Spain, Hungary and Austria has it to. 

All of these political parties has one thing in common they want to restrict migration and favor cultural adjustments for the refugees and immigrants that eventually are accepted. It is upsetting to me as a woman of colour and immigrant background to see that fellow adoptees have joined a liberal extremist party like this. 

With these new liberal extremist parties I believe many of the supporters and believers are not really a true supporters. In lack of other options or as a protest against increased migration, lack of housing and employment it has been possible for parties the Swedish Democratic party to gain followers like the more liberal Swedes party. (In the previous election from 2010 the Swedish Liberal Party was a one question political party wanting to restrict and regulate migration.) For the last election their party policy was more general than previously. The political situation in Sweden is not unique many other countries is already dealing with this situation. Norway, Denmark, France, Italy, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Spain are already having a liberal extremist party in their goverments. They all have one thing in common-they want to heavly restrict and regulate migration and protect their own values and their culture. 

Can you even call yourself a non racist when the core values of a party is to restrict migration?


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Adoptee Identity and the Fear of Losing Connections

Photo by La Citta Vita via Flickr
I have been thinking a lot about connectedness. This is different than belonging, which is fitting, like the stone in the center of a peach. Connectedness does not require the perfect environment. It is more like a house in a yard on a street with a park at the end; these things touch each other and may, to some, be considered part of a whole, though they each exist independently and might exist equally well someplace else.

I’ve long understood that I don’t belong in my adoptive family the way other people I know belong in the families they grew up in. I am a very different kind of person than most of my adoptive relatives. I don’t value the same things they do. I don’t communicate in the same way. I don’t enjoy the same activities.

Yet, I am connected to them. For a long time, they were my only foundation. As many adoptees do, I have often hidden parts of myself from them, and I realize now that this is because I’m afraid of losing my connection to them.

What would losing that connection mean? What would it feel like to no longer be connected to the only family I knew for all of my formative years? When I try to imagine this, I feel like I’m about to fall off of a very high cliff into a great abyss with no discernible bottom. And I don’t like heights.

More and more, I’m in conflict with myself. I’m afraid to go to the extreme of being all me, all of the time. And I’m afraid of never being able to be all me, all of the time. This is the way I have lived my entire life, and it hasn’t worked. It’s resulted in my becoming emotionally, psychologically, and physically drained. I realize that the more I allow my true essence to escape into the world, the more at peace I feel. I know that to live a fully satisfying life, I must be all me, all of the time. I’m afraid that I’ll live the rest of my life as a prisoner of my fear of falling into the abyss of losing my connection to my past.

One of the reasons I fear losing my connection to my adoptive family is because I want my own children to be connected to an extended family group. But when I visualize this connection, I imagine family relationships that I have never actually had. I fantasize about celebrating holidays and important life events with people who talk about the things my children and I talk about and who want to do the kinds of things my children and I like to do. I imagine enjoying the company of these people. This isn’t the family I have. So, I’m holding tight to relationships that have never really worked for me, in the hopes that they might somehow work better now that I have children. I want for my kids what I never had. Maybe I’ve been trying to have it with the wrong people.

It sucks to not have a basis from which to create the kind of extended family relationships I want my children to have. I must somehow create this situation for them on my own, via other groups outside of my adoptive family.

Let’s say the worst case scenario actually happens: I decide to be my authentic self around my adoptive family, and as a result, they decide they’d rather not be a part of my life. When I think about it, I realize I’ve been through this before. I’ve made friends and lost friends. I’ve been in love relationships that have ended. I was connected to these people and now I’m not.

But waitit’s not really the case that we’re no longer connected. I have history with all of those people, therefore that shared history continues to connect us even though we no longer interact. If my interaction with my adoptive family members decreased or even ended completely, I would still be connected to them. I grew up with them. They will always be my family, no matter how our relationships change. They will always be part of my history and the history of my children.

History, though, is about looking back. And I need to move forward.















Wednesday, October 1, 2014

INFORMATION IS A PRIVILEGE


 Arriving in Canada on February 23rd, 1987


After much thought and a few unexpected events, I have decided to search. Searching has always seemed next to impossible to me, given the lack of information I have about my birth family. 

I was born in late 1985 in the northern part of Ethiopia, an area heavily affected by famine and civil war. I don’t have a birth record and what I know about my birth family is only through word of mouth. In fact, my official documents were produced a few months after my birth with the sole purpose of legalizing my adoption. I understand that it might not have been possible to fully document all relevant information about my birth and birth family given the chaotic circumstances and lack of resources, but I have many questions as to why so much information was unavailable. 

Growing up without such information has been “normal” but at the same time, very disconcerting. As I’ve written in Gazillion Voices, I think the lack of information I have about my background contributed to me ignoring my adoption for most of my life. I rarely thought about my birth family, perhaps because I had what I needed—a happy childhood, a loving family and friends. I only realized that I had identity issues when I was in my late teens. Deep down, I knew that the only way to have some peace of mind would be to search for my birth family, but I wondered how I could embark on a search without proper documentation. 

Here I am, "ready" to search almost ten years later. For me, searching means confronting one of the biggest injustices associated with being adopted—fighting to access one’s personal information...or in my case, hiring someone to search for my undocumented information. I’m nervous and unhappy (to put it politely) about having to go through this hassle. It’s not just about finding the time and money to search; it’s also about trusting someone to work with such a limited amount of information. This search could take days, weeks, months or years and the outcome is uncertain. I might find my birth family or I might not. I might find out why I was relinquished or I might not find anything at all.

Besides wanting to know the truth about my past, I strongly believe that it’s my right to have this information. In my view, searches are about a human rights issue—having the right to access one’s personal information. Deciding to search has made me realize to what extent knowing or having access to information about one’s birth and birth family is a privilege. It may seem strange to think that a person is privileged if they were born in a country that has the institutional capacity to accurately document and safeguard their birth information. Yet, he or she is even more privileged if they have access to this information.

Unfortunately, many transnational adoptees like me lack information about our births and family backgrounds. The reasons for this can be traced back to political or structural reasons. However, if you dig deeper into this issue by reading adoptee narratives, it appears that the reasons behind "lost" or purposely omitted information from documents is also due to more subjective reasons. Birth families tend to relinquish children because they cannot adequately provide for them. For instance, families are usually experiencing economic difficulties, death, illness, rape or stigma due to single or unwed mothers. Relinquishing a child is an act of desperation and sometimes birth parents may want to remain anonymous out of shame or fear. Yet whatever the reasons for relinquishment, this information should not go undocumented. Individuals, agencies and governmental institutions involved in adoption and orphan care need to be held accountable for documenting all information pertinent to children's births and family backgrounds. Furthermore, I don't believe that this information should be kept a secret in order to protect a child from a harsh reality nor to cover up a parent's shame. Adopted children grow up to be adopted adults. Sooner or later, they will ask questions such as why knowing who gave birth to them and knowing their ancestry is privileged information that they cannot have.

The benefits of having this information for adoptees' emotional, psychological and mental well-being should not be overlooked nor underestimated. While I've had a positive adoption experience, there's a part of me that has always felt lost and out of place as a result of being adopted. Having this information may not give me peace of mind, but I believe that it will give me closure. 








Friday, September 19, 2014

Claiming White American Identity as an Asian Adoptee: When Race and Ethnicity Diverge in Transracial-Transnational Adoption






I recently read an article, An Ethnicity Conversation Your Adoptive Child Wants You to Have, by a Korean American adoptee, Elizabeth Connolly. The article got me thinking about the incredibly complex racial and ethnic identities that transracial-transnational adoptees must learn to manage--often while having to field a barrage of scrutiny and criticism both within and outside of the adoption community.

In her article, the author addresses the tension she has experienced within her identity as a Korean adoptee who has grown up in a White family. She writes, “I am very proud to be Asian and a Korean adoptee, but if we are assuming that a person's ethnicity is defined by a shared religion, culture, language, and more, then why would I declare my ethnicity as Korean?”

She addresses a very real dilemma regarding identity for transracial-transnational adoptees raised in White families: the basic dissonance between our ethnic and racial experiences and hence, the divergence between our ethnic and racial identities.

In America, race is inextricably connected to ethnicity. One’s race assumes one’s ethnicity and vice versa. If you look Asian--in my case, Korean, then your ethnicity must also be Korean American. If you look Black then your ethnicity must be African American.

However, obviously, for transracial-transnational adoptees this is starkly and often awkwardly and painfully not the case.

Not surprisingly, I can very much relate to the author's struggle. Although I may not wholly agree with her, I understand her point. And most importantly, I appreciate her honesty in questioning the status quo by acknowledging the limitations of accepted ideas of race and ethnicity in America. Current definitions are restricting and confining for adoptees like myself, which can further exacerbate the already complicated process of trying to establish a coherent, healthy identity.

For instance, although my racial experience is that of an Asian person, my ethnic experience is that of a White American. Even though I am Asian genetically, I have often felt biracial (White and Asian) as a result of being a transracial-transnational adoptee. But I cannot claim biracialness because genetically (and physically) I am not. This is primarily due to the present-day constructs for identifying race and ethnicity, which do not have the capacity to consider people like transracial-transnational adoptees and other individuals with uniquely complicated circumstances around race, ethnicity, and identity.

Some may criticize the author of the aforementioned article for her proclamation of rejecting “Korean American” as her ethnicity and instead wanting to claim “White American” as part of her ethnicity, which I will address further after I say this: I took the article less as an indication that she wants to be “White” but more as an acknowledgment of the complex identities that we as transracial-transnational adoptees must navigate, and the identity dissonance we must manage both internally and externally.

As I’ve already stated, although I am racially Asian, I am basically ethnically a White American, if the measure is based on culture and language. However, since reuniting with my Korean family 5 years ago, I am becoming more ethnically Korean. But I will always be limited in my ability to fully assimilate within the Korean ethnicity, because my experienced family history is White American.

Yet, of course, I can never fully assimilate or be fully accepted within the White community because my racial experience is Asian. And, now that I have kids who are mixed race, the issues of my already confusing identity have become all the more convoluted.

This all exemplifies further that identity for transracial and transnational adoptees (and for anyone living between worlds, whether immigrants, adoptees, expatriates, or the like) requires adaptability and fluidity as we experience life and as our familial and social circumstances evolve, whether encountering reunion, becoming a parent, losing a parent, and the like. I know my identity has evolved dramatically over the past half decade, and I have no doubt that it will continue to do so.

I would also like to say that if the author of the above article--or any other transracial-transnational adoptee adopted into a White American family--wants to claim White American as a part of her ethnicity, she should be able to do so (because essentially that is how she was raised and to what she finds herself identifying). But she is not “allowed” to claim White American as her ethnicity because of her race and the limitations and expectations forced upon her because of her outward appearance.

Others may disagree with her “right” to claim White American as her ethnicity, and perhaps feel that she is betraying her Korean heritage or view her as an impostor or appropriator because she is not genetically Caucasian.

Transnational adoptees are not appropriators. Ironically, it is actually adoptees who have been appropriated. We were given (taken) without our consent and taken in possession by White American parents who then raised us as White American children who grew into White American adults, except for the irrevocable fact that we are not genetically White.

Hopefully you are beginning to recognize now that it truly is so much more complicated than the surface of our skin.

Some may say that a transracial-transnational adult adoptee wanting to claim White culture and ethnicity as part of her identity is a reflection of the failure of the adoptive parents to incorporate enough of her original culture into their lives. And you might be right that perhaps a particular set of adoptive parents did not incorporate the adoptee’s original culture and ethnicity into their family identity.

However, I think it is more an indication of an inherent and irrevocable consequence of transnational adoption. I think we have to realize and accept that removing a child from his origins and transplanting him into a foreign country will inevitably result in disconnecting the adoptee from his origins in ways that can never be replaced or rectified.

As the author of the article references and as I alluded to above, in America race and ethnicity are inextricable. This is understandable. But in an increasingly socially complex global community perhaps we need to allow our ideas and definitions of both race and ethnicity to be more flexible and open to evolution.

Whether you agree with the practice of transracial and transnational adoption, there’s no going back for those who are already here in America and have been raised within White families and White communities.

Adult adoptees need the freedom to form our own identities without people judging us or telling us what we have the "right" to claim. It’s time we be allowed to be authentic and true to not only who we feel and believe we are but to how we experience our own identities--in whatever way that may manifest for each individual.

We, as transnational and transracial adoptees, should not be barred from claiming our racial and ethnic origins nor should we be barred from claiming our experienced ethnicity. I, personally, feel BOTH White American and Korean American, because that is the inevitable intersection of my inherited origins and my experienced upbringing. Don’t tell me, “You’re not Asian, you’re basically White!” But furthermore, don’t tell me, “You’re not White, you’re Asian!”

I am both.

Because it isn’t nature versus nurture. It is nature and nurture. And adoptees are unwilling exemplifications of this classic debate and experiment in nature versus nurture. By nature, I am Asian. But by nurture, I am a White American. And I claim both. Whether you accept this or do not does not change the fact that I am.

Obviously, I know I’m not “White” by race. And I’m not trying to be. But the truth is that I was raised within a White family as a White child in a White community. And that truth will always be a part of my familial and ethnic history and experience, whether I prefer it or not. In the same way, my Korean origins are an undeniable part of my familial and racial history and experience, whether I prefer it or not. But it is now up to me how much of these experiences and inheritances I engage and cultivate as a part of my individual identity.

To be honest, for so long I felt ashamed to claim either. I felt ashamed to claim my Koreanness because of my experiences of racism and otherness. I felt ashamed to claim my Whiteness because I do not look White. But why should I be ashamed of either? And why should I allow the expectations and perceptions of others to be imposed on me and hold me back me from embracing who I am as a whole?

As I stated above, adult adoptees need the freedom to form our identities as we see fit. We need to have the capacity to create an identity that includes not only the color of our skin and the shape of our eyes but the sound of our music and the memories of our childhood. We did not have a choice about who adopted us or to what country we would be adopted. Conversely, we did not choose to whom we would be born or in what country we would originate.

But what we can choose is what pieces of each we want to claim and be. And if we change our minds along the way, do not accuse us of hypocrisy or flip-flopping--instead recognize that our circumstances demand that our identities be adaptable, and furthermore that they do not belong to you or to anyone else.

I hope we will continue to question and rethink the currently narrow and myopic concepts of race and ethnicity. Let's stop trapping people who need to cross the boundaries. Let’s stop demeaning them with terms like “twinkie” or “oreo” and so forth, and realize that our world and the individuals who compose it are far too complex and intricate to confine within a box of your making for your comfort.

Break out! It’s so much more fun and meaningful.


__________________


*Note: Some may note that I chose to reference "White American" as an ethnicity rather than "European American" (which would technically be more accurate). I realize that generally "White American" is not viewed as an ethnicity. I chose for the purposes of this article to use "White American" as an ethnicity because it seemed appropriate in the given context. Firstly, the issues discussed in this article are incredibly complicated. Therefore, I chose to use a broader term in order to try to simplify an already complicated discussion. Secondly, I wanted to emphasize that there is indeed a traditional culture and experience associated with being White American--just like with any other "ethnic" group. "White American" represents and connotes more accurately than does "European American," my cultural, familial, and social experience growing up in a White American family and community. Hence, again, I thought this emphasis necessary and relevant in the given context.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Better Late Than Never: A Guest Post from Noelle Sickels


I am a “late discovery” adoptee, a term I learned only recently. I’m also a historical novelist. These  self-definitions came together in a surprising way while I was researching my latest novel, Out of Love.

As a historical novelist, doing research is not only a job requirement, it’s also my favorite part of the work. My three previous novels were set, respectively, in 1852, 1886, and 1943. I read old diaries and old newspaper articles, and I immersed myself in the clothing styles, slang, and homemaking chores of those bygone years, all as a way to create characters whose emotions and actions would be true not only to their personalities but also to their situations and their place in time. Adoption wasn’t featured in any of those novels, but adoption is at the core of Out of Love. More specifically, the aftermath of adoption --- its emotional effects over the years on everyone involved, not only the “adoption triad,” but also siblings, the birth grandparents, and the spouses and children birthparents may have acquired after relinquishment.

The story in Out of Love is kick-started when a young man sends his birthmother a letter and then disappears. She plunges into a search for him, reluctantly enlisting the aid of the high school boyfriend who has never forgotten her. Being a dutiful historical novelist (and someone who loves libraries and investigating), I read scores of oral histories by birthmothers and birthfathers, I combed scholarly works on adoption issues, and I interviewed women who’d relinquished babies. Then, as I approached the part of the book where the missing young man would make his appearance, I started reading the stories of real-life adoptees. And came face-to-face, amazingly, with myself.

I’m not an adoptee in a formal, legal sense. I was raised by my mother and her husband, whom I always considered my father, a man who never showed by any word or deed that I was any different from my five siblings. My grandparents and aunts and uncles and a few of my mother’s close friends all knew the secret, but they, too, never let a single hint escape. And yet, I always felt different. Not inferior or discriminated against or deprived in any way, just different. As a child, I couldn’t have told you exactly what the difference was, or why I felt it. It was subtle, subterranean, out of the reach of words. But some air of the unknown must have hung about me --- in college, a boyfriend dubbed me a “black-haired enigma,” and, later, my best friend called me a “sphinx.”

I found out, definitively, after my mother’s death that my father wasn’t my father. I wasn’t told. Based on old letters found in my mother’s closet, I guessed. Then, slowly, I questioned, I dug. When I first knew for sure, when the first person said, “Yes, you’re right,” it wasn’t a shock. It was, instead a settling in, a sigh of relief almost, an affirmation and explanation of that strange difference I’d known all my life, the answer to a question I hadn’t even realized existed.

I have been digging now for years, ferreting out facts about my birthfather, trying to understand the long-ago emotions and motives of my mother and my two fathers. Lately, I’ve been talking about it. But in the beginning, I kept my discoveries and even the fact that I was searching at all a secret, even from people close to me. It was my story, the story of me and the people who made me by contributing genes, by making decisions about my fate, by raising me, but I felt like an interloper. To search felt like a transgression.
Without ever having been told the colossal secret, somehow my parents had trained me to keep it. I wanted to protect them from criticisms by others. I wanted to protect my new awareness and knowledge, to possess it fully myself before letting anyone else in on it, as if it were something that could be snatched away from me. Each time I prepared to contact someone I thought would have useful information, I had to build up my courage. Not one person disappointed me, yet every time, I went through the same nervousness before asking my questions, the same feeling that I should apologize for asking, that I was trespassing. I let long lapses of time pass between these interviews. Months. Years. I voluntarily put myself in limbo.

I had always thought these feelings were unique. And I thought they were mysterious, even weird. Until I began reading the stories of adoptees. I had never thought of the term “adoptee” in reference to myself. But again and again in the adoptee stories, I encountered familiar feelings: hesitancy in searching; a sense of responsibility for the needs of others; fear of being disloyal; satisfaction, even joy, at gaining knowledge, but continued, seemingly insatiable longing.
So I’m grateful to adoptees who openly explore and share the complex web of their feelings about themselves and their parents, and how it can shift over time. As much as any piece of census data or tiny black-and-white snapshot or reminiscence by an elderly relative or old love letter, the experiences of other adoptees have helped me make sense of my life. I, like anyone, am unique, but I’m also not unique. And that’s a good thing to know.