Saturday, June 30, 2018

10 Lessons Being Adopted Taught Me

Adoptees On is a Podcast Hosted by Haley Radke.

1. I learned about being a minority.

Although my skin color is that of the dominant race, I learned early in life that I was part of a minority group.  I was told I was adopted at a young age, so as I grew up, I noticed that the overwhelming majority of people I knew were living in biological families.  In the 70’s,  you mainly learned about other families by spending time with them, reading about them, or seeing them on T.V.  My first realization about the differences was when I saw a neighbor breast-feeding her baby.  I think I went into shock because that was not something ever seen or talked about before in my home.

The Brady Bunch may have been a show I was attracted to because they were a non-traditional family in their time (step-family).  Although the kids were not “adopted” formally, each spouse informally adopted the other spouse’s children.  I did not feel ostrasized as a minority as a child; however, it is when I became an adult that I noticed the disparity of being adopted versus being biological.  You quickly become aware during conversations, or when you read obituaries or articles where certain members of families are singled out as “adopted” (why?) or you hear a joke being made about the “adopted kid” in the biological family (it’s not funny). “You never know what you are going to get” is a common thing I have heard about adopted kids, but the truth is, you never know what you are going to get with a biological kid either, but the point was . . . at least we know the bio kid is blood.  

Now days, these types of comments are referred to as micro-agressions. Five years ago,  I learned that my biological father was Latino and so it’s caused me to think about how I would have been treated differently had my immediate and extended family and community saw me as Latino and not White. 

2. I learned to Value Equality

I have been in favor of gay marriage as an adult for years.  I was so happy when it became the law of our land because it never made sense to me to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation.  It goes back to #1, being a minority.  I did not grow up with any gay relatives, nor as a child, did I know any adults who were gay (“gay” was the only term in my awareness at the time).

It wasn’t until I became an adult and worked with some folks who openly spoke to me about being LGBTQ+ that I began to understand more deeply. I now seek out this information via documentaries and follow political agendas of the anti-LGBTQ+ community. 

And being part of a minority myself, I believe it gave me an inherent understanding that, in neither of our cases (being adopted or being LGBTQ+), were these life circumstances a choice that we made.  Attempting to order my original birth certificate and my adoption file from the powers that be and being denied was when it really brought the inequality home to me personally.  As an adopted person, I am treated differently under the law than a biological person.  There is something deeply wrong with that picture.  If I am to value my own equality, I have to value others’ equality. 

3. I learned reunion cannot repair ruptured connections

It is not possible to repair a ruptured connection that took place at birth or shortly after birth.  Sure, a child can connect and bond with a different caregiver. And people can have positive reunions. However, the rupture of the original bond between mother and child can never be fully repaired.  Reunion is an attempt at re-gaining what was lost.  However, it is not possible to repair something as great as years of time that was missed out on.  Children need time and they bond closest to those who spend the most time with them.  Adoption creates a family out of strangers and strangers out of family[1]  Even in an open adoption, the one-on-one bond that feeding and playing, or just living in the same house creates, cannot be duplicated or repaired during an adult reunion.  My own reunion, while positive in many senses, brought this lesson to me in a big way.  What was broken in these primal relationships many years ago will never be fully repaired. 

 4. I learned about grief.

Growing up, I learned that my family’s way of dealing with grief was to bury your head in the sand. To basically not grieve.  When my beloved cats, Snooper and Sneaker died, there was no viewing the body, no talk of what happened, no burial, vet visits or backyard funeral.  I was told in an indirect way without the benefit of hugs and crying.  Even as adults, neither my brother or I were told when our paternal grandmother died in a home.  I asked about her one day and that is when I learned.  Again, no funeral or discussion about feelings.  It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I saw my grandma’s tombstone that I realized it was not engraved properly!  I wanted to do better with my kids.  We have had a  lot of pets and it is a family event to go to the vet when a pet is gravely ill.  We talk about it.  We cry.  We make decisions about euthanasia together.  We support each other through the grief.

Another big lesson about grief came when I had a miscarriage and entered therapy for grief.  Although my family of origin wanted to sweep it under the rug, I was forced to feel the full brunt of the reality of giving birth to a second term baby boy who was not alive.  I had an angel of an RN who helped me through the first stages of that process.   

Finally, my greatest lesson about grief was when our family adopted our daughter and I watched as her birth mother distanced herself and eventually walked away.  It threw me into a pit I had never experienced before and the grief of the loss of my own mother finally came to light.  It was excruciating to finally face the reality of my loss, after denying it for so many decades.

5. I learned to value family history

There is nothing like having zero access to your own family history to make you a huge fan of family history in general.  Family stories and ancestors have value to each and every one of us and when we don’t have access to that information, it can cause a lot of distress.  The rise of genealogy shows like “Finding Your Roots” on PBS and TLC’s “Who Do You Think You Are” is proof that almost everybody cares about where they come from, most of all those of us who don’t have the privilege of that information. In recent years, with the rise of DNA testing, I have become a huge fan of genetic genealogy and helping people in my community connect the dots.

 6. I learned identity is fluid and ever-changing

As an adopted person without any documented family history that I could get my hands on until mid-adulthood, I have looked back on how my identity has changed over the years.  Post-adoption,  I became the daughter of English, White, middle class, Presbyterians.  Then, as an adult, I became a city-living, Italian (people around me kept telling me I looked Italian) who rejected the values of my childhood and was a non-church attender. Later after I married and before we bought a house in a Catholic neighborhood, my husband and I lived in a poor neighborhood close to downtown. (I called it our “sociological experiment”). We became members of a Baptist church.  For a time, I volunteered in pro-life women’s clinics (my true self couldn’t stomach it, so this was a very brief period of time). Then later I became a pro-choice Catholic after identifying with the neighborhood we lived in and the school our son attended (plus I had learned my birth father was Catholic).  Our family was hugely involved in the neighborhood parish and I truly admired how Catholic families value their children’s education.

In my 40’s, learning my maternal birth family was upper middle class, huge football fans, dog lovers (cat 😻lover first and foremost here) and FOX-News watchers was a bit of a shock to my system. Learning that for generations my maternal family were married in the same Congregational Church was eye-opening  (never even heard of this Protestant denomination).  However, meeting them helped me to solidify my own beliefs, values and how I see the world.   

Today in my 50’s, I am a pro-choice, pro-LGBTQ+, animal loving, CCW toting, mixed race women who values equality, family, and peace. I vote Democrat for the most part but I have voted Republican.  I am Protestant now; however, I recognize I could be any Christian denomination and still have a deep love of God, Jesus and nature.   Our family purposefully chose where we now live because it is not considered being part of the country club neighborhoods that surround us to the north and to the south. We wanted our kids to experience as much diversity as possible in a mixed-class area of town with decent schools. Our neighbors are down-to-earth as are our friends.  I believe being adopted brought two paradoxical outcomes:  identity confusion and the freedom to create my identity in a way that allowed me to fully show my true self at that time it was evolving. Without the blood ties and historical expectations that many non-adopted children inherit, I was able to create my identity outside of those confines. I am feeling more solid than ever these days.

 7. I Value Family Preservation

I believe that families should be supported to stay together before the word adoption is ever uttered.  Does that mean I think it’s ok for kids to be abused?  Absolutely not.  However, if a biological parent is not available to parent, I believe that family members or close friends (kinship care) is the next-best-thing.  A child loses too much when they lose all connection to their family and community. This is also true for adoptive families who later rupture.  I do not believe open adoption mitigates these losses.  It helps but it can never fully repair the loss (see #3). Private Infant adoption allows one party (the mother) to relinquish a child and sever that child’s connection to their family and community.  There is no requirement that she seek a family member, in fact the law supports her to relinquish to strangers and to do it quickly.  

8. I learned to look at the adoption industry with a critical eye

The multi-billion dollar industry of infant adoption and international adoption needs a complete over-haul.  Paper orphans, coercion of mothers, leading parents to believe that adoption is just a form of educating kids in a foreign land, needs to stop.  Treating adopted people’s birth and adoption information as a state secret is wrong.  Unfortunately because we are a minority (see #1), our voices are not the loudest.  Adoptive parents will have to be the biggest supporters of change before anyone will truly listen to adopted people.

 9. It taught me about the freedom of creating your own family

Similar to identity being a social construct, I am a big believer in” you choose your family”.  This idea is supportive of adoption but also, more importantly, supportive of freedom in adulthood.  As children, we had no choice.  Biological or adopted, we got what we got. Some of us won the parent lottery – others did not.  The great thing about being an adult is you can create your own family any way you choose.  If that means no biological or adoptive family and it consists only of supportive and loving friends and neighbors, then that’s o.k.  You get to choose.

10. I learned about community

I saved this one for last because it is the biggest and most important lesson and blessing I have received by being adopted.  When invalidation comes walking through the door (which it invariably does being a public adoption blogger), I can turn to my community of adoptees, adoptive parents and birth parents who “get it”. They are always there. All I have to do is log into one of our private groups, attend
a support meeting or call a friend.. . . I have community and that means everything to me.  πŸ’“πŸ’“πŸ’“πŸ’“

Lynn Grubb lives in Ohio with her husband, daughter, dog, cat and two ferrets.  Visit her at NoApologies for Being Me.

[1] From the poem, “Paradox” by Lynn Grubb

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

ROUNDTABLE: Adoptees on Family Separation and Immigration Policy (Part 3)

ROUNDTABLE: As adoptees, the writers of Lost Daughters share a history of separation from family. This gives us insight into the trauma of separation and influences our response to the separation of children and parents as a result of immigration policy. How have the Lost Daughters been affected by recent news coverage of this practice of family separation? What action steps do we recommend? What do we want others to understand about our own experience of separation and its relevance to this issue?

Karen Pickell: The first thing I remember thinking when I became aware of the children being separated from their parents at the border is, why are government officials not keeping better records of where the kids are and who their parents are? Why are the parents not informed of where their children have been taken? Why are they not permitted contact with their children? And then I began contemplating the possible answers: Our government is deliberately losing these children in the system; they’re purposely transporting them far away from their families; they’re deliberately isolating them.

It’s no secret to any of us familiar with the adoption machine that this is how it’s always been done. When I was born, I was removed from my mother because I was slated for adoption, even though it would be five weeks before she legally surrendered me. I was held in what was called an infant home for a total of three and a half months before my prospective adoptive parents were matched to me and took me to their home. Other potential adoptees were held in foster homes or in orphanages, sometimes for years, prior to their adoptions. I can’t help making comparisons between what these migrant children are experiencing and what adopted people have experienced for many decades. The severing of a child from her birth family is the first step on a grief journey that can last a lifetime.

As Mila pointed out, there are many other historical examples in which the humanity of certain categories of people was disregarded and children were stolen from their families. This is, indeed, who we are.

Children, particularly very young children, are often expected to adapt easily to new homes and new caregivers. Shower them with the fruits of privilege—comfortable homes, new clothes, abundant toys—and they are expected to forget they ever had another family at all. We adoptees know better. We know it is impossible to forget. The children who have been taken at our border are living in a horror movie conceived and directed by our own government, and we are complicit for having put criminals into power in the first place and for not holding our elected officials accountable.

I do not think this horror story will end without sustained action from millions of us around the country. We as a nation have previously accepted genocide, slavery, orphan trains, internment camps, the Baby Scoop, Indian child removal, and adoptions of paper orphans from all over the world. We tolerate mass disruption of families due to disproportionate incarceration as well as the confusion of poverty with neglect. I am not at all confident that enough of us will stand up against this latest atrocity. I hope I’ll be surprised.

What can average citizens, and particularly adoptees, do? Call or write your elected representatives at all levels of government. Speak up, make noise about what’s happening whenever and wherever you can. Challenge anyone in your life who finds it acceptable to kidnap children from their parents. Tell your own adoption story, including its pain, grief, and injustice. Donate time or money to organizations working directly with those coming here seeking safety. Reframe the conversation by rejecting language that dehumanizes migrants and immigrants (for example, they are not "illegals," they are families seeking asylum).

Attend a Families Belong Together event near you on Saturday, June 30. Follow the Facebook page Adoptees for Reunification for more ideas on how to help these vulnerable families.

I want to add two final thoughts pertaining directly to adoptees. It’s valid and important to point out the similarity between our experiences and what’s happening to these migrant children, but I hope we can do so in ways that don’t detract from the priority of helping these families who are in desperate need at this very moment. And lastly, but importantly, don’t give energy to anyone who criticizes how you respond to this situation. Each of us is dealing with seeing and hearing and reading about this trauma in our own way and in our own time. No effort you make is too small, and taking breaks to practice self-care by experiencing joy in your own life will help you be more effective in the long run. Let’s be kind to each other.

Mila Konomos: Reading through Karen’s response prompted me to reflect a bit more personally about how these issues hit so close to home for me on so many levels.

There is of course, as already addressed, the experience as an adoptee of being separated from our families. We know the long-term psychological trauma that results from being forcibly removed from our mothers and origins. Watching and reading about these families being ripped apart brings that trauma to the surface again. I have found myself cycling through loss and grief, depression and anxiety. I have struggled with feeling paralyzed and re-traumatized by the images and stories of children being torn away from their mothers and loved ones. I have wept and cried on a daily basis. And as I watch my own children play, I cannot help but imagine the terror and devastation that both my children and I would experience were we to be forced apart--because I have already experienced that terror and devastation as an adoptee.

But I also want to add to the conversation the way this zero tolerance/family separation policy is experienced by an adoptee who is an immigrant of color.

As a transracial, transnational adoptee, I am also an (involuntary) immigrant of color, who is a naturalized citizen. Amidst the ongoing and increasing vitriolic anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies targeting immigrant families of color in particular, it is not a stretch to imagine myself being forcibly separated from my children, not only because I know what it feels like to be separated from one’s family, but also because I am an immigrant whose appearance is interpreted as a “perpetual foreigner.”

I know that for some the consequences of these policies may at times feel somewhat abstract and far off, because they do not directly affect your lives and families. But for someone who is a brown immigrant and naturalized citizen brought here through transracial, transnational adoption, the current policies and practices are terrifying and horrific, not simply because I can relate to the emotion of it, but because my face labels me among those that these policies and rhetoric target.

The consequences of this hysteria are not abstract or faroff. They are very real. They are very personal. They are here--in my home, with my children, in my daily life. When I am driving and a Border Patrol or police vehicle pulls up alongside my car, my heart rate jumps and my palms start sweating and all I can think about is my kids riding in the back seat and that I hope the agent in the car keeps driving. In the event that I do get pulled over, my husband actually recently asked me to start carrying my passport, particularly when driving in certain counties of our state, for fear that my driver’s license will not be sufficient proof of my citizenship. Because citizens who look like me get detained. My children keep trying to clarify where I was born and what it means to be a citizen.

These are some of the ways that my family and I are being affected by the zero tolerance/family separation policy emotionally and in our everyday lives.

And with each day that goes by with increasingly extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies permitted to thrive, it becomes less and less of a stretch that one day I myself may face being separated from my own children through detainment or deportation, simply for the color of my skin and the “foreign” origin of my body.

Von: I'm irate, outraged, sad and hoping it can be stopped.

Rebecca Hawkes: I have been struggling. Even though my domestic infant adoption story differs from the current situation in many ways, even though I ended up in a good adoptive situation, have good reunions with both parents, and have spent years working through my adoption issues to reach a place of peace and acceptance regarding my own separation and adoption story, current events are affecting my nervous system in a very powerful way. I keep finding myself opening and closing articles because I am too triggered by them to keep reading. I can only imagine what it is like for those who have the additional factors of immigration, race, or citizenship status as part of the personal experience connecting them to this issue. To be honest, I want to ignore this whole thing. I want to bury my head in the sand, to protect myself. But I can't. Yes, it is true that this is far from the first time our nation has been involved in separation of families, but this is the time when I have to choose which side of history to be on. I can't choose silence or inaction.

I'm trying to focus on action steps. (In addition to resources mentioned above and in part one of this series, I'll add I'm also thinking about ways that we as adoptees must push back against the foster-care/adoption "solution" that is already beginning to emerge.

This weekend, I encountered the following in an blog post by adoptee and educator Dr. John Raible:
One thing I'm clear about: The proper response to the current tragedy is NOT swooping in to "rescue" kids, as North Americans are prone to do, for example, after disaster strikes. Adoption industry professionals should take a hands-off approach and curb their self-serving child-snatching tendencies. 
Predictably, at least one cable news anchor, Mika Brezinsky, voiced the naivete of many well-meaning Americans, when she said she is thinking about fostering one of the refugee kids, as if that will solve the crisis. Keep in mind how eerily reminiscent of the Native child-snatching 'maternalists' (documented by Margaret Jacobs) such a naive response actually sounds."
As adoptees, we at Lost Daughters have been pushing back against the misguided "adoption fixes everything" narrative for years. As much as I want to be done talking about adoption and separation issues, I can't sit quietly as history repeats itself and the trauma cycle rolls on, with devastating effect for a new generation of children.

Further reading:
ROUNDTABLE: Adoptees on Family Separation and Immigration Policy (Part 1)

Monday, June 25, 2018

ROUNDTABLE: Adoptees on Family Separation and Immigration Policy (Part 2)

ROUNDTABLE: As adoptees, the writers of Lost Daughters share a history of separation from family. This gives us insight into the trauma of separation and influences our response to such things as the separation of children and parents as a result of immigration policy. How have the Lost Daughters been affected by recent news coverage of this practice of family separation? What action steps do we recommend? What do we want others to understand about our own experience of separation and its relevance to this issue?

Lynn Grubb: As I’ve watched this nightmare unfold, it has helped me to realize that prevention is key. #Keepingfamiliestogether isn’t just a hashtag, it’s a philosophy. If we truly want laws that prevent these types of situations, we have to become politically involved. We can’t sit idly by and allow our government to commit these types of atrocities on innocents. The parents may have broken the law; however, the kids had no choice. I truly believe the current administration separated children from their parents to send a message to others: “you too will be punished”. As Mila points out, this is not a new strategy to get people in line; however, in no way should it be tolerated in a democracy.

Mila Konomos: First of all, thank you, Lynn, for acknowledging that the current types of policies being enforced have no place in democracy. Obviously, I absolutely agree.

I appreciate what you shared because it has provided the opportunity to clarify certain points as well as deepen the discussion.

In particular, I would like to further clarify your reference to “The parents may have broken the law; however, the kids had no choice.” I want to help educate and inform others about the complexities

Firstly, actually, not all of these families have “broken the law.” And in fact, quoting Raymond Partolan, who is both a local immigration paralegal for Kuck Immigration Firm as well as a Dreamer,

“For those of you saying you support “legal immigration to the United States,” but are outraged by the people seeking asylum at our southern border, please understand that presenting yourself at the border for asylum after having fled persecution in your country is perfectly legal and one of the four ways you can legally immigrate to the US. Please educate yourselves.”

In short, there are families presenting themselves voluntarily at ports of entry to the U.S. pleading for asylum, which again is a perfectly legal form of immigration.

And prior to the current administration’s policies of zero tolerance and family separation, which has suddenly criminalized asylum seekers, the U.S. could follow the procedures of “the Family Case Management Program, which allowed families to be placed into a program, together, that connected them with a case manager and legal orientation that ensured they understood how to apply for asylum and attend immigration court proceedings.” (Amrit Cheng, ACLU)

This program actually had a 99.6% appearance rate--meaning that almost 100% of the asylum seekers in this program were showing up to their immigration court hearings.

This program is a successful example of not only a more humane solution for those coming to the border seeking refuge and asylum, but it also happens to be a less costly one (for all of you concerned about fiscal responsibility).

But sadly, Trump ended this program in 2017 in response to the announcement to begin using family separation as a deterrent strategy.

Furthermore, to say that these parents have broken the law, while perhaps technically true in some cases (but again, not all) unfortunately has the result of criminalizing their desperation and suffering.

To quote one of my favorite poets, Warsan Shire:

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.

I think the poem eloquently and poignantly summarizes the complexity of the circumstances fleeing immigrants face. They’re not showing up at the border because they don’t respect the law. They’re not pleading for asylum after making the most horrendous journey of their lives because they want to break the law.

They’re arriving at the border because they’re desperate. As Warsan Shire wrote, “no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark, you only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well, you only leave home when home won’t let you stay, ”

These families are selling all they own to make a treacherous and uncertain journey that could end in rape, violence, even death, not because they don’t care about the laws of this nation, but because their realities allowed them no other option. And if you can honestly imagine yourself in their shoes, would you feel any differently? Would you not have felt as though you had no other option?

As adoptees, we know the circumstances our original mothers faced. They were powerless. They truly felt they had no other choice than to relinquish us to strangers. Their situations in reality did not allow them a true choice.

Similarly, immigrants crossing into America have fled circumstances which also did not allow them a true choice.

Hence, to say that the children had no choice, while true, negates the reality that their parents also felt they had no other choice--or once again in the powerful words of Shire, “no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”

And ultimately, “when injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.”

Laws are there to serve humankind, not the converse. Hence, when humankind uses the rule of law to inflict cruelty upon its fellow human, then the law must be broken.

In the U.S., it was once the law that a white person and a black person could not marry. It was the law that white and black people could not eat in the same restaurants or drink from the same water fountains or use the same restrooms. It once was the law that Chinese people could not immigrate to this country. And in the hysteria of WWII, the rule of law demanded that 120,000 Japanese Americans be held in concentration camps, i.e., prisons, simply for being of Japanese descent, while around the same time, Operation Wetback, an immigration law passed in 1954 resulted in the deportation of 1.3 million Mexicans.

I share these examples to demonstrate that the simple existence of a law does not automatically mean it is a good law nor that it must be upheld or enforced, particularly when it is a law that legislates cruelty and dehumanization of our fellow humankind.

Click here for part 1 of this conversation.
Part 3 will be published at tomorrow

Sunday, June 24, 2018

ROUNDTABLE: Adoptees on Family Separation and Immigration Policy (Part 1)

ROUNDTABLE: As adoptees, the writers of Lost Daughters share a history of separation from family. This gives us insight into the trauma of separation and influences our response to the separation of children and parents as a result of immigration policy. How have the Lost Daughters been affected by recent news coverage of this practice of family separation? What action steps do we recommend? What do we want others to understand about our own experience of separation and its relevance to this issue?

Julie Stromberg: I am completely distraught over what is happening. As a person who was literally taken from my mother's arms, placed in foster care, and then sent to live with a new family, I'm extremely sensitive to the trauma that these parents and children are enduring right now. Particularly the children, however, because of the shared experience aspect.

As a Catholic Charities adoptee, I have also been paying close to attention to the reactions of religious institutions to this matter. Many, including the Catholic Church, are speaking out about how it is morally and ethically wrong to separate children from their parents. Yet, religious institutions, again including the Catholic Church, run adoption agencies and actively fight against adoptees gaining equal rights under law to non-adoptees. The best interests of the children is often not the primary concern.

As soon as I heard that Bethany Christian Services is in charge of fostering the children sent to Michigan, my heart sank even lower. Our government has put a private, religiously-affiliated organization that operates a large adoption agency in charge of the children's well-being.

And hundreds of children have been sent to New York City, apparently without the mayor's knowledge. Not sure what organization is charged with the children's well-being there.

My fear is that these children will soon be lost to the United States Adoption Industrial Complex. There does not seem to be a family reunification plan. And what are the chances that our government has drafted any documentation connecting the children to their families of origin?

Our government has created a modern dystopian nightmare.

julie j: Honestly, I've found it to be triggering. When I lost my mother, I was about the same age as the little girl they have been showing on the news. The crying tapes is hard to hear. Any parent knows the instinct is to go to the child & comfort them. Harder still is the validation by all the medical experts on how traumatizing it is for young children to be separated from their families. How can they not recognize that adoptees go through the same damn thing?

Mila Konomos: Before answering the specific questions presented, I feel compelled to state that the practice of family separation, and in particular, removing children from their families is not a new practice in America.

If we are to address what is currently happening, we must first acknowledge what has already happened, and what has been happening for generations in this country--that ultimately this nation of the so-called United States of America was and continues to be built upon the ongoing and repeated practice of forcible separation of families en mass. In short, what is going on now is simply a continuation of the American tradition of (to quote fellow Korean Adoptee, Kevin Haebom Vollmers) "systemic White America separating, destroying, pillaging, appropriating, and commodifying Brown families and bodies, something we've been doing as a country to the Native and POC communities even before we were a nation."

It began when the first colonizers came to this land, stole it from the indigenous people through genocide and brutality, and ultimately ripped indigenous children from their families to live in orphanages and eventually forced them to live with White families. It continued with generations of slavery that violently separated families to be sold off piecemeal as property--and in present day manifests as the thinly veiled practice of taking black children away from their families only to be given over to the anti-black systems of foster care and adoption along with disproportionate rates of incarceration of Black Americans that also results in the separation of families. 

We saw it during the baby scoop era between the 1950s and 1970s, when babies were snatched from the arms of unwed mothers and given to those deemed more worthy. During the same period, as a direct result of the Korean War, Korean children separated from their families served as the foundation for a lucrative international adoption industry that reached all around the world from China to India to Ethiopia to Uganda to Guatemala to Colombia and on and an extension of White American imperialism and expansion via the separation of families.

Furthermore, let us not forget how America separated families through anti-immigrant policies such as the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese internment camps, and Operation Wetback, to name just a few.

When we remember history, we see without question that America has always used the tactic of separating families to its advantage, and in particular to assert and maintain its power, not only within the borders of this stolen land but around the globe.

Don’t get me wrong--I am grateful for the outrage and compassion that many Americans are demonstrating and allowing to compel them to action during this most recent spree of family separations.

But that so many seem to respond as though this is a newly terrible practice shows a gross ignorance of this nation’s brutal and violent history of separating families.

With that said, I am one of those who was separated from my family as a result of America’s shameless imperialism and sense of entitlement spawned from White American Christian exceptionalism and privilege. I was separated from my Korean mother and sent to a land far away to grow up among foreign people who neither looked like me nor valued my origins.

My American mom tells the story of how I wailed and cried incessantly for days. No amount of rocking, shushing, soothing, holding assuaged my distress. She even took me to the doctor, thinking that perhaps there was a physiological ill or pain causing my implacable terror. But still I wailed on. At one point, my mom started frantically flipping through television channels hoping to stumble upon something that might appease me. And to her surprise, she did. As she hurried through the different t.v. stations, she happened to come upon a voice that was speaking in the language of Korea. My mom says it was almost like a switch had flipped, and my crying stopped instantaneously. I was only 6 months old at the time.

I share this to emphasize just how early on in our lives we are aware of who we are and from whom we come.

As a 6-month old infant, I knew that my language was the language of Korea. The second I heard it, I knew it sounded like home. I knew it was the language of my mother, of my people that had been spoken to me, to soothe me, to comfort me. And I have never forgotten. And I never will.

Decades later, I still long for what I lost. And decades later, watching this country choose to rip children away from their mothers and fathers is as though I am watching my early life unfold again and again before me. Reliving the excruciating trauma of losing my mother, my family, my origins again and again. I feel simultaneously paralyzed and compelled to action. I feel simultaneously devastated and full of rage.

I don’t have to imagine what it must feel like for these children as they’re being ripped away from their mothers and families. I know what it feels like.

To tear any child from her mother, from his father, from her family at any age is inherently traumatic and life-changing. Doctors, psychologists and social workers, the American Academy of Pediatrics--they all know this. And yet, this is not a truth that we need science or doctors to teach us. Deep down, we all know this to be true, especially those of us who are parents ourselves.

When I see, hear, read about the ICE agents voluntarily and willingly separating children from their mothers, I want to weep and scream all at once. I want to cuss. It assaults me in the deepest recesses of my being, as though every cell in my body remembers the utter terror and distress that my 6-month old self experienced after being taken from my Korean mother and placed into the arms of strangers.

The current images and sounds of children being torn away from their families stirs that primal wound I carry within and wrenches me to speak out, to stand up, to take action.

Please, I plead with you all, to take action. Call your senators and representatives. Join a local march, rally, or protest. Donate your time and money to organizations and groups fighting for immigrants’ rights (such as the ACLU, National Domestic Workers’ Alliance, Southeast Immigrants Rights Network, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice). More specifically, you can donate to the Deportation Defense Fund or to help provide financial assistance for DACA renewal. Use your social media accounts to push back and speak up. These are just a few of the ways you can support and help those who are being impacted by the current regime’s anti-immigrant policies.

And understand that even when children are not being taken from their parents at the border, immigrant families are being separated in your towns and cities through the terror of ICE raids, check-ins, and local law enforcement. They’re detaining fathers, uncles, brothers, mothers, daughters, sisters indefinitely in far-off detention centers (i.e. prisons) that are often hours-long drives away from their families.

To address these types of family separations, which are just as traumatic and cruel, we need to support local campaigns working toward disrupting cooperation between local law enforcement and ICE. Volunteer at voter registration drives. Volunteer to be a poll monitor. Volunteer to work on local campaigns with clear pro-immigrant platforms. Connect with local groups that offer free Know Your Rights Clinics or Citizenship Clinics. To end family separation, we cannot simply demand an end to separation at the border, rather we must address the larger issue of anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy.

This issue of family separation is rooted in broader, deeper issues of power and oppression. And such injustices and terrors will continue to be inflicted upon marginalized individuals and populations, and will continue to be used as a tactic to assert and maintain power, if we do not extricate the roots feeding these cruel and inhumane policies and practices.

This issue is ultimately an issue of humanity. And one that is as primal and as universal to humanity as is the need for food and water--a child’s need and longing for our mothers, our fathers, our families from which our beings were born. Mothers and fathers are not disposable or interchangeable. And you certainly cannot tear a child from his mother or father without inflicting profound and lasting trauma.

We can do better. We must do better.

People continue to claim that this nation is a nation of laws. Then I appeal to you, that ultimately there is no law higher than the law of love. There is no law above the law of love.

So then, let us obey the law of love and strive to keep families together no matter from where they have journeyed and no matter from whom they have come.

Let us honor the humane and compassionate ideal that all humans have the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And let us remember the words adorning the Statue of Liberty that call out, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Part two of this conversation will be published at tomorrow.