Sunday, November 13, 2016

For Adoptees, the Fight Continues

This month has been difficult for many. In the adoptee community, November is usually spent spotlighting adoptee voices for National Adoption Awareness Month, but for many of us our attention has been turned towards an American presidential election that has turned more unbelievable at every turn. Many of us watched the results in horror and disbelief thinking, maybe the country isn’t as progressive as we thought it was.

It made me think about attitudes towards adoption and adoptees - are things really changing?

On September 13th, I received an email from Al Jazeera about participating in their online show, The Stream. They were searching for transracial adoptees who had decided to move back to their countries of birth. Although I didn’t fit the exact profile they were looking for, they still asked me to submit a video comment. I did, and I tuned in on Thursday, September 29 to watch the show.

Tadesse speaking out on Al Jazeera's The Stream
The show featured three adoptees: Heran Tadesse an Ethiopian adoptee from the Netherlands, Caspar Erickson, a Korean adoptee from Denmark, and Holly McGinnis, a Korean Adoptee from the United States. The three adoptees were also joined by Elizabeth Bartholet, an adoptive mom and the director of the child advocacy program at Harvard Law School.

The host, Femi Oke asked the adoptees a few questions about their experiences growing up, which lead to a discussion about identity. Tadesse said she lost her traditional culture and she had to relearn her language, which is why she moved back to Ethiopia.

Oke then asked Bartholet, the adoptive mom of two, how her children dealt with their identity growing up. Bartholet she said that all children struggle with identity, and she did not that think there were “major traumatizing psychological issues build into the idea of being adopted.” Bartholet went on to say “that are way worse things that kids go through.”

Whoa, I thought to myself. I know that she doesn't represent all adoptive parents, but she was sharing the same platform with adoptees to spout such potentially damaging rhetoric. How many others had consulted with her because they viewed her as an adoption expert? How many adoptive parents had gone to her with their questions?

Later on in the show, I tweeted in and I suggested that parents take the fees from adoption agencies (which can be upwards of $50,000) and spend it on supporting families. Potential adopters (or anyone, really) can support mothers by supporting organizations like Haitian Families First so mothers are not pressured into relinquishing their children in exchange for medical care or a chance at an education.

Bartolett scoffed at the suggestion and said that “it’s not going to happen.” Why? Because it’s not how the adoption system works.The widespread belief is that children living in poverty need new families. For adoptees, biology gets pushed down on the list of priorities, but having your basic needs met and knowing your family history are both important in the development of a healthy child.

As an adoptee who has benefitted greatly from my circumstances. I have never shied away from acknowledging and appreciating everything I have gained through my adoption. But I also won't shy away from lamenting the things I have lost. I can express both of these feelings at the same time. And people still don’t understand that. I try not to read the negative comments on news websites and blogs, but I have been called an “ungrateful bitch” because I went back to search for my family in Haiti. I’ve been told to go back to my “shit hole” of a country if I was so unhappy. I’ve been accused of being a “spoiled little brat” because I wanted to know more about my history. Because I’ve expressed how hard it was to grow up not really knowing who I was. And while these comments are from people able to hide behind the anonymity of the internet, these sentiments reflect the general attitude towards adoptees speaking out - "You're lucky, so be quiet."

With adoptee centered blogs, books, conferences, and documentaries, it seems that we are making progress with how we view adoption, right? Sometimes I’m not so sure.

Like many Americans who felt disappointed and angry with the results of the election, their feelings were rooted in their previous perception that things were changing. But here we are. Still fighting an uphill battle it seems.

Adoptees are still fighting to change the conversation about adoption. We fight it every time we speak up, write a book, host a podcast, film an interview. We challenge the idea that adoptees must stay silent or only express their gratitude. Instead, adoptees should be allowed to express a wide range of emotions when it comes to their adoption experience. And it’s going to take adoptees speaking out and continuing to fight to change the adoption narrative so the next generation of adoptees will benefit.

Mariette Williams (@mariettewrites) is a transracial adoptee born in Jeremie, Haiti. She was adopted at the age of three and grew up near Vancouver, B.C., Canada. She founded Haitian Adoptees, a Facebook group that serves to connect and offer support to other Haitian adoptees. In July of 2015, she reunited with her birth mother and several members of her birth family. She lives in South Florida with her husband and two children. In addition to being a Journalism and literature teacher, she is a published author and supporter of international adoption reform.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Motherly Rejection

I have been rejected twice in my short life, it all begun when I was born or even before my actual birth. My maternal grandmother rejected me decided that I was not know my blood relatives. She thought that six young daughters was enough, a married woman with no son was worth next to nothing. The husband had reason to divorce his wife should she fail to give birth to a son. It was told to me years later that since my birthmother was dying they all feared she would not survive.

Karen Grassle aka Mrs Ingalls and daughters in Little House on the Prarie 

At the time of my birth social workers and adoption agencies fully covered the birth mother's medical bill for her treatment and it is a fact that my birth parents were empoverished when I was born so I suspect they needed the money more than another mouth to feed. Easy solution I get a better life and my birth mother gets treatment and can focus on the daughters' that she has.

They say Korea is hierarchial society and that may be true, but a woman who has given birth to eight children is the matriarch in her family. I learned this just recently after my second trip back, my mother has advised everyone to give me a cold shoulder, I longed for her love and confrimation yet now when we have met she is choosing to dishonor me. Perhaps I was not what she imagined, maybe she believed I was more like her and less Western. Fact is that I was raised in a Western country and people generally believe Europe and Scandinavia is an affluent part of the world, and supposedly it did not help that my birthfamily already was familiar with the Western world since one of their daugthers married a European, settled in Europe and raised a family.

Eleanor Parker as Baroness von Schraeder in Sound of Music 
Unconciously, I believe that they assumed I was the female equivalent of my older brother-in-law, it is true that I may have had something similar to material wealth but my APs were never rich. Yes, it does cost a lot of many to adopt and my parents did it twice. But my APs belong to the middle class not even upper middle class. Both mum and dad have since long retired and me and my (adoptive) brother still struggle with trying to finish our upper studies.

My birth father was a warm, generous, caring but timid man. It hurts me to think that my father might suffer and secretly still want to maintain in contact. All of because of my birth mother and his wife, we cannot.I realize now that I have always missed the unconditional love from my first father, and even though my birth mother made sure that her opinion was the final one.  She has deprived me of my birth father, intially when I first initated the birth family search all I could think of was my birth mother. Since I failed to keep my end of the bargain I'm of no use to her.

I know I am fortunate for being able to locate and meet my supposed birth parents. I located my birth parents in 2004, eventually I reunited with them in 2010. Meet them again in 2011 and by 2012 the Special Adoption law was ratified to protect birth parents identites from being given to adoptees. Instead it seems like some adoptees are able to be reunite with their birth families much thanks to DNA.

When I located my supposed birth parents the scientific research was not developed for that purpose yet. Unless I have scientific proof for something I tend to disbelief it. Mom especially wants me to stop second guessing that my birth parents aren't actually my burth parents. The reason for that is that my birth involves exraordinary circumstances just as my birth mother's health has similiar extraprdinary circumstances.

Fortunately, science is availble for adoptees and birth families. However it is only recently available so the highest likelihood of getting a DNA match is if you have a birth parent with another ethnicity. Koreans rarely relies in DNA, secondly adoption is still considered a huge stigma. Statistically perhaps only a couple thousand adoptees will find blood relative from DNA.

The truth is this, I blame my adoptive mother for my adoption separation. I would have been content and happy living with my peasant birth family even if they were- and still is poor. Why do I blame my adoptive mother then? The reason why my APs decided to pursue adoption is because my A mom was infertile. My A mom reminds me of the mother that I lost and never got a chance to know as a child. My A dad would have been able to father his own natural children if it had not been for my A mom. Perhaps my dad actually has older biological children out there...

That's at least technically possible.

I really wish my AP's wouldn't feel like their decision to adopt me through intercountry adoption as an infant was justified. They still consider that they saved me from a difficult life in poverty without any chance of a proper education or a decent life,

Even though I most likely would have been poor, I would still have my birthparents and older siblings in my life. That's not insignificant and the importance of blood or biological ties should not be underestimated. I was legally removed from my birthparents and instead placed with strangers.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

In My Next Life

Mother will you
be my mother
in heaven.
Will I
 recognize you?
Mother, will you be
mum in my next life ?

Is my loss not real
Did it not happen
Should I dry my tears
Put on a smile
Even if it feels
Like I'm breaking inside

Mother are you still my mother?
I know I am your daughter
You once gave birth to me
Even if you cannot remember
I will always mourn
The loss of you

Friday, September 23, 2016

Adult Adoptee Mold

source Songgwangsa

I recently learned that even among my fellow adoptees and countrymen , unfortunately my outlook on life after my epiphany is not accepted by them. According to some or most of them my reunion experience or the simple fact that I know who my birth family is-should not and cannot be considered as life altering or the thing that will make my happy and complete my life.

Excuse me, but do they know me and my struggle or my circumstances, most of them don't. To me my reunion was everything they say it cannot be. It was life altering, an epiphany and it did complete my life. Please don't try to belittle my experience or underestimate it's impact on my life. Once again I am reminded that there are no manuals, instructions or general understanding one how we as adult adoptees and females are supposed to live our lives. So far I know that my views on my own life are not generally accepted, acknowledged or even respected. To be honest I feel like an outsider among the already stigmatized. Sadly to say... Some of them believe me to be a radical, extremist or rebel but I cannot see how my honest conviction and devotion towards my first family would make a person with these kind of views...


I don't keep clining on to the past, I assure you but my past have influenced my life so I acknowledge that. To know who we are most of us most know who we were in the beginning of our lives. Anxiously and eagerly I look forward to a future where I can embrace my Korean heritage and learn to know my biological siblings.

Of course I realize it will not be easy but life rarely is easy, without challenges in life we cannot grow as people or learn from our mistakes. The family dynamics in a birth famiy were one family member was raised in other family is not uncomplicated. Especially not if you now find yourself separated by different languages and cultures.

If there is a will there is a way, and my love for them will never alter or disappear completely or eternally. I am a member in my birth family-one of them, another daughter to my Korean mother and father and a sister to my seven siblings. Never will I deny how much I love them or what they mean to me, knowing about them has altered my life. Getting to know them has made me determined not to settle for less -or relive my mother's destiny or repeat the choices that my sisters' made.

Maybe I have struck a nerve, what I encontered during my last experience with the KAD community was a mixture of fear, jelaousy , anger and sorrow. If it was it is no excuse to make me feel like I don't belong like I should have to abandon my opinions and lifestyle and cobcious chooses that I made so far... If you have not walked a mile in my shoes you have no reason or right to judge me. I am proud to be an ethnic Korean, more so than I am to be an adoptee or more so a Swedish adoptee. Because the adoptees that I have come to know, rather superficial is not people I would like to be associated with just like I at times am ashamed to be a Swedish adoptee.

Recently my dad commented and said something like "do you really think it's that special to be an ethnic Korean", comments like these. Makes me ashamed of my adoptive parents and the society where I was raised and grew up. I don't think it's special to be an ethnic Korean it is just another ethnicity. But it is important to say that you're a South Korean, not just any Asian. In that regard it becomes significantly important. The thing is though parents loves their children unconditionally, and somehow soceity assumes that every child therefore most love their parents.

My Amom and I have a very complicated relationship, I love her I do, but I wish my love wouldn't be assumed or taken for granted. I wish my love for the woman that raised me would be appreciated for what it actually is. That love is sacred it's the same exact love that I would have developed for my birth parents. The love I share for her has never been at the expense of my birth parents. I still love my birthparents and even all my siblings.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Black Diversity in Canada and The Importance of a Global #BlackLivesMatter Movement

By D. Mathieu Cassendo

The growth of BlackLivesMatter protests beyond U.S. borders highlights the urgency of dealing with anti-black racism and systemic inequality globally. For me, this movement really inspires hope and change. Here in Canada, anti-black racism is usually denied, ignored, played down as well as the racism and colonization that has played a part in the creation of what we know today as Canada. As a black Canadian of Ethiopian origin, raised in Quebec by anglophone white parents in a completely white and rural environment, I was disconnected from black people for three quarters of my life, but that changed when I moved to Montreal. Suddenly, I was surrounded by a diversity of black people, from the French and English-speaking Caribbean and also from Francophone West Africa. I was happy for the diversity but I could not relate: I didn't feel like I belonged to a culture, most likely because I didn't know anything about Ethiopian culture at the time. I felt closer to black Americans because they were the only black people I saw, but only on TV and in movies. I also admired them for having survived years of oppression and coming out victorious, by carving out a space for themselves as an essential fabric of American society. I used to wonder why I didn’t see the same type of progress and advancement in Quebec and in the rest of Canada; after all we have a history of slavery and institutionalized anti-black racism here too. 

I often have conversations with my black American friends about the black Canadian identity. I self-identify as Ethiopian and black. For me, identifying as black is a way of honoring my connection and commitment to other people of African descent and our shared experiences of racism, discredit, marginalization, resistance, amazing resiliency and brilliance that spans five continents and thousands of years. At the same time, it's not accurate for me to call myself a black Canadian: I am Afro-Canadian or Ethiopian-Canadian. Sadly, many people are unaware of the original black Canadian communities (Africville, Nova Scotia and Priceville, Ontario for example) were very small and have been hidden or largely destroyed. The other reason is that most black Canadians tend to identify more with their ethnicity or their family's country of origin. It’s not that we want to deny our blackness, it’s that we don’t really have a shared cultural black Canadian identity or one that can be easily identified. Also, in places like Quebec, linguistic and cultural differences separate English and French-speaking black communities--some may even consider themselves Quebecers and not Canadian. This speaks to the diversity of black communities in Canada and the issues affecting us, depending on where we live. Nonetheless, we do have a lot in common; we face the same systemic racism, whether it is racial profilinghigh rates of unemployment, under-representation in private and public sectors and over-representation in prisons. One difference is that English-speaking black people are more disadvantaged and marginalized because of provincial legislation on language, making it difficult to access employment and various health and social services in English, especially if they live outside of Montreal.  Still, the biggest challenge that we face is pushing back against nationalist discourses in Quebec which tend to avoid honest and frank discussions about race, instead there is usually focus on "learning and celebrating the cultural diversity of Quebec" and on integrating immigrants (i.e. making sure they learn French), but very few on racism.

Luckily, in the last couple of years, Montreal has seen a surge of black, indigeneous and people of color organizing. There’s been quite a bit of direct action bringing issues of racism and islamophobia into the foray, just recently Quebec Inclusif has started a petition asking for a public commission on systemic racism. There’s also many conferences and events (I cannot keep up anymore) on a myriad of issues such as black Afro-feminism in Quebec and France, mental health, birth justice, afro-futurism, black wealth, transracial adoption and more. Perhaps we were having these discussions before but I obviously didn’t know about them. In any case, I feel a great sense of relief: after all these years, I’m seeing more people who look like me take political action, organize festivals and sit on academic panels talking about issues that relate directly to me and to my experience.

The #BLM movement has definitely helped shine a light on the conditions of black communities here, however I would argue that it has helped empower us more to speak up than it has given visibility to injustices we face, specifically because the classic response is “well, there is more racism in the U.S. than there is here”. This response irks me to my core because it not only dismisses our experiences (as if they weren't a result of systemic racism), but it's also a convenient way to shut down a conversation that needs to be had. I'm tired of educating my peers about systemic racism, but at the same time, I recognize that I need to cease these opportunities to set the record straight.

I think the huge outpouring of support for #BLM has unsettled some people because they did not realize or chose not to realize (because they had the luxury) that deep-seated inequalities are intertwined with their personal privilege and the onus is on them to act positively and not to look away. As one of my favorite writers Brené Brown says, "we can't have real conversations about race without talking about privilege and when people start talking about privilege, they get paralyzed by shame". I truly believe that adopting anti-racism as a practice requires serious introspection, honesty, a commitment to un-learning, learning and listening to what people of color have to say, without judgment. It's not an easy feat, but it is do-able.

My support for #BLM is not just about resisting white supremacist modes of existing in the world, but more about love - for myself and for others. I also think it is important to remember communities of African descent who experience the most severe oppression are communities that we barely hear of, who live in places like India, Iran, Mauritania, Palestine, and the Pacific coast of Colombia to name a few. My hope is that #BLM, which was founded by Queer Black Women will continue to be globalized and that it will incite people to work in solidarity with communities who lack access to getting their voices heard in hopes that they too, can get the human rights and dignity that they deserve. After all, Black Lives Matter because all lives should be treated with the same value.

Kassaye is an Ethiopian adoptee who lives in Montréal, Québec. She is the co-founder of Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora and is currently working on an anthology entitled, Lions Roaring Far From Home featuring the voices of Ethiopian adoptees from North America, Europe and Australia.

Black Lives Matter image (used with permission): by D. Mathieu Cassendo, who is a comic artist, illustrator and painter based in Montreal. You can follow her on facebook at D.Mathieu Cassendo:: BD or visit her website.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Questions with Lost Answers

When I decided to begin my birth family search all those years ago it was my interest, need and curiosity to know my biological roots that spurred me. I wanted a chance to meet my mother and father and I also wanted to know my exact time of birth. I do not have any details of my birth all I know is that I was born in a certain Red Cross hospital somewhere in Korea, I was transfered to an orphanage and hospital in Seoul very soon after my birth. That is why I used to believe that I really was born in Seoul when I actually was born in a much smaller region. That I know now.


My younger brother, the oldest of the two and the brother whom I am not related to but connected to legally, his circumstances are not anything like mine. He knows when he was born, whereas I most likely never will, I will have to accept I probably never will know my exact time of birth. I have an estimated birthday, but there is nothing written about my mother's pregnancy other than that it was a normal pregnancy.

Which I now know and suspect may be a reconstructed truth. The truth is my birth mother was in very poor health I suspect she might have contructed pre-eclampsia which could result in the infant being born with jaundice like I was. I was also malnourished--- while my brother was not, neither of my brother were.

I have all this information, faces and memories yet since there were very unfortunate circumstances surrounding my birth the one person whom usually knows the answer, does not know a thing. Besides my birth there no memories apart from a few pictures and journals in my adoption file that bear witness of my first 100 days in life. Yes, the hospital staff might know if they remember but it seems to be unneccessary to try to locate someone in a hospital 30 years later. Millions of babies have been born, and babies are born every day. They could know something about my mother's birth-most likely though is that they do not remember.