Saturday, March 2, 2013

"At Home, Abroad"

Race and adoption. That's my beat. But often I think of how conversations of race and adoption intersect and overlap with conversations about transnational adoption and identity. And, even further, how domestic, same-race adoption can evoke similar language of foreignness. In that middle shaded portion of an adoption Venn Diagram, "foreign" is a word we can all share.

Poet Jackie Kay was born in Scotland in 1961 to a Scottish mother and Nigerian father, and adopted by a Scottish couple at birth. In the poem "At Home, Abroad" from her collection Darling, she writes about dreaming of other countries, "places she's never been" which include not only Africa, the site of her paternal roots, but Scotland too, even though she grew up there.

As an adopted person, even the place where you grow up, your home, is a site of imagining, because your biological parents are not there--you must imagine them, draw them on paper to make them real, dream and ask questions that never have easy answers. Your home is not where you were born, not where the mother that bore you resides. So you are "foreign-ed," not so much because you are foreign, but because the space is emptied of a part of you. You might watch the faces around you, search for similarity, hope to find your biological parents one day. You dream of visiting a place where you would be foreign in all the expected ways but yet might feel at home because your roots-connection is there. In language that evokes the curiosity and wonder that begins in childhood, and for many of us continues even as we grow older and wiser on this adoption journey, Jackie Kay's poem explores these themes.

At Home, Abroad

All summer
I dream of
places I've never
where I might
see faces
I've never seen,
like the dark
face of my father in Nigeria
or the pale
face of my
mother in
the Highlands
or the bright
faces of my
cousins at
Land's End.

All summer
I spell the names
of tricky countries
just in case
I get a sudden
invite: Madagascar,
Cameroon. I draw
cartoons of
airports, big and small.
Who will meet me?
Will they
shake hands or
kiss both cheeks?
I draw
with every
country's favourite
sweetie, smiling
a sugary welcome,
and myself,
wondering if I am