Saturday, November 30, 2013

So What If I'm Asian

It is the 21st century now and has been for over a decade.  As a woman I would like to imagine--if not believe--that feminism has gotten further than the 60s bra burning and the 70s sexual revolution. That it is alright for young women like myself to want to have a carrier, a husband, and a family.

Since I recently began my first job, something rather strange has happened.  My boss has told me not to laugh or joke too much at work. And I think you all know what happens when you know there are certain things you can't do - like laugh. If you happen to start laughing then you will laugh even louder, longer and harder.

I am young and a woman - someone has even said that I am beautiful.  At least once I have been told that I am too wild and beautiful - I am not sure if that was a joke. At work I wear a uniform and, since I have been unemployed for many years, I decided to start dressing smart once I got a job. The thing is, I like clothes and fashion, I admit I like to dress smart even on a weekday. I like to think I can get away with wearing whatever I like. I often wear a dress and high heels or skinny pants and boots which might be provocative or too sexy for some but honestly speaking--I don't care. It is my body and I should be able to decide what I'd like to wear to and from work - I wear a uniform at work so what's the deal ?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Packing Up the Past

I'm sitting here, surrounded by boxes with a cup of tea in my hand, thinking about how much STUFF I have to do over the next few weeks and months. I have to get this room packed, so I can move on to the next room, and then the next, until we finally move and then I have to unpack all of this stuff, reorganize, and then adjust to a new home and setup. I've been cleaning out as I go, throwing out what's trash, donating what I can, and saving only that which needs to be saved.

As I've been going through everything, I've run across a few items that I forgot I had. It's so funny to me that I forgot. Only a few years ago those items felt like everything. I had the benefit (or curse) of reuniting with my natural family during the digital age. Most of those first pieces of communication were electronic. It was wonderful because it meant for the most part instant gratification. I could read the latest email the second it was delivered to my inbox, mere seconds after it was written. I could pull up the photos that were attached with minimal effort wherever I was with my phone. In this world of texting and chatting, I had access, something that I'd waited my entire life for. And then one day, almost overnight, it was all gone.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Foster Focus: National Adoption Day

K. Dahlquist & R. Bangert 
Today is National Adoption Day, a day to raise awareness regarding the thousands of children in foster care who are unable to safely return to their families of origin. As with National Adoption Month, it is important to keep the focus where it originated: on the plight of children and youth in the foster-care system.

Every year in the U.S., 25,000 young Americans “age out” of the public foster-care system without finding a permanent place to a call home. That's a problem that absolutely deserves our attention.

But even as we turn our attention to the potential benefits of permanency, let us not forget that adoption is not the end of the story for former foster children and youth. The long and at times rocky road to healing stretches out ahead of them. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Diversity and the Adoptee Community

I recently had the privilege of traveling from Pennsylvania to Minneapolis to attend the Minnesota Transracial Film Festival and the Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative Conference. The theme of the conference was "Reframing the Adoption Discourse" and from my vantage point, it succeeded in honoring this concept.

Both of these events also succeeded in providing me with an opportunity to engage with an amazing group of adoptees. We were a diverse and vibrant bunch. Our countries of origin differed. Our countries of adoption differed. Our ages at the time of adoption differed. Our overall adoption experiences differed. Our thoughts on search and reunion differed. Yet there was so much--so much--that bonded us to one another. We were all separated from our families of origin. We were all raised by people who were not related to us by biology. We were all put in a position to process this specific life experience known as being an adopted person.

What I appreciated most about the format of the film festival and conference was how the diversity within in the adoptee community was acknowledged while also placing focus on the common issues that we all face.

Friday Night Adoptee Film Fest

Films such as Memory of Forgotten War and Where Are You Going Thomas? helped me—a Caucasian adopted as an infant in 1971 through a private, domestic United States adoption—gain a better understanding of how the Korean War resulted in separation of families and created a now-historical context for the mass intercountry adoptions of Korean children that followed. These films also provided a base from which I could engage with my Korean-born counterparts in a more informed way.

Other films focused on search, reunion and the intense emotions that arise. In the documentary Searching for Go-Hyang, viewers watched as Korean-born twins adopted to the United States made the journey back to their country of origin and to their natural parents. Another film, CLOSURE, chronicled the search and reunion journey of an African-American adopted into a Caucasian family through domestic infant adoption in the United States. Tears flowed from my eyes during both films as I focused not on the differences, but on the heart-wrenching similarities between the stories shared and my own reunion narrative. No matter the country of origin or native language, the natural parents featured expressed the same deep-rooted pain and grief of having lost their children. And the adoptees expressed the same complex emotions that come up during reunion.

I was extremely fortunate to spend time with Deann Borshay Liem who directed and produced Memory of Forgotten War and Angela Tucker, subject of CLOSURE. Our experiences were different but we definitely spoke a common language familiar to all adopted persons. I’m extremely encouraged by the number of adult adoptees who are sharing their stories, and those of adopted persons, through creative outlets and media. These film makers illustrate how adoption should be treated as the complex, dynamic life experience it is instead of as a sensational plot device.
Reframing the Adoption Discourse on Saturday

Much like the film festival, the conference itself took a diverse and highly informed approach to adoptee-centered topics such as research, performance, activism, and mental health. Listening to the adoptee panelists—all professionals in their areas of focus--dialogue and discuss these important topics, it became quite clear that actual adopted persons should be at the head of the adoption policy table. Turns out we actually know what we are talking about when it comes to the adoption experience, from both personal and professional points of view.

Want to know how the mental health community can best provide post-adoption services to adopted persons? Ask an adult adoptee who is a mental health professional.

Want to know what policy measures would best respect and honor the rights and needs of adopted children? Ask an adult adoptee who is trained in policy analysis.

Want to conduct a study on the role of closed adoption in identity issues? Consult an adult adoptee who is a professional researcher.

All of these professions were represented by the adopted panelists at the conference. As an adult adoptee who is a professional journalist, I left the conference experience with new ways to frame and communicate some of the issues facing adoptees today. In the past, I was reluctant to address the issues facing my intercountry counterparts, for example, simply due to the fact that I was overly sensitive about speaking to something that was not my experience to share. So I focused on what impacts domestic United States adoptees like myself, original birth certificate access.

Thanks to the policy panel, however, I now feel confident and empowered to exapnd my own ability to engage in discussion on, for example, the more inclusive and holistic issue of documentation for all adoptees. In this conference environment, I was able to take a step back, listen and learn from my fellow adoptees. I heard how some of my intercountry counterparts don’t have original birth certificates or any birth certificates at all. I heard how failure to file documents in the United States can mean that an intercountry adoptee might not be recognized as a citizen. This global issue of documentation in adoption is one of many that can be inclusive of our diverse adoptee population.

It is my hope that within our diverse community of adoptees, we will continue to respect our differences, honor our diversity and work together to develop a holistic sense of advocacy that is inclusive to all. I, for one, need to stop being so adopted and start being more confident in my ability to address our differing experiences so that I can better facilitate discussion and communicate the broader, shared issues in an effective way.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

~Margaret Mead

Julie Stromberg
When the time came to think about college, I decided that my career path would encompass either child psychology or journalism. Fortunately for all the young people out there, I opted for journalism and earned a bachelor's degree in communications. Since that time, I have worked as a newspaper and magazine staff writer, public relations associate, and marketing copywriter. My professional creative efforts have been acknowledged with several industry awards.

I am also pleased to be involved in several writing and advocacy projects outside of the office. As an adoptee, my advocacy work is focused on changing the common, societal discourse on adoption practices and encouraging reform that would place the emotional needs and legal rights of the children involved first.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Review of Not Only the Things That Have Happened by Mridula Koshy

Mridula Koshy contacted me several months ago, asking if I would review her first novel, Not Only the Things That Have Happened. It is the story of a Indian woman and her son, who is ultimately adopted by a white couple in the U.S., told from the perspective of an omniscient narrator who lets us in on the thoughts of the birth mother, adoptive mother, the son (as a child and as a man), as well as other characters surrounding the central plot.

This is a complicated story, with many twists and turns; adding to the confusion for me was my unfamiliarity with cultural aspects of Kerala, India, where the tale begins. The first half of the book deals with the life of Annakutty, the boy’s mother, though it is not obvious when the book begins that its focus will be on the intertwined lives of her and her son. Koshy’s prose in many ways reads like a mystery unfolding in poetry, which at times is absolutely striking, yet also is somewhat unsatisfying when one wants to get a firm grip on things like timeline and familial relationships.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Connections are everything.

As an adoptee, there are so many people who create your sense of self … adoptive families, birth families, and most importantly, adoptees. The latter has not come into fruition for me until this year. In September of last year, I met my first Korean adult adoptee. It was a serendipitous meeting.

So much has happened in this last year, but the cap to this year has been my connection to the Lost Daughters. I have learned so very much from them. The stories are all so different, but then again, so familiar.

How we got here has shaped us, and we continue to grow. The internet has granted us access to so many people. Again, only this year have I dived into the sea of social media; the wading has ended.

This flood of people has taught me so much about the struggles we all have … struggles with seeing our original birth certificates, struggles in not having birth certificates, struggles in blending two very important families into one.

Adoptees converged on St. Paul this weekend for the Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative Conference. My drive to St. Paul had me in a twist of ambivalence. I feared rejection again from the group for having loved my adoptive parents, rejection from having not searched for my birth family, rejection for just being me.

What I discovered was a group that welcomed and enveloped me, as tentative as I was. We are our comfort. Thank you.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Personal Assumptions

As an adoptee I've struggled a lot with low self esteem and self worth, nowadays my self esteem is much better it's almost great - while I still struggle with self worth issues. Self esteem and self worth is not the same thing by the way.

Here's what I'm trying to teach myself these days ;

I am worthy of love - my will matters , I should listen to it and live by it. I should stop to treat myself badly by neglecting and ignoring myself. I deserve nothing but the best, because I'm worth it. My opinons matters to me and the people who are kind to me.

For me as an adult adoptee it has proven very difficult to relearn some of these preselected assumptions because as adoptees society tries to tell us that we're useless , don't deserve the things we have or the life we choose to live and that we should be grateful towards (our new parents), that we must be grateful for the new life we got instead of the one we left or never got to experience. And if I do feel anger towards my parents its not horribel it's alright and I need to accept it and move forwards and eventually forgive them.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Foster Focus: Re-Envisioning Foster Care

Stay Home.
Go Home.
Find Home.
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to attend a Working Group Gathering of the Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America (REFCA) Movement. It was an inspiring experience. The combination of energy, enthusiasm, creativity, and commitment to helping vulnerable children that I encountered there was truly exhilarating. The above six words were shared as part of a presentation by Lauren Frey, founder of 3P Consulting LLC, and they constitute just part of what excited me about this gathering.

Here's how I understood the intention of those six words as they relate to child welfare: Stay Home highlights the importance of helping vulnerable families early on, providing resources and services to help children thrive in their original homes, thus preventing the need for the child's separation from the original family. Go Home focuses on the need for interventions to strengthen families when a disruption or crisis occurs, with the goal of reuniting children with their original families while also prioritizing the child's safety and well-being. Find Home acknowledges that sometimes the original family is not able to provide a safe environment in which the child can thrive, even with interventions, and then the focus must shift to finding the child a new permanent home in a stable and loving family, while also continuing to honor the child's ongoing connection to the original family.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

An-Ya and Her Diary: Reader & Parent Guide

So, I’ve read the book, An-Ya and Her Diary, I’ve plowed through the An-Ya and Her Diary: Parent & Reader Guide, available on Amazon.* 
I’ve interviewed the novel’s author, Diane Ren√©Christian and Guide contributor/Lost Daughters Founder Amanda H.L. Transue-Woolston.
And, of course I’ve written about it all over at my blog.
But you know what I haven’t done? I haven’t (yet) shared An-Ya and Her Diary with my young daughter. It might be a little early for her, but she loves drawing and is learning to write. When I explained to her the concept of a diary—a place where you can write about your feelings and draw your experiences, well, suffice-it-to-say, she was hooked.
Armed with the Parent & Reader Guide, I feel confident that I can lead my daughter through new concepts and emotionally difficult situations that the novel itself might inspire. Of course, Danica already knows what domestic adoption is, but this will be her first exposure to the concept of international adoption—to the ideas that someone loses their ethnicity, language and heritage in adoption.
But there are also really cool things for her to connect with, too.

Danica is right now in the throes of her first close “best” friendship. Thankfully, the feeling is mutual; and both girls can’t bear to be apart from one another. One of the subplots of An-Ya is the protagonist’s relationship with a young girl her age who lives nearby. I’m excited to see what aspects of this novel intrigue and inspire my daughter, and armed with the Parent & Reader Guide, I feel assured that I can navigate any difficult questions that Danica might have.
What's more is that proceeds from the Parent & Reader Guide go to an amazing charity called Love Without Boundaries Unity Fund, which helps parents in China who do not have funds for medical expenses to care for their children. Instead of families relinquishing their children to an orphanage so the child can get much-needed medical care, this fund is all about keeping families together. 
So please, check it out today!

* I was given a complimentary review copy of this guide.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Woman in the Mirror

When I was small, my mother would often be presented with this question:

“Will you tell her she’s adopted?”

My mother’s response was always, “Oh, she has only to look in the mirror!” I talk about this in my first blog post in 2007. When I began my blog, it was to honor my mother and father and to record my history for my children.

The last year has brought many revelations. I’ve met more adoptees, watched adoption movies, written for the Lost Daughters … and I have looked in the mirror more closely. 

Today, as a transracial adoptee, I am often presented with this question:

“When did you know you were racially different?”

Initially, my simplistic answer was, “When I saw myself in the mirror.” But that answer is really a reflection of my mother’s story and her answer. I have repeated that answer for close to 40 years.

Now, the mirror reveals so much more. She’s Korean, yes, but she also still sees the white Tennessean, the Puerto Rican, the wife of the white Brit, and the mother of mixed race children. Unfortunately, the rest of the world only sees what the mirror reflects.

Perhaps that is my biggest frustration. I am so much more than Korean.