Saturday, February 28, 2015

We Are Not Our Story: An Interview with Author and Adoptee Claire Hitchon

I recently reviewed Claire Hitchon's latest memoir, The Wall of Secrets, in addition to its predecessor, Finding Heart Horse (you can read those reviews here). Claire's life has been affected by adoption in profound ways, and I thought she might be able to give important insight to those of us who continue to struggle with processing trauma from our own adoptions.

I am grateful to Claire for the open and honest answers she's given to my questions on difficult topics. There is encouragement here for all of us. It is soothing to hear Claire's words.

How did you become comfortable talking about the difficult circumstances of your childhood and adoption? What types of reactions have you received from others, both inside and outside of the adoption community?

I survived by disassociating at a young age from the pain of abuse, rapes, and street life. The Wall of Secrets was a real wall in my parents’ library. I carried it in my mind until my adoptive mother passed away and I found my biological family in 2003. I could relay my story to anyone and not feel anything, until then…then the drawers started flying open and my worst nightmare became real.

Claire Hitchon, age 19
It wasn’t until I began to write that I actually crawled into the places that hurt the most. I relived each and every secret. It was the most painful journey I’ve ever experienced. It was as if, once I found my birth mother the secrets had to be hauled out, one by one. I was already fragmented from reunion and all the secrets had to be dealt with in order to become whole and healthy. I went into seclusion, exhausted and physically ill. There were many times I wondered if I would ever reach the other side.

Each rewrite became a bit less traumatic and finally, the parts I had disassociated from were spread out in front of me in words, including the primal wound of adoption. Only then could I speak freely and without hesitation knowing I had dealt with, processed, and accepted all of it. The story that had been inside me, poisoning me, was now nothing more than words between the covers of books. I was no longer my story.

I’ve received various reactions, more positive than negative. You’re in a place of complete vulnerability when you share a story such as mine. I decided those that judged were not the people I wanted in my life anyway. Reactions have been from absolute horror and shock and being told, “Things like that are best left untold” from an older woman at a book reading, to tears of gratitude and validation that one is not alone. I’ve had women of my generation open up about their experiences with narcissistic, mentally ill mothers, comments from young adults about finding hope, to people unable to listen or read as it is a trigger, a piece of their pain not yet processed.

Have you connected with other adoptees who also experienced abuse in their adoptive homes? If so, have you discovered any commonalities in how adoptees who have been abused process that trauma throughout their lives?

I’ve been able to connect with others in various settings. I was an RN in psychiatry for over twenty years and many histories of patients held the secret of adoption in them. Most of us survive by disassociation from abuse suffered at the hands that were supposed to care for and love us. We tend to self-medicate when we get older with alcohol or drugs, not realizing the core issues of our pain. A disconnect keeps us from being re-traumatized or even loved. We live from a fear-based place. I’ve seen some that act out and then there are those of us who crawl up inside and just go on, carrying the pain until we are ready to look at it, if ever. There is a need for search even if it doesn’t lead to reunion for most of us to face our initial trauma, the primal wound. All adoptees begin with the initial trauma of loss. You can come from an adoptive family full of love and still experience similar issues; the abuse is just another layer to dig through.

As an adult, you cared for your adoptive mother for many years until she died, which seems remarkably compassionate considering her treatment of you. How were you able to reconcile your complex feelings toward your mother during that time?

I held on to the hope that things might change for many years. We all want our mothers to love us, adopted or birth. I realized nothing was going to change so I had to find a way to care for her without destroying myself. I had to work and I had a daughter to raise. I was a practicing Buddhist, yet finding compassion for her as my mother was beyond my abilities then. I had to look at her as a psychiatric patient, nothing more, just an ill person needing my care. I was an only child, there wasn’t anyone else, my father had died years before. I felt an obligation as one human to another. It wasn’t until years later that I was able to find forgiveness and also compassion for her.

Did you receive an explanation from your birth mother about why she relinquished you for adoption? If so, were you satisfied with her explanation?

Claire Hitchon
No, unfortunately my birth mother was quite ill and also emotionally detached when I met her. My understanding is that her mother insisted she give me away. This was in the early 1950s. She was twenty-five years old, not a young girl. She went on and had two more girls and a boy and kept them. Her mother even moved in with them to help. I have no words.

In The Wall of Secrets, you discover that your birth mother had two other daughters. What is your relationship with your sisters today? Have you been able to develop a close connection with them?

Yes, she also had a son. The two sisters and I share the same father although she wasn’t married at the time. I grew up, as I mentioned, an only child. To find siblings was beyond my wildest dreams. So many synchronicities and similarities we immediately connected. (This is so very painful to even think about.) Unfortunately, trying to integrate into a family after fifty years of absence is difficult. I looked at reunion as a chance for the whole family to heal and grow together. I found my birth mother and lost her. I found my family and now they are lost as well. The second and third rejection only magnifies the pain and loss of not growing up with them. Adoption affects everyone. History won.

What advice would you give to other adoptees who have experienced abuse or disconnection from their adoptive families? What has been most helpful to you in coping with and recovering from the trauma of your early years?

Understanding that it wasn’t your fault is huge. To know that all babies are born innately pure and none of us deserved the pain handed down from generations past. As adults, we have to take responsibility for re-parenting our inner child, healing the wounds and discovering that we are not our story. We have to break the cycle for our children. You must clear your life of toxicity no matter who it is. Leave the negativity behind and create the life you deserve. One filled with love and acceptance of self.

You can read more from Claire Hitchon at her blog The Almost Daughter & More.

Karen Pickell was born and adopted in Ohio in the late 1960s. She reunited with her birth mother in 2005 and with her birth father in 2007. Her husband is an adoptive father of two children, now grown, from his first marriage, one of whom was adopted from Korea. Karen and her husband live in Florida with their two biological children. She holds a Master of Arts in Professional Writing from Kennesaw State University in Georgia; she has published poems, essays, and stories, and is currently drafting a memoir. She previously served on the board of directors of the Georgia Writers Association, as editor for the Georgia Poetry Society, and as associate editor of the literary journal Flycatcher. Karen recently founded Adoptee Reading Resource. She blogs about writing, adoption, and other topics at

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Voices of Ethiopian adoptees in Black History Month (VIDEO)

African women have always played pivotal roles in history, but our stories remain largely untold. The "Dahomey Amazons" or "Mino" were a Fon all-women military regiment in present day Benin (in West Africa) 

Raised in a homogeneous, white community in rural Québec, I can't remember learning about Black History Month or even hearing anyone talk about it when I was a child. It’s only as an adult that I became more aware and interested in Black History Month. Although I think it is absurd that the shortest month of the year is dedicated Black History, I am happy to be able to attend so many great events in such a short amount of time. It helps bring people together and stimulates interesting and much-needed discussion about issues affecting black communities. Still, this should happen all year round. "Black" issues are everyone's issues, just like Black history is everyone's history. The histories and achievements of Black African people should be highlighted all throughout the year, not just in February.

Perhaps I feel strongly about this issue because I grew up without knowing my history as an Ethiopian and Black Canadian. I did not live in a diverse environment so I did not have contact with Ethiopians or other black people. This made it difficult for me to fully embrace my blackness, my Ethiopian-ness or my African-ness for that matter. I was not exposed to that part of myself, even though it is an important part of my identity. I had to make an effort to get in touch with people who looked like me, but I also had to make an effort to learn about my histories as an Ethiopian and as a black Québécoise-Canadian. The history I learned in school did not include the history of black people in Canada; there was no mention of slavery in Québec or in other parts of Canada. I had never heard of original black communities like Africville in Nova Scotia or Priceville in Ontario. Similarly, I never learnt about pre-colonial African histories, which are not only fascinating but diverse. I also didn't learn about how people of African descent (in the USA, Canada, Haiti, Brazil, Colombia and many other countries) have equally fascinating histories of resistance and triumphs against colonial oppression. Because no one taught me my histories, I had to learn them myself. In doing so, I became more empowered and assumed my blackness. I came to see it as an overwhelmingly positive thing, despite what the rest of the world showed me (and continues to show me). 

My experience illustrates that it can be very challenging for transracial adoptees to form an identity and a healthy and positive sense of self if they do not have contact with people from their culture of origin, but also if they do not know their histories. This is why it's so important that we learn and teach the histories of African peoples from an Afrocentric (and feminist) perspective.

                                                                              * * * *

After much discussion, Aselefech came up with a great idea to do a video about Ethiopian adoptees and Black History Month. This video was inspired by our Lost Daughters sisters #FliptheScript video, and assembled by the wonderful Bryan Tucker of Closure. “I am Black History” features four Ethiopian adoptees (Rahel, Mekdes, Aselefech and I) sharing our experiences of having multiple identities, the importance of Black History and what it means to be Ethiopian and Black in the U.S. and in Canada.We hope to inspire other adoptees to take pride in their multiple identities and also encourage adoptive parents of Ethiopian children to do the same by teaching their children their Ethiopian and African-American or African-Canadian histories from empowering perspectives. Black history is our history too. #Iamblackhistory

Annette-Kassaye (@KassayeBM) is a transracial adoptee from Ethiopia living in Montréal, Québec (Canada). She also writes for Gazillion Voices and co-founded Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora with Aselefech Evans. 

Photo Dahomey women: wikipedia
Photo of Annette-Kassaye: courtesy of Adelaida Pardo 
Video courtesy of Bryan Tucker

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Motherless Mothering: Getting Back on the Horse

Sometimes I stumble. Actually, I stumble often.  Sometimes the past whispers in my ear, tells me I am not good enough, tells me my attainable goals are out of reach. It whispers I am not beautiful enough, smart enough, rich enough, strong enough, or worthy enough. My inner voice is polluted at times.

I heard somewhere, that as mothers, our words and actions to our children become their inner voice as adults. Nothing about parenting is more true. Being a former foster child, who was taken from  an abusive mother, my own inner voice sometimes has a deep, harrowing echo--it sneaks up on me at vulnerable times. It is especially loud during intimate moments and in small daily perceived failures.

It makes me hold my breath, it keeps me expecting hurt. Sometimes it invites hurt. Failures, personal or professional, seem par for the course. In fact, there is a comfort in being cast aside, or losing a professional goal. That nagging whisper can tell former foster children that our negative inner voice is correct. It is the lifelong impact of early abuse.

At age 5, I was found locked in a basement, abused and left to starve. I was put in foster care, and had supervised visits with my abusive mother until I was abut 10. I was later adopted, but both of my adoptive parents died within 2 years. Drowning that inner negative voice took time. But it happened, and it can happen for any adoptee or former foster child. 

Becoming a mother myself saved me in many ways. Former foster children can create a new generation of givers in our own children. We can create strong women and men. Our own inner voices can be quieted for yet another day.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Returning To Ethiopia, Searching For Our First Families And Seeking Justice

Every week, I’m surprised at the amount of Ethiopian adoptees seeking advice and information on how to search for their first families on Facebook groups. We are not only searching for our first parents, but for our siblings, adopted into different families. Most of us are asking how we can get in touch with our siblings and how to access documents from our adoption agencies or orphanages. Some of us are also looking for traveling partners, because not everyone wants to travel alone or with their adoptive parents.   

In my view, creating a program to help adult adoptees return to Ethiopia is a matter of justice, not only for us but also for our first families. Besides the loss of our first families, culture and language, many of our adoptions were not practiced according to ethical and legal standards. Contrary to popular belief, due to a lack of investigative reporting, many Ethiopian adoptions in the 1980s-1990s were fradulent. I know this because I’ve spoken with many adoptees from the U.S. and France who have reunited with their Ethiopian families and have found out why they were relinquished. The same story keeps re-emerging: their Ethiopian parents were told that they were going to study abroad only to return and help them. Their parents, agency and orphanage staff were usually all involved in falsifying documents; however their parents were uniformed and ill-informed about the legal implications of their actions. They didn’t understand that “adoption” meant severing ties with their children and that they were signing off on their parental rights as well as the possibility of their children even knowing them. Perhaps some knew, but they did not have a choice given their socioeconomic circumstances.

Because our adoptions were legal, our adoptive parents never questioned the adoption process itself.
It is adoptees themselves (and sometimes their adoptive parents) who have gone back, searched and found their Ethiopian parents and families intact, despite what their adoption paperwork claims. Can you imagine believing that you were placed in an orphanage and adopted because your parents were deceased, only to find out that they are alive and well? It has happened much more often than people think. In fact, I would argue that it has happened systematically before Ethiopia’s adoption boom in the 2000s.

I’m appalled to hear the same stories over and over again. I’m even more appalled that people (adoption agency workers, orphanage staff or other individuals) are getting away with having actively participated or been complicit in fraudulent adoptions. This should not be happen. There needs to be justice for us and our first families because we are the ones paying the emotional and psychological costs of their corrupt and unethical practices. Many of us feel powerless and are overwhelmed by our situations. Those who have reunited with their families are happy to have finally found them and are trying to figure out ways to return to see them. But what about adoptees who are unable to find their families due to a lack of information, time and of course money? I think part of our unwillingness to talk about our frustrations stems from the fact that some adoption agency professionals (or parent associations) have very good reputations among adoptees and adoptive parents, especially in France.

I am one of the adoptees who has felt disempowered and even silenced. I have felt as though I could not talk about how unprofessional and unethical my private adoption was. For some reason, the names of my Ethiopian parents were somehow left out my documents, therefore I was declared an orphan, eventhough the well-intentioned women involved in my adoption knew that my father was alive (this is how I know now). There is not even a mention of my father in my adoption documents. Yet, when I asked questions about this serious information gap, I was told that getting information about my Ethiopian family prior to my adoption was “wishful thinking”. Hold on, "wishful thinking" for not having communicated vital information to my adoptive parents? This answer is wrong and unacceptable. I am not thankful to the women involved in facilitating my adoption, even if they were trying to help me have a better life in Canada. I don’t give them any credit for “saving me” because their help was based on a lie. This lie legalized my adoption making it extremely difficult for me to obtain the names of my Ethiopian parents. Their actions have completely cut me off from knowing my own flesh and blood. I had a good childhood and I have a great (adoptive) family, but I had zero contact with Ethiopians until I became an adult. Children should never ever be disconnected from a part of who they are and adoption should not be about severing ties to first families and cultures of origin. A good outcome does not justify the means used to get there.

Besides the need for an in-depth, comprehensive study on Ethiopian adoptions that took place in the 1980s-1990s in order to determine their true legality, I’m wondering if there could be greater efforts to help adult Ethiopian adoptees, like myself, connect with our Ethiopian families. It is only fair that people involved in processing our adoptions (agency and orphanage staff and other individuals involved) assist us in obtaining information about our Ethiopian families and in helping them get information about us. More precisely, adoptees should be given access to whatever paperwork they still have. Agencies (also known as parent associations in France) should also cooperate with adoptees requests for information about their files both in France and in Ethiopia. We should be treated with utmost respect and not be ridiculed for asking questions that some people do not want to answer. 

In the future, Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora would like to help adoptees return to Ethiopia. As adoptees get older, more and more of us will want to return to Ethiopia; however many of us are having difficulty financing our trips and accessing information about our Ethiopian families. Travelling to Ethiopia is expensive without including costs related to searching (hiring a searcher, paying for his or her travel expenses and accommodations, fees for documents and translation, etc.). In addition, some adoptees would like to re-learn Amharic, live and work in Ethiopia, so it would be interesting to create opportunities for them to do that. More importantly, putting a structure in place to facilitate adoptees’ return is important, not because it fits into state capitalism but because it should compensate for some of what we (and our Ethiopian families) have lost and had to endure as a result of structural weaknesses, gender and economic inequality in Ethiopia.

I must add that Ethiopian first families have also experienced enormous guilt, shame, trauma and depression for having to relinquish their children. What can be done do to help them? Since many of them no longer have legal rights to their children (who are now adopted adults), it is hard for them to get access to their children’s files. This is why the best alternative at the moment would be helping Ethiopian Adoption Connection, as it helps to connect first families with adoptees. Ethiopian Adoption Connection needs funds (and probably other resources) in order to locate first families and register them in their database.   

While we can't undo past injustices, I do believe in seeking justice. To be honest, I have no idea what this justice looks like or if it is even possible given the circumstances. However, I think that helping adoptees, by answering our questions, giving us access to our files and information related to our families as well as helping us find a way back "home", can be a part of this justice.

Annette-Kassaye (@KassayeBM) is a transracial adoptee from Ethiopia living in Montréal, Québec (Canada). She also writes for Gazillion Voices and co-founded Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora with Aselefech Evans. 

Photo 1: Water image  <ahref="">Hippos and Hyenas</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>
Photo 2: Courtesy of "Adelita" (Adelaida Pardo)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Sister That I Never Found

I realized that there are many thing even a reunion will not grant me, and one of those things is what once was taken from me (even before I was born). Many of the things I lost I have managed to either regain or recreate, but some I have to accept will always be lost for me.

Adoption ultimately meant that I not only would be separated from my own flesh and blood — it would take decades until we'd ever met again – face to face. By then they would have had endure their reaction for having been told a lie, and then the actual fact that they were unable and refused the opportunity to be raised with one of their own, another younger sister.  They weren't our birth parents only children. For many years there had been another unknown younger child — somewhere in the world. Raised by other people, growing up in another family. Meeting my sisters was like nectar to my soul – yet the fact is that our different cultures has recreated me, I'm no longer a sister to them. Fact is I am more similar to a stranger or distant relative or even an unknown stranger, with the only difference that we share the same birth parents and genetics.

My Omma was relieved when she first got to meet me so many years ago, and my sisters seemed to be excited and happy too. But being a member in such a large family does come with its sacrifice, and it soon seemed clear to me that neither of my birth parents could offer me the love I so needed and craved. While my older sisters were disappointed in me when I failed to fulfill the function in the family that had been assigned to me with my prospective part in the family. For my birth family I seemed to be a burden when I objected to participating and sharing the economic responsibility for my poor family back in the land of the morning calm. When I didn't accept the conditions that were explained to me several times, I thought it was best to say farewell …

It doesn't matter how much my heart yearns and longs for it, it will never be something I will experience. One of things I was forced to forsake as a consequence of my adoption was the actual loss of sisters not a sister. Luckily though I didn't grow up a lonely child, but I lost the experience of having a close confidant, a sister. By birth I actually have at least six older sisters; yet, I cannot claim that they really are my sisters even though we share the same parents.

They never got to watch me grow up or get to know me as a child, I lost the daily bickering, fights and sisterly advice. To be honest I'm not even sure if my older sisters do all that … being a daughter and sibling in such a large family has meant many disappointments for me personally.

I have a large family (at least on paper and by DNA) somehow my sisters that I'd like to call sisters officially will not allow me to call them by the title since we have an almost nonexistent sibling relationship. Maybe the thing that I'm forgetting is that like me my sisters are more than merely sisters, daughters, wives and mothers – they're human beings with different personalities.

Even within families were siblings haven't been separated, it's a given that some of them will feel closer towards some and not so much with others. My adoptive mum and dad, each has siblings and neither one of them are particularly close with their brother or sister. My dad's brother, my paternal uncle, honestly doesn't live that far from my dad. Yet they rarely see each other more than once a year and speak on the phone a few times. My paternal grandmother is no longer alive so that natural need to keep in touch is lost … My mum has a slightly better relationship with her sister, they see each other several times a year but don't call each other that often. My mum was almost 13 when her younger sister was born. On my dad's side I have two cousins, and in turn they each have sons. When my cousins' were small children we used to gather on social events, now those occasions have ceased.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Experiencing Racism as a Transracial Adoptee ("Fresh Off the Boat" Reminds Me That Context Matters)

A few years ago, I met up with a childhood friend--who happens to be Korean--whom I had not seen in probably almost a decade.

As we were discussing our lives and catching up, the conversation stumbled into my experiences as an adoptee. In particular, we talked about my struggles with my identity since reuniting with my Korean family in 2009 and the subsequent repercussions within my American family.

In that conversation, my experiences of racism surfaced. I had expected to find understanding and perhaps a small amount of validation.

But instead, upon sharing my difficulties, my friend replied with a smile, “You know, I had similar experiences growing up, but I think sometimes, it just depends on your personality. I have a different personality than you so those experiences [of racism] did not affect me in the same way they affected you.”

Translation: You’re really sensitive and if you were more like me (i.e., had a personality more like mine), then you would not have been so bothered or troubled by your experiences of racism. 

I was surprised at her response initially. And hurt, of course. But as I thought more about it, I realized something--her Koreanness did not mean she had the capacity to understand my experiences and in fact, her upbringing as a first generation Korean may have actually prohibited her from understanding my struggles, because…

Context matters.

* * *

As the new show, Fresh Off the Boat, has made its debut, I have felt both apprehensive and hopeful, as many others have similarly expressed. Apprehensive that the depictions of an Asian family for the purposes of an entertaining sitcom will serve only to perpetuate harmful stereotypes, yet hopeful that these same depictions might provide an opportunity for validation and discussion regarding the Asian American experience.

Now, before I go on, a couple of disclaimers and caveats. There are a lot of things wrong with the show. There are a lot of depictions in the show that make me uncomfortable as both an Asian American person and as a woman. Furthermore, I realize that Fresh Off the Boat is in no way representative of all Asian families and certainly even less representative of the experiences of individual Asian Americans. It is very loosely based on Eddie Huang's actual life. Remember folks, Fresh Off the Boat is not a documentary, it's a sitcom--and it's primary purpose is to entertain, not to educate.

That said...after watching Fresh Off the Boat, there were moments that were painfully comical, because of how closely I could relate--in particular, the depictions of the Huangs' experiences with White Americans just about perfectly mirror my experiences both as a kid and as an adult.

However, the other painful part of the show for me was watching Eddie experience racism and otherness and being able to relate to his experiences of racism and otherness, but not being able to relate to his experience of having an Asian family to whom he could return home. (Again, I realize that Fresh Off the Boat is primarily fiction and that individual experiences within Asian families vary widely...nonetheless...).

So, while it was incredibly validating and empowering watching an Asian kid learning to manage the complex racial tension at his school and in his neighborhood just like I had to when I was growing up, it was painful being reminded of how utterly alone and isolated I was and in some ways still am--as the eternal token Asian person, not only within my schools, communities, jobs, etc., but within my own dang family.

From my perspective--as an Asian adoptee who grew up in a White family--Eddie takes for granted that he has an Asian mom and dad who support him, who stand up for him, who understand ultimately the otherness he is experiencing. I'm not judging his character one bit. I know if I had grown up with my Korean family, I would have taken it for granted, too. In fact, I feel a twinge of jealousy and loss. I wish the show stirred up a complex nostalgia for me, but instead it surfaces yet another reminder of all that I've lost and how profoundly being adopted has affected not only my identity but every area of my existence. 

For me, watching Fresh Off the Boat is almost like watching what my life might have been in some alternate ideal reality had I not been adopted into a White family. But instead, I feel like an impostor or poser as I watch Eddie with his family. Although I experienced much of the same racism and sense of otherness that Eddie experiences at school and in his predominantly White neighborhood, the reality I faced did not include returning home to a family that looked just like me nor do I have any idea of what it's like to grow up with first generation immigrant parents. 

Rather, when I returned home what I saw was a White Mr. and Mrs. American Pie family and a mom who was often literally mistaken for Florence Henderson, the star of The Brady Bunch.

When I returned home after being battered and demeaned for being Asian, what I saw were the same faces that had harangued and harassed me all day.

And this is to what I am referring when I say that context matters.

* * *

My childhood friend who told me that she experienced much of the same racism actually experienced it in a very different context. Her family and community context were and still are completely different from mine.

I did not grow up with my Korean family and relatives. I did not grow up within a Korean American community.

This context matters--particularly for transracial adoptees, and in my case, a Korean adoptee raised within a White American family and community.

My friend, after experiencing racist behavior from classmates, could return home to a family and a community who looked just like her. She could see herself reflected in positive ways in her own mother and father and siblings, in her friends and at church. And although of course their presence in her life did not erase the hurts and stings from her experiences of racism, she could find validation and strength for her Koreanness within her own family and community.

But for someone like me, I didn’t have anything that came even close to that.

When I got called a "chink" or "flat face" or "slant eye," when I experienced bullying at school or had kids throwing rocks and ice at me for being Asian, I had no one at home who could understand what I was experiencing. I had no one to whom I could turn to find validation for my Asianness. I had no one who was standing up for me and instilling in me a sense of ownership and pride for my Asian origins. I had no mother or father modeling for me how to make it as an Asian face in a White place.

When I looked at my mother I did in fact see that my eyes were slanted in comparison to hers and that my face was flat in comparison to hers and that I was in fact a “chink” in comparison to her--and in comparison to my father, to my siblings, to my neighbors. 

Furthermore, when I tried to join in with other Korean peers, I experienced similar rejection and isolation. It was immediately obvious that I was not one of them--I did not have Korean parents, I didn't eat kimchi or speak the language, I did not attend Saturday Korean School--my experiences of home, church, and community were completely divergent from theirs. I was just as "foreign" to them as I was to my White American peers.

So, while my childhood friend could go home and find validation for her Asianness, while she had a home base to challenge the racism she experienced, I, and other adoptees like me, went home and found...

A void.

* * *

I think it’s easy for folks to underestimate the consequences of experiencing racism as a transracial adoptee and having no one to whom you can look or turn to help you understand, navigate, and challenge those experiences.

Instead, the very people who are afflicting you with racist acts and slurs look just like the people you call mom and dad and brother and sister. What confusion, what pain, what perplexity for a child to try to manage all alone.

So, yes, maybe I have a different personality than my childhood friend.

But I am almost certain that even if I had been born with a personality that more closely resembles hers, I still would have grown up troubled and pained by my experiences of racism because, as with almost everything in life, context matters.

And when the context in which you’re growing up means you’re a transracial adoptee in a White family within a White community that have no understanding of racism and the role it plays in adoption, I venture to say that an adoptee’s personality isn’t what needs to be fixed.

I’m not saying that growing up among one’s ethnic origins magically inoculates an individual from the negative effects of racism.

But what I am saying is that being adopted into a White family even less so inoculates a transracial adoptee from racism and in fact does quite the opposite. Rather, the transracial adoptee is exposed to racism at an increased rate while also being left without the necessary support system to help him or her challenge and overcome racism.

What I am saying is that experiencing racism as a result of being adopted into a White family inevitably exposes a transracial adoptee to all kinds of racism that the White family is ill-equipped to handle and about which the parents often live in denial or oblivion.

Racial inequality and adoption are interconnected. I could write whole other posts on the complicated relationship between racism and adoption. This idea may make some uncomfortable or even angry. But it is the truth.

* * *

Until all involved in transracial adoption are willing to acknowledge the inevitable and inherent relationship between racism and adoption, those most affected yet least heard, will continue to be faced with a racial isolation and loneliness that are not easily remedied or overcome--and tragically at times result in the taking of one’s own life.

However, if we will not only give ear to this truth but consider the implications and take actions to address racism within the context of transracial adoption, then perhaps lives can not only be improved, but also saved.


To read more by Mila, click here.

Monday, February 9, 2015

You Are Not Ready to Adopt an Asian Child If...

Recently, I read a refreshingly candid post, You Shouldn't Adopt Black Children If..., which inspired me to write the following...

So, here goes...You are not ready to adopt an Asian child if... 

  • You want a shirt with the above graphic on it.
  • You already own a shirt with the above graphic on it.
  • You would never wear any attire with the above graphic, but you don't understand why it's not a compliment to Asian girls or at least a cute idea.
  • You sincerely believe that all Asians are better at math and science and don’t understand why there’s a problem with such stereotypes.
  • You not only love the film, “The Last Samurai,” but you totally identify with Tom Cruise’s character and secretly wish you could be Tom Cruise’s character--in real life.
  • Of course, you would never say it out loud but you often think to yourself, “Wow, all Asians look the same. I mean, seriously, they really, really do all look the same.”
  • The above thought is followed by, “And I mean, aren’t they all basically the same? I mean, how is China any different from Japan or Korea or all those other Asian countries that I can’t remember the names of…”
  • You think “Miss Saigon” is an inspiring theater production that you wish could be made into a movie so that the daughter you plan to adopt or have adopted could one day star as the main female character.
  • You don’t even know what “Miss Saigon” is.
  • You laud Operation Babylift as an exemplary act of American heroism, charity, and patriotism, and you don’t understand why that kind of thing doesn’t happen more often.
  • You have no idea what Operation Babylift is.
  • You don’t see a problem when stories in the news emerge about missionaries or others trafficking Asian children for the purposes of adoption, because these abandoned children needs homes, right?
  • Because all of these Asian children’s mothers did not want them, right?
  • Because Asian mothers are cold and aloof and calloused and don’t love their children the way White American women do.
  • You think Asian people are being too uptight and sensitive when they are offended or bothered by White people dressing up in Yellowface for Halloween or parties or otherwise.
  • You don't know what Yellowface is but you think it might have something to do with malaria (even though malaria and yellow fever are completely different diseases).
  • You still don’t understand why dressing up as an Asian person isn’t a compliment and still can’t comprehend why it’s offensive or racist because what in the world is cultural appropriation?
  • You use words like “Chink” or “Slant eyes” or other degrading descriptives in the privacy of your home or with other White people when talking about Asian people.
  • You tell jokes about Asian people to get laughs.
  • Or you laugh with the person telling jokes about Asian people.
  • You think of Asian people as being docile and compliant.
  • You have described Asian women as exotic and thought you were giving them a compliment.
  • You have asked an Asian person if she/he knows that other person because that other person is Asian.
  • You think Asian babies are just the cutest and you really want one because they look just like little China dolls and you really, really, really, really want one.
  • Angelina Jolie has an Asian kid so it’s really cool and trendy and altruistic and I want to be cool and trendy and altruistic just like Angelina Jolie.
  • You think America was the hero in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
  • You are surprised inside when you hear an Asian person speaking “perfect English.”
  • You have recently said out loud to an Asian person you have just met, “Wow, your English is really good!”
  • You have recently silently thought to yourself upon meeting an Asian person, “Wow, your English is really good!”
  • You think it’s a good pick-up line or a funny joke to start a conversation with an Asian person with, “Hey, do you know kung-fu?” followed by some weird hand motions that you think mimic kung-fu.
  • You bow when meeting Asian people because either you think it’s funny or because you think it’s appropriate.
  • The closest thing you've ever had to an Asian friend is feeling progressive for liking K-pop, (or well, actually, it was really just that one song by that one guy--what was his name again--Saigon?)
  • You don't know what K-pop is but you think it might be some kind of exotic, ethnic popsicle like King of Pops.
  • You have Yellow Fever.
  • When you read "Yellow Fever," you thought I was talking about malaria again.
  • After reading all of the above, you still don't know what I'm talking about.
  • After reading all of the above, you feel highly offended.
  • After reading all of the above, you still want to adopt an Asian child because all of the above made perfect sense to you and you don't see why any of it is an issue.

Feel free to add to the list in the comments section below…

Although my tone above is pretty snarky, my heart behind it is sincere. And to be completely honest, I would be a liar and a hypocrite if I didn't disclose that, at one point in my life, I thought "Miss Saigon" was an inspiring work of art and I used to laugh at jokes about Asian people, too--to name just a few of the offenses I have committed against Asian people...and I'm frickin' Asian.

But obviously, over time, my views and perspectives have evolved as I've sought to explore my experiences honestly and at times, painfully so, as an Asian woman in America.

So, seriously, folks, if you have stumbled upon this post and are considering adoption or have already adopted and you find yourself feeling awkward or uncomfortable while reading any of the above statements because you identify with them, I’m not trying to make you feel condemned or bad about yourself. I’m just trying to get your attention with the hope that...

You will have the humility and integrity to realize that you’ve got some blind spots that you need to acknowledge and overcome. If you don’t know where to start, start by reading more of the posts here at Lost Daughters. I would also suggest reading the blogs, Harlow’s Monkey and Red Thread Broken.

Because, adopting isn’t anything to start without first educating yourself--and I don’t mean taking some mandatory classes through an adoption agency or watching "The Joy Luck Club." (Not trying to be condescending, just trying to have a sense of humor.) 

An adoption agency isn’t going to tell you what you really need to hear, because they ultimately have an agenda. They want you to adopt a kid through them. The way to educate yourself is by seeking out and listening to adult adoptee voices like mine and those here at Lost Daughter and otherwise--who have lived life as adoptees, who are going to tell you the things that you don't want to hear and that you won’t hear unless you are brave enough and honest enough to listen.


To read more by Mila, click here.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Two Memoirs by Claire Hitchon: Finding Heart Horse and The Wall of Secrets

Those of us who speak out in favor of adoption reform are frequently accused of being angry and maladjusted due to having a bad adoption experience. We are dismissed as anomalies. Show us the happy adoptees who are on your side, many say. Most adoptees are happy about their situation, don’t you know? Most adoptions give children better lives than they would have had otherwise.

We feel compelled to make the case that there are so-called “happy adoptees” in our ranks who also recognize problems within the institution of adoption that need to be addressed. But what about those of us who did, in fact, have a bad adoption experience? Are we not entitled to speak? Do we not count in the big picture of adoption?

This was the thought I couldn’t shake as I read Claire Hitchon’s first memoir, Finding Heart Horse. Labeling her adoption experience as “bad” would be a gross understatement. She was placed with a physically and verbally abusive adoptive mother who clearly had no love for her and a meek adoptive father who did nothing to intervene on her behalf. To make matters worse, the family attempted to keep her adoption a secret, even from Claire herself.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Wounding our own

I'm 9 years old, listening to one of Mom's funny stories.  This one, she is recalling how she used to taunt her little sister, Sandy.  "She used to throw these big, spidery plants in my face.  They scared me to death, I always thought spiders were attacking me!  So to get her back, I'd tell her she wasn't really one of us.  I told her that some family dropped her off at our house, and they were going to come back and take her away.  I told her she was adopted."


I'm 12 years old, having dinner at my Gran-Gran's house.  It's a big weekend spread: ham, corn, green beans, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, biscuits, apple pie, bundt cake.  "Momma, can I get another slice of pie?" The family laughs, they look at me like I'm an adorable alien, like I'm ET.  "Say it again!  It's so cute when you talk like that!"  I'm confused, I talk the same way everyone else talks.  "Can ah please hahve a slahce of pah?" The whole family laughs again. 


I'm 27 years old, a young mother.  My 2-year old daughter plays in the background.  My dad, in front of her, complains loudly about Hispanics and "colored" people.  He is angry they are "taking over."  I snatch my child up, sick of it.  "Dad!" I snap. "In case you haven't noticed,  we're not white either."


I'm 35 years old, with my 4 kids at The Avengers.  We love it, it's fun and exciting and so well done.  We cheer on our heroes Thor, Captain America, Natasha.  The comes the moment (harmless?) when Iron Man points out that evil Loki is his brother.  And the snappy comeback: "He's adopted." 


     Some people tell me I'm too sensitive because I remember these moments.  Is it possible for a 9-year old child to be too sensitive?  I've always been careful to not be too sensitive by not responding in those moments, even when it was my own family telling me in their unintentional ways that I was different, that I was other, that I didn't belong.  I didn't want to make it their fault.  It was all my fault, for being too touchy, too observant.
     Is that fair?  Even now, I find that I want to temper my response to the ways I'm called out in the world.  Your English is so good.  No, where are you really from? You must be really grateful.  I want to make excuses for the people who love me, who separate me, who marginalize me.  I don't want to be that person who is too sensitive, who overreacts. 
     I have become the opposite of sensitive.  I no longer feel.  That's what happens when we tell young people that their feelings aren't valid, that they're not willing to understand the "bigger picture."  


     Do we still do this?  Do we still drive daggers into our adopted children, and at the same time tell them they are loved and beloved?  And if they sense the conflict, we assure them they are overly sensitive, their experience is invalid?  And in doing so, press the knife in deeper.  What are the messages we send our adopted children--you are loved--your voice doesn't matter.  Do we tell them we will always hear them, while simultaneously dismissing the parts of their experience that we can't understand or recognize?
     I'm an adult now, and the world still wounds me.  I remember those moments from early childhood, and they still wound me.  I don't like to admit it. The world wounds my adopted daughter. I wonder how I can help.  I understand firsthand the world she walks through, and still I don't know how to help.  But I watch all these other adoptive parents who think they've got it all figured out, who think they're enlightened, and I wonder what they know that I don't.  All I know is how insidious the daggers are.  How my own mother, father, family held me in their arms with sincere love and pressed the knife into me. 
     Maybe I can't do better.  Maybe all I can do is understand that better doesn't exist.  

Friday, February 6, 2015

What stopped me from adopting.

In my third year of undergraduate studies, I read the most heartbreaking story.

Four Korean sisters, ages 6 to 13, made a suicide pact to relieve the burden they believed their parents shouldered as a low income family of seven on $350 a month. This became my view of my birth country and my driving force as an adoptee and a young woman.

In those days, I had finally fallen in love with a young man from Appleton, Wisconsin. I was making plans. In them, I wanted to have a biological child and adopt a young girl from Korea. I wanted to save a young girl from that feeling of uselessness.

This Wisconsin love of my life crumbled as I found he was promised to another back home. My trust was broken, and I vowed that I would stay single and possibly adopt on my own.

Life throws punches, and we roll with them. My parents fell in love, moved to Japan and tried to start a family. But tragedy struck. My mother delivered a stillborn infant son in January 1968. My parents sunk into sadness. They wanted to be parents. After realizing they could not be biological parents, they ventured into the land of Harry Holt. (Here’s where I come in. I know you knew that!)

On their application, they submitted this photograph of themselves. Don’t they look proud and excited? (Holt will not allow me to have the hard copy of this photograph, even though they have an electronic copy of it with my file. It belongs with me, my sister and our children, but never mind.)

Five years after they adopted me, my parents were able to have a biological child. From her hospital room each night of her one-month bedrest stay, my mother cried as she watched me, a purple-coated dot, in the parking lot. Then … my sister arrived. She was cute and cuddly. I wanted to name her Penelope, but my mother decided against it.

My mother would dedicate her life to her girls. She stayed home, volunteered at school, nurtured us to adulthood and with my father, she would console me when the Appleton man left. I told her I wanted to be a single mother with a job. I wanted my life to play out differently from hers. I wanted to seem strong and independent.

Years later, I would meet the man. We married, and my parents asked about grandchildren. My husband agreed with my initial plans, a few years as a couple and later, parents to a biological child and an adopted one. We lived in Rwanda one year after the 1994 genocide and witnessed so many children displaced by war but happy in their home country. My adoption plan was beginning to crumble.

As I turned 30, my GYN asked if I planned to have children. “Yes, of course!” was my reply. She went on to explain that sometimes women might take years to get pregnant, and that I should discuss this with my husband. This reminded me of the pain my mother felt with numerous miscarriages and the still born son. She shed tears every January for that little boy.

Within two years, I was pregnant. The moment my son’s bony hand touched mine through my stretched skin, I was in awe, and the thoughts of any others fell away.

When the moment came for me to finally meet my first biological relative, he was placed on my chest, and I exclaimed, “He has my square-mouth cry!”

We were a happy threesome, and as that joy set in, my mother passed away. I felt lost. I felt I had hurt her as my sister and I found a letter my mother kept. In it, I had written that I wished I had never been adopted. I felt the pain I had inflicted on her in my teen years. But my sister quietly said, “You know, she was so honored that you decided to stay home and be a mother.”

After all those years of pushing back against my mother, years of ridiculing her life’s decisions, I realized that motherhood was my job. I relished it and was proud to be “Mom.”

I would feel my mother’s pain again a couple of years later as I miscarried my second pregnancy. I felt lost again. I felt a failure and decided I was happy with being a mother to one. My husband revisited our earlier plans of adoption, but at the time, we were three on the salary of one, and adoption just wasn’t financially possible.

We would eventually welcome our daughter into our family. I must admit that I beam when my children say they are like me. I waited so long for a chance to compare myself to another human being who shared my DNA. I also share their sadness when they realize that they don’t share biological similarities to my side of the family.

Now that my parents are gone, I wrap myself up in the comfort of my little family. We still do not have the financial means to adopt, but I am content. My initial well-meaning, youth-driven intentions of saving another little Korean girl like me have disintegrated with each adoptee narrative.

Even if I could adopt a Korean girl, I couldn’t add to the pain of a single mother in Korea feeling hopeless to the point of believing her child would have it “better” in a place where material wealth trumps family.

Instead, my focus turns to learning from the past … my past, looking to the future for my children and the future of other adoptees and their children as we navigate the confusion and complexity of adoption.

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 adoptive parents. 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.