Sunday, March 29, 2015

American Adoption Congress Conference AAC - Part 2

Diverse Narratives in the Collective Adoptee Voice

Karen, Cathy, Angela, Rosita, Amira Rose, Amanda, Rebecca, Annette KassayeTrace, Jenn
Photo courtesy of: Light of Day Stories

Today, we're packing up our things and heading home to our little ones, our loved ones and our lives. Our responsibilities lie in wait - jobs, school, kids, spouses, households, commitments.

In the day to day, being a part of Lost Daughters is something that we squeeze in between all of these competing duties. Being a Lost Daughter is something that most of our families and friends don't really understand. It's a bit like a secret identity. Then again, as adoptees we know all about having a secret identity, don't we?

But, for a weekend, we were flying! Being a Lost Daughter was recognized at the conference, and we were welcomed with open arms. That people knew who we are was humbling. More than that, it was empowering. It meant that what we've been writing about has been connecting with readers. It means that adoptee voices matter. As Karen stated in the introduction of our presentation, "The only position we take on adoption is that adoptee voices make it better."

The title of our talk was, "Diverse Narratives in the Collective Adoptee Voice." The concept of the workshop was to bring the voice and feel of the Lost Daughter round-tables into a live setting. We talked about everything from how to respect differing views to how adoption is like the Matrix (don't worry, I'll get to that in another post).

Saturday, March 28, 2015

American Adoption Congress Conference - Part 1

I admit it, I was a little star-struck at meeting some of my Lost Daughters sisters for the first time. After all, I have seen their picture and read their work for the past few years. They've influenced and inspired me. There's something about getting to know someone through their writing, and then meeting them in person, that makes it richer and deeper from the start. It's like you already know them, a least a little bit.

There are several of us Lost Daughters at the American Adoption Congress Conference in Cambridge Massachusetts this year. We're presenting in a round-table tomorrow (okay, since it's 1:30am then technically, it's later today). For some of us, it's our first time at an adoption conference, and for others, it's one of many. For me, it's my third.

I attended my first AAC Conference in 1997 with my birthmother. It was eight years after we first met and we were in the eye of the storm of reunion, we were sorting through the rubble of the post-honeymoon phase. Seventeen years later, we attended again, just last year, but as presenters on long-term reunion.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Congratulations Ohio Adoptees! You can now have a copy of your original birth certificate!

Betsie Norris, of Adoption Network Cleveland, our hero!
As a proud Ohioan, it brought me great joy to be able to stand beside my fellow Ohio adoptees this past weekend in celebration of the unsealing of adoptees' adoption files and original birth certificates for those adopted between 1964-1996.  This is a momentous event and one I was happy to be part of.  Early on in the process, two other adoptees and myself sat down with Representative Jim Butler at my local Starbucks who advised he fully supported this legislation and gave us advice on how and when to write in support of getting this bill passed.

The event kicked off Thursday evening, March 19, 2015, at the Crowne Plaza in downtown Colombus, Ohio where there was a light reception, speakers, and an information table for Adoption Network Cleveland.  Adoption Network Cleveland supports all members of the those in the adoption constellation.  There was an open mic for first parents, adoptees and anyone else supporting the cause. Lots of crying and cheering ensued throughout the evening.  In the corner of the room was a Selfie station for taking pictures and attaching the hash tag #OHadopteesROAR.  There was also a banner on the wall for each adoptee to sign.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Dear Elton John, It’s Not All About You

Photo by Richard Schatzberger via Flickr

Dear Elton John,

I’ve heard about the argument between you and fashion designers Dolce & Gabbana over their recent comments about gay couples becoming parents via IVF.

I understand why you were offended on behalf of your own two sons when D&G called children conceived through IVF “children of chemistry, synthetic children.” There is no such thing as a synthetic child. All children are conceived when an egg from a woman is fertilized by a sperm from a man, whether this fertilization takes place inside or outside of a woman’s body. I join you in outrage on this point.

And I understand why you and others are offended by D&G saying, “We oppose gay adoptions. The only family is the traditional one . . . .” I was adopted as a child, and I support gay couples adopting children who need families.

What I cannot support is anyone, gay or straight, creating a demand for adoptable children that results in babies being relinquished unnecessarily, or that results in paper orphans being created to fulfill someone’s desire to “build a family.”

And I cannot support children being created with the express intention of denying them full knowledge of their biological identity for the sake of satisfying someone’s desire to “have a child of my own.”

I have read that you and your husband, David Furnish, created both of your sons via IVF using a surrogate mother and a mixture of both of your sperm. It has been reported that the identity of your children’s mother—i.e. “the surrogate,” or was there a separate “egg donor,” I’m not sure—will never be revealed and that you do not wish to learn which of you is the father of either of your children.

As a person who lived more than thirty years without knowing the identity of my biological parents and whose original, factual birth certificate has been legally kept from me, I feel you have deliberately done the unconscionable to your sons. You are purposefully deceiving them, not only in denying them knowledge of their mother, but even more ridiculously, denying them the knowledge of who their biological father is, though they live with him! Why put them through years of guessing and the inevitability of a DNA test? What a sick joke to play on someone’s life—and yet you gush on about how much you love the boys!

Do you know that we adoptees are having to fight every single day for the right to our own identities?

Dolce and Gabbana make an excellent point when they say, “You are born to a mother and a father.” We are all conceived when an egg from one woman is fertilized by a sperm from one man. This woman is the biological mother. This man is the biological father. They are not inconsequential. These facts do not change, no matter how many other parents a person may have.

Yes, gay people should be able to marry and create families through ethical adoption, however gay rights should never trump children's rights. Children's rights are human rights.

Every person is entitled to know their own biological identity.

An Adoptee

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

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Dear Mr. White … Sincerely, Your Twinkie

Mama Bear is pissed.

I handled the abuse as a young adult Twinkie; I handled the racism. For so long, I have awkwardly smiled when faced with horrible comments and micro-aggressions.

But inside, it ate away at me. I vowed to minimize this for my children. Now finally, the trauma of my high school days has hit home with my son inheriting my discomfort.

So, here I give you my thank you note to white America.

Thank you, Mr. White …

… for the title of “Oriental;”

… for passing down to your children the hurtful words I thought would eventually disappear;

… for the glorification of your learning that “other language” and not understanding why native speakers, hoping to save their children from their stigmatized accent, refused to speak this language you covet in their homes;

… for the separation of my fellow adoptees from their parents who you deem unfit because of the poverty your privilege costs;

… for accusing me of hurting your feelings when I use the word “white” in a general terms (Really, it isn’t about you personally. Everything isn’t always about you, but I understand your white fragility.);

… for showing me how you know best because you control the media; 

… for using our Black President as a means to appease me;

… for stopping my black and brown brothers because they “all look the same;”

… for feeling you own my black and brown sisters’ hair (It is beautiful, but no, you shouldn’t touch it!);

… for assigning me the general term, Asian, when you want to be thought of as German, English, Irish, Italian, Caucasian (Are you really from the region of Caucasus?), etc.;

… for butchering my Puerto Rican name;

… for downplaying racial bullying by comparing it to other forms of bullying;

… for pitting me against black and brown people;

… for confusing me with my Taiwanese and Chinese friends because we “all look alike” (Insert your laughter here.);

… for more and more white movies (How many times do we need to see yet another Cinderella rendition?);

… for judging my curriculum vitae solely on my Puerto Rican name; 

… for asking me if I need an interpreter (Um. I am speaking English to you over the phone.);

and finally, for instilling so much internal conflict and fear within me and my children for simply just being non-white.


Your faithful Twinkie

Feminist columnist, Rosita Gonz├ílez 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.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Love of Furr

Don't let the title of this particular post scare you away, if it does I don't blame you.  No this post is about the only form of unconditional love that I so far has been able to experience (besides that of my mum and dad). Guess who managed to capture and steal my heart some 7 years ago? A little innocent - or so it seems soft, furry kitten. 

It might seem pathetic or tragic that I so far has yet to discover , create and establish a love relationship with someone of the opposite sex. Who I do love? A pet, my pet - I decided to get the little guy once I moved away for university and had my own place even if it was a bit restricted. I resoned as such that I had a lot of time instead of space. Dad being the city boy that he is didn't approve of the idea while mum at the time seemed more understanding she's a country girl who had pets while she grew up she even approved.
As much as I love this particular cat I know he isn't the best cat or even suitable around children-not that I have any. Not yet. The thing is this lovely cat is anexious in nature, and extremely scared of the tinest thing we're similar that way. 

Maybe my relationship to my beloved cat embodies all my past friendships and connections that I managed to both create - and ultimately destroy. Being an adoptee has meant, at least for me that I have created bad friendships or destroyed the ones that had potential. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

My Baby's Hair: Will It Look Like A Black Girl's Hair?

When I think about my baby growing hair in the womb, I wonder if her hair will appear "ethnic" at all like mine and if it will affect how people view her racially.

I've been lucky to have a relatively smooth pregnancy so far, the only discomforting thing has been acid reflux and occasional heartburn for the second half of trimester #2. But the strangest thing was this: when I mentioned this symptom to people, one of the common responses was, "That means your baby is growing hair!"

I figured it was one of those old wives tales that people have used to guess a baby's appearance or sex--like how supposedly carrying your bump high means it's a boy. But then I found this scholarly study about the issue that seemed to confirm the idea that heartburn = more baby hair.

I like the idea of my baby growing hair in there. And I wonder if it will be kinky/curly like mine. My husband is white and his hair is straight, so of course there's a chance his genes will influence her hair more than mine. It would be special, I've always thought, to share physical traits with someone-- as an adopted person who grew up outside her birth family, it was one of those things I felt like I was missing out on. But when I think about my own experience with my hair, I'm reminded of how complicated it was for me growing up. It was my main racial marker in an environment where it was not safe to be a person of color or mixed heritage. My skin was passable, my eyes were light. But my hair was "different." It was beyond curly, but in my white town and with my white parents who had believed they were adopting a white baby, we had no language to describe what it really was. Kids at school would taunt me with the word "Afro" like it were a sin. I was called the n-word, not only from kids but once from an adult who detected that I was not just a white kid like everyone else. So, I began to hate my hair, try to hide it, and when I discovered chemical relaxers I thought I'd finally found safety. I quit telling people I was adopted. I claimed that I had relatives from far away who had curly hair and that's where I got it from--it must have skipped a generation because my parents' hair was of course not textured in the same way.

It took going away to college and finding black salons to finally understand how to take care of my hair, and embrace it. This was concurrent with my search for birth family, a family that was white on the maternal side and--surprise!--black on the paternal side. So embracing my hair went hand in hand with embracing myself and my ethnic background and family, which had previously either been ignored or shunned. I discovered that many black women--not adopted, not mixed--go through an experience of relaxing their hair, which some say is a self-hating thing because straight hair conforms to Euro-centric standards. There are scores of books and articles on the issue. Every time a high-profile black woman in the media chooses to relax her hair or not relax her hair, or even cut it off, a maelstrom erupts. Chris Rock made a documentary about what he thought was a perplexing "obsession with hair" among black women. (He recently said he might make a sequel inspired by Halle Berry launching a lawsuit against her ex for straightening their daughter's hair.) There's evidence that with the Natural Hair Movement it's getting better, which is good, but I think we still have a long way to go.

So, on the one hand, I want my daughter's hair to be like mine. I will know how to care for it, to encourage her to know and love it, and I certainly will NOT relax it. She will be raised in an environment where she will see and know people of various races. She will know her black biological cousins and grandfather. But yet, there's still a lot of negativity out there, especially for women, and especially for women of color, and of course I want to protect her from all negativity and pain (an impossible task, I know.)  

Her hair journey, whatever it is, will likely be a walk filled with more grace--and more support--than mine. Isn't that what we all want for our kids?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Kit Kat Bars and Hope

I was 9 years old, but my little legs and little belly made me look about 5. I was cute, no doubt. Stumbling into the social service office, I looked over at my case worker Drew's desk to make sure the picture I drew him was proudly displayed.

Drew was a very tall man, probably about 35 years old, though at my age he seemed ancient to me. Because of our stark height difference, he often patted me on the head like a puppy. I liked him a great deal; he was the first man in my life I ever trusted. He was kind-hearted, never raised his voice,  and lit up when I walked by. He lavished me with compliments.  I looked forward to our meetings, though at the time I did not understand his role.  I just knew that when I sat in his office, he had toys and Kit Kat bars. I liked Kit Kat bars!
The year after I was taken from my mother. I was tiny!
The year I was taken from my mother.

One day, he seemed a little unnerved, almost shaken. His smile was different. I knew, even in my young mind, that our conversation was not going to be a fun one. So, I clutched a wooden doll and looked for my Kit Kat bar. I braced myself for some type of bad news.  A lot of what Drew imparted to me is being imparted to thousands of children a day who enter the foster care system.

Drew  was one of the social workers who found me at about age 5 locked in a basement with burn marks, bruises, and left very sick from malnutrition. I was not toilet trained, could not walk and did not talk.  His accidental finding brought me to a hospital and led to the arrest of my mother and others in my home. I was then placed in a foster home.  The brother I was found with was sent somewhere else.

After casual chit-chat,  Drew told me his job was a hard one, that he did not always know if he was doing the right thing. He said he had few powers. His job was to protect kids like me and help them get big and healthy. My young mind really only wanted to know if his candy giving was going to stop! (Or if he had some news about my mother, who I wanted to see still.)  My mother's visits at the courthouse were less frequent and no one would tell me if I would ever see my brother again.

On this day in Drew's office, I was told my mother signed something to keep me in a foster home and let me be adopted someday. This was a good thing, he added that he "got me in the nick of time." One of the best days of his life, according to Drew, was  when he asked  to open a door at my dingy Brooklyn home.  Otherwise, I would have never come out of that basement. At the time, I just chewed my candy and sat on my hands ( which I do when I am nervous or anxious still to this day).

He told me a lot of bad people exist, his job was to keep me from the worst. Foster care would bring other people in my life that could be bad.  It could also bring good people too and new siblings. Drew said it would be hard, I may never see my one brother again..but this was the only way I would have a chance to grow up.  I was smart enough to know some type of storm was brewing. I was in the eye of it.

Drew explained tough times were around the corner; court visits, confusion, fear..but to stick it out. He told me to hold my head up high ( because I was the "coolest and bravest" person he knew), reach out for help, and know he would always keep my pictures.

He eventually told me my mother was going to disappear for good and that he would be moved to another case.  I stayed "loyal" to Drew; I never liked any other case worker.  In fact, after him, I hardly spoke at all in other "meetings." And no one else had picked up the Kit Kat hint, so I decided to not talk to a soul from then on. This was my first real heartbreak.

The debate over foster care improvements stirs great emotion in me now as a woman and mother myself, because the children in the system have no clear understanding of it. Many are sitting on their hands and relying on strangers to direct them. The numbers and statistics in our foster care system are downright tragic. The more I understand the trends and failures now as an adult, the more I try to unearth positives; but that is hard.
Me and my angel.
Of the nearly 400,000 children in the system,  thousands are being abused; left in the cold by a system so full of bureaucracy and corruption, that they are almost worse off than with abusive family members. Children are moved from place to place by the next family wanting a small monthly stipend. There is truth to this context, I lived it.
But, despite the horror stories, to many -  foster care is a saving grace. It is intended to save the lives of children who are abused, neglected, and being exposed to physical/emotional dangers.  Sometimes foster care does save souls and lives.
Of course, removing children from siblings, paying poorly for their care, and not providing proper mental health services or interventions, often places foster children in the highest risk category for re-abuse. However, sometimes, and less frequently, the giving heart of  a stable family saves these children. It does happen. Children are taken from families who have sexually, physically, and emotionally battered their own children, and they find safe haven with a new family.

As legislation changes across the nation, states are finally demanding oversight of foster homes. Often, a foster parent may have a clean criminal background, but other biological children, or spouses or friends in the home do not. Funding for these checks is mandatory. States are also demanding more money to place children in safer shelters when a home cannot be found. Other advocacy focuses on providing care past 18.
Some of the newest research and work on transitioning children out of foster care and through college, is the most impressive to me. Groups are fighting for the best academic, social, emotional and physical health of foster children.
These advocates are shedding light for kids left in the dark, like I was, with nothing but bare cement walls and little but a survival instinct. It gives me hope; hope that someone not saved in the nick of time, will be able to save themselves later on.


Monday, March 9, 2015

A Twinkie view of Madison, #TonyRobinson & #BlackLivesMatter

Yes. Madison. Nineteen-year-old Tony Terrell Robinson Jr. is dead after an altercation with a white Madison police officer. I want to move beyond the demonizing of Tony (as one Tweeter decided fitting) or the police officer so you can understand the historical and systemic racism that resulted in the death of another young black man.

In 2009, our family moved from Virginia to Wisconsin. My husband and I had consciously sought places where our children would not feel singled out as I had growing up in rural Tennessee.

The idyllic, progressive home to the nation’s liberals, Madison, Wisconsin, beckoned with promises of public schools where we naively believed racism to be erased.

On my children’s first day of school, I realized that Madison was only white, affluent liberal. As I walked my children to school, I noticed that the children getting off the buses were predominately black and brown. It was as though I had traveled back in time. (You may ask, “What does this have to do with adoption?”)

My position as a twinkie with a Hispanic name has caused a lot of confusion for those who know me only by name. In person, I am an Asian person with proxy-white privilege, some from my adoptive family, but most from my British husband. In my first years in Madison, I found that white liberals felt safe saying things in front of me because I was masquerading as a white person.

I heard …

“Oh, they send their children (Ethiopian adoptees) to private school because they aren’t like those people.”

“How can I drive a kid I don’t know?” (And yet, this parent was more than comfortable driving other white unknown classmates because she felt comfortable talking to the parents.)

“They are bussed to different schools from the low-income housing because no school wants all of them.” (This one particularly bothered me, so I asked why not.) “If it makes you feel better they all go to one high school and are back together there.”

And I witnessed …

… this t-shirt at a popular Monona Terrace event (yes, the same Monona Terrace from Whad’ya Know fame)

… my daughter’s black kindergarten friends disciplined by substitutes who did not know them, as a white classmate misbehaved and was ignored. 

… school events segregated into haves (mostly white) and have nots (mostly black and brown) when the silent auctions were announced.

… children who rode the bus be told to get on it when they wanted to stay after school and enjoy the after school programs that the affluent, all-white children were afforded.

I was raised in the South, I know racism.  But this sort of “under the table” racism was new to me. I wrote emails to school board members, attended PTO meetings and asked questions of the administration. My questions became muted. After a year as PTO president, I felt the need to step down; the work took a toll on my family. 

White friends became fewer. My connections to other out of state transplants, particularly other East Coasters and Virginians became my solace. I became closer to brown and black friends in Madison, and they educated me.

I heard their stories of …

… being pulled over because they were going too slow, they looked like a “suspect” the police were looking for …

… children of color being ignored as the white classmate’s complaints are quickly attended.

… children of color being disciplined differently from their white classmates.

… being afraid of coming to PTO meetings because of the all white PTO.

People of color (POC) and myself included are singled out solely because we are immediately identifiable as our color. Madison is currently only white liberal. But I do see a shift. A small group is forming to blur the lines. Whites are listening; POC are speaking.

Just as the life of one young Jimmie Lee Jackson changed our nation, may the life of Tony Robinson change Madison and finally advance our nation. 

Feminist columnist, Rosita Gonz├ílez 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.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

A Community for Haitian Adoptees

image via Etsy
Last year I started researching what resources were available for Haitian adoptees. A quick Google search of the term “Haitian Adoptees” yielded many pages of search results for websites and blogs for adoptive parents, adoption agencies, and orphanages in Haiti. Several pages into my Google search, I finally found something that was targeted towards Haitian adoptees: a statement from 2010 created by a group called the Adoptees of Color Roundtable that opposed Haitian adoptions and instead advocated for the rights of Haitian children by “working towards family reunification and caring for children in their own communities.”

Besides this statement, I couldn’t find a current, active community. There was nothing for a Haitian adoptee connect to. Clearly, there was something missing, so I created a Facebook group. It started out with just myself and my siblings, but it has quickly grown and doubled in size in the last few months and includes members from four different countries.

In the first few weeks, I had several parents request membership to the closed group, and they seemed genuinely surprised when I told them that the group was only for adoptees. One mother wrote back and said she wanted to support us. I replied that she could support us by understanding our need for autonomy. And in the future, she could support her child by helping her have access to adoptee groups and getting her plugged into the Haitian community. These are two things that I wish I had when I was younger.

Growing up, I felt little connection to Haiti and Haitian culture. My home was Canada and besides my siblings and a few other Haitian adoptees from our church, I wasn’t connected to a larger community of Haitians. The first time I returned to Haiti was on a missions trip when I was 18. The trip left me wanting to know more about Haiti beyond the one week trip, and the lazy tagline I had been fed, “the poorest country in the Western hemisphere”. Yes, Haiti was poor, but there was something beneath the surface of poverty that I connected to, and I felt a sense of “home”. After that trip, I started trying to figure out my place in the Haitian community. Although it’s taken me years to become comfortable writing about Haiti and my adoption, that first trip to Haiti was the beginning of my effort to carve out an identity as a Haitian in the Diaspora.  

When I started the adoptee group, I wanted to share my recent experiences. I was happy to share the emotional ups and downs of finding my family, and the feelings of apprehension I still had. When I shared my story, I was grateful to hear from other members who had also found their families. In the past few months I was the one receiving the advice, and it was comforting to hear from people who didn’t tell me how I should feel. There is something so powerfully reassuring about being with a group of people who “get” you.

Today, there is a large group of Haitian adoptees around the world, and another generation that will follow. In the months that followed the earthquake in 2010, interest in Haitian adoptions spiked, and adoptions that were already in progress were expedited. The most recent statistics from the US Department of State show that 388 children were adopted from Haiti to the United States in 2013. Many of these Haitian adoptees will come to a point where they want to learn more about Haiti, and my hope is to make the journey a little less lonely with the help of an adoptee community.

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 writes essays, short stories, and poems that usually focus on adoption.

Friday, March 6, 2015

International Adoption and a Story of Deportation by guest author Anissa Druesedow

I was born in Jamaica November 15, 1970 to a woman who left my sister and I first with our grandmother and later with my grandfather’s lover who had 3 sons with him.

When the sexual abuse came, not only from my biological mother’s boyfriends, but from my uncles too, I tried to tell my grandfather and he didn’t believe me. I told anyone I who would listen. My grandfather put us an orphanage and beat me for telling lies about his sons. I quickly learned no one wanted to hear about sexual abuse and you just got in to trouble for telling anyone. While in the orphanage we were abused, not fed properly and used by the orphanage to get donations from the United States. The donations would come in they would take pictures with us and send the pictures back to the states and then take all of gifts away. By this time my biological mother was in the United States going on with her life. One day my sister and I were adopted by an American military family. I now had 4 sisters and two brothers (one of them also adopted in Panama). We started living as a family, on the Army base called Fort Clayton in Panama. We went to school, swam, and received medical care and life was good. At the same time, it was not the easiest transition to be adopted into a family with existing biological children who were treated differently. You start to think you can be better so you can be loved like them. You start to be not mind being introduced as “Anissa who is adopted.”

When it came time for my dad to leave Panama we were all packed up and the US Army moved us to the states. I thought this would be the best thing for me, that I would live happily ever after. One day in the States I was playing soccer in gym class and fell and my calf started to swell. My parents did not know my medical history. I was taken to the base clinic where they thought it was a pulled muscle. Eventually they discovered that it was cancer. Because my father was in the military, we were flown to Washington DC to Walter Reed medical hospital immediately for me to have more tests done. In 1986 I had my left leg amputated 3 inches above the knee. I would hear, “Don’t be ungrateful--if you were not adopted you would have been dead from cancer.” Though I wanted to run away, I could not go anywhere, were was I going to go? I was a walking medical bill. I had to hear about how much my prosthetic legs cost. How it was too expensive and how the insurance was paying but once I turned 18 they did not know how it was going to be paid. How I better find a husband with insurance and marry quickly.

I did. After graduating high school in 1990 I married my first husband, the father of my daughter. Although we were married for 11 years, legally we were together for less than one year. I became a single mother, juggling multiple jobs and subsisting on welfare when there was no work. I did not receive child support. In 2003 I committed a crime and was convicted in 2004 of grand larceny. I pled guilty to the charge. My public defendant told me it was the best I would get and I believed him. I was sentenced to one to three years in prison. I was told I would be out in three months on work release.

When I went to the women’s prison for processing, I received a visit from ICE who treated me like I came in the country illegally. I was asked, “How did you get to the country?,” “What border did you cross?”, and “Who brought you here?” I explained I was adopted and my father brought me in to the states on military orders and I was daughter to US citizens’. They didn’t believe me. I was then sent to Albion women’s prison and became eligible for my work release but I could not be released because I now had an immigration hold on me. I contacted my parents they did not even show up for court. They said they did not want to get in trouble. They did the best they could and this was happening because I broke the law. By then I had been in prison for a year and the state did not want me in their custody anymore. I was then taken to Bedford hills again and I was going to be released if ICE did not show up for me.

ICE showed up, told me my parents did not finalize my adoption and I would be deported. I was taken into ICE custody, then to a county jail in New Jersey. At every court date my lawyer would say, “You will not be deported, what they are doing to you is illegal. You will win this.” She would make me feel better. Then on the way back to the jail the ICE officers would tell me I would be deported. Then my lawyer died of an asthma attack.

In 2006 I was deported to Jamaica, a country I left when I was 6 years old. I landed in Jamaica and was taken into a room and questioned for what seemed like an eternity, they did not believe I was Jamaican. I asked them, “If you don’t believe I’m a Jamaican why did you accept me?” They could not answer; I was set free. It was night time, I had no money, I knew I had family there but did not know them. I was in Kingston and I was supposed to be in Montego Bay but there was no way for me to get to the other side of the island. I had kept in touch with a woman from a church and when I was able to make a collect call I did and they sent someone to the airport to pick me up. My prosthetic leg was broken and I was deported just like that. I had to leave Jamaica because there was not future there myself and my daughter. I also had a Panamanian citizenship so I packed up what little we had and moved. Even since then I have been living here In Panama. I had to pull my daughter out of school and send her back to the states to get her GED. I could not afford her schooling here in Panama in a private school and I could not put her in public schools. She is now 22 years old and has had two years of college. We are both alive and trying to make it. She suffers from depression due to our situation and so do I. Ever since I got to Panama I have been trying to find a way to legally get back to my family and the country and culture that I know. I have a hard time adjusting to this culture and just want to be able to be close to my daughter. As for my parents, I’m still that 11 year old girl that just wants a mom or dad. We have not spoken in probably 6 years after I dared questioning the reason why was my paper work not completed.

I get that I broke the law. I get I had to do time in prison for it. What I don’t get is how I can be deported to a place I don’t know when my parents are US citizens and--furthermore-- my birth certificate lists my parents as US citizens.


Anissa is an adult adoptee. Adopted in Panama City, Panama 1985 by a military family stationed at the military base. Deported in 2006 after a run in with law to her country of birth Jamaica. She is a wife and a mother. Since her deportation she has remarried and does volunteer work at the local orphanages including the one she lived in as a child. She enjoys bathing her five boxers (dogs), frequent visits to the temple and just relaxing. She is also looking forward to one day being reunited with the family that adopted her.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

My Sister's Father by guest author Mary Anna King

The first time I saw the man was in my mother’s living room.

[And here is where the qualifiers begin.]

The first time I saw the man was in my birth-mother’s living room, not the living room where I spent hundreds of Saturday mornings watching cartoons, or where I practiced piano for one hour every day. This was a living room that was only vaguely more familiar to me than it was to him in the autumn of 2005, when we met. I was twenty-two years old. If he hadn’t been so uncomfortable that day, I don’t think he would have left an impression on me at all.

But it was clear from the way he adjusted his glasses. How he remained standing when everyone else sat. His laugh so tight that it could have been a cough. He was uncomfortable. And his discomfort became graver when his daughter who was also my sister smiled into the pages of an old photo album, seeing for the first time her features displayed on the faces of her ancestors. Something her adoptive father could never give her. Where once he had gained a daughter when I lost a sister, the poles of that event were now reversed. At twenty-two years old I lacked the capacity to appreciate the similarities of our situations. I couldn’t believe that an adult might be just as confused as I was by the way adoption can spin your emotional compass.

I suspected, from the beginning, that he wasn’t wild about me. But he could have just been nervous. I didn’t really know him, after all.

After our reunion, he told my sister that he didn’t want her to see us again. He didn’t understand why she would want to—she’d met us, she knew where she came from. Her questions were answered. He was her family and that must be enough.

The realization that this man did not like me stung my twenty-two year old ego. And because weak people get hurt and strong people get even—a truth that had been planted in me from youth—I decided that I didn’t like him right back.

I didn’t see him again until my sister’s wedding. I was thirty years old. I had grown taller. I wore heels.

I was surprised that my sister not only invited her birth family but that she incorporated all of us into her wedding. Two of our sisters were bridesmaids and one played the ceremony music. Our brother’s son was the ring bearer. She listed our birthmother in the program alongside her adoptive mother.

When her father couldn’t make it to the wedding rehearsal– he was getting over the flu—my (adoptive) father stood in his place. Everyone said how nicely it had worked out. How handy that the nature of our fragmented family created back-ups. I couldn’t help feeling that our presence there might have been part of what kept my sister’s father away that day. But the rehearsal went off well. And the wedding too. And he asked me at the end of the reception if I could help him download the photos from his digital camera. I don’t know how these things work, he said. And I felt useful, and I felt sorry. And it seemed that time maybe had wrought more graceful improvement on both of us than any direct conversation could have.

He was diagnosed with cancer in 2011.

I watched the updates on my sister’s facebook timeline.

Doctors found a tumor, she wrote.

Her father had gone to the same physician for twenty years. Then he happened to see a substitute when his usual man was on vacation. The substitute doctor found a tumor the size of a football in my sister’s father’s abdomen. It must have been growing for years, my sister told me. Her voice crackled with frustration.

A month later she wrote Chemotherapy. Prognosis good. Thanks for your prayers.

Then, later still, beneath a photo of a candy-red motorcycle Dad’s handling chemo well; took me for a ride this afternoon.

Then for many months, nothing. Until the news that the chemo hadn’t been effective as they had hoped. Doctors were looking into surgery, she wrote.

Then there was a second surgery. Longer this time because of scar tissue from the first.

Then radiation, when the surgeries didn’t get everything.

Then hospice, after his body took all the radiation it could handle.

Below each update my sister’s friends typed smiley faces, hearts, said we are praying, you are in our prayers. It was a phrase I had often said myself when I was a fervently entrenched Catholic. Because you’re in my prayers has a nicer ring than that’s horrible and there is nothing I can do about it.

That’s horrible and I am glad it is not happening to me.

At cocktail parties in Los Angeles I tell people, now, that I am a “reformed” Catholic, a person who no longer believes in such magic. We share a chuckle and I feel flush with cleverness. I don’t say that during earthquakes, I still whisper Hail Mary’s under my dining room table. I don’t say that while I no longer believe in much of the dogma, I miss the comfort of hymns, of a cache of memorized prayers.

Yesterday afternoon I was in downtown Los Angeles when my phone jangled with a text message from my sister.

He’s gone, she wrote.

I couldn’t call her back at the moment. I didn’t want to intrude and I was at work, folding napkins in preparation for the Friday dinner rush. So I wandered into the walk-in refrigerator to text her back.

Then I spent the next seven hours pouring white burgundy and describing plates of Farmer’s Market fare to a room full of strangers wearing sport coats and backless dresses. When I had to explain to my boss why I accidentally opened the wrong bottle of India style Saison at table 43, I said I mis-heard, that I grabbed the wrong thing from the fridge. Because what right do I have to be weird about my sister’s father dying? I know the way that loss can hollow a person. I would not wish that feeling on an enemy. But what right do I have for any part of my sister’s grief?

I did not know her father. I did not know him, and I spent many years being angry at him for his discomfort at my very existence. And I am grateful that he loved my sister. Though his loving her could only have happened because I lost her.

And now that she has lost him…..a related loss (A greater loss….?).

I don’t know what to say.

And an old part of my soul flexes with the reminder that these are the moments for which prayers were created.

So, reformed Catholic though I am, I genuflect to my apartment walls and I say:

Eternal Rest grant unto him, O Lord.

And may perpetual light shine upon him.

May he rest in peace.

About the Guest Author
Mary Anna King was adopted at the age of ten and grew up in Oklahoma City. Her memoir, Bastards--a chronicle of her separation from, and subsequent reunion with her six biological siblings-- is forthcoming from W.W. Norton & Co in June of 2015.

Monday, March 2, 2015



I have lost my way

so far

from where
I began.

The grains of rice I scattered
were gathered and
like bullets,

cold and sharp

in the throats of my ancestors who
will never know
who I am.

A blank spot in the book
(that only I can see)
Cut off from the tree.

like rotting fruit,
a dead limb,

Carried away to be buried for someone else’s sake.

Someone else’s garden.
Someone else’s crop.
Someone else’s heart.


A bleak metamorphosis
as though rising from the dead
to only die again

The grave strapped to my back,
As I  learn to walk
In your land

an eternal sojourner
a half citizen

Who never existed.

But only to serve you
in your utopia
of blessed children
of the rich and gifted

Required the deletion
and eradication
of all prior inheritance.

But the shell could not be discarded.

So, you carved your mark.
Like half moons
into the bones of my face,

Scars to remind me,
to insure that 
I cannot neglect

How lucky and loved I am

Elevated and saved
above all others

the unlucky,
the unfortunate,
crouching in a corner


I would have been.

So I stand at attention.

stiff and erect

with a bullet in my pocket

etched with
the words--




This poem is for all of my fellow adoptees, and in particular for those who are no longer with us...who were never able to shake the graves from their backs, who were never able to find their way back, who despite their valiant, courageous, precious efforts were never able to forget...I will not forget you...We will never forget you...

To read more by Mila, click here.