Sunday, July 2, 2017

KAAN - Learning to Listen

Me, Grace, Rosita, Shaaren, Emily, and Susan sharing a moment
“Welcome to Pittsburgh,” the flight attendant cooed over the intercom. “If you’re visiting, I hope you enjoy your stay. For our other passengers, welcome home.” 

The once quiet cabin was suddenly filled with passengers getting out of their seats, stretching their stiff limbs, and rattling the overhead compartments in search of their luggage.

It had been 10 years since I had visited Pittsburg, and in more ways than one, a lot had changed since then.

The weekend marked the first time I would be sharing my story at an adoption conference. And I was a little nervous.

When Rosita asked me last summer if I’d be interested in sharing my experiences as part of a panel of transracial adoptees, I told her, yes of course. But as the weekend drew closer, I started wondered if I was going to feel out of place. I mean, it was called the “Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network” Conference. What was an adoptee from Haiti going to share? How I would I be received?

But despite my apprehension, over the course of the weekend, I was openly welcomed into the Korean adoptee community.  

On Friday afternoon, I was a part of a session called “The Global Diaspora.” With Rosita moderating, Grace, Shaaren and I shared what it was like to be adoptees from China, India, and Haiti. As Grace and Shaaren spoke, I found myself nodding my head throughout their segments.

Sharing with Rosita and Grace.                  Photo: Allen Majors

I listened as they each shared their struggles of identity growing up. All three of us talked about feeling more comfortable with ourselves when we moved away from home. Through college, different cities, and new friends, we shed our “adoption background story” and learned how to rebuild ourselves.

We talked about finding mirrors for ourselves through movies, our children, and connecting to adoptee communities online and in person. We also discussed our frustrations and successes in searching for our birth families.

There was so much that the three of us shared. Our histories, although separate, had some of the same threads woven throughout.

And as the weekend unfolded, I found that I had a lot in common with other adoptees too.

On Saturday morning, Rosita, Shaaren and I hosted a session on how being an adoptee influences our mothering. We had other adoptees sit in the inner circle, and for an hour we had a candid discussion. We cried about the obstacles that our children face - some of the same obstacles we endured growing up. We laughed about the craziness of pregnancy, and we connected over the desire to have children - to see our faces and features in someone else for the first time.

During our two sessions, I felt comfortable sharing. During the question and answer period of our sessions, people asked me questions. I talked. I explained. I described. And they listened.  

Listening and learning with Shaaren.        Photo: Allen Majors

But after Saturday morning’s session, I decided to stay quiet and become a listener again.
I listened to a panel discussion about Asian masculinity. I went to a session about navigating the sometimes complicated relationship with adoptive parents as an adult adoptee.

I attended a packed and very lively discussion about racism. The participants talked about white guilt, micro aggressions, and being an ally. There was so much to take in. So much to unpack. But I (tweeted) and listened.

Listening means holding back. Listening is humbling. It’s quiet. It means sometimes wanting to say something, but then turning the thoughts over in your mind. It’s taking notes. It’s honoring the voices that are so often silenced.

Sometimes listening is more powerful than talking. Listening says, “I see you. I give you this space. I want to learn.”

In every conversation that weekend, I saw myself. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t been born in Korea. I felt a sense of community among my fellow adoptees.

It’s a powerful feeling being surrounded by people who get you. Conversations are different. Sometimes you can skip the pleasantries and talk about the things that matter. There are some things that only transracial adoptees have experienced.

On Sunday afternoon, I boarded my flight to go back to South Florida. I was exhausted. But I also felt at peace. I had spent a weekend with a group of people, that regardless of where we were born, understood each other.

Another chirpy flight attendant came on the intercom. “If you were visiting Pittsburgh this weekend, I hope you enjoyed your stay.”

I looked out at the window, silently saying goodbye to the city, and smiled.


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