Wednesday, September 9, 2020

"Better Times Will Come" (Janis Ian), by an Adoptee and Birthmother

This song is "Better Times Will Come," by Janis Ian, sung by my birthmother and myself. Janis Ian wrote the song at the beginning of the pandemic. One article described it, "For those of us who are losing sleep, worrying about the death count and financial concerns—and feeling restless from the isolation of social distancing—the song is a welcome relief." The artist shared the song with the world, encouraging others to sing it and share it. She shares the many renditions on her Facebook page. It's been covered by famous artists, out-of-work musicians, and people like us just needing to feel hope right now. 

The feelings of isolation, yearning to connect with family, and the hope for better times resonated with us as a birthmother and adoptee in reunion.  

About once a week, my birthmother and I play music together. We've been in reunion over thirty years, since I was eighteen. We now live in the same town, only a few miles apart. Although people on the outside may see our relationship as the ideal of reunion because we are part of each others families and integrated into each other's lives, the truth is that our reunion has been—and will continue to be—a struggle throughout our lives. Reunion means coming to terms with the loss and trauma that is so carefully hidden away in the adoption and relinquishment stories we are told. 

Music has always been part of my birthmother's life. Music was like a member of her family, and she went on to become a professional musician. But music was foreign to me. Despite piano lessons when I was young, I just couldn't get past insecurities and doubts. The thought of singing in front of anyone was horrifying. My adoptive parents weren't musical, it just wasn't part of our lives. 

When I met my birthmother, I wondered if I might have a spark for music myself. But despite being given a guitar by my birth-grandfather, my birthmother and I couldn't quite sync up. I was too shy to learn, she seemed too uncomfortable to teach me. Under the surface, I think it was just too hard. Music brought up what we'd lost in such a concrete way that it was too painful to get too close to. 

A couple of years ago, we shared our stories of reunion with each other. We'd been working on a book about reunion for years. We wanted to tell the story from each of our points of view, but wouldn't read each other's side until the draft was done. We finally finished the draft and read our story as a whole, and suddenly, that weekend after we read, we were able to play music together. Something that had been forbidden for so long had opened up to us mysteriously, magically. 

What I heard was strange. I had loved my birthmother's voice but never considered myself a decent singer, so I was shocked to hear our voices were the same as we sang together. Singing in unison, it was impossible to discern whose voice was whose. Singing in harmony was like singing different parts on the same voice. 

We still hope to finish the book one day, but for now music has been our focus. It's been our primary way of connection, more healing than anything we've ever done and something we both cherish and enjoy. 

Only now we play music at least six feet apart and outside. But it's something. And it's real. 

Better times will come. 

Friday, September 4, 2020

Getting this MD is my Form of Protest: Being in Medical School During COVID and a Pandemic of Anti-Blackness (Part II)

SPECIAL NOTE: Brittanie is now halfway to her fundraising goal. Please continue to give generously. These funds are needed to help Brittanie afford tutoring so that she can pass her exams to receive her Medical Doctorate. Her Cash App is: $Brittaniefloyd. And, her Venmo is: @Brittanie-Floyd and her PayPal pool can be found here.

By Amanda Transue-Woolston, MSS, LSW

"While this year hasn’t been easy for most of us, it has been especially hard on the black community." These words echo in my mind as I continued the rest of my interview with the incredible Ms. Brittanie Floyd. I had already learned a bit about her adoption story and how it played an important role in her aspirations to become a psychiatrist. Her origin story is one we don't hear of often in the adoption community. The exact circumstances of her story may not be rare. However, late-discovery, same-race, infant adoption surrounding infertility is not a perspective often voiced from the BIPOC adoptee perspective. 

Her tales of childhood and the nuances and experiences shaped by the United States' history of racial oppression were compelling. I found myself wanting to ask her so many more questions. But, it was time to move forward in the interview and ask Brittanie about who she is today. She is a black female MD candidate with a recent ADHD diagnosis working as an essential worker during two global pandemics of both medical illness and anti-blackness. How does that even work? How does she not only survive but thrive in an exclusive, high-intensity, competitive academic environment? These are just a few aspects of her life that Brittanie and I discussed, next.

When I was in social work school, I noticed that a great number of my peers were drawn to the profession and to mental health because of struggles of their own. Wanting to understand myself better was a significant motivator in my own journey to becoming a licensed therapist. Yet Brittanie did not receive her ADHD diagnosis until this year. What was her pull to psychiatry, I wondered.
Psychiatry is a way of helping people heal that is totally different from any other field of medicine. It takes everything into account. Your life experiences, family history, and medical history; psychiatry puts all of it together to help you heal. It is a vital medical specialty that has been written off or seen as taboo for far too long. I want to help people, especially those of color, realize that there is no shame in seeking mental health care. It is just as important as maintaining your blood pressure, and in some cases, it may even be contributing to it!
Where does Brittanie see herself in this field? I found myself curious to know more about her dreams and desires for delivering her vital services to future patients.
Thus far in my medical care career, I have seen far too many mentally ill patients shuffled through the ER department. Once there, they are left alone in a room until someone can get to them.There's no immediate intervention because their illness does not present like other medical illnesses seen in the ER. It is my dream to create a soothing, calm, safe environment where people of all colors, cultures, and social economic groups can receive unbiased professional help.

My dream is to open a psychiatric practice that offers urgent care services after hours as well as maintenance psychiatric care. It is my dream for anyone who may be suffering from a mental illness to have access to empathetic care, around the clock.
It was clear to me that this highly empathetic professional was moved by her experiences in medicine thus far. Her desire to build bridges in care and service gaps was palpable. But what is it like getting there? My mind moved from her compassion for others to wondering how she navigates this journey, herself.

My medical school journey has been a wild ride. During the year in college when I found out I was adopted, I was taking my pre-med heavy classes. And, as you can expect, I did not do well. I bounced back the best I could, and I graduated from The University of South Carolina (USA) with a BA in experimental psychology. 

Brittanie's Medical School Journey

After that, I still wanted to be a doctor. I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, and I worked as a medical tech in an emergency department and at a 24 hour urgent care center. I tutored physiology at Winthrop as a way to pay for my second try at those heavy pre-med classes. It took me two years to complete those prerequisites, and to apply to medical school. I applied all over the country, but that one year in college got me wait-listed. So, I chose to go to a school on the beautiful Caribbean island of St. Maarten. 

One semester before I was to be finished with the basic science part of med school, hurricane Irma hit. It wiped out the island and our school. I lost all my possessions in that hurricane, but I made it home. Two weeks later, the school decided to relocate us to Preston, England, to share available classrooms with a school named UCLAN. It was a disaster, to put it lightly. There were visa issues, which meant there was no professor for over a month. I had to adjust to England’s weather after living in St. Maarten. I’m sure you can imagine the mental health effects of that. 

After that extended semester in England, I came home with just one month to study for my first round of board exams. I jumped over that hurdle, despite all of this and my then-undiagnosed ADHD. Once I got my passing score, my school gave me ten days to find a place to live in New York City. By the grace of God, I got to NYC at 5AM, unloaded my Uhaul, and reported for my first day of rotations at 8AM. 

Now, in my last semester of medical school, COVID19 strikes. And, I have to believe that I will clear this hurdle too. But this time I am breaking the stereotype that we black women are strong, resilient, and therefore don’t need or deserve help. It is a racist and outdated tactic to keep the marginalized where they are. But no longer. Getting this MD is my form of protest. It is my hope that you and everyone reading my story will support me in doing my part to change the world.

On Resiliency

I wonder what must be in the minds of my readers right now. In my mind's eye, that theoried visuo-spatial sketchpad, Brittanie's story brought up the image of a map. I saw a plan traveling from the U.S. to the Carribean to the U.K. and then to New York City. I saw the warm sun and felt humid heat and was filled with chills when the sky became overcast in London as raindrops proverbially fell onto my skin. I could then hear the loudness of the bustling sidewalks of New York City, a strain in my back from carrying boxes up too many stairs, and the sterile smell that I know always hits my face when I walk into a hospital. 

And then my heart sped faster as I thought about what it must be like to have just found out about my adoption during this - during a family dispute, no less. The amount of times each day surrounding people were likely to be less helpful, less considerate, less kind, less accommodating, when not outright hostile and attacking, toward a young black professional. At what point would I - would anyone - have simply collapsed and given up? Brittanie is not only still standing, she is excited, even.

I told Britanie about our recent roundtable discussion at Lost Daughters. I asked her about this expectation of resiliency against which she leverages her MD in an act of protest. I wanted to know more. What are the unseen inequitable energy drains for black women in medical school?
I believe one of the biggest drains I face is one that is extremely prevalent for black women in medicine and in all professions today. We are performing at or above the level of our non-black peers within a system that was never built for us to succeed. Now we are called to the podium to “help fix that system” when something happens that the world cannot look away from. 

On the heels of George Floyd’s murder, came the largest protest that this country has ever seen. It's during a pandemic, at that. This year hasn’t been easy for most of us, but it has been especially hard on the black community. To give a personal example, I was being asked to join a panel of other black medical students in May to “talk about how we feel and how the school can facilitate change.” This may sound like a nice gesture. However, it is "performance activism," and a waste of our precious study time. 

But we show up anyway, re-traumatize ourselves, reiterate the importance of including examples of medical conditions in black folks and POC, because we are dying from it, tell our stories of being excluded from learning situations in hospitals because there are patients that don’t want us “to touch them.” Afterwards, we are left drained, emotionally triggered, angry, sad, and out of 2 hours of study time. But we still have to take the same tests, on the same days as our non black classmates. It is draining, it is unfair, and it is just one of the ways that the system continues to work against us as black women.

There are indeed two pandemics happening in the world around us. Brittanie herself is a target of ant-blackness while saving lives during COVID19. What has that been like? I wondered.

It has been unreal and humbling. Before medical students were pulled out of hospitals in late March, I was doing a clinical rotation in the Bronx. I have never seen so many sick people who could not get care because there were no beds, no tests, no personal protective equipment (PPE). After quarantine began, I volunteered on the crisis help text line and delivered food and medication to those in my neighborhood who could not leave their homes while doing my best to study. For at least 2 months I saw body bags coming out of apartment buildings on my street. It was heartbreaking.
Who is Brittanie outside all of this?
I am a proud activist for human rights, a Harry Potter fanatic, a music lover, and a mom to a sassy 13 year old kitty named Candi that I adopted 2 years ago. I love nature and the water. I even dusted off my old kiddie wading pool to enjoy a little socially distant splash this summer. I love to cook, host guests, and hit the dance floor to some Beyonce. Last, but I think the best, I am an honorary auntie to my best friend's two amazing kids.
What does Brittanie love about herself?
I love that I am persistent in my pursuit of positive and healthy growth. I never let any grass grow under my feet, and I still nurture my inner child! Now who wants to get circles run around them in a game of Uno? 
This is the most important part. How can we support Brittanie in achieving her dreams?
You can support me by cheering me on these next 2 months and donate to my tutoring fund so that I have the structure and guidance passing my last 5 exams of medical school. COVID has caused huge changes for me as a medical student. While these 5 exams were supposed to be spread out over 6 months, they have been delayed and therefore stacked together within the next 2 months. These exams are the only thing in between me and my MD degree. Medical school tutoring sessions cost between $240-$300, but they are helping immensely. I’d like to reach my goal of working with a tutor for 40 hours to ensure readiness for my exams. The prices are extremely steep and a perfect example of why many black people, POC, and those of lower socioeconomic status are unable to access resources and get left behind.
Brittanie's story of navigating abuse, trauma, late discovery adoption, multiple moves, hurricane devastation, addressing COVID19 during NYC, and addressing racism in the wake of the unrest following George Floyd's murder reminds me of a quote I once saw. Novelist Kola Boof said that a black women are the only flowers on earth that grow unwatered. What Brittanie has been up against cannot be simply described as a lack of water. She has been scorched, and yet she thrives. She will achieve her medical doctorate despite what the world has thrown at her, and will serve a world that in large part does not deserve her. We can all do our part to rally around her and make that better. I hope you will join me in that.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Meet the Black Female Late-Discovery Adoptee Poised to Become a Psychiatrist and Change the World

By Amanda H.L. Transue-Woolston, MSS, LSW

Did you ever say, "My brain works differently than yours," to your parents? I remember saying those words to my adoptive parents, on more than one occasion. I tried to get my meek and long-suffering mother to understand my bold boisterousness. I tried to ease the frustration of my mathematically-gifted father as he pinched the bridge of his nose during one of our many late-night homework sessions. I went into mental health work in large part to prove that there is more than one way to understand people. Even, to prove to myself that there were legitimate ways to understand me

I thudded the table YES when Ms. Brittanie N. Floyd responded to my interview questions mentioning a similar struggle. "As a child, any attempt to explain to my parents that my brain just worked differently and that I was trying was met with resistance and disbelief, she said. “Brittanie, we know you are smart” they would say. “You just need to apply yourself, try harder.” Brittanie told me this story as a part of describing what inspired her to become a psychiatrist.

Prior to this interview, please imagine my excitement, nay ... my outright fangirling ... when one of my good friends told me that, Brittanie, her adoptee bestie was about to become a psychiatrist. Living in a health care and mental health desert, I find it a challenge to find a good psychiatrist for my child clients. Despite all of the connections I have in the adoptee community, I have never met a black female adoptee psychiatrist. I am all too abundantly aware of the barriers that keep black women out of medicine. "Oh god Angela, please, please connect me to her. Tell me it's not weird that I need to know this woman." 

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Round Table: Verbal Abuse Towards Women.

What does it mean when male public figures publicly verbally assault female colleagues, as in the recent incident where Representative Yoho accosted AOC and later called her a “fucking bitch” to the press?

Has this happened to you? Does the way you were raised influence how you respond? What is your gut reaction to men who verbally abuse women? Here is a WashPo article for some context.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Round Table: Black People Shouldn't Have to Be Resilient

What does it mean for you to be expected to be resilient by your school, family, workplaces, etc. while they avoid confronting racism?
What is your biggest bandwidth drain(s)?
What are the invisible (to white people) consequences you experience as a result of being drained?

Lost Daughters Respond:

Grace Newton

Resiliency is such a misused word in adoption communities and in general!

Stephanie Oyler

Resilience to me also equals exhaustion. The mere fact that you are resilient, means that you are faced with obstacles that you have to overcome time and time again. That’s how you encompass the act of resilience. It’s tiring.

Resilience is sitting in a coworker led support group and having to bite your tongue when people are outwardly expressing their opinions to the situations of racial tension happening right now in our nation. Its realizing they are focusing on the items and statues, but not the lives lost. It’s in the moment attempting to come up with a polite way (in your mind) to disagree that spares the other person's feelings because you must remain professional. It means trying to come up with this thought fast enough before the conversations shifts and you lose that moment to calmly educate.

Resilience is having white adoptive parents who are also very conservative Republicans who fail to see the bigger picture of having a transracial adoptee. It’s them not even thinking about checking in on their black daughter during a time of racial unrest in the country. It’s avoiding the subject and hiding behind the “colorblind” mentality.

Resilience is a POC's everyday life because what’s going on is so intertwined within the institutions and systems that we live everyday and the bias that individuals carry around without even knowing; it’s the constant micro-aggressions and comments. Resilience is exhausting.

Shania-Sophia Dunbar Ives

Today I promised myself that I will stop doing these 20 things:

  1. Putting on a smile to make white people feel comfortable.
  2. Watering down my blackness to make white people feel comfortable.
  3. Saying hello to white people that look scared of me, to make them feel comfortable.
  4. Being civil with people who have been racist/ignorant/said microaggressions, to make them and the other white people around us feel comfortable.
  5. Suppressing my anger to ignorant comments/micro-aggressions, to make white people feel comfortable
  6. Not calling out performative allyship.
  7. Thanking people for understanding that racism is bad
  8. Not being my full beautiful black self.
  9. Not commenting when people call racism a “political matter”.
  10. Hesitating about changing my hair because of the stupid comments people will make and them asking me to explain how my hair “works”.
  11. Explaining how my hair “works”.
  12. Believing people when they call themselves allies when they have not shown this to be true.
  13. Explaining why, as a black person, I feel small in places dominated by white people.
  14. Talking when I don’t feel like it, to make white people feel comfortable.
  15. Being surprised when white people see the real black me and feel uncomfortable.
  16. Saying sorry too often.
  17. Saying sorry when I’m not sorry.
  18. Entering into conversations about race that I know will drain me mentally.
  19. Explaining systematic racism to white people.
  20. Being strong to make others comfortable.
Being misunderstood is emotionally exhausting. Being misunderstood, with no attempt to understand and then expected to be resilient and cheerful is even worse. For the majority of my life, I’ve lived in predominantly white areas. I moved to London when I was 18 and this is the only time I felt free to be who I am. In London, I can walk down the street without smiling and the people who walk by don’t look at me fretfully or clutch their bags a bit tighter. I’ve always been aware that I am something scary and because of this I have spent my whole life trying to make white people comfortable. When I’m tired, I’m smiling. When I’m miserable, I’m smiling. When I’m devastated, I’m smiling. I smile so much that I don’t even notice I’m doing it. My default setting is annoyingly positive. I never thought twice about this until recently. I moved back home during the coronavirus pandemic and started working at a local supermarket. I grew up along the southeast coast of England and in the north of France. I’m adopted, therefore a lot of my family is white. It’s safe to say I had a very white upbringing. So these past two years in London I’ve been able to discover and be my full authentic black self. Coming back to my extremely white town has been a massive culture shock. It’s made me realise that for my whole life, I’ve been putting on and act to make white people comfortable. Being the only black person in a white environment is isolating. What’s even more isolating is knowing that the white people can’t see it. I feel like a fraud in these situations, as I have to dilute my blackness. In a way, it’s peaceful knowing that these people don’t and will never know me. But it’s exhausting having to be someone else to be accepted in a place where I don’t need/want to be accepted.

Within the first week of this job I was subjected to the usual ignorant immature microaggressions such as “are you from the ghetto?" I’ve learnt to deal with these, I accepted them as they aren’t a big deal. But they are. The reason I never thought they were a big deal is because white people don’t see them as such. The microaggressions were the least of my worries. I was told that black people should act like normal people and that instead of protesting we should consider signing a petition. (Right thanks! We hadn’t thought of that). I was then told that there’s no point in us fighting for change because the world is always going to stay the same. This person went on to inform me that black people look stupid because we "get angry" for a while and then “go back to normal”. Within 7 days of being at this job my humanity was questioned, but I was expected to be resilient.

Resilience. noun.
The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

Ignorance is the biggest threat to humanity. The type of ignorance possessed by these people showed me that they wouldn’t get very far in life whatsoever. So, I figured let them keep their jobs but still inform management. Smiling, I apologised to management for the inconvenience, as I didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable. I was understood to a certain degree and told that this was unacceptable behaviour and could be taken forwards. However, I was also told that the movement for the equality of black people was a political issue. My humanity is not a political issue. Still, I smiled. I made life easy for them and myself. The allies involved helped to a certain degree, expressed anger but quickly forgot about the whole incident treating the people who made ignorant comments with kindness. It was forgotten, treated as a blip. My humanity was questioned, but it was treated as a political disagreement.

Lanise Antoine Shelley

As an interracial adoptee I grew up hyper-cognizant that I was different. There came a time in high school when I stopped apologizing for it and just leaned into the stares and confusion when strangers witnessed me with my white mom. To protect myself, I started calling my mother “mere,” the French word for mother, an effort to preserve my privacy while still honoring her title. I’ve become adept at “code-switching,” with sonic precision reading people’s energy and disarming them with what they need to hear. The constant maneuvering and micro-pivots are exhausting, albeit necessary. That being said, I am not impervious to bouts of fed-up-ness.

My mother admitted her white privilege a month ago. The atmosphere of the world has caused her to plummet into an identity crisis as she rumbles with the resounding truth that she and I move through the world differently.

As we would casually browse through stores she never notices that, even to this day, the sales associate addressed her first and then me. She had assumed that the stares were simply because the world deemed me as beautiful as she did. While I attempted to mitigate the narrative burden of always having to expose the most sensitive part of myself by simply uttering “mom” in public.

The scale of today’s anti-racism movement has my mother fervently trying to catch up in her reading and conversations with me. Attempting to jump into a triathlon that I’ve been racing in for years with a clumsy splash from a lifeboat. I love that she’s finally joined me though, but I am asked to teach where I just want to be comforted. I am asked to be strong when I just want to be safe.

Resilience is called upon in the conversations with the woman I love the most after returning from a march, and she has yet to post Black Lives Matter. Resilience is ordering books on Amazon for us to read together to ensure no one is left behind.

Phoebe Kroells

For me, what the expectation of resilience means that I often feel like I suffer in silent screams. I voice my feelings and fears, but I often get the same dismissive response which never addresses my hurt but still leaves me with a sore throat.

My biggest drain is feeling like I cannot ignore racist ignorance. Especially from my family. I feel like I must remind them that I was raised in a similar environment as them, and yet I still feel targeted. But once again I feel like I am screaming silently.

Because I am now drained, I find myself experiencing more stress, anxiety, and a raise in my sleepless nights. I also find myself avoiding more social interactions that has the potential to make be feel attacked and unheard.

Grace Newton:
Stephanie Oyler
Shania-Sophia Dunbar Ives;
Lanise Antoine Shelley, host of podcast "When They Were Young: Amplifying voices of adoptees"
Phoebe Kroells
Photo Credit

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Asian, Adopted, and Anxious During COVID-19

With more than 400,000 global deaths from COVID-19, a plunging economy, soaring rates of unemployment, a rise in anti-Asian racism and violence around the world, and a clear racial disparity in the fatality of the illness here in the United States, this is one of the most devastating collective events in my lifetime. This year will surely be a memorable period in history with both this global pandemic and widespread social unrest, as cities all over the country and world have protests to honor Black lives and produce meaningful societal changes. As we adapt to an ever-evolving world that includes global climate change, public health crises like this pandemic may be something we have to prepare for more frequently.

Despite all of the tragedy from COVID-19, one remarkably positive outcome for me of the shelter-in-place policies around the country has been the ability to participate in virtual events hosted by organizations that I wouldn't have access to otherwise. An adoptee organization for which I sit on the Advisory Council, KAAN, has started hosting Community Conversations to hold space for adoptees and create community in the absence of physical presence. I participated in a townhall on anti-Asian racism hosted by 18 Million Rising and a talk called "Confronting Xenophobia and Supporting Asian and Asian/Pacific American Communities during COVID-19" given by the Minnesota based professors Erika Lee and Sarah Park Dahlen. Last month, I also had the opportunity to partake in a virtual conversation through Families with Children from China of Greater New York (FCC-NY) called, "Coping with Anxiety in the Age of Coronavirus."

This FCC-NY session was particularly impactful to me because many of the townhalls addressed anti-Asian racism broadly, but not specifically the ways in which COVID-19 is impacting Asian adoptees. This conversation was facilitated by Dr. Amanda Baden, a practicing therapist, professor, and Chinese adoptee in the New York area. My first awareness of Baden came when I was 17 years old, watching the documentary "Wo Ai Ni Mommy" on PBS with my parents. Baden was interviewed for the film as a transracial adoption therapist, and I remember being in awe as her title appeared on the screen, because I didn't know that such specific adoption work existed outside of adoption agencies.

Baden's professional and lived experience aided the FCC conversation. She highlighted that adoptees often live with anticipatory grief as a result of being adopted and having lost our first families. Because of this, adoptees may have a heightened fear of the death or loss of their parents, and the hyper-visibility of morbidity and death right now makes this threat all the more real. Moreover, adoptees have the potential for a double loss of biological family, that they may or may not know, and their adoptive families. For those who have found biological family, the possibility of COVID-19 ending relationships that have already been lost once before and now may be lost for a second time, while still in their early stages, is devastating. And for those who have not found their biological families but are hopeful, COVID-19 may close the door on that possibility forever.

In addition to the potential loss of our first parents and adoptive parents, adoptees who are Asian are feeling the anticipatory grief of when they will fall victim to an act of COVID-19 inspired anti-Asian racism. Experiencing this type of racism for adoptees is complicated by several unique factors. First, young adoptees who grew up in predominantly white communities and families may not feel particularly Asian. These racist attacks prove that people see our Asian bodies without understanding the whole host of factors that have contributed to our identities. Secondly, adoptees may attribute a sense of shame or inadequacy as the reason for which they were abandoned or relinquished for adoption. Being targeted for anti-Asian racism layered upon this can have a compounding impact that there is also something wrong with being Asian. Thirdly, young Asian adoptees often are racially isolated and may not have been prepared by their white adoptive parents to face racism. The absence of having racially aware mentors who can uplift and validate one's racial identity can result in the further internalization of this racism.

While adoptees are no strangers to living with continuous loss and disenfranchised grief, this time period is unique because many people around the world are currently experiencing anticipatory grief and ambiguous loss. We are all fearing for the people we love who may die or fall ill. We are collectively experiencing losses of hugs, friends, traditional work and class spaces, and freedoms right now. We are grieving the loss of the pre-COVID-19 world, wondering what will happen going forward, and what changes will be permanent.

In a time where many of us feel powerless, what can we do to confront or cope with anti-Asian racism? If we are put in the position of being the target of racism and must confront it directly, the first priority is always safety. Assess the situation, and if it's something that could escalate violently, remove yourself. Being right is not more important than being injured. If the situation is safe, and you want to respond, I often choose to say that I am American or am an American citizen or some variation of that. If the person has asked a question about my country of origin, ethnicity, or other qualities, I might tell them that it is none of their concern. Correcting misinformation or relaying the real facts may work in some instances as a counter to racism, but oftentimes the other party does not truly want information -- they want to get a rise out of you. While it's sometimes easier said than done, do not internalize the racist words or remarks made by the other person. Their actions reflect negatively on them, not you.

Even when we are not the direct recipients of racism, it can be jarring and emotionally draining to read news article after news article on the topic, and engaging in self-care is a good practice. Self-care is not about bubble baths or binging T.V. shows or eating mouthfuls of cake. It is about setting boundaries, and what works for one person may not work for another. Some may want to stay current with the news and others may need to limit the amount of news media or social media they consume. Self-care might take the form of setting boundaries with certain family members or acquaintances who are less aware of racial dynamics and power structures. It might be creating a daily or weekly routine. Self-care can also be seeking out communities of Asian Americans or adoptees and replacing negative statements heard about China or Asians with positive ones through learning about key Asian American figures in history that bring pride to who we are [View the PBS docu-series, Asian Americans, here].

However you choose to cope with COVID-19 inspired anti-Asian racism, stay safe, stay healthy, and I hope to see you in a townhall or virtual event until we can be in physical community again. 

Sunday, May 24, 2020

An Asian Adoptee's Perspective on Asian American Heritage Month

"Yeah, but you're not really Korean. You're American, right?"

* * *

I am about a month away from my 45th birthday. And yet, it is only in the past decade that I have finally begun to explore my own identity and history as an Asian person.

As a transracial, transnational adoptee, i.e., an Asian person raised by a White family in predominantly White communities, I spent most of my life severed from Asian culture, people, and history.

Then, in 2009, after seven years of searching, I got a call that my Korean parents were alive and waiting to meet me. Suddenly, upon reuniting with my Korean family, my identity and origins were thrust before me. Everything I thought I knew was turned upside down, inside out, and ultimately, burned to the ground.

I have been rebuilding my life and identity ever since.

* * *

Several years into post-reunion, I remember having a conversation with a loved one, at which point he stated, "Yeah, but you're not really Korean. You're American, right?"

My identity was emerging and shifting as a result of reconnecting with my Korean origins. This loved one sensed the evolution unfolding and was trying to reassert to what and whom my allegiance should be.

And yet his question of allegiance contrasted the other side of what is ultimately the same dilemma--the assumption that I cannot possibly be American while simultaneously being demanded to prove just how American I am. 

Asian Americans are expected to be assimilated, English-speaking, God-fearing Americans, while we are simultaneously yet paradoxically perceived and treated as foreigners who must have arrived in America only two weeks ago.

Asian Americans are often pushed into a state of limbo, or a tug-of-war that requires us to never be too much of who we are, while simultaneously being expected to demonstrate allegiance to a nation that has never seen us as anything but "the perpetual foreigner." 

As Asian adoptees, these demands are forced upon us in the context of a false but dominant narrative that we were "saved" or "rescued." Hence, our identity is assumed to be subjugated to the expectations and perceptions of White Saviorism for the sake of White Comfort.

Furthermore, Asian American identities are often manipulated and politicized during times of economic unrest, brutal wars, and racial tension. We are witnessing once again the racism and xenophobia so familiar to Asian Americans during the current COVID pandemic. Asian communities are being scapegoated and targeted, just as they have been throughout American history. 

Asian Adoptees, while often invisible within this back and forth, are still impacted by the racism, discrimination, and xenophobia that result, as exemplified by the detainment and deportation of adoptees to over 30 countries.

Furthermore, Asian Adoptees in some ways experience an even greater expectation and demand to conform and assimilate within the White families that adopted us as a show of gratitude for being charitably "rescued" and brought to America. We remain eternally indebted to the White families that "took us in," and are therefore expected to pay that debt by exemplifying the "Model Minority Myth" (which is indeed a racist stereotype fabricated to serve white supremacy).

As Asian Adoptees, our Asian identities become a trophy for Whiteness to hold up only insofar as our Asianness serves the White Savior narrative. It must otherwise be erased when it does not serve that purpose.

Furthermore, as a Korean adoptee I must also mitigate the rejection by my own nation and people. Korea sent me away ultimately because I was not born in the "right way," i.e., I was born to an unwed mother. I had no proof of paternity and hence, I did not exist. So, they sent me away like I was dust.

Consequently, as an Asian adoptee, I feel a simultaneous yet paradoxical disconnection and connection from and to my Asianness and the collective history of Asian communities. 

I am connected to Asian communities through the profound impact that Empire, White Supremacy, Imperialism, and Colonialism have had on my existence. I am also connected to Asian communities through my experiences of racial violence and discrimination. But I am disconnected from the core of my Asian heritage as a result of being severed from my Korean family, culture, and origins.

Some days I feel at odds with my Asianness. Other days, I feel reluctance. On good days, I feel solidarity, yet from a distance. Rarely, do I feel fully at peace with my inherited Asianness. 

For me to be Asian American means I was involuntarily taken from my mother, my family, my origins. It means my identity and origins were erased.

More specifically, to celebrate my Asian heritage requires me to first acknowledge that my Asian heritage was taken from me. The reason I am an Asian in America is a result of the oppression and exploitation exacted through American colonialism and imperialism.

I spent the first three decades of my life cut off completely from my origins and identity. 

While, yes, I can celebrate the progress I have made and the reconnection with my Korean family, any celebration of my Asianness inevitably and inextricably also carries with it the profound trauma, loss, and grief that I bear as an Asian person who was forcibly separated from my origins. 

I lost everything. That kind of loss, at least for me, will never be reason to celebrate.

I am not lucky or fortunate to have lost everything. I am not blessed to have been severed from my own mother, paid for, and brought to a nation and people that would despise me as perpetually foreign.

Nor am I lucky that my own nation and people were willing to send me away, along with almost 200,000 more children for a small price that they could profit off of culturally-inflicted shame. 

In some ways, I feel neither Asian nor American. And in other ways I cannot escape that I am both Asian and American.

It’s a terrible no man’s land of purgatory, in which I must make my own way. 

Of course ultimately, I get to decide who I am, even if the world around me cannot see beyond their own eyes and minds.

Yet that is in large part what being Asian American means to me--constantly having to assert who I know myself to be while managing and mitigating the identity and expectations forced upon me by others who think they know who I am, but ultimately have not a clue.

 * * *

So while May is the month marked to celebrate my Asian heritage and the contributions made by the members of a vastly diverse community of Asian Americans, I feel both proud and conflicted, both pensive and grateful, both united and divided.

Yet one thing I can embrace is the powerful and resilient presence and history Asian communities can claim. This rich history often goes unseen and is regularly neglected and ignored. As I educate myself, I am learning just how vital the role of Asian communities has been in this country (and around the globe).

While I may struggle to find my place, I do not struggle to find inspiration from those who have gone before me, as well as those who are following after me.

It is of course always important to acknowledge the pain and suffering our communities have endured. It is also equally vital to remember all the stunning and powerful ways our communities have resisted and overcome here and throughout the history of the world.

Even as I continue to grapple with my own identity as an Asian American, I am able to grasp that I am also a valuable part of the big, beautiful tapestry that is Asian American heritage. While I may never feel fully resolved or fully connected, I cannot deny that my thread exists and brings its own color and meaning to the larger story of the collective.

And that, for now, is enough for me.


*I also want to acknowledge our Black and Brown brothers and sisters who have suffered profoundly under the same oppressive and brutal systems. We are not the same, but we have all suffered under the same systems that seek to undermine and exploit our self-determination and power for their own profit and benefit.