My Sister’s Adoption Essay
Ok, so I’m sorry I know this is really long. However, I hope that you do read this article. I guess I’m just beaming all over because this is a paper written by my little sister who is in 8th grade. When I read this I couldn’t believe the amount of research, insight, and honesty she has poured into this piece. I’m really proud of her, so if you have the time to read some please do. G.S.
Transracial adoption \ tran(t)s-′rā-shəl \ ə-′däp-shə n \ :
to adopt a child from a different race or ethnic background
I could never have my mother’s eyes or my father’s laugh. The Scottish, French-Canadian, Lithuanian blood of generations has not a trace in my veins. My skin is three shades darker than that of my parents, without the use of self-tanners. I am an Asian American—a Vietnamese girl raised in a Caucasian family. I am a transracial adoptee.
Although transracial adoption originally referred to the adoption of African American children into white families, these placements have declined since 1972 when the National Association of Black Social Workers publicly criticized this practice. Today, the majority of transracial adoptions are international.
It is documented that more than 250,000 international adoptions took place between 1971 and 2001, and there are currently over 1.5 million adopted children living in the U.S. today. However, there are no firm statistics kept on how many of those adoptions are transracial.
For abandoned children in many parts of the world, transracial adoption is a solution to many complex social and political factors: hopeless poverty, malnutrition, abuse, violence, war, and in China, population control, which led to the abandonment of thousands of baby girls. In-country adoption occurs infrequently in countries that participate in foreign adoption due to the cultural tradition of keeping bloodlines pure. As Joyce Carol Oates says, “Because we are linked by blood and blood is memory without language” (1).1 Though this tradition is slowly changing, transracial adoption remains the best alternative for homeless children from birth countries that do not accept them.
Through transracial adoption, children are placed in permanent, loving families and have access to economic well-being, healthcare and continuing education. Transracial adoptees (TRAs) live in stable homes rather than in orphanages and they leave behind cultures that ostracize them simply for being fatherless or biracial as a result of being children of white soldiers.
The United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia started a humanitarian effort to rescue these children through transracial adoption beginning after World War II. Social workers, adoption agencies, and adoptive parents, who have long been the positive voice of adoption, have pronounced this effort a success: children in need received loving care, and families received the child they always dreamed of having.
Now, the biggest wave of transracial adoptees has reached adulthood. Through memoirs, documentaries, poems, and many other forms of expression, their voices, too, are beginning to be heard, and they represent a side of adoption that everyone before had ignored. Though these TRAs were withdrawn from the chaos of their birth countries, they were also borne into new complications: struggles with cultural loss, racial isolation, racism, and coming to terms with a dual identity that rules the core of their existence.
An adoptee’s dual identity is one of nature and nurture, the genetic traits and temperament given by the biological parents and the values, views, and privileges bestowed by the adoptive parents. A transracial adoptee has a dual national identity as well: the birth and adoptive nations. For adoptees, there is no one identity, even though at times they may be pressured towards one side of their dual natures. TRAs refer to this dynamic as living in a third space,2 which describes their sense of belonging nowhere.
My experience as a transracial adoptee can be best described in a metaphor of gardening terms. I imagine myself as a pear sprout. I started to grow near the spout of a rain gutter on the shady side of the farmhouse. Seeing the difficult conditions I would be growing in, a gardener decided to clip me from my roots and transplant me onto an apple tree in an orchard. Despite being a pear, I grew up as an apple. Today, everything about me is apple except my looks, for which I am constantly reminded by the stares of passersby that inaudibly but obviously ask, “Why is there a pear in the apple tree?”
For every anthropomorphized pear in an apple tree, there will inevitably be questions. “What were my roots like that made me look this way?” “How would it feel if I were an apple?” “What would it have been like to grow up with all pears, even if there was no sun and the ground was soggy?”
Many issues complicate the lives of TRAs, and each adoptee copes with them differently. There is an entire spectrum of TRAs’ perspectives, as they relate to multiple personal experiences and reactions. There are three main categories: the content TRAs, the concerned TRAs, and the angry, bitter TRAs who prefer to be identified as transracial abductees.3
What differentiates the content TRAs from the next two groups is that they feel a lesser degree of cultural loss. They feel happy within their adoptive families, lucky that they escaped whatever conditions of their birth, and they are not as interested in seeking their roots.
The concerned TRAs have a strong sense of cultural loss. They feel the push and pull of their twofold, split-screen 4 identities, in that they have much love for their adoptive families but an extreme longing for their birth families and cultures. They are able to deal with their struggles through educating others and themselves about adoptee issues.
The last group of TRAs feels that they have been abducted from their birth families and robbed of their culture. They are enraged at their adoptive parents, at being so acutely isolated in a white community, and at the identity that they are unable to deal with. Although statistics have not been compiled regarding this relatively new adoptee group, documentation is now becoming available about the overwhelming strife these TRAs face. Many cannot escape their suffering and are lost to drugs, alcohol, and suicide. Others end up in mental hospitals and jails.
Though the editors from Outsiders Within say, “There is no homogenous transracial adoptee story,” (3)5 it is true that there are commonalities that link all adoptees in all categories, though they may experience these commonalities to a different scale. Many adoptees grow up in predominantly white communities, like the Korean adoptee (KAD) population in parts of rural Minnesota, and like I have in Scarborough, a town in the whitest state of America. Since most TRAs’ adoptive parents are typically white, most adoptees are forced to face racism alone. Children usually go to parents about their problems, but TRAs are often unable to approach their adoptive parents because they do not want to hurt their feelings or appear ungrateful, and also the parents would have no experience with the issue of racism. Caucasian adoptive parents cannot fathom what it feels like to know prejudice, let alone being a child of color. Lastly, all adoptees experience feelings of abandonment or displacement, whether it is a passing thought or a powerful daily emotion.
Adoptive parents want to do what is right for their children, but how can they know how to guide and provide for TRAs, since children in this situation are all so different? There has been little information about parenting TRAs, but listening to now adult TRAs has brought a wealth of new guidelines. Below are pitfalls, things adoptive parents with good intentions easily slip into which can hurt TRAs.
Parents should not deny an adopted child’s past. This does not protect the child. Even if the child was only, say, two weeks old before adoption, those two weeks of history are vital to a TRA’s existence today. A child’s history begins at birth, and adoptive parents need to honor and respect their child’s birth country, culture, and especially their birth family.
Many professionals involved in adoption say, “Love is colorblind,” (Wright 28)6 but adoptive parents should know this is inaccurate information. When “colorblind” parents overlook their child’s race, they imply that it is unimportant to them, intentionally or not. However, to a child, his or her race matters very much, and the parents’ dismissive attitude is upsetting and confusing.
It is important for TRAs to be exposed to people who look similar to them. When TRAs do not blend in with their own families or into the community, their sense of being different has been universally described by TRAs as feeling like an “alien.” Parents should not raise their kids in isolation. Optimistic TRAs can say it makes them unique, but truthfully, it is very lonely. If parents are unable to move to a more diverse area, they are advised to adopt another child from the same ethnic group.
Though adoptive parents should make sure they have the assets to take trips back to TRAs’ birth countries and that the children have access to a legitimate view of their birth cultures, parents should not force the cultures on the children. For instance, every vacation TRAs take, parents shouldn’t insist on finding every Chinatown or every Latino market. However, if TRAs are uninterested in their cultures, parents should take a personal interest in the subject, letting TRAs know that their cultures are important and their adoptive parents will support their curiosity whenever they are ready (Register 159).7
Parents should recognize and not tolerate behavior that makes TRAs uncomfortable. TRAs feel insulted when people say how lucky they are to be adopted into the U.S. It could be said with the best intentions, but suggesting a TRA’s birth country is inferior suggests that the TRA is inferior. Questions like, “Where are you from?” or “What race are you?” are heard by a TRA as, “you don’t belong.”
As the voices of the young adult TRAs become louder, new concerns question today’s adoption process. This once humanitarian effort of providing children with homes has changed. While the focus of adoption should be first and foremost on the best interests of the children, transracial adoption has become a prosperous industry, with children as the commodity. Unfortunately, huge profits benefiting adoption intermediaries and third-world countries often lead to corruption and abuse. Children should not be harmed by the affairs of business, nor should they be labeled with price stickers.
Adoption does two things: provides children with families and provides families with children. Qualified parents have every right to a child and adoption is a perfectly fine way to create a family, but in this case, the needs of the children should overrule the desire of the parents. Reversed as it is right now, the scarcity of healthy adoptable infants has lead to illegal black market adoptions. Illegal adoptions can involve children who are labeled as orphans to adoptive parents, when in fact, money has exchanged hands to persuade poor birth parents to relinquish their children. The fault of these practices lies not with the children and usually not with the adoptive parents. The intermediary, the gardener in the pear and apple metaphor, is the one who profits and who deserves the blame.
Cheri Register may have the right idea on how to rectify the system: “Rather than serving would-be parents’ needs as supply-and-demand dictates, international adoption should be governed by a concern that puts greater emphasis on keeping families intact and daily life sustainable in countries where [transracial adoptees] are born” (11).8
Transracial adoption may not be the ideal solution, but it is a valuable alternative. When faced with the choice of having children growing up in orphanages all over the world, or forming families through transracial adoption, the choice is clear. There is a crisis at hand and transracial adoption is the best option for abandoned children. However, there are many flaws with this practice, as TRAs have told us, and these problems must be dealt with to ensure an even better life for the next generation of transracial adoptees.