“Unearthing the roots of adoption”
Thanks to K@W for this article. I really don’t like the way they describe individuals from Transracial Abductees. They say “A small but vociferous group argues that all international adoption should be abolished. They exchange rants on websites such as
Transracialabductees.org, calling the process a “racist system of forced assimilation and brainwashing.”
It pisses me off that the article takes an ethical or moral judgment into the way they portray those who identify with the folks from Transracial Abductees. They devalidate the validity of their arguments by labelling them as “online rants.” And they attempt to fanaticize the legitimate argument that transracial adoption can be a racist institution with colonial linkages.
Unearthing the roots of adoption
Agencies are retooling their support programs as a generation of
Asian adoptees seeks to reclaim their neglected heritage
From Tuesday’s Globe and Mail
July 31, 2007 at 9:23 AM EDT
Vancouver — Jennifer Jin Brower was born in South Korea, but until a
few years ago, she had never used chopsticks or heard of kimchee.
Because she looks Asian, strangers ask, “Where are you from? Do you
speak English?” But English is her mother tongue – her adoptive
Ms. Brower, 29, was raised by a Caucasian family in Grand Rapids,
Mich. As a child, she says, “I didn’t think that I was Asian.” But
that didn’t stop other children from mocking her features.
Ms. Brower, who now lives in Seattle, says she didn’t feel confident
in her identity until she spent two months in South Korea last
year. “I finally felt proud to be Asian and Korean because I finally
knew what that meant,” she explains.
The generation of children adopted from Asia in the seventies and
eighties – mostly from South Korea – has come of age. As adults,
thousands are returning to their countries of origin to search for
their birth parents, learn the language and reclaim the heritage they
lost as infants.
Now, some adoption agencies are taking cues from their stories.
Agencies such as Children’s Bridge, based in Ottawa, have started
holding mandatory sessions for new adoptive parents on topics such as
interracial issues and identity. Organizations such as Families with
Children from China, which has chapters in four provinces, run
playgroups and culture camps. They also match adoptive families with
Chinese immigrant families.
Increasingly, adoption agencies are organizing visits to host
countries and other cultural activities for families, according to
Sarah Pedersen, information co-ordinator for the Adoption Council of
Canada. “We are seeing a lot of this going back, reconnecting and
maintaining the cultural identity of the child,” she says.
In Canada, a little more than half of the 4,000 or so children
adopted each year are from other countries, according to the Adoption
Council of Canada.
Speakers at the Children’s Bridge sessions include adult adoptees
originally from South Korea or Vietnam, says Cathy Murphy, director
of adoption services. “They let parents know the challenges they
faced along the way.”
The challenges are significant, judging by the outpouring of films
and writing by international adoptees. Recent works include
documentaries such as Operation Babylift: The Lost Children of
Vietnam, anthologies such as Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial
Adoption and online publications including Inthirdspace.net.
Adoptees have also founded organizations such as the International
Adoptee Congress, KoRoot – a guesthouse in Seoul for returning
adoptees – and Adoptee Solidarity Korea, which is lobbying for the
end of intercountry adoption out of South Korea.
A small but vociferous group argues that all international adoption
should be abolished. They exchange rants on websites such as
Transracialabductees.org, calling the process a “racist system of
forced assimilation and brainwashing.”
The experiences of today’s adult international adoptees are distinct
from those of voluntary immigrants and domestic adoptees, according
to Richard Lee, an associate professor of psychology at the
University of Minnesota who studies how Korean adoptees form their
“They were raised at a time when parents were encouraged to take a
more colour-blind approach,” he says, “which meant ignoring race.”
But society treats Asians as a racial minority, Dr. Lee says. For
some adoptees, “that came as a shock,” he says, “because they were
not always aware of their minority status as children.”
Nevertheless, most international adoptees grow up to be well-adjusted
adults, he adds.
Some become advocates for international adoption. Leah Buchholz, a 24-
year-old Korean adoptee, was raised by a German-Canadian family in
Vancouver. As an adoption advocate, Ms. Buchholz says, she encourages
parents to accept children’s curiosity about their birth parents and
Language lessons, homeland visits and culturally diverse schools can
all help give children a sense of their heritage, according to Ms.
Murphy of Children’s Bridge, who is the mother of two international
adoptees in their teens.
“Going to Chinese New Year once a year – that’s not enough,” Ms.
Murphy says. But parents should offer, and not insist on, cultural
activities, she adds.
Programs such as these can go a long way toward building a child’s
positive sense of ethnic identity, according to Dr. Lee.
Ms. Buchholz, who visited South Korea briefly as a teenager, says she
is eager to know more about her culture. She may search for her
Korean parents some day, she adds, but would “never abandon my
adoptive family and go back to my birth parents.”
For Ms. Buchholz, it’s easy to relate to other Korean
adoptees. “There are these key elements in our lives that we don’t
have to justify or explain,” she says. “That’s a great source of
comfort, it really is.”
International adoption has never been so in vogue. Check out the
glamorous media coverage of Angelina Jolie’s multihued brood,
Madonna’s Malawian boy and Meg Ryan’s little girl from China.
But the hype is offensive to some international adoptees.
“A lot of us aren’t very happy with how trendy it is to have a child
of colour,” says Jennifer Jin Brower, 29, who was adopted from South
Korea. “It’s like we’re a fad, like getting a new purse.”
Today’s celebrities are hardly the first to start international
Mia Farrow began adopting children from countries such as India,
Vietnam and South Korea in the seventies.
Earlier still, the famed sex symbol Josephine Baker started gathering
her “rainbow tribe” of a dozen children in 1954. She even bought a
French chateau in which to raise the pan-ethnic crew she called “an
experiment in brotherhood.”
The debt-ridden Ms. Baker was evicted from the chateau in 1969.
Fortunately, Princess Grace of Monaco gave her a villa so Ms. Baker
could keep her United Nations family together.
Finding the missing link
For adult adoptees, finding birth parents in Asia is a huge
challenge, since most adoption agencies guard their records closely.
Jennifer Jin Brower of Seattle tried to locate her birth parents in
South Korea last year. She had her DNA tested and appeared on reality
television shows and in the press to publicize her search, but to no
avail. The experience made her feel “very vulnerable,” she
says, “because I was in a foreign country and barely knew the
Others have had more luck. Mihee-Nathalie Lemoine, a Korean adoptee
based in Montreal, succeeded in finding her birth mother in 1991.
Although she hasn’t kept in touch with her – “I think I remind her of
the bad,” she says – Ms. Lemoine developed a relationship with her
biological grandmother and lived in South Korea for 13 years.
While there, Ms. Lemoine co-founded Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link,
an organization that helps others find their birth families and
adjust to living and working in the country. Returning adoptees
needn’t feel alone, she says.
My home and native land
Top 10 countries for international adoption in Canada by number of
adoptees. About 2,000 children are adopted from other countries each
year; the rate has been relatively stable for the past decade.
2003 2004 2005
U. S. 74 79 102
UKRAINE 23 16 39
RUSSIA 92 106 88
SOUTH KOREA 73 97 97
CHINA 1,112 1,001 973
TAIWAN 26 15 30
PHILIPPINES 58 62 70
INDIA 10 37 41
ETHIOPIA 14 34 31
HAITI 150 159 115
SOURCE: ADOPTION COUNCIL OF CANADA