New York Times: “Adopted in China, Seeking Identity in America”


It seems like everyone in my circle of friends is talking about the New York Times article, Adopted in China, Seeking Identity in America.

"Adopted in China" is the standard journalistic piece on
transcultural adoption. Interview a couple of adopted kids, interview
some adoptive parents, and throw in an adoption specialist, or
psychologist who researches adoptee adjustment, for credibility.

The quote that I take great exception to is the one by Maree Forbes, where she states,

"With an African-American child we had no guarantee that
the mother or a social worker wouldn’t come and take the child away.
With the children from China, we felt safe that there wouldn’t be
anyone to come back to get them."

What does this statement, which I have heard more than I can count
on my two hands, say about adoptive parents? That they are fearful that
someone will question their "right" to be the child’s parent. That they
have some kind of entitlement that supercedes those of the birth
parent(s). That their adopted children have no history, no ancestors,
nothing before the adoptive parents plunked down their money and signed
their names on the papers. That they deserve to have a clean slate. At
least Maree Forbes was being honest, I can give her that much. Many
a-parents have the same point of view and yet are afraid of stating it,
instead couching their fears with statements about it being "in the
best interests of the child" and "would it be better to have then
languishing in orphanages?"

As I commented at Twice the Rice:
It’s a tangled mess out there, y’all. One of the comments made was that
social workers should do a better job screening parents based on their
attitudes about the birth mother’s invisibility/lack of legal rights
and birth fathers as sperm donors. Hey, in my cynical experience we are
lucky at this point to have any adoption criteria at all – in fact,
most countries (China, Korea etc) have tougher requirements for
adopt-parents than those who adopt in the United States. In fact, white
parents who adopt transracially in the United States (state ward
children, not private) do not *have* to agree to raise their adoptive
children of color with any part of their birth culture, nor do they
have to have any culture or diversity pre-adoptive training (thank MEPA
and Senator Howard Metzenbaum for that one) – so if you adopt
internationally and get that training, you can consider yourself one
step ahead of the game.

I get the "languish in orphanage" versus "loving family" arguement
all the time. As if there are only two options. As if orphanages are
always terrible, awful, pest-infested institutions run by Ms. Hannigans
or some other Dickensian dictator. I’m not saying institutional living
is great – I lived in them for three years myself. All I’m saying is we
are so conditioned to think in either/or, dichotomous ways that we
forget there are probably 100 answers between point A and B.

I don’t think that 50 years of adopting children from Korea has
helped Korea change their societal views about women’s sexual rights –
nor do I think the adoptions from China will help their government
change the one-child policy, no matter what Meg Ryan thinks. Nor do I
think adopting all the "orphans" from Ethiopia a la Angelina Jolie will
save that country from its famine and political strife. Just as there
are thousands of children in the United States right now in foster
homes, waiting for an adoptive family. So many are waiting, in fact,
that Canada and Germany and other European countries are adopting our
black kids, the ones we don’t want.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.