Sound familiar?

"It doesn't matter where we live":

Nisha, now a petite 26-year-old with a quick smile, was adopted from
Goa by an all-white family at the age of six months and raised in “the
white part of America”, as her father Randy puts it. The couple never
taught Nisha anything about her birth country or culture, though they
did retain her name and abided by one request the birth mother had
made: never to cut Nisha’s hair. She didn’t cut it until she went to

"Because love is all you need":

Stephanie says she figured “everyone would love each other”
and that would be enough for Nisha to adjust to her adopted life in the

"It's awkward approaching people from my child's culture. Besides, s/he's American now"

“I didn’t know any Indian people,” her father says. “And I guess I
probably wouldn’t have known how to approach them even if I did. Would
I say, ‘You know, my daughter’s Indian. Would you mind if she hangs out
with you?’”

Though she didn’t realize it as a child, it bothered Nisha when she
grew up and realized she had never been exposed to her own culture.

"My child will let me know if s/he wants to learn more about his/her culture" :

resented her parents for never trying to teach her about where she came
from. The resentment bore down on her and when it was time to pick a
college four years ago, she moved miles away from her family in
Sacramento to San Diego. When she finally told her parents how she felt
two years ago, they were shocked, unaware of how much pain the adoption
had caused her.

Her parents never thought her looking different
mattered. To them she was simply a part of the family they had waited
years to get.

"My child and I are close, s/he can tell me anything!" :

Nisha loves her family, but admits she feels closer to her friends.
She feels she can never be really open about her feelings to her family
and that sometimes it’s more simple not to say anything to them at all.

"My child has the best of both worlds, culturally. She is a bridge between American and [insert ethnicity] cultures":

For Nisha, it is just easier to talk about herself to people who
understand what it is like to have a white person question her American
citizenship, or to people who can make a joke when she feels dumb that
an Indian family walks up to her and speaks in Hindi and she can’t

Skin Deep: Adopted
by an American family 25 years ago, Goa-born Nisha Grayson is coming
back ‘home’ in search of her birth mother and herself.

From Live (Wall Street Journal)

Glass half empty


I found out about this interview with Nickel and Dimed author Barbara Ehrenreich through the Jezebel blog and thought the analysis by Jezebel (and Racialicious) blogger Latoya Peterson was really interesting.

Now, I've always been a half-glass-empty kind of gal and have had to try and stretch myself to be more positive. Mr. Harlow's Monkey says I'm really an optimist at heart and that is why I get so down when I see injustice. But whatever, he's just being kind (see why I love him? He's the ying to my yang).


Anyhoo, Ehrenreich's newest book is Bright-Sided, which delves into the history and promotion of "positive thinking." (I remember reading Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking when I was in high school. It didn't really help). Ehrenriech says in her interview with Elle that it was while she was being treated for breast cancer that she really noticed the pervasiveness of the positive-thinking movement. Says Ehrenreich,

"I just couldn’t understand this message that was being beamed at me
from so many sources about being upbeat and positive and embracing your
cancer, thinking of it as a gift. It drove me crazy. A few years later,
researching a book called Bait and Switch, there it was again,
now being told to people who are laid off—another great crisis in their
lives: Change your attitude and everything will be okay…As I began searching around and noticing it, the message was
everywhere: Any problem you have, just change your attitude or
visualize what you want and it will come to you."

I haven't read Bright-Sided, and I admit that I did have some problems with Nickel and Dimed,
but I do find Ehrenreich compelling and will probably read the book and
assess it more later (like when I actually have time to read something
other than textbooks).

The part that Latoya addresses in her Jezebel piece is the way "positive thinking" ties into conformity and social injustice. Now, this seems completely counter-intuitive, right? Aren't all of us who are into social reform and social justice optimistic, do-gooders? Turns out, maybe not, or maybe that's why most of society isn't really backing our causes. In fact, as Latoya points out, what Ehrenreich is saying is that "positive thinking" actually serves to squelch those who are critical about injustices. Ehrenreich states,

"[Positive thinking is] an all-purpose buttress for conformity and acceptance of the
status quo. In fact, most of the measures of quote-happiness-unquote
that the positive psychologists offer are really about how much to
accept the status quo."

I find this part really fascinating. I suppose because of my own experiences as a transracial/transnational adoptee and as an Asian American woman who grew up in and has largely worked in non-diverse, White majority settings, I am sensitive to this language of "just try harder." As in, "try harder not to be over-sensitive about racism and discrimination," and "just try harder to not be upset about losing your birth family/culture/country/language." The "think positively/make lemons out of lemonade" seems mostly to serve a need to discourage people from whining and complaining. It's a way to deflect how crappy life actually is for some people. And if they continue to have problems, it's their fault for not being "grateful" or "positive." Oh, and I don't know about you, but the most pervasive criticism I've received for not being "grateful" enough or for being too "negative" often comes from people who have been subject to great oppression or trauma in their own lives. Sometimes I get the feeling what is being said is, "Hey, I had to live through it, so quit your bitching." I wonder if those of us who have experiences trauma end up being the inadvertent perpetrators of the "be grateful" train.

Says Ehrenreich,

"No question. Determination, energy, ambition, all these sorts of things
play a big part in our lives. But when this gets turned into a total
mind-over-matter notion of how the world operates, that’s crazy. The
trick is always trying to do as much as you can do, but then also
realizing that there are a lot of forces lined up against you that have
to be addressed in another way entirely. Maybe you need social change!

…I think if you’re not at all bothered by human suffering—hey, it would
be great. But if you have a vision of human happiness that includes all
those people who are currently suffering, you’ve got to do something
about it."

Is it true? Is this pervasive "think positive" mentality meant to crush complaints of injustice? If I think about it, many of the big social movements in the United States did happen because people fought against the status quo, which historically benefited you know who. I don't consider being subject to racial and gender discrimination a "gift." I think it's a pain in the tukus. And when faced with said racial or gender discrimination, I do not get all thoughtful and zen and "think positively" about it, I take action. Ehrenreich agrees. She says,

"have you read the Old Testament? It’s full of righteous anger. But anyway, righteous anger is not an acceptable emotion"

But a few last thoughts. I grew up in an evangelical christian home, and I was taught from a very early age that any time I had "bad" thoughts or was "tempted" that I should just say, "Satan, get behind me!" and if I was a true believer, I would no longer be tempted and/or my "bad" thoughts would go away. You can guess what happened. If those bad thoughts didn't go away, then it was my fault. I wasn't enough of a believer, I wasn't a good enough Christian.

As I got older, the basic message was the same but the secular world, in addition to the religious world, just replaced that idea with "positive thinking." Sad about adoption loss? Mad about racism? Just be glad I didn't have it worse. Be grateful. Stop complaining. Make lemonade. Whatever you do, don't go wallowing in your sorrow and expect others to do anything about it. It's nobody's fault but your own. And if you're still sad/discriminated against/oppressed, then it's your fault. Stop being a Debbie Downer. Just try harder to be positive. If I still felt sad and unhappy, well then I must not be trying hard enough to be positive.

I suppose I feel a little bit comforted that I'm not the only one who dislikes "just be more positive." It's not that I'm not happy or grateful about the good things that have happened in my life. And, even more, I definitely believe that surviving the not-so-great things that have happened in my life has made me learn things about myself that have "positively" impacted my life. But bettering my life didn't happen because I sat quietly and "thought positively." The good things in my life happened because I made them happen to the best of my ability and sometimes I was just lucky. 

Rather than thinking positively, I would like to see that changed to actively working for change. I'd be more than happy to drink that kool-aid.

Read the Elle interview with Barbara Ehrenreich here, and Latoya's piece on Jezebel here.

De-Lurker Day

Although I keep track of referrals, and I can see from typepad and other tracking programs that this blog has an international readership, I'm often curious who reads the blog and how you found out about Harlow's Monkey.

A few blogs I read regularly have a "de-lurk" day – I've never done one.

Here's your chance (and mine) to see who is reading.

Please let me know 1) if you are an adoptee, adoptive parent, adoption professional, social worker, etc. etc., 2) how you found out about the blog, and 3) feedback on things you would like me to address more specifically and/or other format issues.

I don't have as much time as I'd like to write longer original posts, which is why I link to other articles and blogs so often. However, if you have an issue you'd really like to see addressed, leave that in the comments too. It will help me when I'm trying to figure out what to write. Also, I changed the format of the blog, taking out some of the links on the sidebars and posting them on pages accessed by the navigation bar at the top of the blog. I moved some of those back, but I'm always concerned about the blog being user-friendly and un-cluttered (Mr. HM has greatly influenced me on usability design). If you have comments on the accessibility of the content, leave that feedback too.

Adopted Chinese daughters seek their roots

Adopted Chinese daughters seek their roots

By Patti Waldmeir

Patti Waldmeir with her adopted daughter Grace
Patti Waldmeir with her daughter, Grace

This article comes via Financial Times (which in itself is interesting to me – a story about adoptees returning to their country of birth in a publication about the world of finance?).

I have several thoughts about this piece, some of the language and themes I really struggle with and find incredibly problematic, like this:

And one American mother who visited the orphanage squat toilet with her
nine-year-old Yangzhou girl reports that the child gripped her hand as
she perched precariously above the evacuation hole, and proclaimed that
she was glad she had not been left there forever. Those of us who live
in China (as my family does) know that squat toilets are a trial for
any westerner. They are a wake-up call that, to those used to western
toileting ways, China is still a foreign country.

Yeah…moving on.

One of the things I find most fascinating about this article is the idea that China seems to be bending over backwards to welcome "back" their "lost girls" (referencing the book, Lost Daughters of China here). The author of this article writes,

But now, as the balance of global economic and political power
shifts subtly in favour of China, Beijing is reaching out to all these
lost daughters – and welcoming them back home.

China has invited
thousands of foundlings back to their birthplaces for
government-sponsored “homeland tours” which, like last year’s Beijing
Olympics or next year’s Shanghai World Expo, give the country a chance
to show off to the world. On one level, what the Chinese adoption
authorities call “root seeking tours” – filled with extravagant
expressions of love and kinship and lavish gifts for the returning
orphans – are a transparent public relations exercise aimed at raising
money for Chinese orphanages, justifying the decision to export surplus
children and countering decades of unfair international criticism that
Chinese people “hate girls”.

In a blog post I wrote, Client, Ambassador, Gift (based on Sara Dorow's concepts in her book, Transnational Adoption: A Cultural Economy of Race, Gender and Kinship) I wrote from an adult adoptee's perspective what it felt like to be "welcomed back" by the country that sent me away because they didn't want to deal with my welfare or the welfare of poor/single women and families.

In the article, the author describes this scene:

To the maudlin strains of “There’s no Place like Home”, the deputy
mayor of the city told the children at a welcome banquet: “You are not
guests, you are family.”

which reminded me of the time I attended the 2004 Gathering in Seoul in which the Vice Minister of Health and Welfare said that he "loved us" and how the other officials there encouraged us to come back and "bring our families."

I felt like they were saying, "hey, we didn't want to support you so we found other families in wealthier countries to do it, and since they've got money, come back, visit our great parks and temples, eat our great food, spend lots of money on trinkets and show them what a great country we are! But forgive us, we love you, we really, really love you!"

In that older post, I wrote,

Language programs, so we can be translators as well as ambassadors and
bridges. Our skills and knowledge of the "west" now being appropriated
by the same country that rejected us, as we are asked to forgive and
forget – and bring all our educational and financial assets with us.
Not only did they not have to support us financially – or our poor
families – they have received fees for adoptions (agencies receive
substantially more per diem for each international adoption facilitated
than for domestic adoptions, hence the incentive to continue
international adoption) and they still receive charitable donations
from around the world. To top that off, now we are encouraged to return
and spend money in our mother land economy as well as stay and live and
work here and become cultural and financial bridges between the two

I wonder how many other adoptees there that day felt incredibly used by South Korea. Rather than helping me feel "better" about my adoption, the constant parade of "but look what a great country we are NOW" by South Koreans and their pleas to think of our "two motherlands" only makes me angry.I don't think there was a single Korean speaker that didn't mention at least once that Korea is now the 11th or 12th OECD now.

This "We had no choice but to give you away when we were poor, but now we're not so come back and spend money here" is like some cruel, abusive relationship. And they wonder why some adoptees have attachment issues.

I have a problem with the way many of these "motherland" and "root-seeking" tours are conceived and carried out. I have never gone on any of these types of tours that are often a part of adoption agency programs but believe me, I know enough people who have gone on them, and read Eleana Kim's articles (see here and especially here) to understand how they operate and how adult adoptees feel about the tours and their experiences of "returning to the homeland." Kim writes in "Our adoptee, our alien: Transnational Adoptees as Specters of Foreignness and Family in South Korea":

Since the late 1990s, adult adopted Koreans have been officially
welcomed back to their country of birth as "overseas Koreans," a legal
designation instituted by Korea's state-sponsored "globalization"
(segyehwa) project. Designed to build economic and social networks
between Korea and its seven million compatriots abroad, this policy
projects an ethnonationalist and deterritorialized vision of Korea that
depends upon a conflation of "blood" with "kinship" and "nation."
Adoptees present a particularly problematic subset of overseas Koreans:
they have biological links to Korea, but their adoptions have
complicated the sentimental and symbolic ties of "blood" upon which
this familialist and nationalist state policy depend. Because
international adoption replaces biological with social parenthood and
involves the transfer of citizenship, to incorporate adoptees as
"overseas Koreans," the state must honor the authority and role of
adoptive parents who raised them, even as they invite adoptees to
(re)claim their Koreanness. Government representations optimistically
construe adoptees as cultural "ambassadors" and economic "bridges," yet
for adoptees themselves––whose lives have been split across two
nations, two families and two histories––the cultural capital necessary
to realize their transnational potential seems to have already been

I'd rather read what an adult Chinese adoptee has to say about these trips (and I'm sure that in another few years, we will) than hear about how adoptive parents find comfort and justification in these homeland tours and how they find Chinese toilets disgusting. Yeah, thank God I was adopted so I didn't have to live with squat toilets (I wonder if this family had ever gone camping and used an outhouse or dug their own litrine? And to think for some Americans, this is a "fun" vacation).

But anyway, judge for yourselves. It was an interesting read.

You can read the article here.

Be the change.

3223_163385125503_643490503_6679420_4546436_s  Sometimes it seems like I'm all about doom and gloom. Well, I thought for a *change* I'd post something more hopeful. Yes, it's true – Harlow's Monkey does believe in HOPE! And I also believe in the power of change – individual, community and societal. Some of us work on change in small ways and some in large ways, and no matter how one advocates on behalf of a more peaceful, ethical and kinder world, it all matters. Everyone has their talent and my wish is that everyone would recognize what their talent is and use it to help make the world a better place.


So many stories, not enough days to post them!

1.  Indian adoptee fights for end of human trafficking. Story is here.



Coworkers in Maine discover they are brothers, adopted out to separate families.

Seven years into his tenure as a furniture mover for a local bedding
retailer, Gary Nisbet was joined by a new colleague, Randy Joubert, who
looked so much like him that customers asked whether they were brothers.

"We thought they were just trying to razz us," Joubert said.

Turns out the customers were on to something. They really are
brothers — and the attention they got after finding each other also has
turned up a sister.

The two men were given up for adoption as babies about 35 years ago,
then attended rival high schools and even lived in neighboring towns on
the Maine coast before working together at Dow's Sleep Center in tiny
Waldoboro and uncovering their relationship.

"This kid could have been anywhere in the world, and here I am
riding in a Dow furniture truck with him," Joubert said in a telephone
interview Monday.

Amazing story, click here.

3. Targeted advertising to encourage African Americans to adopt from foster care, found through ColorLines. From RaceWire:

The ads were developed by the Advertising Council, which produces
public service announcements and AdoptUsKids, a non-profit which helps
connect foster children with adoptive families.
It marks the first time African-Americans have been targeted, according to project officials.
“There are a lot of negative images of African-Americans, especially
preadolescent and adolescent black boys,” said Kathy Ledesma, project
director of AdoptUsKids. “African-American children are removed from
their homes at higher rates than [other racial groups].

4. Female pastor convicted of abusing adopted children. From MSNBC, the article is here.

5. A baby-selling ring made up of doctors, nurses and welfare workers
has gone on trial in northern Vietnam accused of selling more than 250
children for adoption. Article here.

What No One Told Me About Adoption

Grown In My Heart hosted a blog carnival this past weekend called What No One Told Me About Adoption.

Interestingly, several years ago I wrote a piece for a project that was never published, an anthology of creative writing by Asian/Pacific Island women living in the Midwest. I titled my piece, Things They Never Tell You When You're An Orphan In Korea.

When I wrote this piece I had just started coming to terms with realizing the impact adoption had had on my life. The mask I'd been wearing as one of those "happy, well-adjusted" adoptees crumbled. I had not yet gone back to college, I had not yet become a social worker. I had just returned from my first trip to Korea, a trip that did not go well. I had not yet found "my people," those adoptees with whom I could really understand, who "got me." I felt I was being honest with myself but was conflicted because my feelings were not being recognized or validated in the books I read about adoption or in the volunteer work I was doing with adoption agencies. I was definitely a work in progress.

Reading the blog carnival made me go back and look at what I'd written a very long time ago now. And while I no longer necessarily agree with everything I wrote back then, there are definitely some nuggets that still resonate. I'm posting an excerpt of that piece today. Although I won't post the whole thing (there are some very private and personal things I included that I wouldn't want made public, like where I lived and my birthdate), I wanted to give you readers a small glimpse into the Me I Was Back Then. Those of you who are adoptive parents might want to keep in mind that I was in my late 20s-early 30s during this period. If you had asked me even a few years earlier I would have told you that everything was fine, that I had no negative feelings about adoption ever, that adoption was always a wonderful thing. Of course, that wasn't entirely true.

The point is not that there is a right way or wrong way to feel about adoption, the point is that every person who is adopted has a right to own their feelings, either way. And, things change. Having children changed things for me. Going to Korea changed me. Reading and educating myself about adoption changed me. Working and volunteering with adopted children changed me. Working at adoption agencies with prospective and adoptive parents changed me. 

However an adopted person thinks or feels about adoption comes from their own experiences. Adoptive parents and adoption professionals will never know what an adoptee will think or feel about their adoption experience. What I do know is that whether you personally agree or disagree with an adopted person's opinion about adoption it is not your place to tell someone that how they view their experience is wrong. You can support, you can empathize, you can offer other perspectives. But remember that those other perspectives are just that – other perspectives. Your perspective as someone who is not adopted is not better or more correct than the adoptee's perspective.

In my experience the more you try and tell an adoptee how they are supposed to feel, the more likely they will stop telling you how they feel altogether.

Continue reading

Some Chinese parents say their children were stolen for adoption

From the LA Times comes this story.

In some rural areas, instead of levying fines for violations of
China's child policies, greedy officials took babies, which would each
fetch $3,000 from adoptions.


Yang Shuiying and two of her daughters on the front porch of her house in Tianxi village, Guizhou province. Another daughter was taken away by a family planning official, who said he was going to sell the child for foreign adoption. (Barbara Demick / Los Angeles Times)

You can read the article here.