Adoptees on PRI: Public Radio International

Co-editor Kevin Vollmers and contributors Laura Klunder and Shannon Gibney were featured in a story on PRI: Public Radio International, about the Gazillion Voices magazine.

You can hear it on the PRI website or below:

 

 

 

Or here on the Minnesota Public Radio site

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Photo of Vollmers, Klunder and Gibney by Jennifer Simonson for MPR News.

 

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(R)Evolutions

Reflections on the KAAN 2013 conference and launch of Gazillion Voices Magazine

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Last weekend I attended the KAAN 2013 Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was a somewhat spontaneous decision, meaning that I did not submit a proposal months ago when the call came out, and that spending the money to attend in a year when I have many other conferences to attend seemed out of the question. Another reason why I had no intention of attending is that many years ago I did attend some KAAN Conferences and I left both (2002 and 2004) with the impression that it definitely did not meet my own personal needs as an adult Korean adoptee.

But several things have happened over the almost decade span of time since I last attended KAAN. One important change involved the addition of some Korean adoptees I really respect and care about in leadership positions within the organization. Another was the general progressive shift in the purpose and “feel” of the conference mission. What seemed to me an over-reliance on the “feel-good/let’s not talk about anything difficult” goal of connecting Korean adoptive parents with other Korean adoptive parents, and Korean adopted children with other Korean adopted children and a “celebrate Korean heritage!” mentality in the organization has changed over time to an acknowledgement of race and white privilege in transracial adoption, and the importance of the full, lived experience of adopted individuals. Whereas before it seemed the goal was to show non-adopted Korean role models, a recognition of adopted Korean adult role models seemed to be evident. Also an earlier sense of only showing “positive” adult adoptee perspectives (i.e. those who were uncritical of Korean adoption) has been replaced by an acknowlegement that adoption is not always sunshine and rainbows, and that positioning adoptees as pro or anti adoption is unproductive and polarizing. I was told by several people that the current leadership was amazing to work with and really believed in the importance of adult adoptee leadership (and they were right!).

And then the most compelling reason of all – the chance to see some dear transracial adoptee friends who live scattered around the U.S. See, for many of us, it is these interactions with those whom we’ve cultivated deep friendships over time at adoption-related conferences that help us endure the long droughts of transracial adoption isolation and segregation we experience in our daily lives. In particular, it was the opportunity to attend panels led by adoptees and to have discussions at dinner or over drinks and stay up until the wee hours of the night critically deconstructing, sharing experiences, strategizing ways of coping and supporting and validating each other that compelled me to cold-call the organizers at KAAN and ask if I could still get involved.

This year KAAN did something I wouldn’t have seen a decade ago – they invited transracial adoptee speakers who are not Korean adoptees. And they (parents, adoptees) talked about commonalities among transracial and international adoptees, and about racism and white privilege. This is a welcomed change for me. In my own personal and professional work I have been spending less time with Korean adoptees and more time developing relationships among other adoptees. This is a reflection of my own growth, because I see my own adoption story and narrative as interconnected to other adoptees.

One of the greatest benefits of being privileged to attend graduate school has been the opportunity to really deepen my understanding and knowledge of the historical roots of child placement and adoption and look at the arc over time for how children have been conceptualized and how adoptions have changed and morphed in terms of practice and law (but ultimately with the same underlying theoretical basis, at least in the U.S.). When I learned about the orphan trains, about the Native American boarding schools, the Indian Adoption Project, when I read Regina Kunzel and Dorothy Roberts and Rickie Solinger – I realized how interconnected Korean adoption is with Native American Indian adoption and transracial adoption of African American children, and the immigrant Catholic children who were adopted to Scandinavian protestant farm families in the midwest through the orphan train movement, and the children adopted from Ethiopia and Haiti. Displacement, isolation, racism, cultural erasure, unaddressed grief and loss, these are all commonalities we adoptees have. We transracial adoptees also have many commonalities among “baby scoop” era white domestic adoptees from the maternity home generation.

In his keynote at KAAN, Dr. John Raible emphasized this point, our commonalities across race and situation, with a lot of passion and intensity. I’m sure there were some, adoptees and adoptive parents alike, who were taken aback at his bold challenges but I was heartened that John challenged the old paradigms about transracial adoption. John is not just about helping how we conceptualize transracial adoption evolve over time, his ideas are revolutionary.

Sometimes it seems that when it comes to adoption and child welfare, the pendulum swings back and forth from an emphasis on removal and placement to family presevation. At least in the U.S. that is what many child welfare professionals have said. But as I was recently reminded, it is perhaps not so much of a pendulum swing but a spiral – what seems to be a circular movement away from, then back to, a certain paradigm. But even when it seems like things are coming back to where we started, maybe in truth it has changed in fundamental ways so that even what looks like a circle from looking at it top-down is actually many degrees separated when looked at from the side view.

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Cover of August 2013 issue of Gazillion Voices

Yesterday, a project I am involved with, Gazillion Voices, launched its monthly online magazine. This is also revolutionary in that Gazillion Voices is the first ever adoptee-led publication. Unlike every other publications on adoption, this one does not relegate adoptees to the sidelines, in an “Ask the Adoptee” advice column or limited to one or two stories by an adoptee author. Gazillion Voices is challenging, provocative, and most importantly – led by adult adoptees and includes majority adult adoptee voices.

Kevin Vollmers, one of the editors of Gazillion Voices magazine, and I were debriefing the KAAN conference as we waited for our flight to take off back to Minnesota. We both agreed that it feels we are on the precipice of some incredibly big paradigm shift when it comes to adoption. I’ve been feeling it for about a year now, ever since the CCAI and the State Department (including Ambassador Jacobs) met with a grassroots group of us adult adoptees to hear our collective concerns  for the first time last July.

I am so proud to be part of a community of revolutionary adoptees. With social media platforms, it appears like this adoption revolution is new and those of us with blogs and websites can appear to be doing new and groundbreaking work. But we recognize we are not the first. We are incredibly grateful and humbled by the incredible work of so many adoptees who have been doing this work for decades, without much acknowlegement and very little fanfare. In fact, many adoptees have taken the hits for years on our behalf. Adoptees have been working in policy, advocacy, community organizing, research, academia, and very importantly through art for decades. We in this current generation of adoptee rebels are not taking their hard work for granted; no, we are trying to continue the work and will pay it forward – so that the next generation of transracial adoptee leaders can take it to the finish line.

 

 

Korean looks, American eyes: Korean American adoptees, race, culture and nation by Kim Park Nelson

My dear friend and amazing scholar, Kim Park Nelson, just gave me permission to post the link to her dissertation, Korean looks, American eyes: Korean American adoptees, race, culture and nation.

Abstract:

This project positions Korean adoptees as transnational citizens at
intersections within race relations in the United States, as emblems of
international geopolitical relationships between the United States and
South Korea, and as empowered actors, organizing to take control of
racial and cultural discourses about Korean adoption. I make
connections between transnational exchanges, American race relations,
and Asian American experiences. I argue that though the contradictory
experience of Korean adoptees, at once inside and outside bounded
racial and national categories of "Asian," "White," "Korean," and
"American," the limits of these categories may be explored and
critiqued. In understanding Korean adoptees as transnational subjects,
single-axis racial and national identity are challenged, where
individuals have access to membership and/or face exclusion in more
than one political or cultural nation. In addition, this work
demonstrates the effects of American political and cultural imperialism
both abroad and domestically, by elucidating how the acts of
empire-building nations are mapped onto individuals though the
regulation of immigration and family formation. My methods are
interdisciplinary, drawing from traditions that include ethnography,
primary historical sources, and literature. My dissertation work uses
Korean adoptees' own life stories that I have collected and recorded in
three locations: 1) Minnesota, home to the largest concentration of
Korean adoptees in the U.S.; 2) the Pacific Northwest, home to the many
of the "first wave" of the oldest living Korean adoptees now in their
40s and 50s; and, 3) Seoul, Korea, home to hundreds of adult Korean
adoptees who have traveled back to South Korea to live and work. In
addition, I use Korean adoptee published narratives, archive materials
documenting the early history of transnational adoption, and secondary
sources in sociology, social work, psychology and cultural studies to
uncover the many layers of national, racial and cultural belonging and
significance for and of Korean adoptees.

A pdf of the dissertation is available through the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy. Link is here.

New memoir by an adoptee

This book (along with the one by Korean birth mothers) arrived in my mail box this weekend. I read a draft of the other book but my friend, Sarah Park, a Professor of Library Science, gave me the heads up on this one! I'm very excited since there are so few books written by Native adoptees about their experiences. And, in a happy coincidence, I've been doing research lately in the Social Welfare History Archives, looking through the Child Welfare League of America collection, and had just read through the Indian Adoption Project documents. The Indian Adoption Project was a joint program by the CWLA and the Bureau of Indian Affairs that specifically promoted the adoption of Indian children to white families from 1958-1967.

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One Small Sacrifice: Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects.

Quote from a book I’m currently reading

EthicsofTransracialAdoption[1]

"Transracial adoption helps individual children by placing them in permanent adoptive homes, but it does nothing to repair the web of racial injustice that makes so many black children available for adoption in the first place."

— Hawley Fogg-Davis, The Ethics of Transracial Adoption.

ETA: Although this quote is about domestic transracial adoption of black children in the U.S., it could easily be changed to:


"Transracial/transnational adoption helps individual children by placing them in
permanent adoptive homes, but it does nothing to repair the web of
racial/social/political/government injustice that makes so many children available for
adoption in the first place."

Discussion of transracial/transnational adoption at Racialicous

There is an interesting discussion happening over at Racialicious. Writer Rebecca Walker has an interview in the most recent issue of Bitch magazine and is quoted as saying,

One of the writers [whose piece] didn’t make it into One Big Happy Family wrote about how the process of adopting a child from another country made her more aware of human trafficking. Ultimately, she had to question whether her child had been put up for adoption or was stolen. If we look at plunging fertility in developed nations and raging underdevelopment and poverty in others, we can see how children can become the ultimate product.

Many people don’t realize that there are more human beings in slavery today than ever before. The discussion of transracial adoptees should be part of a growing awareness about the modern slave trade, but I think the glamourization of them in popular culture often does not lend itself to a deeper dialogue.

The comments there are interesting because other than a few familiar names there (atlasien always represents!), most of the commenters do not have a personal connection to adoption. There is, however, a large diverse readership and those comments are interesting because they add to the typical kind of comments I would see in other forums where the white narrative dominates.

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
college.

"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
US.

"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" :

She
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
answer.

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 Mint.com (Wall Street Journal)

Babies as young as 6 months discriminate based on race

From Newsweek, a fascinating article about how children as young as six months old recognize racial differences.

What is remarkable about this study, and the excellent book The First R: How Children Learn Race and Racism by Debra Van Ausdale and Joe Feagin, is that there is evidence that young children DO understand a lot more about race and racism that adults want to believe.

From the article:

The goal of Vittrup's study was to learn if typical children's videos
with multicultural storylines have any beneficial effect on children's
racial attitudes.

…Vittrup's first test of the kids revealed they weren't colorblind at
all. Asked how many white people are mean, these children commonly
answered, "Almost none." Asked how many blacks are mean, many answered,
"Some," or "A lot." Even kids who attended diverse schools answered the
questions this way.

More disturbing, Vittrup also
asked all the kids a very blunt question: "Do your parents like black
people?" Fourteen percent said outright, "No, my parents don't like
black people"; 38 percent of the kids answered, "I don't know." In this
supposed race-free vacuum being created by parents, kids were left to
improvise their own conclusions—many of which would be abhorrent to
their parents.

and

…To Vittrup's complete surprise, the three groups of children were
statistically the same—none, as a group, had budged very much in their
racial attitudes. At first glance, the study was a failure.

Combing
through the parents' study diaries, Vittrup realized why. Diary after
diary revealed that the parents barely mentioned the checklist items.
Many just couldn't talk about race, and they quickly reverted to the
vague "Everybody's equal" phrasing.

Of all those
Vittrup told to talk openly about interracial friendship, only six
families managed to actually do so. And, for all six, their children
dramatically improved their racial attitudes in a single week. Talking
about race was clearly key. Reflecting later about the study, Vittrup
said, "A lot of parents came to me afterwards and admitted they just
didn't know what to say to their kids, and they didn't want the wrong
thing coming out of the mouth of their kids."

Why is this article important for white adoptive parents who have adopted children transracially and internationally?

Minority parents are more likely to help their children develop a
racial identity from a young age. April Harris-Britt, a clinical
psychologist and professor at the University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill, found that all minority parents at some point tell their
children that discrimination is out there, but they shouldn't let it
stop them. Is this good for them? Harris-Britt found that some
preparation for bias was beneficial, and it was necessary—94 percent of
African-American eighth graders reported to Harris-Britt that they'd
felt discriminated against in the prior three months.

Preparation for bias is not, however, the only way minorities talk to
their children about race. The other broad category of conversation, in
Harris-Britt's analysis, is ethnic pride. From a very young age,
minority children are coached to be proud of their ethnic history. She
found that this was exceedingly good for children's self-confidence; in
one study, black children who'd heard messages of ethnic pride were
more engaged in school and more likely to attribute their success to
their effort and ability.

So the point? Parents – even liberal, "color-blind", "we are all part of the human race," parents, even those who live in the "diverse" areas but are waiting for their kids to bring up racism – need to talk about race and racism from day one.

Please read the article in full here. Also, read Resist Racism's excellent analysis of the article here, which points out the very skewed way the writers approached this article, and why so many of us parents of color felt like, "well, duh."

Oh boy…

I missed this when it was originally published in June. A book titled "Red in the Flower Bed" is about a seed who is languishing in it's original garden travels the world for a "better" place to grow. As the only "red" flower in the garden, the other flowers are curious but eventually the poppy finds that not only does it thrive, but it creates the "missing color" in the garden.

From the book description:

The journey of adoption is beautifully depicted with the comforting imagery of a poppy flower who is welcomed into a garden family. It is a charming story of seeds being planted in the perfect place – exactly where they belong. Children and adults will enjoy this simple yet meaningful story and homespun illustrations. The book's loving approach helps children to understand adoption. Andrea Nepa has captured the essence of adoption and family, and has illustrated it beautifully with images and poetry that even a small child can comprehend and enjoy.

Isn't it interesting that this book makes it seem like the child is supposed to have the agency to make a decision that the foreign garden where s/he is the only "red" flower is where she "belongs?"

You know how a person is not supposed to take wildflowers they see growing on the side of the road to plant in their own gardens? I think that's a more appropriate metaphor.

I've used the plant metaphor many times, only my stories typically talk about planting a flower in a different zone. They are not always successful at re-potting, just so everyone is clear.

Another in a long line of books aimed to make adoptive parents feel better.

Addicted to Race Episode 116 – Black kids white community, bluest eye, international adoption and culture

How do we raise black children in an all-white community and still maintain a healthy sense of identity? How do we combat Eurocentric standards of beauty? Do
internationally adoptive parents go too far with the cultural
activities, at the expense of talking to their kids about race? Carmen
Van Kerckhove, Tami Winfrey Harris, and Jae Ran Kim discuss, today at 11 Central/12 Eastern, live.

Subscribe here.