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Reunion – The Whole Family

I attended Adoption Mosaic’s first ever Reunion Panel this past weekend. The panel was split into two portions. In the morning we heard from adoptees who were in the early stages of their reunion journey. The afternoon was reserved for adoptees and their birth parents who had been reunited for ten years or more.

It was a profound experience listening to their stories, and I learned so much about the emotional investment and process that is involved in beginning, and sustaining a reunion for over 20 years. One of the things that most impressed me was seeing these families who had been in reunion for so long, and how they had all reached normalcy in their concept of family and kinship.

Reunion has two very different subjective connotations. On one hand it’s seen as a connection of separated (birth) families. On another hand it can be seen as destroying the connections of  existing (adoptive) families. My question is why are these concepts mutually exclusive?

Adoptive families, more so than the mainstream population, know that families are not only made, they are created. Kinship systems are defined by blood, but they are also defined by love (and, well, laws). If adoptive families are more able to use out-of-the-box-thinking when it comes to the concept of family, isnt it then just a small step further to conceive of a greater family system that includes not only the adoptive family, but the birth family as well?

Not to say that any of this is simple. Connecting different families, in the case of reunion or in the case of open adoptions that occur on the outset of adoption, can be complicated, emotional and even messy. But honestly, aren’t most families, in general, complicated, emotional and messy?

I am so grateful to have been able to see first-hand, on the Reunion Panel, adoptive and birth families who are making it work, and who even love and appreciate each other. I left hopeful and inspired.

We blend our families through marriage all the time. We don’t always love or understand “the in-laws” but we don’t question their right to be considered a part of our family. Shouldn’t it be the same for birth families?

Here is another blogger’s take on the Reunion Panel

Reunion

After a seven year search, Korean adoptee Melissa Konomos found and reunited with her birth mother. Thank you Melissa and Jeanne Modderman for sharing this beautiful video with us and our readers.

Reuniting from Jeanne Modderman on Vimeo.

Transracial Adoptees Speak: On Building a Racial Identity

Here is the second installment of the Transracial Adoptees Speak video series created from clips of Adoption Mosaic’s Transracial Adoptee panel.  In this video Shelise, Micah, and LaCrisha (all raised by white families) talk about their experiences building their racial identities.

Transracial Adoptees Speak: On Beauty and Identity

This past summer I had the opportunity to film one of Adoption Mosaic’s Transracial Adoptee Panels. It was such a great panel, and I’m glad that I will be able to share it more widely. Following is the first of several videos from that panel. In this video, LaCrisha, Shelise, and Micah talk about their experiences dealing with issues of beauty and identity.

Country Reunited

Every once in a while you read an article or a blog post that just hits you where you live. I read this post from Outlandish Remarks: A Queer Korean Adoptee Talks Back weeks ago, and it has stayed with me, and stayed and stayed. It’s an intense post. The feelings it surfaced in me were feelings of reunion, not with my people, but with my country. I have not reunited with my birth family. I probably never will. Not because the odds of finding them are not in my favor, but because, for many reasons, it is unlikely I will ever begin a search.

I have, however, reunited with my country, Korea. And ever since, I have continued a love/hate and complicated relationship with it. I have completely personified this country. It is the mother who gave birth to me. It is the earth where my roots grasp deep underground. It is the mother who “put me up” for adoption, and the home that rejects me still.

Years ago, after college, I took a little trip to Korea with a friend. I went blind, meaning that I gave little thought to the significance of where I was going, what I was doing. All of my processing took place in the thick of the journey that was intended to last one month, but ended up lasting three years. Still more of my processing took place several years later when I was fortunate enough to own a business that took me to Asia twice a year and I was able to stop in Korea for a few days each time. I am processing still.

It was a bitter pill to swallow when I first learned the majority of children who were adopted from Korea years after the Korean war, were not adopted out because of poverty, but, rather, because the vast majority of them were children of unwed mothers. I am furious at Korea for being a country where unwed mothers and their children are ostracized so thoroughly, socially and economically, that adoption seems the only alternative. It is real. I have lived there and I have seen first-hand the level of institutional and social prejudice that stepping out of bounds can incur.

I feel Korea in my cells, in my bones. It is my birthright. And it is my home just as much as this country I live in is. I miss it. The tangible, and even more so, the abstract. The curve of the pipe tile roofs, the pop music blaring from a cosmetic store, the recorded voice in a subway car. More than anything, I miss the smell.

Every once in a while I give in to my longing and I consider moving back. I think of the logistics and measure the possibilities. But every time the same thing stops me. Now, in a different place in life, I have a daughter, and I am not married to her father. I am an unwed mother. I know my daughter would never be accepted. It makes me absolutely crazy that the very thing that most likely expelled me from Korea in the first place, is the same exact thing that keeps me from going back.

Somehow this makes my losses all the more complete, and all the more real. I have reunited with my country, and it doesn’t want me back.

***

Organizations that are working to change the circumstances of unwed mothers in Korea:

Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea (TRACK)

Korean Unwed Mother’s Support Network (KUMSN)

Adoption Solidarity Korea (ASK)

Was Adopted or Am Adopted?

Adoptees: Is adoption a singular event in your life? Or is it an ongoing identity you claim as your own? What is the difference between saying you WERE adopted as opposed to saying you ARE adopted? Adoption Mosaic Executive Director Astrid Dabbeni shares her thoughts in the following video.

CNN Study on Children’s Racial Bias

The following video is a clip from Anderson Cooper 360 that is airing a four-part series exploring a CNN study on how black and white children view skin color.
The CNN “doll test” is the newest version of the original 1940′s experiment conducted by groundbreaking psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark who used dolls to identify children’s feelings about race.

View updated CNN clips here>> and read the expanded study results click here>>

“Our Voices”: Twice Foreign

From guest blogger Shelise Gieseke. We are grateful to Shelise for contributing “Twice Foreign” to Our Voices and to our blog. Click here>> for more information on Adoption Mosaic Bloggers.

Where I reside in Asian-American society, as a Korean adoptee, has been referred to as the “third space.” It is a place that hovers between who I was raised to be and who I was born to be.

I am a Korean adoptee. I was raised in rural Minnesota by white Lutherans of German and Scandinavian descent. Both my parents are generational farmers. My dad and sister have blond hair and blue eyes, as do many of my cousins and friends. I spent a good piece of my life in envy of that blond hair and, especially, those blue eyes. Even though I do not remember a time when I did not know I was adopted from Korea, I do remember a long period of time when I was raised to forget that I was from Korea; to believe that I was the same as everyone else around me, and that everyone else would treat me as if that were true. It seemed to work. . . for a while.

Being familiar with an entire community’s life stories is an advantage and disadvantage of living in a small town. It was an advantage for me because everyone knew how I came to be in my family. I could claim membership to my family with no questions asked. Small town living was a disadvantage because my family and I didn’t have to deal with my race. I could easily become “just like them,” “just a daughter,” “just a friend,” “just a sister,” “just a cousin.” Just, just, just. Even though I was very comfortable with just being “me,” I can see how my affinity for rooting for the underdog, by being moved every time we learned about civil rights in school, by not wanting to eliminate people based on their surface appearance, was me telling myself that I was more than just; I was something other.

In college, I constructed my world to resemble my childhood world. People who would say they saw me as “just” were happily welcome to be a part of my life. I craved others who would accept me as the person I was on the inside and not be guided by my physical appearance. I went on one date with an Asian man, but couldn’t do another because I was convinced I wasn’t Asian enough for him. I didn’t have Asian parents or Asian friends. The whole time we were on our date I was waiting for him to yell, “Phony!” and make me confess I wasn’t a “real” Asian. With my college friends and colleagues, my ethnicity was discussed only within the framework of comedy, as if being the only person of color in a group of white people was always hilarious. I thought this humor helped me own my ethnicity, but it only created more distance between my identity and my ethnicity. Throughout my young adult life, I carried around this sense of being lonely, even in a crowd of people. However, I couldn’t pinpoint the source of this melancholy feeling.

Later in my college career, I transferred to a much larger university. I had the opportunity to take classes specifically related to race, to explore the idea of white privilege and to understand that I no longer had access to this privilege via my family. I started to accept myself as other. However, my social circle remained very white, as I was too afraid of rejection by communities of color. I feared that the people in this community would discard me because my white upbringing made me unauthentic. I only looked like a Korean women, but I thought, talked and walked like a Caucasian.

When I first heard the term “twinkie” to describe a person who was ethnically Asian, but was culturally white (or strived to “act” white), I was so relieved to finally have a label for myself. Even though the person who was describing this term was referring to twinkie as a pejorative term, I was just so happy to learn there was a group of Asians with whom I could identify. But, I did not know where these twinkies were or how to find them. So, I remained in isolation and alone in my struggles.

Then I discovered the online adoptee community. I devoured a handful of blogs that spoke to my race and adoption experiences. I was astonished and relieved to read that other people had experienced many of the same racist encounters that I had; that the authors found it difficult to feel like a “real” member of their ethnic group. Reading these blog entries and comments was the first time I ever felt validation about my own experience as a transracial adoptee. I could read something and say, “I know!” authentically and with authority. A few years later, with help from my therapist and some new friends in the adoption community, I have fully incorporated adoption into my life experience. Where I once thought of adoption as a finite event and something I should “get over,” I now acknowledge that adoption is a lifelong experience that will always be an influence on my life. I can confidently identify as a Korean adoptee. Something I was raised to be, but something different than my birthright.

My current challenge is about authenticity and authority. Given my upbringing, do I know enough about Asian-Americans to claim membership to the group? I know a lot about the culture of rural Minnesotans, but I have never had an Asian-American role model in my everyday life. Do I have the authority to claim to a part of the Asian-American experience based on my physical appearance and the fact that I was born in an Asian country?

I think a lot about what I now believe to be my birthright and how it was taken away from me by many different forces – social, economic, political, religious and individual. Because I am aware of these forces, I am comfortable laying claim to a heritage that was afforded to me by birth, but denied me in my adoptive family. I have not been raised by Korean parents or even lived in a Korean community, but I am living out a piece of the Asian-American experience; an experience that is unique to the Asian-American community itself. Even though it is often downplayed or ignored, I am an Asian immigrant who was sent as a baby to fend for myself in a land of strangers. A land where I could not be comforted by the sound of my language or filled with food cooked by my grandmother’s hand; where I was raised to become a stranger to my own motherland.

I am part of a people that must find the balance between our white families and our needs as Asian-Americans. We have to find acceptance from our white families that we are in fact Asian-Americans and the courage to seek out other Asian-Americans for guidance and support. I am still building courage to seek what I need, but I have been given confidence by my fellow adoptees and by a welcoming Korean-American community. Their acceptance and guidance has slowly been fusing the gap between the person I was raised to be and the person I want to be. And, always, I will hover in the “third space” with my fellow adoptees. We cling to each other as we each try to find our own balance.

Talking the Talk

istock_000001953839xsmallIt has not always been the case, but for the last decade, being adopted has been a huge part of my identity, as well as my work. I have written articles, attended conferences, sat on boards, spoken on panels, lead adopted youth groups, volunteered, researched, studied, read, and blogged adoption.

And I have a confession to make.

In all this time, I have never had a meaningful discussion with my parents about adoption.
Read the rest of this entry »

Evan B. Donaldson Study on Transracial Adoptee Identity Formation

The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute has just released the largest and most comprehensive study on adoptee identity formation ever published. Their 113 page research study Beyond Culture Camp: Promoting Healthy Identity Formation in Adoption was based on 468 surveys of adult adoptees, research analysis, and relevant literature, and includes several recommendations based on their research. 

From the Executive Summary:

This ground-breaking study by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, to our knowledge, constitutes the largest, most extensive examination of identity development in adopted adults in the U.S. And it does so by asking the experts – adult adoptees – about the experiences, strategies and choices that promote positive identity development. Too often, our understanding of identity, particularly of those adopted across race/ethnicity, has been formed through research only on children and youth. Similarly, conclusions about identity in transracial adoption too often have come from the perspective of parents, not adoptees themselves. The Institute’s study focuses on adult adopted persons, gaining their understanding of how they have integrated “being adopted” and their race/ethnicity with other aspects of themselves that, together, form an identity.

The New York Times reported on the study the day before it’s release, and since then many others have weighed in on blogs, in editorials and articles. What are your thoughts?

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