An Indian Adoptee Reclaims His Voice in the Desi Diaspora
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A Mea Culpa and some Clarification-Part One

March 30, 2010

This blog is about how I feel. I was not trying to offend or make blanket statements in my last post. Before I go further, I realized I made some black and white pronouncements as my friend Carolyn (herself an adoptee) pointed out in my last entry. This post and the next one will generally be a fleshed out response to some of her thoughtful disagreements with that post.

I was mainly writing off the top of my head, a brain dump if you will. I have tried in this blog to write with emotion and feeling, but at the same time, with a critical, analytical eye. I do not want my posts to become figure laden affairs. Though I understand why some people gravitate more towards those types of blogs. I wanted to convey thoughts on an emotional level, not an academic one. But I won’t neuter myself or muzzle my passion for the subject. I will work on making statements which I make clear are my own opinions and refrain from putting words into the mouths of others. From my friends’ comments, I understand I made some strongly worded statements that I should be backing with some sort of “evidence.” I will try to do so from now on. I would like for this blog to be a great mixture of fact, feeling and analysis, which I realize will probably be more difficult.

As for the last post, in hindsight, I should have made it longer. I didn’t give concrete examples, which I could have and I think it’s important to be as thorough as possible. Though this is a blog and informal, I still feel the need to write with integrity. However, to be honest I’m always leery of how much writing is “too much,” because often when I read blogs, if they are more than a page or so long (no matter how much I personally enjoy the subject) I’m not going read it. Perhaps the answer is to do more blog posts in parts like this and here.

So as I mentioned before this will be in two parts.

I probably came across as more heavily favoring “birth culture connection” than I should have. I just felt that the author of the original article was minimizing birth culture connections and I still feel that a mixture of raising children with knowledge of their cultural heritage and with love, support and care is best. I do think that raising a child with love and in a supportive caring environment is definitely more critical than culture in the long run. But I think that ignoring culture, if you’re raising children today, misses part of the equation.

Lastly on this point, if it seemed liked I was in any way advocated denying a child to a family solely because of lack of acknowledgement of their cultural heritage that was certainly not my intention. Another reason I wrote that was because some of my adopted friends have made it very clear to me that they wish their parents had helped them get in touch with the cultural heritage, on top of the love that they gave them. So for some adopted friends of mine, it’s something they definitely missed.

Let me explain some basic tenets in my last post. One huge caveat is anytime I spoke about raising your children with birth culture and traditions I was referring to people who adopt now, as in the 21st century. I was not trying to minimize, criticize or judge how anyone was raised who is now an adult adoptee. We each were raised differently. I realize that each of our experiences growing up were different. I was writing more for people who are thinking about adoption right now or are in the process.

I think the world of international adoption has changed drastically since the late 1970’s and earlier, when international adoption was rarer. Now it’s become a lot more common and the subject is in the news (like celebrity adoptions) quite a bit. Beside the Vietnamese Baby lift in 1978, I don’t think international adoption was as prevalent then, as it is today in the public’s consciousness. I could be wrong about that.

Part of that change has been the learning process of parents who adopt internationally. I do hope that a parent who adopts a child now will raise them with love and care foremost and above all, but also with their birth culture as much as they can. I think options exist for them now, which did not exist back in the day.

Some of these resources include a myriad of books and printed materials written by adoptive parents who talk about their own experiences raising children who look different from themselves. I’m not sure there was as much material to help parents understand the importance of birth culture and their kids when I was adopted. A quick Amazon search came back with a number of books about raising internationally adopted children. I’m not going to link to them, because that feels like an endorsement (when I haven’t read a single one) but you can find them easily.

Another way is through heritage camps and other programs which adoption agencies and support groups have created to help children get in touch with their birth traditions. Here’s one list . Here’s a longer more comprehensive one. At these camps, they teach children about their birth cultures traditions, cuisine, tell stories and it’s a great way for adopted kids to interact with other adopted children who share some of their same physical characteristics. So there are resources which exist today, which were unknown and not nearly as developed as when I was growing up.

Another asset would be birthland tours with the expressed goal of getting families and their younger children in touch with the nations of their birth. I have heard from families who have gone to Korea, Vietnam and India on such trips. The decision to visit the country of ones birth is an important one and I won’t go into discussion of it here. But it’s yet another way for adoptive families to get their children in touch with their birth culture. Perhaps there is value in taking a child when they are young to their country of birth and then for an adult adoptee to go later in life. That’s an individual family and then adopted adult’s decision to make. I have only returned to India one time, and that was when I was 21 years old.

Our world is flattening like never before and we are interconnected more at this point than any time in human history. Good or bad, this will only increase. The internet alone has made accumulating knowledge about a child’s birth heritage relatively easy. A few keystrokes and one can find out for example, all about Indian holidays, how they are celebrated, what they mean, which foods are eaten, etc. In the past that took a great deal of energy. If you didn’t know an Indian person nor had personal experience with the country, you had to find a book, go to the library, and search for written material that may or may not have been checked out. Ok, I’m over-dramatizing how difficult that was, but the World Wide Web has made any search for information regarding of your child’s native country pretty simple.

All this to say, the information about where your child comes from, their birth traditions and their cultural heritage can all be found in minutes and with minimal effort. It’s easier than it ever was to find ways to get your child in touch with their homeland. If you want to help your adopted child or yourself as an adoptive parent get in touch with your children’s birth roots, it can be easily done.

Now some may read that and dismiss it as being “superficial.” But to me, those are crucial steps in developing a positive image of one’s birth culture and understanding. Helping them acknowledge where they came from, realizing that their country of birth is a different place and trying to embrace that.

The last point is that I want to apologize for trying to speak for other adoptees on this blog. This blog is about me and my experiences. While I acknowledge that what I write may resonate with other readers, adopted or otherwise, I know we don’t all feel the same way. Nor should I be generalizing and saying things about adopted people who we individually may disagree on. While I think it’s important for an adopted person’s voice to be out there, as I do feel they are minimized, I don’t claim now, or ever to speak for “us,” all.

This is what I wrote “Same-ethnicity adoptions “are surely not, at their deepest level what an adopted person from a different ethnicity endures.”

Carolyn’s reply: “This statement was deeply concerning to me as I consider it unfounded and insensitive. While I think that we do have unique perspectives as interracially adopted individuals, we, similar to the Newsweek writer, do not and cannot understand the perspective of every adoptee, whether same ethnicity- or transracially- adopted. You cannot judge the “deepest level” of someone else’s emotional and psychological development.”

She’s right and I was wrong to do so. I will speak for myself. I felt marginalized and alienated by my adoption a lot of the time growing up. It generally was not something I was proud of, and I felt some shape because of the consequence of adoption, but not being adopted itself. I didn’t like being different. And looking around, beyond my brother and sister, I didn’t see anyone who truly looked like me. So at the deepest level for me, adoption was a weird thing that I tried to minimize. How it feels to other people I can’t say.

But I still think that someone who is white and then adopted by a white family, will have some different experiences than someone like me, who is brown and adopted by white parents. At the very least a white child, being raised in the US, can look around their environment and see people who look like them all over the place. For me, as a brown person, growing up in Madison, WI, in the 1980’s that was extremely difficult. Not seeing people who shared my skin color and physical traits was alienating for me.

Ok, that’s enough for now. Thanks for reading and for allowing me to be honest with you. Keep an eye out for the second part to this.

As always I welcome your comments and thoughts.

taguelisa
April 19, 2010 at 11:34 am

wondering if you’d be willing to dialogue a little with me via email? I appreciate your perspective and learn from each post you write. hardinglis@gmail.com
http://www.taguelisa.wordpress.com

ruba
May 6, 2010 at 1:13 pm

Hey AJ!
I just came across your blog and spent the last hour reading through it. I appreciate your thoughts and insights and am grateful for your courage to share it. As you know, neither myself or Daniel are adopted, but you may not know that we are both interested in adoption. It doesn’t look like a very easy process – for international or domestic adoption. Not that it should be. Anyway, I think your blog may really help us to understand the journey a bit better. As for the current topic of your blog: D and I both think it’s very important to develop a connection between our imaginary adoptee and his/her birth-culture. While I’ve lived in Papua New Guinea for 2 years and am quite familiar with the food and national language, I really question my ability to transfer that only minor connection and foster the “heritage aspect” of a child’s identity. Anyway, further exploring these ideas are perhaps better left for conversation. Hope your family is as fantastic as ever — and happy mother’s day to both of your moms!

Big hug,
ruba

I'd love to hear your thoughts!