An Indian Adoptee Reclaims His Voice in the Desi Diaspora
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A Small Thank You to my Parents this Thanksgiving 2014

November 27, 2014

For those unaware, this is National Adoption Awareness Month. There has been a lot of social media about this, some good pieces in well-known magazines, like the NY Times and elsewhere. National Adoption Month, was created to raise awareness and celebrate foster care adoption. In recent years it has been co-opted by the Adoption lobby and by those painting all adoptions as the greatest thing that ever happened to families, while omitting adoptee voices and the heartbreak and loss inherent in the process.

A group of adoptees developed a campaign called #flipthescript doing their best to counter the rose-colored glasses view. I am participating, as the attempt offers thoughts on our personal adoption narratives, because adoptees themselves are not the ones people usually hear from.

That is one of the reasons I began blogging years ago. I thought my voice, as a male, Indian adoptee, deserved hearing, and I still believe that is true. However, since I began writing I realized my adoption story is quite different from other adoptees.

I choose to celebrate my adoption because my parents, David and Robyne Bryant, understood all sides of the adoption narrative and raised us with that knowledge.  Some adopted friends and colleagues had negative experiences with their parents/guardians regarding adoption. I was not one of them.

A quick aside, I do not and have never called the two people who adopted me, my adoptive parents. They are my parents. Period. I understand that a different woman gave birth to me, but she is my first/birth mother. I rarely call her my mother.

Some adoptees have tough stories of coming to their new country, and being adopted by families who disavowed they had a birth mother and father or came from another culture. I have no experience with that. While I lost some Indian culture through adoption, my parents worked and sacrificed to keep me tethered to it throughout my life.

I’m dedicating this post to them for all they did creating the best experience for me growing up adopted.

I occasionally wondered, if because my adoption story is more positive than some, would they disqualify me from the adoption forum, because it was not ‘bad’ enough? Sometime I feel like I lack the ‘scars’ some fellow adoptees carry, minimizing my perceived legitimacy as an adoptee speaking about my experiences. However, all of our journeys are different and being part of the adoption community helped me appreciate our varying stories.

My parents understand that there is pain, loss and hurt in the adoption process. They brought up the negative aspects of adoption, long before I could put words to them.

Growing up my family discussed adoption issues quite frequently. I knew where they stood, what they believed about the topic and they were always willing to talk about it as a family.

This is a marked difference from some fellow adoptees, who were raised in homes where it was a taboo subject and their parents had no idea how to talk about it, were embarrassed or afraid.

My parents adopted three children in the 1980’s in Madison, Wisconsin. Did they really know what they were getting themselves into through international adoption? No, of course not. However, most parents don’t know how to raise a child, adopted or otherwise until they actually have one.

There is no perfect manual and no step-by-step plan for raising children, adopted or not. They did the best they could given the circumstances and the dearth of information about raising children in a trans-racial household.

My adoption caused wounds, most of which are in my sub-conscious somewhere. I will not deny it. Nevertheless, that is not what I want this post to focus on.

I am at peace with my adoption. Whatever wish I had to find my birth mother was filled long ago realizing that finding her would add more trauma than overall peace and the negative of that far outweighs its potential benefit for me. I was never discouraged from seeking my first mother. My parents always said they would help and do anything they could if that was what I wanted. However, I have no desire to do so. In addition, being from Kerala, India, it is nearly logistically impossible.

My parents have great affection for India. They feel deeply in love with the country and people visiting there in the late 1970’s. They decided to have an Indian family, years before knowing biological children were impossible.

Growing up and now, the sub-continent was a big part of our family. Whether that was through attending Indian cultural events as children in Madison, WI, developing relationships with Indian families, watching videos about the nation, reading books or following recent events, my parents wanted us to feel connected to the land of our births. I cannot thank them enough for that.

They raised us all with a sense of global awareness. I’ve always been fascinated by other cultures, people, traditions and nations and I think a lot of that arises because my parents traveled internationally, and encouraged our interest and questions about world affairs from a very young age. My parents taught us to look beyond ourselves and view the world through a larger lens than just our daily lives. As a result, my brother, sister and I, as young adults have all lived and worked overseas with marginalized communities.

My parents made a choice when they adopted three brown children from India in the 1980’s to raise a family outside of their comfort zone. I commend them for it. After they adopted us, they would never be able to attend a strictly Caucasian function and as a family look like everyone else in the space. We were a family with two parents who had three children with completely different skin tones.

Likewise, as we attended Indian cultural events, they were probably never going to be fully accepted or comfortable in a room full of Indians. Sometimes, there were only a handful of white folks at Indian dances or dinners. There may have been occasions when they were the only non-Indians. I was too young to remember. However, I do know, they embraced the cultural divide between US and India, and learned from it.

I want to highlight two special examples of actions my parents took related to our adoptions.

One is Mother’s Day. Growing up, my mom would cook Indian food or we would go to an Indian restaurant, not just to honor her, but to pay special homage to the three different women that birthed us. My mom was never intimidated by it and she was never awkward about acknowledging them. My parents thought it more than appropriate because all three of us had mothers before they adopted us, we needed to commemorate them.

Thanksgivings were another small, yet important way my parents demonstrated their love and their understanding of estrangement from our India. My mother would ring the University of Wisconsin, Madison Student Affairs Office and ask for the names and contact information of their Indian international students. Then she would phone them and invite them to an American Thanksgiving at our house, telling them she and her husband had three adopted Indian children.

I cannot even imagine a university divulging information like that these days, but year after year, during my childhood, our Thanksgiving table was crowded with essentially random Indian students, tasting turkey and stuffing for the first time, while myself and my siblings interacted with people who ‘looked like us.’

However, the fact that it happened at all, was due to my parent understanding of how important it was for their children to be physically present with Indians, in relatively normal everyday settings, not just in traditional garb or at special events.

We traveled to India as a family of five in 2001. It was always the family dream to adventure there together. My parents believed that once my siblings and I experienced India for ourselves we’d look at our lives, and our family in a whole new way. I came back from that trip, desperate to live there as an adult and experience India on my own. It was also when I began taking pride in my Indian identity.

I moved to Delhi, India in 2011 for six months, where I worked with the Dalit community and conducted research for my MA capstone paper. 

While there, I met and fell in love with Sasmita, now my wife. We were co-workers and she was my unofficial translator. We were married in the US in 2012, after she immigrated here. My parents paid for the everything and helped us create a wedding ceremony that was a beautiful blend of both Western and Indian culture. 

Then in May of 2014, Sasmita and I went back to India for the first time as a couple, for a village marriage ceremony and for me to meet her family. None of them made the journey to our U.S. wedding in 2012. While there, we stayed in her parent’s house for six days in a remote part of India.

My parents paid for our plane tickets and had hoped to join us in the celebration. Unfortunately, due to a huge Indian Visa snafu, they were unable to join the festivities or meet her family.

They spent a huge amount of money on airfare and tickets for themselves and they will never see that money again. Not to mention hours with a Visa processing company, massive amounts of time researching the trip and all the emotional energy waiting and waiting and hoping for their Visa approval, and then finding out it was all for naught. They spent lovingly on us. That was a huge sacrifice for them.

Throughout my life, my parents have supported me, encouraging me to seek my roots and embrace my Indian identity, but only if I wanted to. They put no pressure on myself or my two siblings to do so, that was a decision that I made on my own.

I am 35 years old now and I have a great relationship with my parents. They are incredibly proud of my voice in the adoption world and always nurture it.

Usually before I speak anywhere publicly about adoption, I talk to my mother and father about it, telling them how excited I am to share our family story. Our communication about adoption is wide open and I love it.

After nearly every post I write, my father pens an email with his thoughts back to me, encouraging me to keep writing and sharing my heart.

This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for my parents, who raised me and my siblings with sacrificial love and understanding, while always keeping us connected to India, the land of our births.

3 Comments
Anonymous
December 13, 2014 at 8:59 am

I think this is wonderful

December 15, 2014 at 12:28 pm

So refreshing to read this. I hope that one day my boys feel the same way about how we raised them.

    A.J. Bryant
    December 16, 2014 at 10:43 pm

    Thanks for the comment. I hope that your children will be able verbalize or write their positive feelings as I did.

I'd love to hear your thoughts!