Category Archives: international adoption
I put off watching Lion for months now, afraid it would be too emotional for me. I’d built it up, heard so many other adoptees and non-adopted folks gush about it, say how gut wrenching it was and how I ‘had’ to see it.
Purposely, I stayed away from all reviews of it and only knew it was a true story. I was excited to watch it as an Indian adoptee.
Saroo Brierley is the main character (played by Dev Patel) and his story has similarities to mine. An adopted Indian kid, raised outside of India, by a white family and he seems well-adjusted.
Finally, an adoption story about India, not Korea, Russia or China. And it was critically acclaimed as well, nominated for six Academy awards.
Here in front of millions of people, the actors would voice struggles and thoughts about identity, loss, and culture, that myself and other international adoptees have ourselves.
We’d receive validation. People would see Saroo’s difficulties and hear the same ones I’ve had my whole life as well.
That’s what I thought about before I saw it. I was disenchanted.
Yes, I loved the movie. I thought it was fantastic. I’d recommend you see it if you haven’t. And I’m glad I watched it.
But, emotionally, there was something missing for me. Even as I type this, I’m trying to ‘will’ a sentimental response to the movie and I can’t. I’m numb.
I hesitate writing that because it feels like a betrayal of the adoptee experience. I can only imagine what people would say, if I, as an adopted Indian guy said I hated the movie. The backlash would be intense.
My divergence with the majority of the adoptee community about Lion doesn’t invalidate my opinion. I haven’t lost my influence (whatever I have) as an adoptee speaking about my story and thoughts as a person adopted internationally.
That surfaces another problem with the adoptee community; we aren’t monolithic in thoughts or deeds. But there is an unwritten code that says we should all agree on certain things. For example, some adoptees are vocal about non-adoptees seeing them all as one, but yet when an adoptee themselves voices a different opinion they can be ostracized. The hypocrisy is not lost on me.
I must be one of the only people who viewed it without tears.
Even now, writing this, I’m not sure what to say about it, but I’ll try.
1) It’s a lovely film. The story is heart-wrenching and beautiful. The acting is top-notch. Dev Patel has never been better and Nicole Kidman, who plays his adoptive mother is wonderful as well. That it’s a true story makes it more compelling.
2) The adoption experience for me, as one adopted as an infant, is much different from Saroo. I cannot imagine leaving the world that I actually knew, familiar with its sounds, sites, smells, people and culture and being adopted when I was six or seven years old. I left India before I could walk. While the sounds of Malayalam were familiar to me on a basic level, leaving India was not the upheaval for me, as it was for Saroo.
3) The images and scenes which resonated the most for me had nothing to do with adoption, but more the life of poverty and squalor depicted in the film. That surprised me. I thought for sure the lines about ‘my real parents’ and others regarding the adoption experience would tug the most at my heart, but that wasn’t the case. I was more drawn to the downtrodden, marginalized and exploited, the scenes of hopelessness and despair aroused emotions for me.
The problem about the film is this; for me, a movie is truly amazing, if it evokes an emotional response. But Lion didn’t do that.
I’m going to watch it again and see if this changes, but I doubt it will. I also judge a film’s greatness by how much I’m thinking about it immediately after watching and then the days afterward.
Again, it didn’t pass this test either. I didn’t consciously think about it, except for realizing that I should write a blog post about not having feelings.
My mind was not rehashing scenes that I observed. The movie didn’t invade my thoughts as others have, where I could not stop thinking about it.
None of that happened with Lion and I’m unsure why.
I’ve become more aware of the infantilization of adult adoptees, due to my work with the Adoptee Rights Campaign to give adoptees US Citizenship. The Adoptee Citizenship Act fills a loophole in the Child Citizenship Act of 2001, which gave all international adoptees US citizenship age 18 and younger.
A common question I receive is ‘why is there an age limit of 18 for the original bill?’ As far as I know, it’s because the CCA was championed by adoptive parents (APs) who followed a historical pattern; viewing adoptees as children and never as adults.
In early February of 2017, I participated in a ‘Privilege Walk.’
It’s an exercise examining an individual’s levels of privilege or disadvantage. I had finished speaking on an adoption panel and Sue Orban, the panel moderator asked all of us to participate.
Each question requires the person to step forward or backward depending on their answer. It’s popular because it demonstrates the intermingling of privilege and benefits.
The differences are one’s people don’t think about consciously. Or are culturally ingrained and unnoticeable.
In other words, everyday advantages we don’t realize we have.
Here’s a Privilege Walk video.
The value is in both examining one’s opportunities in relationship to those around you and thinking about your own privilege. Questions are tailored specifically regarding, gender, class, sexual orientation, mental wellness, and physical ability. For our drill, the questions combined some the above, plus specific adoption-related ones.
At its conclusion, you realize, everyone experiences both privilege and marginalization. The questions are based on Peggy McIntosh’s book White Privilege: Unpacking the Knapsack.
It’s a non-confrontational method analyzing inequalities along a host of social, ethnic and cultural normative spectrums.
Everyone begins on the same line and you notice, though you may think you were similar to the person next to you, their life experiences may be starkly different.
Here are some of the questions;
- I can choose bandages in flesh color that more or less matches my skin.
- The culture of my ancestors was studied in elementary school.
- I usually see members of my race and ethnic group portrayed on television in a positive light.
- I or my ancestors made a choice to come to America.
- I have never spent any time in a foster home, homeless, or an orphanage.
- When I go to the doctor, I can share my family’s medical history.
- I am aware of all my siblings.
- I can shop in any store without fear of being followed.
- I received vaccinations that were timely and stored properly.
- I was born into a family with access to medical care.
For our version of this exercise, we used a game board and very small cut-outs that resembled feet which we moved up and down on a grid, all starting from the same point.
Sue asked questions about ourselves and our children or the ones people were adopting. We moved the two different feet on the ladder forward and backward according to our answers.
Since this was an adoptee panel, the purpose was viewing the privileges of the adoptive family, which their future child did not have.
I answered questions for myself and Sonali. At the end of the exercise, I saw a clear delineation between my experiences and all the privileges in her life. If Sasmita was doing the drill, the differences would be even greater.
Unfortunately, conducting it this way, I did not experience one its core objectives, seeing my privilege or marginalization compared to people next to me.
But I tasted the concept.
It was a good reflective exercise contemplating the many advantages and disadvantages I have as an Indian adoptee growing up in the United States. I am privileged because even though I’m brown-skinned, I was raised in a white, middle-class neighborhood. A lot of their privilege extends to me.
For an everyday example, take Band-Aids. I’d guess that nearly all non-minorities I know never thought about a Band-Aid’s color. But for myself and minorities, it’s always annoyed us that they don’t blend with our skin. You always know if I’m wearing a Band-Aid because it contrasts with my skin.
One drawback to the questions was their black and white nature. There was no room for a gray area. The answers to some questions are complicated. I understand the reason for the straightforward format, but it makes answering some questions more difficult.
There was a question about wanting for food. I answered what I remember. But what I don’t know is whether I lacked food before my adoption. I could only answer from the time I was adopted and onwards.
And not all the answers have to do with privilege on their face. Some were based on proper planning or parental choices. But keep digging deeper and choice itself for many is a privilege.
Most of the benefits we receive are invisible, but they are no less powerful or helpful in our lives. The Privilege Walk drill, helped me view them afresh.
Have any of you participated in this exercise? Please share your thoughts.
My wife and I were driving somewhere recently and began talking about Bill and Hillary Clinton’s speaking fees, between $150,00 and $300,000 dollars. Regardless of your politics, I think we can all agree that $300,000 dollars to speak is outrageous. That being said, there probably is not a single one of you who wouldn’t take even half that amount to share their experiences and expertise, I know I would.
Of course, adoptees are not giving speeches discussing their lives as a President of the United States or the former Secretary of State and while our stories may be unique and special, let’s be honest, they are not remotely on the level of a former leader of the free world.
However, there seems to be a general principle applying to other professionals, but not adoptees; they are compensated for speaking publicly and we are usually not. read more …
In the fall of 2016, the US Department of State presented new rules regarding inter-country adoptions for those adopting foreign-born children into U.S. homes.
As an adoptee, I always advocate for greater transparency about fees and the months-long process for international adoption. Not surprisingly, adoption agencies and other stakeholders in the adoption industry decry the proposed changes because they say it will make it harder to adopt.
I think they are more concerned about the declining number of international adoptions and its affect on their bottom line.
This is not about caring for children’s welfare.
Adoption agencies have a new standard for pay scales of foreign employees involved in adoption. Previously, they were based on ‘normal pay,’ what the agencies knew about pay rates in specific countries. Now, salaries will be given based on the services the foreign adoption official actually performs.
Now, salaries will be given based on the services the foreign adoption official actually performs. I think it’s fair that salaries will not be paid arbitrarily, which was the case beforehand.
Furthermore, I think the overall costs for agencies to continue as adoption service providers (ASP) will fluctuate more. The bigger potential consequence is agencies must clearly demonstrate what work their foreign or contracted staff is doing.
Standardizing good faith information efforts
That’s my language. This means that ASP’s present further evidence and proof of effort related to discovering the child’s medical or social background.
Previously this was not standardized. The effort one agency said was ‘sufficient’ in learning as much about a child’s history as possible, was different from another agency’s.
Foreign vs Domestic Fees
Adoption agencies must clearly show which fees prospective adoptive parents are paying for domestic and foreign services. This would end a type of ‘blanket’ approval that adoptive parents sometimes are required to give below a certain threshold. It ensures every cost is known upfront.
Agencies can no longer charge any fees to prospective parents to care for a child before the finalized adoption. Agencies were previously charging adoptive parents more money ‘caring’ for a child in a specific foreign country than needed.
This eliminates the temptation for agencies to recruit children, drawing out the adoption process. Additionally, this safeguards families against spending money on children who will never be available for adoption.
Telling the real story and making the best placement
Agencies must provide additional training on grief, loss, identity, and trauma and characteristics of successful intercountry adoptive placements. They must also have a track record of compliance with post-placement and post-adoption reporting requirements.
It will no longer be enough just to want to adopt, have the money and go through the home visits. Agencies will further explore a family’s circumstances determining their fit for intercountry adoption.
I’m not sure exactly what this entails, but I like the idea of increased due diligence about the adopting parents. Agencies may feel this is an extra burden. But I say that you must get an adoption right the first time.
Another aspect of this change will be agencies cannot make referrals or require fees for specific adoption services until and unless the parents have completed this new advanced training.
Moving forward, agencies must discuss adoption disruption and dissolution. Both issues are huge black marks on the adoption industry. The adoption arena has long downplayed and tried ignoring them. I could write a whole post about both circumstances. Here’s a quick primer if you don’t know.
Adoption disruption is when the adoption ends before finalization, but after the child is already in the new home. This forces the child back into foster care or to another family.
Adoption dissolution occurs after finalization and means legal ties sever between the child and the parents, either voluntarily or not. One result of this drastic step is ‘rehoming. When adoptive families put their child up for private sale in an unregulated forum. These take place on sites like Craigslist or in newspaper classifieds.
The new guidance requires adoption service providers to include information about disruption and dissolution in training and preparation programs for prospective adoptive parents. Adoption service providers will be required to give specific points of contact for support in the event an adoptive family faces difficult adjustment or other hardships, which places a permanent home for the children at risk.
In the future, agencies must inform adoptive parents about all avenues open to them if a crisis occurs, including local and state resources and educate them about legal options, as well as appropriate procedures in case a child needs placement back in the system or requires removal from their adoptive family.
We’ll see what the final updated guidance looks like after the State Department has reviewed all the public comments. In the meantime, these alterations further increase transparency in the international adoption process.
I hope some are formalized.
Thousands of intercountry adoptees lack US citizenship. But there are two bi-partisan bills, in the House and Senate that would end this travesty.
The Adoptee Rights Campaign (ARC), a coalition of adoptees and advocates launched our Family is MORE than DNA campaign!
This postcard campaign, features a picture collage of adoptive families and our goal is to send 35,000 to Congressional offices during October and November to remind them to of the bill’s importance.
Please visit www.adopteerightscampaign.org and sign a postcard! You can send up to five postcards; to your two Senators, your Congressional Representative and the Chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.
We hope to get his legislation passed before the November elections and we need your help!
People across the country are filling out hardcopy postcards at events and through the online link. Visit our Facebook page to see more.
After being laid off in late March, I became more involved working with the ARC. What a learning experience it’s been and what a privilege to represent adoptees before Congressional staff.
The ARC spent the summer educating staffers about the bi-partisan Senate and House bills and their details. For each Hill visit, we began asking staff about their familiarity with the legislation and if they had specific questions. We received a variety of responses to those two questions. Some had read the Bill, while others had worked for members heavily involved in children’s welfare, adoption or something similar and had very specific questions. Unfortunately, a few never heard of the bill, and knew nothing about it.
As expected, many Republican offices we visited equated the bill with an immigration agenda. We acknowledged that people mistakenly lumped it into the immigration debate, but we did our best to reorient it away from immigration and towards, human rights, ‘righting’ a wrong, family preservation, family values, etc. The ACA is not about letting anyone new into the country, the adoptees benefitting from it, have been here for decades and consider the US their home.
Our first Day of Action on April 21 2016 was so successful, that a few weeks later, House members drafted a companion bi-partisan Adoptee Citizenship Bill. It was exciting to know that our direct actions, advocates across the country calling their Congressional representatives and a coordinated social media campaign convinced the House advocates to officially sponsor a bill as well.
Let’s get citizenship for adoptees! This injustice has gone all too long.
Recently my mother and I had a conversation about infant children and language.
She was excited to see that her youngest grandson, barely one-year-old, recognized her voice. She recently returned from a trip to visit my brother’s family in Denver, Colorado and was ‘Skyping’ with them.
It was remarkable to her, she said, how much his little brain processed at one year old. Then she told a story about me at one-year-old that is one of her favorites.
A few months after my arrival in the United States in 1980, my parents and I visited an Indian couple. They were from Kerala, the Indian state where I was born, and spoke Malayalam, my birth language.
My mom and I were in another part of the house, within earshot of this couple. They both spoke Malayalam. My mom says, she never saw me turn my head faster in my life. Apparently, my head whipped around immediately at the sound. Though I could not speak the language, I recognized the tone instantly.
Though I could not speak the language, I recognized the tone instantly.
Sadly, a few months later, my parents and I visited this couple again. But this time I made no indication that their language was something familiar.
I relay that story because it’s both sad and amazing.
Incredible because even at that age, little babies pick up the different tones in spoken languages. Sad, because I wasn’t able to recognize my birth language less than a year later.
I’m 36 years old now and gave up speaking my native language. And frankly, I don’t consider it ‘worth’ it to learn. I have no family there, and no Keralite friends close enough either geographically or emotionally to speak with. It also would do little to bolster my job marketability.
At one point I wanted to learn Malayalam because I thought I’d become more Indian. However, I’m not involved with the South Indian community here in Washington, D.C. and barely with the Indian community at large.
Sasmita speaks Hindi and Oriya, not Malayalam so it wouldn’t make sense from that standpoint either.
As fatherhood looms, I’m thinking a lot of about language, and how my child will be greatly advantaged because Sasmita is a polyglot.
She’s already told me that she will teach our child both her native language Oriya and Hindi. Maybe I’ll try to learn either language when our child’s formally learning.
You may wonder what Malayalam sounds like, here’s a clip. I cannot imagine speaking this language at my stage of life.
I’ll impart other knowledge to my child, and leave the foreign languages to Sasmita. Or maybe I’ll be the one who teaches them ‘pig latin.’
There are thousands of adults, adopted as children by US citizen parents lacking US citizenship.
Thanks to adoptees, advocates, and Congressional support, that will change in 2016.
The Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2015, provides retroactive citizenship for certain intercountry adoptees no matter when they were adopted. It also provides a legal pathway for all deported adoptees to return to the United States.
This is the first US bill written with substantial adult adoptee input for adoptees.
I was involved in this process in 2012, when myself and a group of adoptees met with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Initiative (CCAI) and legislative staff in Washington, D.C
It’s wonderful to have a bill before the Senate.
You might be reading this and wonder what the issue is. Let me give you a brief background.
When international adoptions by US citizens began, many adoptees never received citizenship papers. This happened because adoptive parents misunderstood the process, agencies assumed the parents were filling paperwork themselves or a combination of apathy and misinformation.
Thousands of adoptees meeting criteria to become legal US citizens, never become one.
As a result, scores could not receive driver’s licenses, work promotions, and a handful was deported for small misdemeanors. Others ran afoul of immigration laws when receiving a traffic ticket.
Imagine, growing up in an American family, with your whole life linked to the United States. One day you apply for a passport and discover though you lived in the US for 18 years, you are not a US citizen.
Vocal adoptees recognized this problem, wrote a bill and created the Child Citizenship Act of 2000. But this only gave citizenship to adoptees 18 and under when the bill was signed. It did not give retroactive US citizenship.
In other words, the bill did not go far enough.
I recognize the huge controversy about letting immigrants and criteria for citizenship.
But for me this is not only personal, it’s obvious. If a family has adopted a child from their birth country into their US family, they should be a US citizen. There is no question that is the ‘fair’ thing to do.
If a family adopted a child from their birth country into their US family, they should be a US citizen. There is no question that is the ‘fair’ thing to do.
There is no question that is the ‘fair’ thing to do.
Let me be clear, for me and for all supporters and advocates of this bill; this is not an immigration issue. This is ‘righting a wrong.’
It is not something ‘new,’ but rather something that should have been given but for various reasons was not (US citizenship).
The new bill was introduced in the Senate in mid-November 2015, by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and co-signed by Senators Dan Coates (R-IN) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR). It has bipartisan support.
Thousands of hours, hundreds of phone calls, emails, and face-to-face meetings happened to get this bill ready. I tip my hat to all involved, some of whom are good friends.
But we’re not done, it needs YOUR support as well.
Visit this website 18 Million Rising and call your Congressional legislators to support the bill.
Thousands of adoptees lack citizenship, yet they have American lives, including friends, family, and connections. For all of them, the US is their ‘home,’ because they have been here for years.
Help them receive citizenship they are entitled to.
Sasmita and I will be parents in early June of 2016! We are excited, but not ready to be parents. Then again, who is?
We told my parents during Thanksgiving and called her folks in India, via Skype shortly afterwards, sharing our happy news across the globe.
As I contemplate Fatherhood, thoughts of my own beginnings are surfacing more than usual.
Our child will be the first person I know personally with whom I share DNA and blood. Sasmita will give birth to my first biological connection in nearly 36 years. read more …
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. read more …
I am working on a longer post about “The Child Exchange”, Reuters exposé about the underground internet market in adopted children called ‘private re-homing’, and will publish something soon.
However, I wanted to get the Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative’s statement below into the blogosphere immediately.
Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative (APRC) Response to the Reuter’s Child Exchange Series
The APRC appreciates the journalistic integrity demonstrated in Megan Twohey’s investigation, “The Child Exchange.” APRC members have been highly concerned about adoption disruptions* and dissolutions* for many years. This concern was discussed July 27, 2012 in a meeting entitled Adult Adoptees Hill Meeting where APRC members met with staff from the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI), several legislative representatives, and a member of Equality for Adopted Children. Specifically, the APRC addressed the following related to adoption disruptions and dissolutions:
- Many adopted children have been adopted and turned away from their adoptive parents’ homes before turning 18 or often shortly after. Youth shelters often have high cases of adopted teens/youth.
- The need for a Dissolution Review Process (including adoption dissolutions resulting from child deaths) requiring greater oversight on adoption dissolutions.
- According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, an estimated 10%-25% of adoptions are disrupted. There is a lack of state and national data, along with minimal data sharing tracking dissolutions (including child deaths). It is nearly impossible to find dissolution numbers, because adoption records were closed to the public and children’s names and identifying information were changed.
- Reasons for displacements*, disruptions, and dissolutions: lack of appropriate adoptive parent training and preparation, limited or no information about child’s history , absence of or minimal quality post-adoption support, marginal insurance coverage for major mental health services
The APRC is acutely aware of the unethical and dangerous “rehoming”* practices that have occurred for more than a decade. We have expressed our concerns with alarm. We look forward to collaborating, from the perspective of adult adopted persons, with other powerful change agents to fully, appropriately, and ethically address adoption disruptions and dissolutions.
*Please note: while the APRC recognizes “disruption,” “dissolution,” “displacement” and “re-homing” as industry terms, APRC members regard these terms as sanitized and rationalizing practices terminating the parent/child relationship. While using industry vernacular in this statement we do not endorse their usage for the reasons indicated.
A group that I belong to, The Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative (APRC) and the Minnesota Transracial Film Festival along with others, are organizing a two-day conference called “Reframing the Adoption Discourse,” in St. Paul, Minnesota this November.
This is the APRC’s first conference and the line-up of presenters is impressive. There is also an ‘after-party’ on Saturday evening the 16th.
Space is limited, so get your tickets today! Registrations are discounted until Sept 1.
Here is the info you need to join us.
Sunday marked four years of putting my thoughts on the web as a blogger. It continues to be an incredible journey for me. On Father’s Day in 2009, I began this blog. I am amazed by where it has gone since. read more …
My first podcast here, in three 10 minute segments. I had returned from my India adventures and was awaiting Sasmi’s arrival in the United States. An interview with Kevin Haebeom Vollmers on the Land of Gazillion Adoptees blog.
Here’s another re-post from Land of Gazillion Adoptees. This was originally published in January. I know many of you read Part I and look forward to Part II. I promise it is coming soon.
For those reading it for the first time, enjoy!
As some of you know, I married the love of my life Sasmita in August of 2012. After a courtship conducted primarily over Skype for more than a year (exactly 380 days), we were re-united in mid-July 2012. Less than one month later, we married in New Jersey.
We’re settling into married life; it’s an adjustment, as anyone married knows. But our added complication is Sasmita’s massive culture shock.