An Indian Adoptee Reclaims His Voice in the Desi Diaspora
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I Renounced my Indian Citizenship to Get a Visa

December 16, 2017

We are spending Christmas in India this year. It’s time for Sonali to meet Sasmita’s family. But visiting India requires a visa.

I’ve received multiple Indian visas in the last 10 years. The process requires many documents but is straightforward. I thought it would be simple this time as well.

I could not have been more wrong.

The Indian government contracted out their visa services to a company called Cox and Kings. To secure a visa, you must start an application on their website. I began the form and answered the question about where I was born. That brought another question, ‘what was your previous nationality?’ I chose India and then came two new questions.

‘Have you renounced your Indian citizenship?’ and ‘Do you have a Certificate of Renunciation from the Embassy of India?”The answer to both questions was ‘no’.

In January 2017, the Indian government changed the rules. India no longer allows dual citizenship. If anyone has ever held an Indian passport no matter how long ago, they must renounce their citizenship and turn in their passport.

The application asked if I possessed my original Indian passport. I don’t have it, which required a sworn Affidavit of its loss.

I was born in 1979 and received an Indian passport in 1980 when I was adopted to the US. It was only valid for six months. I’ve never considered myself an ‘Indian Citizen’ since I left India when I was one year old. My Indian passport says my birth name, Joseph. But no middle or last name is listed.

I’m 38 years old. My Indian passport expired 37 years ago. In 1981 I became a Naturalized citizen and legally changed my name from Joseph to Adam.

The Indian government was refusing me a 10-Year Tourist Visa unless I renounced my Indian citizenship.

I thought the situation was lunacy, but it got worse.

The application asked questions about my birth mother and father. Again, I don’t know anything about them. After finishing the online forms I printed them and realized a problem.

I wrote ‘NA’ in the last name field for all the questions about my Indian origins, and the application program had automatically input ‘Bryant’, my legal last name.

Both the Affidavit of Loss and the Renunciation Certificate said ‘Joseph Bryant.’

That has never been my legal name.

A bureaucratic nightmare was unfolding.

I called C&K multiple times explaining my dilemma, but they said it would be ok. They encouraged me to write an explanatory note to the Indian Embassy describing my unique conundrum. As sweet as they were on the phone, I knew they were clueless. It was going to be a huge problem.

The Affidavit of Loss form must be notarized. However, because ‘Joseph Bryant’ is not my legal name, I was unable to do so. Notaries cannot process documents if the person is not using their legal name for liability purposes. Without a notarized Affidavit, I could not submit my paperwork for an Indian Visa.

In addition to the Affidavit and the Renunciation forms, I presented documentation of my legal name change, proof of Indian origin, my Naturalization certificate, and provided my parents’ names, birth dates, and place of birth.

Naturally, I used my adoptive parent’s information, because I know nothing about my biological parents. The web application kept giving me errors. If I indicated I was a former Indian citizen, why were my parents US nationals, with no mention of their Indian nationalities?

It was as if the Indian government never considered the possibility that an Indian national infant would be adopted by US citizen parents and visit India later.

Stuck in notorious Indian paperwork purgatory, my frustration grew daily.

I went to my visa appointment, bringing all the documents needed. I included the unnotarized Affidavit and hoped to explain my situation to the Visa officer, wishing for the best.

As expected, they would not accept the application without the notarized Affidavit form. I reiterated my problem with the name and the impossibility of the form being notarized using a non-legal name.

Expressing my frustration, I told them that this was their problem because I had followed every direction, there was nothing else I could do.

The visa officer called his supervisor, and I explained the problem to him. After listening to my story he told me to wait and quickly returned with a hard-copy hand fillable Affidavit of Loss form.

I wrote ‘Joseph’, left the last name blank and got the Affidavit notarized. Returning to the processing center an hour later they accepted my application.

I had pleaded with the phone representatives for hours about sending a blank form to fill out, rather than using their web form. They repeatedly told me it was a computer program issue. After showing my displeasure in person with the process, voila! I received a blank hand-fillable form. Though the saga was complete, the process left a bitter taste.

60 hours I spent, securing a visa, between filling out applications, resubmitting paperwork, explaining my situation over the phone and traveling back and forth between my work and the Cox and Kings processing center.

The victory was eventually mine, but not without a huge amount of effort and energy. I was once again reminded how lucky I am to live in the United States because that paperwork maze is not the norm here, but is well-known in India.

Adoptees Grow Up, Stop Treating Us Like Perpetual Children!

March 30, 2017

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.

read more …

A Few Welcome Changes to International Adoption Rules

November 30, 2016

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.

Fee Transparency

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.

Who is a ‘Real’ Indian?

May 14, 2016

Since Narendra Modi became India’s Prime Minister in May 2015, the definition of a ‘true’ Indian is a hot topic.

However, for me, people have always questioned my India bona-fides. Let me explain.

As an adoptee, raised without Indian culture on a daily basis, cultural Indians in the United States were always unsure how I fit into their world. I don’t speak any Indian languages, I attend church, the vast majority of my friends are non-Indian and my parents are white.

By any measure of a culturally engaged Indian, I was not raised as one of them. I fit none of the ‘stereotypical’ Indian roles. I am not a doctor, scientist or lawyer. I am terrible with numbers and figures. I cannot fix your computer, and I don’t engage in the conspicuous consumption and materialism that Indians in America have a reputation for.

Those were the ‘issues’ regarding my Indian identity growing up, but now the narrative shifted. Modi’s political party, the Bharatiya Janata is closely aligned with elements pushing among other things, that all Indians must be Hindu, that true Indians must hate Pakistan and Muslims and the West is destroying both India and its culture.

As a result, many diaspora Indians, and domestic Indians are considered ‘anti-national.’ Additionally, anyone distrusting big government, works with NGOs or social work programs, those who advocate for India’s Dalits, tribals and other groups considered outcasts, people who question tenets of any faith, particularly in film, books or music, all are labeled as not true Indians.

The situation has deteriorated to the point, that anyone critical of India’s policies, politicians or the established Hindu order is considered ‘un-Indian’ or ‘anti-national.’

A recent news story illustrates this case perfectly.

read more …

‘A.J – I Saw a Creature Today’

November 21, 2015

Recently, Sasmita and I were eating dinner. About halfway through, her eyes got big, and she excitedly told me that she saw ‘a big creature’ today, in the yard by the mailbox.

Intrigued, as always, by such pronouncements, I told her to continue. She told me that it stood as tall high as my knee, with a fluffy striped tail. I smiled, prodding her to continue with silent attention. I still did not understand which animal she was referring to.

Then she added, ‘it had weird eyes.’ I pressed her, ‘what do you mean, weird eyes?’

She told me the animal had black color all around its eyes. I immediately understood; she saw a raccoon.

I pulled out my phone, typed ‘raccoon’ into Google. I handed the phone to her. ‘Is this what you saw,’ I asked?

Raccoons do not live in India and she’d never seen one. It was another reminder of our vastly different backgrounds.

She confirmed that she saw a raccoon, and asked me the same question she always does when viewing an unfamiliar animal. ‘Does it eat people?’

Laughing, I told her raccoons do not eat humans.  But it was best to stay away from them because they can be mean and aggressive.

One aspect of American life, which Sasmita initially found quite strange, but is slowly understanding, is America’s obsession with animals, especially pets and particularly dogs. read more …

Stories Catching My Eye

February 10, 2015

It’s been a while since I posted what I’ve read lately, so I’ll share a longer list this time.

The Tragedy of the American Military

An insightful piece about the disconnect between ordinary US citizens and the military and the many consequences of such distance and misunderstanding.

 The Rapist Next Door

This story is about Alaska’s rape problem, but it’s also about a totally different way of punishing rapists.

The Green Monster

A story about the US border control and how it became the most renegade US law enforcement agency.

The Unbreakable Laura Hillenbrand

A profile of the author of Seabiscuit, and most recently Unbroken. She suffers from severe vertigo and hardly ever leaves her house, yet she’s sold more 10 million copies of both combined.

The Dark Side of the Moon

Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. The world won’t let him forget it, and his role in history. He just wants to move on.

Teenage Wasteland

A possible explanation about why so many efforts to stop young people from joining extremist groups fail.

An Indian-American Speaks on the State of Police in America

January 27, 2015

In October, the famous New York whistle-blower cop Frank Serpico, gave a long interview to Politico Magazine. As a Serpico fan and certainly of the movie (Al Pacino is fantastic), I read it. Part of the interview is about police accountability and the lack of it when he was in the force and its continuance today.

As the events of Ferguson, Cleveland and New York and the names, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and others echo through this nation and reverberate beyond, I thought back to Serpico’s interview and will quote some here, it’s directly applicable to all the afore-mentioned cases and the many which have not received media attention.

Before I go further, I want to say, I respect the majority of the US police force. I cannot imagine going to work every day and depending ones real duties, having the real possibility that I would not come home. I commend those men and women. Likewise, I cannot fathom the lives of people married to police officers or their children and living with chances, they will be dead or injured at days’ end.

Police officers see the worst parts of humanity and depravity regularly; the awful things we have the ‘privilege’ of hearing about through the news, they see daily: child abuse, sexual abuse, horrific murders and sense-less acts of violence are their ‘normal.”

I used to live on what I jokingly called the ‘safest street in America,’ because in the space of a few blocks there were two active FBI special agents, a regular town police officer, a retired state patrolman, a former member of the Italian police, the carabinieri and a retired sheriff. That is a lot of law in the immediate neighborhood. I am semi-serious of course, but all police I have ever known personally are good people. I truly believe that.

Ok, back to Serpico. As the article continues, he discussed the main problems with police as an institution in America. As I have read the news and watched television about myriad cases of cops shooting unarmed citizens, particularly minority ones, I agree with his sentiments.

“The gulf between the police and the communities they serve has grown wider…” Further, on he says “But when you are dealing every day with civilians walking the streets, and you bring in armored vehicles and automatic weapons, it’s all out of proportion. It makes you feel like you’re dealing with some kind of subversive enemy. The automatic weapons and bulletproof vest may protect the officer, but they also insulate him from the very society he’s sworn to protect. All that firepower and armor puts an even greater wall between the police and society, and solidifies that “us-versus-them” feeling.”

I read that and began thinking: “us versus them,’ when was the last time I saw a police officer engaging in regular conversation with people in the street? Sometimes, I see police officers speaking with folks through the windows of their vehicles, but that is the point. I hardly ever see police NOT in their vehicles. In addition, when they are in their cars they are usually parked on the side of the street, windows closed, laptop opened and either staring intently at the screen or viewing their surroundings suspiciously.

When I see police on the pavement, they are usually engaged in police activity, making an arrest, interrogating someone, their stance is both aggressive and intimidating. No one ever looks like they are enjoying the interaction. I can count only a few times I saw police in Washington, D.C. conversing with people or business proprietors in a friendly, informal way. I have lived here for almost a decade.

This is not an isolated phenomenon. Ask yourself when was the last time you had a conversation with a police officer that did not involve explaining a law or procedure? If they are not talking and getting to know the people in white or upper-class neighborhoods, then do we really imagine they would be doing so in high poverty and crime areas which tend to have greater minority populations?

I get it. They have to be vigilant and they must bring cynicism of humanity to their jobs. However, perhaps much of what is transpiring in cities and towns across America, as the police fortify themselves behind the ‘wall’, could be mitigated by walking and talking in public.

Start conversations and engage in banter with people. Sure, they are likely to be off-put at first, but only because it is such a strange phenomenon for them to talk with a police officer in a non-confrontational way. In time, those awkward feelings for both sides might change, but it will never get better if police continue to view everyone with suspicion or at least look like it.

Why can’t police get to know the neighborhood they work in, walk around the streets, and be a friendly presence instead of an intimidating one? Do I feel secure when I know police are around? Sometimes.

Nevertheless, frankly I would feel more secure if I knew any of them by name, had spoken directly to ones I saw in my neighborhood regularly. I live in one of the safest parts of Washington, D.C.; surely, the police could develop at least acquaintances with people around me.

I understand, I live in a city with pockets of high crime and violence, but police are public servants and must be everywhere, when they are in the less crime ridden places, could not they at least talk to me?

Let us now get to the racial aspects of this problem. Here again, Serpico…

“But they (he’s talking about white folks who watch cop movies and are raised believing all cops are heroic) often don’t understand that these minority communities, in many cases, view the police as the enemy. We want to believe that cops are good guys, but let’s face it, any kid in the ghetto knows different. The poor and the disenfranchised in society don’t believe those movies; they see themselves as the victims, and they often are.”

I am a man of non-white skin, but where I differ from most minority men, is that I only ever feel stereotyped for having that brown skin by the TSA and folks who work at airports. Never in my life have I felt uncomfortably scrutinized by regular law enforcement, as guys like Michael Brown and thousands of other black and minority men and women in this country are daily.

To be a black man, watched constantly as so many of these men are, merely walking on streets is foreign to me. I cannot imagine the impact psychologically that must have on people of color in the United States.

In my experience, Indian men do not suffer from the blanket stereotypes that other non-white males endure from law enforcement officials here. There are of course isolated incidents; violence against Sikhs wearing turbans and post 9/11 anti-Muslim sentiments, but my experience is wholly unlike what black or Latino communities experience daily.

Honestly, while I feel like I should be able to identify more closely with minorities in this police brutality and violence issue, I am not sure that is the case. If someone with white skin looked at me, I think they would assume I could relate better to the black community than they could. I may feel more at ease because my skin color is closer to theirs, but I do not identity with the race and police problems that many minorities face here.

I support all who speak out, but I do not feel like I can, on the racial aspects. I cannot march in the streets and decry police brutality because of my skin color, because I have never felt it.

As a basic justice issue, I am appalled by certain police actions and policies that take place. However, as an Indian-American guy, the minority experience with law enforcement, and especially for black men in America is far from my everyday understanding.