I recently published an essay titled, “Colonized through Adoption.” After I published the piece, I realized that I could have just as appropriately titled the piece, “Erased by Adoption.**”
But then, I thought to myself--or I could simply write an additional piece examining the ways in which I have experienced erasure through adoption.
I have been intensely reflecting upon my adoption and reunion recently, primarily because this January of 2019 marks a decade since I reunited with my Appa and Omma. Who I am and how I frame my adoption have dramatically evolved over the past decade. It would be diminutive to qualify any of these changes as good or bad. Rather, I can only recognize that they have been necessary.
One of the necessary paradigm shifts that has transpired over the past decade is recognizing the painful truth that I, along with so many of my cohorts, have been erased by adoption. Through adoption, we were required to participate in the erasure of not only our ethnic and cultural identities but our genetic and ancestral identities.
Once we arrived here in America, we disappeared. What do I mean by this statement?
An original performance piece I wrote and subsequently performed in the fall of 2018 attempts to elucidate this erasure through poetic prose:
was the beginning
of a New Death
for Two Hundred Thousand of Us
We vanished and
like a secret
that lies down with the dead,
as though we had never lived.
Being born in Korea of Korean people only to be taken from them to be given to White America and its people demanded that we forsake the identities bestowed upon us through DNA and history.
And yet, how does one erase DNA and history?
Adoption has taught me, one child at a time.
Taking a Korean child from her original family, people, community, and nation and placing her in a foreign family, people, community, and nation requires the erasure of the previous. It’s inevitable and necessary, both practically and for survival.
I forgot everything, because I had to do so in order to survive within a community that was ultimately hostile toward people that look like me. I was adopted in 1975--not too long after the American/Vietnam War which had followed previous violent conflicts between America and Asian nations, including World War 2 and the Korean War. Furthermore, I was adopted into a White American military family.
Hence, I spent the majority of my childhood growing up on U.S. military bases both overseas and here in the States. The irony of being an Asian child adopted into a White American military family growing up in Asian countries and otherwise on U.S. military bases is not lost on me. As I addressed in "Colonized Through Adoption," my life was the exemplification of Whiteness as both Savior and Oppressor, Savior and Colonizer.
Imagine being the lone Asian face riding your bike, playing on the playground, walking to the bus, attending school--but on a U.S. military base? Imagine finding yourself in this context as a child, coupled with the “perpetual foreigner” stereotype.
Subconsciously, a child takes all that in and knows what needs to be done. You make yourself disappear. You make sure your Asianness vanishes, as though it never existed.
And at the time I was growing up, folks didn’t even know what Korea was. I was attending schools consisting primarily of Caucasian children who had not yet been alive long enough to know that the world was inhabited by other Asian countries beyond China, Japan, and Vietnam.
People often refer to the Korean War as the forgotten war. While I was growing up trying to explain to my friends from where I had come, it wasn’t only the war that had been forgotten. It was as though the country had been forgotten, and with it, as though the people from whom I had come never existed.
Because of my utter isolation from Korean and Asian communities due to my complete submersion within White communities, there were times that even in my child’s mind I began to wonder if perhaps Korea was a make-believe far-off land contrived to keep children like me in the dark, away from the families to whom we truly belonged, or maybe to protect us from a peril that would otherwise endanger our lives.
Or maybe, I was who the adoption papers said I was--a child abandoned by her mother and Korea, an insignificant place, so poor and so forgotten, that no one cared to inform their children of its people or their existence.
This is the inevitable and cruel erasure I speak of. The forced and choice-less vanishing that we adoptees must ultimately endure in order to steel ourselves from what is obvious to not only us but to everyone else around us--we do not belong.
So, we accept our Korean names being replaced with American ones. Our original languages being replaced with English. We accept that we have White parents and that we are being raised as White sons and daughters. We accept that we will most likely never know who we look like or why we are who we are. We accept that while we were born in Korea and we look Korean, we are expected to forsake those origins as though they never existed and replace them with White Eurocentric origins. We accept that when we are asked to create a family tree for a school assignment that not only we but our eventual children are expected to simply draft ourselves into a genealogy as though nailing a frond from a palm tree onto an apple tree is perfectly normal.
Adoption and erasure are inextricable from one another, just as war and killing are two sides of the same coin.
The moment I began to have the courage and strength to acknowledge this truth is the moment I began to redress that erasure. Of course, I cannot magically rematerialize all that was erased. But I can begin to examine what faint markings remain and either rewrite or write anew what I discover along the way.
The erasure by adoption need not be complete nor permanent. For while it is true that adoption erases DNA and history one child at a time, it is also true that DNA and history can be and will be reclaimed one adult at a time.
This time, the specific question was “Is this post advocating against adoption?”
It’s a common question I have come to appreciate, because it always leads to deeper discussion and education. It also keeps me honest by compelling me to revisit the question and re-examine what I actually think--because our perspectives and views are not static, and often evolve over time as we gain new information and circumstances change.
When answering questions like these, I like to use metaphor to illustrate why these types of questions are inherently problematic and almost impossible to answer.
For instance, when you ask an adoptee are you “advocating against adoption,” it’s akin to asking me if I am “advocating against amputation?”
Ultimately, it’s the wrong question to ask.
The question we should be asking is “how do we prevent amputation?” What other less extreme and consequential solutions can we implement and develop? What can we do to keep the leg or arm in tact?
And certainly, I would never advocate for amputating someone’s leg or arm, especially against their will, for the sake of some other person over there saying they want another leg or arm. Can you imagine telling a person, “We need to amputate your leg to give it to that person over there who needs another leg.” That’s just not even an option. Doesn’t even pop onto the radar of your mind, right?
Well, that’s how we should feel about severing a child from his or her mother and family. It should generally just not be an option. But rather, just like amputation, it should be a last and desperate resort when all other options have been pursued and cultivated.
So, when you encounter adoptees or others advocating for family preservation or expressing that poverty and duress should never be reasons to severe a child and mother for the purposes of adoption, rather than ask with alarm, “is this person advocating against adoption?,” I hope you’ll ask the question, “how do we prevent this from happening?” How do we prevent severance of mother and child? What can we do to prevent adoption?
When we can move beyond the binary ideas of are you for or against adoption, and rather start asking andanswering questions that get at the root of the issues, then we stop seeing adoption as a primary solution and rather see it as a symptom of deeper, more complex issues that need attention and care.
I am not advocating against adoption any more than I would advocate against amputation. Rather, I think I simply would prefer to prevent adoption just as I’d prefer to prevent amputation. And I don’t think that’s too much to ask, particularly in a day and age when the resources and opportunities to do so are at our fingertips.
*The month of January 2019 marks a decade since I reunited with my Korean family. I am publishing a series titled, "Reflections from the Other Side of 10 Years Post-Reunion" to honor and explore what I have learned over the past decade. For additional essays, click here.
*The month of January 2019 marks a decade since I reunited with my Korean family. I am publishing a series titled, "Reflections from the Other Side of 10 Years Post-Reunion" to honor and explore what I have learned over the past decade. In my first essay in the series, I stated that finding my Korean family was the "advent of my Emergence." In the following essay, I elucidate in greater detail what this "Emergence" means to me.
Visiting the DMZ
To emerge from the darkness of the suffocating White Fog as a mind colonized through adoption is to realize that my existence was being used to uphold and perpetuate White Supremacy and White Saviorism, and hence to serve the systems and institutions used to continue to oppress fellow Brown and Black humans.**
I was a trophy to display and parade before the world upon which Whiteness could gaze to find affirmation of its superiority and goodness. To see an Asian person being properly kept in her place to serve the egos of Whiteness. They could look at me and know that they had conquered not only a person but an entire people and nation--that Whiteness had so effectively subjugated not only this child but also her people and country that they too came to believe that Whiteness was ultimately superior, ultimately more worthy of its people, its land, and its children.
This journey of awakening that began over a decade ago has been a painful and startling emancipation from the toxic gas of the White Fog that acts upon your mind like a poison that makes you forget all that you know, that you will remember only what they want you to know. The more you breathe it in, the more you live in it, the more you see the world through it, the more all truth becomes obscured until it completely dissolves beyond your perception that there is no other side or view or possibility other than the unequivocal goodness of Whiteness. And then, the more you lose yourself and become who they want you to be: a proselyte of and an evangelist for their Doctrine of the Infinite Goodness of Whiteness.
Emergence almost feels like a death only to be resurrected into a world more horrific and violent and oppressive than you ever imagined.
Emergence reveals more blood, more brutality, more pain, more terror, more atrocity and genocide and annihilation and destruction than one would ever want to know.
The realization that so much of the world you live in is the result of the violence, genocide, and oppression exacted by Whiteness against your fellow Black and Brown human beings is like the light of a wild, unyielding fire that destroys all that you thought you knew--and the closer you get to it, the more likely you are to be consumed by its flames, simultaneously willingly and against your will. You begin to long for the comfort of the burning roar that gives you the light and the warmth of which your mind has long been starved. And yet, the inevitable pain, wounds, and scars that must emerge with such revelation become all the more prominent and pervasive.
Emergence reveals that the White World is anything but white. Rather it is an insatiable darkness veiled as light. It is the continuous infliction of utter horror and pain upon Brown and Black people re-branded as saviorism and martyrdom to indulge and coddle the fragile White Ego.
I have an excruciatingly difficult time articulating how utterly, profoundly crushing the burden of this emergence is and how it grows. How its weight seems only to increase rather than lighten.
Through adoption, my life became, against my will and choice, the exemplification of Whiteness as both Savior and Oppressor.
My family is my Oppressor. And my Oppressor is my family.
How does one begin to unload decades of racism and colonization within the context of a family, church, and community that I had grown to love and that I thought had grown to love me, only to discover that underneath the surface was a depth of darkness, brutality, and oppression of the people and nation from which I came, along with every brown and black nation on earth. That this family that I called mother, father, brother since infancy had also been complicit and continues to be complicit in the oppression, brutality, and injustice inflicted upon people who look like I do.
I try to tell myself that deep down, they love me. And yet, deep down, I also feel, see, recognize that they loved me, in large part, for how I could serve their Whiteness--not intentionally, but as an inextricable part of their implicit bias passed on to them through a system of white supremacy and privilege that is so ingrained within their life experience that it is almost genetic.
As long as I stayed in my designated role, as long as I played the part that confirmed their biases, as long as I didn’t try to be any part of myself that challenged their presumptions, that rejected their expectations, that acknowledged their privilege, that saw the dark underbelly of Whiteness, that spoke the whole truth of history, that embraced my own origins and history, then they loved me.
But once I began to emerge, the strained and tense threads of that love also became increasingly apparent.
The love that belonged to me from them was of the kind that a colonizer has for the colonized. The love they gave to me was that of a master over his servants. The love that a conqueror has for the conquered. Love given to those viewed as savages, as primitive, as less than they. A love born of pity, because they see the subject as inherently inferior. The love of narcissism--loving only that which loyally and persistently adulates, lauds, and praises the narcissist.
This is the kind of emergence that I have come to both dread yet seek.
This kind of awakening is what it feels like to simultaneously die inside while being born to oneself, over and over again. To realize that you lived the first half of your life subjugated and oppressed, serving every whim, every desire of the fragile ego of your oppressor. That you existed to perpetuate the falsehoods of White Saviorism and Martyrdom. To realize that the ones you called family, the ones you loved with all your heart for all of your life spent so much of that time seeing you not as one of them, but rather as a charitable endeavor to serve their egos and narrow, White-centric worldview where all Brown and Black people are inferior and in need of a White Savior.
And yet even as you emerge, that same oppression continues to pull at your heels, threatening to swallow you whole again.
Maintaining emergence requires daily vigilance. It requires never sleeping again. A relentless state of both exhaustion and alertness.
You have to learn not to fear yourself.
Emergence requires undoing decades of being indoctrinated to fear who you were born to be. Because that is what my Oppressors taught me, trained me to believe--that who I am is to be feared.
I learned to suppress, denigrate, obscure, devalue any skill, talent, or passion I felt teeming within. And now, as I try to awaken it, as I try to fan it into flame, I feel terror and futility. Like an animal who refuses to exit its cage--terrified of freedom because it has only known captivity. Other times, I feel like an impostor and a fraud, or like a spoke in a wheel spinning hopelessly in the mud.
And yet somehow, I also find the strength, hope, perseverance, and love to finally shed the cold bars of the cage in which I have dwelled for most of my life. Somehow, I continue to choose to venture out, to cultivate the courage and resilience to wander great distances, until I hope one day to find myself to have traveled so far that I will never return.
The truth is that I do not know that I will ever truly break free of the bonds that have held me down for so long. I do not even know ultimately what that would mean or how that would look.
All I know is that I cannot help but try--to pull, push, fight, work feverishly and fervently to allow this emergence to unfurl that I may take on my true form with clarity and power, because I must believe that the world needs all of us to awaken and emerge from the minds that colonize us.
*This is the third essay in a series titled, "Reflections from the Other Side of 10 Years Post-Reunion," that I am publishing as I examine the past 10 years since reuniting with my Korean family. To view additional essays in this series, click here. **The above words are actually quite frightening for me to publish and put out into the public space, because I know how extreme and radical they will be perceived to be by some. The above essay is to be read within not only the broader historical and sociopolitical context of systematic and institutionalized racism, white supremacy, and oppression upon which this country is built, but also with an understanding of the role that implicit bias and white privilege play. More specifically, it is not that I believe that White parents do not love their adopted children of color. But I do believe that without conscious efforts to educate themselves, White adoptive parents struggle to escape the fog of implicit bias and privilege that clouds their vision and ability to acknowledge and affirm the racial and historical realities of their adopted children of color and the communities from which they originated. And hence, whether directly or indirectly, they become complicit in the oppression and marginalization of their adopted children of color and their communities. And for those readers who will inevitably assume that "She must have had a bad upbringing" or "She must not love her adoptive parents," please read this post, "Yes, I love my parents," at my retired adoption blog, "Yoon's Blur."
When I first joined my new family, in a new home, in a new country with new sounds and unfamiliar smells and foods, I cried and screamed unabated for days on end. My Mom was so concerned she took me to see a doctor. The doctor diagnosed me with “acute separation anxiety.”
I was 6 months old.
Why am I sharing all of this?
People tend to casually dismiss adoptee loss and grief by arguing that we were “too young” to know the difference, as if being a baby means our feelings at that time were negligible and without effect, as if our loss and grief then had no impact on who we became and who we are today.
Now that I am a mother myself, I become all the more convinced that such a narrative is a lie and does great harm to the well-being of adoptees.
Babies grieve. Babies know. Babies understand when something is wrong, when someone is gone. When their worlds have been turned upside down and they have lost everything, they know.
Me holding my newborn son
It was not simply “acute separation anxiety” that my 6-month old self was experiencing.
It was profound loss and grief. It was a traumatic separation. First, from my Omma--my Korean mother who had carried me within her own being for almost a year. And then a second traumatic separation from my foster mother--the only caregiver I had known for the first 6 months of my life.
I cried for days on end because I knew I had lost everything.
I was grieving.
Babies of course are not adults.
But they are also not mindless blobs of fat and cuteness.
Babies feel. Think. Know. At the most primal, vital level.
But babies will also do whatever it is that they need to do to survive. And sometimes that means shutting down and trying to forget.
I forgot. Or so I thought.
But now, I can’t forget.
Now, all I do is remember.
Every. Single. Day. Of my amazing, awful, beautiful, painful life.
This is the mantra in the subconscious of every adoptee. Whether they know it or do not. Not because we want it that way, but because that is basic biology--
DNA does not forget.
And neither do our mothers.
*This is the second essay in a series titled, "Reflections from the Other Side of 10 Years Post-Reunion," that I am publishing as I examine the past 10 years since reuniting with my Korean family. To view additional essays in this series, click here.
Now January 7th marks the day I got THE phone call.
The phone call that taught me the impossible can in fact become possible. The phone call that opened the portal to the world I thought I would never find again.
The phone call that has also taught me that grief can last a lifetime. And that finding does not always mean knowing.
In the past decade, I have learned that resolution for those who were lost from one another is elusive. I have learned that pain does not always diminish, but rather it adapts. It metamorphoses.
There is not a day that slips through my fingertips that I do not carry with me an endless sorrow, because within me there is also a ceaseless love.
But this endless sorrow and ceaseless love have done anything but diminish from my life. Rather their eternal lingering has enriched my life beyond measure.
With this kind of pain has also come a depth of living that makes every moment feel precious, every relationship golden.
Meal with my Appa in Seoul
A meal with my daughter is everything but mundane. A conversation with my son is everything but ordinary.
Spending fifteen committed years with my partner is everything but unremarkable.
Because as someone who lost everything before I knew what everything was, I cannot take for granted how fragile, how temporal these moments can be if we do not choose to protect and cherish them.
Ten years ago, I got the phone call that my Korean mother and Korean father were not only still alive, but that they wanted to meet me--after being separated for over three decades.
That moment changed my life forever. It is still changing my life forever. It will never stop changing my life forever.
And it also changed my mind forever.
I used to believe that adoption was beautiful and that it was the best thing for a person like me.
Lanterns at a Korean Buddhist Temple
I don’t believe that anymore.**
Now I believe that families should never be separated. And they should certainly never ever be separated because of poverty or duress or religion or lack of education.
I used to believe that my Omma gave me away because she loved me.
Now I believe that my Omma gave me away because she was brainwashed with guilt into believing that she was giving me a better life by giving me away. Now I know that my Omma gave me away because America and her own people taught her that White people are more worthy of her children, because being poor, uneducated, brown, and unconverted somehow rendered her love less worthy than a love that was rich, educated, Christian, and white.
A decade later, January 7th represents to me the beginning of my Awakening. The advent of my Emergence.
It is the moment I began to understand transracial and transnational adoption in its larger sociopolitical context--as an extension of White American imperialism and colonialism sharing roots entangled with a long history of white supremacy that has relentlessly engaged in the erasure of black and brown people through colonization and brutality, invasion and war, slavery and apartheid, imprisonment and oppression, and yes, family separation and adoption.
To say that these epiphanies have been a universe-altering paradigm shift is putting it lightly.
And yet, ten years deep into this journey of reclamation and proclamation of who I am and ultimately, of who I now know I have always been--all I can say is brace yourselves, because I am only just getting started.
*This is the first essay in a series titled, "Reflections from the Other Side of 10 Years Post-Reunion" that I am publishing as I examine the past 10 years since reuniting with my Korean family. Click here for additional essays in the series.
**Also, for those who are upset or disturbed by my statements that I do not believe in adoption anymore or that I believe families should never be separated. I encourage you to spend some time reflecting upon why it upsets or disturbs you for me to express these ideas, and to explore the complexities at the root of my statements. What do you think I mean when I state I do not believe in adoption anymore? What do I mean when I say I do not believe families should ever be separated due to poverty or duress? What alternative or additional options might there be to family separation? Can you ponder perhaps the practice of family preservation? What would a commitment to family preservation look like? Is permanent separation and severance from one's family and origins truly necessary? What could replace orphanages? What could replace adoption agencies? Have you ever thought about family centers that could provide support and resources to empower at-risk families facing duress or poverty? To further educate yourself, click here, here, and here. Also, consider reading the book, The Child Catchers by Kathryn Joyce.
ROUNDTABLE: As adoptees, the writers of Lost Daughters share a history of separation from family. This gives us insight into the trauma of separation and influences our response to such things as the separation of children and parents as a result of immigration policy. How have the Lost Daughters been affected by recent news coverage of this practice of family separation? What action steps do we recommend? What do we want others to understand about our own experience of separation and its relevance to this issue? Lynn Grubb: As I’ve watched this nightmare unfold, it has helped me to realize that prevention is key. #Keepingfamiliestogether isn’t just a hashtag, it’s a philosophy. If we truly want laws that prevent these types of situations, we have to become politically involved. We can’t sit idly by and allow our government to commit these types of atrocities on innocents. The parents may have broken the law; however, the kids had no choice. I truly believe the current administration separated children from their parents to send a message to others: “you too will be punished”. As Mila points out, this is not a new strategy to get people in line; however, in no way should it be tolerated in a democracy.
Mila Konomos: First of all, thank you, Lynn, for acknowledging that the current types of policies being enforced have no place in democracy. Obviously, I absolutely agree.
I appreciate what you shared because it has provided the opportunity to clarify certain points as well as deepen the discussion.
In particular, I would like to further clarify your reference to “The parents may have broken the law; however, the kids had no choice.” I want to help educate and inform others about the complexities
Firstly, actually, not all of these families have “broken the law.” And in fact, quoting Raymond Partolan, who is both a local immigration paralegal for Kuck Immigration Firm as well as a Dreamer,
“For those of you saying you support “legal immigration to the United States,” but are outraged by the people seeking asylum at our southern border, please understand that presenting yourself at the border for asylum after having fled persecution in your country is perfectly legal and one of the four ways you can legally immigrate to the US. Please educate yourselves.”
In short, there are families presenting themselves voluntarily at ports of entry to the U.S. pleading for asylum, which again is a perfectly legal form of immigration.
And prior to the current administration’s policies of zero tolerance and family separation, which has suddenly criminalized asylum seekers, the U.S. could follow the procedures of “the Family Case Management Program, which allowed families to be placed into a program, together, that connected them with a case manager and legal orientation that ensured they understood how to apply for asylum and attend immigration court proceedings.” (Amrit Cheng, ACLU)
This program actually had a 99.6% appearance rate--meaning that almost 100% of the asylum seekers in this program were showing up to their immigration court hearings.
This program is a successful example of not only a more humane solution for those coming to the border seeking refuge and asylum, but it also happens to be a less costly one (for all of you concerned about fiscal responsibility).
But sadly, Trump ended this program in 2017 in response to the announcement to begin using family separation as a deterrent strategy.
Furthermore, to say that these parents have broken the law, while perhaps technically true in some cases (but again, not all) unfortunately has the result of criminalizing their desperation and suffering.
To quote one of my favorite poets, Warsan Shire:
no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark you only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well you only leave home when home won’t let you stay. no one leaves home unless home chases you fire under feet hot blood in your belly it’s not something you ever thought of doing until the blade burnt threats into your neck you have to understand, that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land no one burns their palms under trains beneath carriages no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled means something more than journey.
I think the poem eloquently and poignantly summarizes the complexity of the circumstances fleeing immigrants face. They’re not showing up at the border because they don’t respect the law. They’re not pleading for asylum after making the most horrendous journey of their lives because they want to break the law.
They’re arriving at the border because they’re desperate. As Warsan Shire wrote, “no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark, you only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well, you only leave home when home won’t let you stay, ”
These families are selling all they own to make a treacherous and uncertain journey that could end in rape, violence, even death, not because they don’t care about the laws of this nation, but because their realities allowed them no other option. And if you can honestly imagine yourself in their shoes, would you feel any differently? Would you not have felt as though you had no other option?
As adoptees, we know the circumstances our original mothers faced. They were powerless. They truly felt they had no other choice than to relinquish us to strangers. Their situations in reality did not allow them a true choice.
Similarly, immigrants crossing into America have fled circumstances which also did not allow them a true choice.
Hence, to say that the children had no choice, while true, negates the reality that their parents also felt they had no other choice--or once again in the powerful words of Shire, “no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”
And ultimately, “when injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.”
Laws are there to serve humankind, not the converse. Hence, when humankind uses the rule of law to inflict cruelty upon its fellow human, then the law must be broken.
In the U.S., it was once the law that a white person and a black person could not marry. It was the law that white and black people could not eat in the same restaurants or drink from the same water fountains or use the same restrooms. It once was the law that Chinese people could not immigrate to this country. And in the hysteria of WWII, the rule of law demanded that 120,000 Japanese Americans be held in concentration camps, i.e., prisons, simply for being of Japanese descent, while around the same time, Operation Wetback, an immigration law passed in 1954 resulted in the deportation of 1.3 million Mexicans.
I share these examples to demonstrate that the simple existence of a law does not automatically mean it is a good law nor that it must be upheld or enforced, particularly when it is a law that legislates cruelty and dehumanization of our fellow humankind.
On June 1, 2018 Rebekah Henson published an important thread on Twitter critiquing the hashtags #FamiliesBelongTogether and #KeepFamiliesTogether. The frame with “Families Belong Together” on profile pictures is popping up on my Facebook news feed. I understand. It’s a compelling turn of phrase and gets at the heart of what needs to happen. Families should not be separated upon entry to the United States. And yet, as Henson mentions, “But many of the voices rallying for these families have been completely silent in the face of other crimes committed against mothers and children throughout the history of child welfare in America.”
Imagine this scene: Tens of thousands of people, mostly families with children, are labeled by the government as a threat to our nation, used as political tools by opportunistic politicians, and caught in a vast gray zone where their civil and human rights are erased by the presumption of universal guilt. Thousands are moved around to makeshift detention centers and sites, where camps are thrown together with more regard to the bottom line than the humanity of the new residents.
That is America today, at our southern border, which asylum-seekers and undocumented migrants alike are seeking to cross. But it is also America in late 1941, in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, when overnight my community, my family, and I became the enemy because we happened to look like those who had dropped the bombs. And yet, in one core, horrifying way this is worse. At least during the internment of Japanese-Americans, I and other children were not stripped from our parents. We were not pulled screaming from our mothers’ arms. We were not left to change the diapers of younger children by ourselves.
Individuals speaking out about the emotional, psychological, and physical harm of these separations were not only considering what has happened in the United States. Drawing upon her own experience as someone part of the Sixties Scoop of indigenous children in Canada, Raven Sinclair noted how reports of the separated children and families was a trigger for her. She also integrated her expertise as a professor of social work to discuss the turmoil and trauma of separation. A child survivor of the Holocaust recalled the trauma of being separated for her family.
When the news of these separations quickly made headlines, I thought to myself that we cannot make this normal. This is not normal. This is not okay. And then I thought about the historical traumas of separating children of color and indigenous children from their natal families. I see what’s happening as part of a broader need for reproductive justice to protect the rights of parents of color and indigenous parents to parent. Recently, I published an article that situates adoption within a reproductive justice framework. That essay is in conversation with Dorothy Roberts, Laura Briggs, Rickie Solinger, and Loretta Ross, among others, as I discuss the ways adoption privileges the rights of white adoptive parents at the expense of limiting the ability of non-white individuals who seek to parent.
Brief Overview of Family Separation in This Week’s Headlines
What I will discuss below focuses on how these separations run the risk of transforming these children into adoptable objects—transformed into disciplined bodies acceptable to white America. I use the term object deliberately to reflect how adoptee subjecthood is erased when they are seen as interchangeable objects available for consumption. On Monday, ProPublica also published audio of children separated from their parents. For more information concerning what happened and is happening at the border, please see:
Please note, what I provided above is not a comprehensive list, nor could it be given the news cycle and how what’s occurring continues to evolve in real time. Rather, these links are meant to be the start to your exploration of this issue (if you have not been reading or watching the news for the past week).
As a friend posted Biblical quotes throughout the day on Facebook, I was reminded of how Evangelical Christian adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents frequently invoke James 1:27 to discuss why they’re compelled to adopt. Yet, these individuals overlooked the second half of the Biblical verse—“to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (emphasis mine). And we have seen throughout history what happens when religion is misused, misapplied, perverted to justify slavery and war, among other inhumane actions. But as this unfolded, I had a gut feeling that at some point we would see how these separated children would become linked to fostering and adoption. And unfortunately, I (and many others who work in adoption) were right.
Bethany Christian Services reported to the media that they placed at least 81 children separated from their families at the southern U.S. border into foster care placements or group placements in West Michigan. And as Adoption Scholars including myself are discussing online, Bethany is laying the groundwork to turn these children into objects ready to be adopted. As I watched this video, I could only think of how Bethany is situating themselves as a “benefactor” or “good” figure in this time in comparison to warehousing children. In turn, foster care becomes a better option, despite the fact that foster care produces trauma and violence in the lives of youth. The video also illustrates how religion becomes invoked to protect these children—and it reminds me of Bob Pierce of World Vision and Harry Holt in the immediate post-Korean War period or the desire by religious organizations to rescue Haitian children immediately after the2010 earthquake in Haiti. Kathryn Joyce has also documented the trouble with the Christian adoption movement in essaysand in her book, The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption. I urge folks to take a critical eye at how Bethany (and presumably other foster care and adoption agencies and Christian organizations) respond to this crisis. Adoptees and Adoption Studies scholars know what “saving” children really means and it’s never about family reunification or family preservation.
In their interview with Dona Abbott, the Director for Refugee and Foster Care Programs at Bethany, Fox 17 West Michigan asked about whether the agency was profiting from these children. Abbott responded: "We’re not. Again it would be hard to say we’re profiting off of them for adoption when we’ve not placed any of these children for adoption. And it’s so early on to say whether these children will be available for adoption at all." That said, I remain skeptical. After all, who is the agency contracting with to even start placing these children? And, what happens if these children are not reunited with their parents?
Questions also need to be asked regarding what happens to these children if they fall through the cracks. How does this relate to those adoptees without citizenship? Or those orphans who entered on humanitarian parole?
We are seeing the beginnings of how organizations transform black and brown children to desirable bodies for adoption. These are the same children Americans seek to adopt when they are considered “over there” or not linked to black and brown adults. Finding Fernanda by Erin Siegel demonstrates the experiences of adoptive parents as they sought to adopt children from Guatemala. We are seeing how children’s bodies are being disciplined to become acceptable bodies of children of color—potential adoptees, potential kin to white families.
Silence is violence, especially now. This is why I urge white adoptive parents of children of color in particular to use your voice and speak. Advocate for family preservation and reunification. See how your child’s immigrant story is aligned with the immigrant experiences of these other children. Adoptees should not be exceptionalimmigrants, but yet we are. We are heralded while people who could be our parents, siblings, or children are denigrated. And don’t be fooled—your children are not exceptions, not when we see naturalized citizens not having the ability to think their citizenship is permanent. To look away and think, “Well my child would not have this happen to them,” at some point we might be in a situation where they will come for us—adoptees. And then what? I’m reminded of the poem, “First they came for the socialists,” by Martin Niemöller given the ways in which American society is normalizing the behavior and dehumanization of some ethnic, racial, and religious groups over others. A quick Google search will reveal that I’m not alone in this concern.
The adoption community is already grappling with the deportation of internationally adopted persons whose parents or guardians failed to naturalize them as children who have been convicted of crimes. I argue in my monograph, Disrupting Kinship: Transnational Politics of Korean Adoptees in the United States (University of Illinois Press, forthcoming 2019), that we need to place these deportations and access to retroactive citizenship in conversation with what is occurring more broadly concerning contemporary immigration policy. To decouple adoption from immigration overlooks the ways in which adoption policy has been predicated upon the ways international adoptees are situated as exceptionalmigrants. But my focus in this essay is not currently on this particular argument; rather, my interest in this lies in demonstrating how children of color and indigenous children are seen as mutable subjects—at first characterized negatively as unassimilable and alien and then remolded as acceptable after they enter foster care.