You Can’t Always Trust a Kid’s Reaction

by Luanne

The other day I had a discussion with a few people on our Facebook page about an article in Adoption Voices Magazine that guest blogger Lisa posted.

But this blog post isn’t about that article—it’s about where my mind ended up.

As the conversation went on, the mention of race in adoption came up, and as my mind usually works, I was soon off on my own mental tangent.

I remembered a story our case worker had shared with us during our first home study. She was very good about bringing up issues, such as race and forming a transracial (called interracial in those days) family. The story went that a Korean boy was adopted by a white couple in the Midwest. They raised him in an area which happened to have very few Asians—so few, in fact, that the boy grew to be seven or eight and he had never seen another Asian. One day he watched a television show about the Japanese, and he laughed and made a derogatory comment about their looks. That’s when his parents understood that he didn’t realize he was Asian.

Her story made an impression on me and on my husband, and we knew that our children needed to be helped to understand and develop their own identities.

However, when our son Marc was in 4th grade, my analysis of the case worker’s story added a new layer of complexity.

I believe that it’s possible that the child did know at some level what he looked like and that he was “different” from those around him.

Here’s what happened. One night Marc was reading his homework on the floor of the family room and started laughing. I asked him what was so funny.

He kept laughing and pointed to a passage in the book. I read it and . . . you know that expression, my blood ran cold? It did.

Marc was reading an assigned book, The Story of Doctor Doolittle. Have you read this book? If you’re white, have you read an original version in recent years, with an enlightened view of race, or as a kid “back in the day”? If you’re not white, what did you think or feel when you read it?

There is a character in the book called Bumpo, the African prince. The way he is portrayed—both in text and illustration is clearly racist. In fact, Bumpo wishes to be white so he can marry Sleeping Beauty.

Marc’s school, the best private school in our town, was literature-based and founded on principles developed by Mae Carden in the thirties. The school hadn’t veered much from the decades-old curriculum and this book was on that curriculum.

I was more upset upon discovering what Marc was reading than anything that had happened up to that point about my kids. I felt betrayed by the school. When Marc started at the school there weren’t many minorities there, although each year more and more attended and by the time he was in the middle school grades, there were many Asian and Latino and some African-American children at the school.

I felt sad that Marc had to read something so racist, provided to him by adults he trusted.

I felt angry at the school.

I felt confused that, although Marc had been raised to respect people of all races and he knew he himself was of a minority race (in his community), he was laughing.

Although I’m dead set against book censorship, there is a big difference between banning books from libraries and choosing the best possible selections for curriculum.

So I called the school, of course, to complain. I met with immediate resistance and deflection. They had me speak to the teacher who assured me that Marc had not had a problem with it at all when they read it in class.  It was a humorous passage, the class had found it funny, and they had all laughed. I was making a mountain out of a molehill.

Think about that a minute. OK, think about it after you get around that pissed off feeling you’re experiencing right now.  He had already read that passage in school. So why was he reading it at home and laughing at it?

When I asked him why he was laughing and expressed my dismay at the overt racism, he gave me the “it’s no big deal” reaction and indicated I was over-reacting.

I concluded that he wanted to draw my attention to the passage to help him sort out his own feelings, but he was unable to be direct about it because he himself was confused and disturbed deep inside.

Later, I further concluded that as one of the only minority kids in his class at that time, he was embarrassed and wanted to show the other kids that he wasn’t different from them. That he wasn’t, in fact, the African prince.  That he didn’t have to wish he was white to marry Sleeping Beauty because he was already white, just like them.

That’s why I think that the story about the Korean boy responding negatively upon seeing his first Asians is more complex than on first thought.  On one level, the boy identified so strongly with his Caucasian family and community that he didn’t understand what he was seeing. But on some other level, he did know he was different and that being different was a very uncomfortable place for him to be.  A way to get around thinking of himself as different was to make other non-Caucasians the “Other.” (If you wonder why somebody could have knowledge and not have knowledge at the same time, you haven’t met anybody in denial ;)!)

What happened with the school and the book?  Because the school was sensitive to attempts at book banning, they made me fight them on the issue. But a compromise was effected when I presented them with a fully researched alternative list of books which had some of the same positive characteristics as the book in question and none of the racism.

One last thing. I want to make clear that even as this incident was happening, the school had already begun to change in positive ways as the administration and some teachers were replaced and the demographics of the city changed.  Although it had always been the best choice for my kids in our town, it became a much stronger and more inclusive school than it had been originally. I don’t want you to think I’m writing this to bash the school that caused my children much happiness.

Back to Where She Once Belonged, Part IV: The Orphanage

Story by Lisa DeNike Ercolano

Photos by Juliet Ercolano (photo of Juliet and Lisa with the director and ayis was taken by Savor)

I woke up with a slight case of the nerves the morning of our scheduled visit to the Changshu Social Welfare Institute, aka “Juliet’s orphanage.”

Juliet, on the other hand, was cool as the proverbial cucumber. Dressed in a festive green flowered sundress with her long black hair spilling down her back, she looked simply eager and happy.

“I can’t wait to see the babies and kids and play with them, the way we did at Alenah’s,” she said.

Two hours later, we arrived in Changshu, a city of 1.1 million people.  Minutes after we arrived in the city, our driver pulled up to the gates of the SWI. A low-slung building made of light-colored stone, the orphanage looked tidy, neat and friendly. (Note: This was my first visit to the orphanage, too. Back in 1994 when we adopted Juliet, some orphanages did not permit adoptive parents inside, so I had met my daughter for the first time in a hotel room in Nanjing.)

Accompanied by our translator and guide, a Nanjing resident who used the English name “Savor” (she said it had the same meaning as her Chinese name), we entered the orphanage’s cool, shady foyer and were greeted by several officials.

When Savor told them who Juliet was – that she had been cared for as a baby there, and was adopted at the age of 6 months in 1994 – they became very animated and smiled. They eagerly looked at a photo album I had brought, filled with photos of Juliet as a baby being held by her orphanage ayi and surrounded by several orphanage officials. (I had taken this photo during adoption proceedings in China in December 1994, at the hotel.)

The current orphanage director, a kind-eyed, middle-aged woman in a colorful flowered dress, told us she worked at the SWI back then, and that Juliet’s ayi had retired a few years ago. No one had any personal anecdotes about Juliet: clearly, too many children had come and gone for them to remember one female child who had been cared for there for five months back in 1994. It was good enough, to us, to meet some people who had been there when Juliet found herself in their care.

Juliet and Lisa pose for a photo at the orphanage with the director (in flowered dress) and some of the “ayis”

The director invited us to go outside to the courtyard playground, a large, rectangular area covered in green indoor-outdoor carpeting, where the children were having their playtime. As soon as they saw us, the 10 children (ages four to about 14) stopped dead in their tracks and stared.

Thinking fast about how to best make friends with them, Juliet asked Savor to ask the director if we could give the children some lollipops that we brought. She was told it was OK, and we handed the treats out to the children, all of whom are considered “special needs.”

In the years since Juliet’s adoption, this orphanage, like many others, has converted to one caring for children with a range of issues, from Down syndrome and cerebral palsy to blindness, deafness and heart disease. We were told that the supply of healthy girl babies has dwindled, due at least in part to the central government’s slight relaxing of the One Child Policy, combined with the fact that many young urban Chinese of childbearing age don’t want to have more than one child. Now, most of the children who are found abandoned have special needs like the ones we were seeing.

Within minutes, I was playing a rowdy game of catch with four children (one absolute pixie of a girl with flashing eyes and achondroplasia kept stealing the ball from me and running away!) and Juliet was in the center of a crowd of six or 7 others, taking photos and showing the kids how her camera worked. Every time I looked over, a different child was in her lap!

Watch the slideshow of the children goofing around with Juliet and Lisa–photos by Juliet.

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The kids didn’t know English (except one clever boy who kept saying “Thank you!” loudly and clearly) and we didn’t know much Chinese, but the universal language of play, smiles and eye contact got us through OK. A half hour later, when it was time for the kids to go back into the classroom, we felt like good friends and were sad to part.

Next we visited the nursery, where Juliet held a very chubby baby boy who did not want to get back in his crib afterward.

Then we were escorted to a lovely luncheon with the director and several nurses, all of whom kept urging us to eat more. (My ego demands that I mention here the director’s amazement with my deft use of kuaizi, or chopsticks!)

In addition to a delicious fish and lots of rice, we were served chicken and zongzi (a huge lotus-leaf-wrapped, dense rice dumpling traditionally eaten at Duanwu, or the Dragon Boat Festival, which fell this year on Juliet’s birthday, June 12.)  During the luncheon, Savor helped us communicate with the director and the ayis, and we learned more about the children and their challenges (One little girl has a cancerous tumor in her eye, and needs surgery badly). The director also invited Juliet to come back “anytime, a lot” and live at her house for as long as Juliet wanted to stay.

The visit ended with Juliet being given a beautiful glass desk ornament by the director and a hearty round of picture taking.

That evening, I asked Juliet how she was feeling about the visit.

“I loved playing with the kids and getting to know them, but seeing the babies in their cribs just lying there made me sad,” she said. “It doesn’t seem real that I was once one of those kids.”

Read about the trip Lisa and Juliet too to China in Back to Where She Once Belonged, Part I

Read about the monuments in Back to Where She Once Belonged, Part II

Read about Juliet’s foster home in Back to Where She Once Belonged, Part III

Carried Off | ChinaFile

Carried Off | ChinaFile.

This article has gut-wrenching information.

On another note, Rose Candis is a good example of an adoptive parent who puts her child’s best interests ahead of her own.

The elephant in the room: Poverty and adoptable children

A very thought-provoking post by Menomama3 . . .

Children Aging Out Need Help

The situation for children aging out of their systems can be very bleak!

Blogger Donna makes an appeal to help a girl who is aging out of the system because she’s TURNING SIXTEEN YEARS OLD. Here is a link to her post. No, this isn’t the U.S. Kids around the world age out of their country’s systems, and the situation can be incredibly bleak for them. If you can help Ally and others like her, please click the link http://reecesrainbow.org/59838/ally

Back to Where She Once Belonged, Part III: The Foster Home

Read about the trip Lisa and Juliet too to China in Back to Where She Once Belonged, Part I

Read about the monuments in Back to Where She Once Belonged, Part II

Part III: The Foster Home

Story by Lisa DeNike Ercolano
Photos by Juliet Ercolano (photo of Juliet was taken by Lisa)

I still dream at night about the babies and children we saw at Alenah’s Home.

The big sunny playroom at Alenah's

The big sunny playroom at Alenah’s

Tucked snugly away amongst a series of other traditional Beijing hutong houses, sunny, well-scrubbed and cozy Alenah’s is home to about 20 orphaned babies and children with special medical needs.
This spirited little boy was very friendly and loves visitors!

This spirited little boy was very friendly and loves visitors!

There’s the baby girl with big, serious eyes and a rosebud mouth. She has a congenital heart condition and needs surgery, and all she wants is for someone to hold her and sing to her. (Juliet did — for about three hours!)

Juliet holding one of the babies at Alenah’s

And then there’s the six-year-old boy who is paralyzed from the waist down from a previous surgery to repair the meningocele he was born with. Certain that others will reject him, this clever boy puts up a defensive front whenever approached. But if you show him you are really interested in him, he opens up like the sun coming out from behind the clouds.

These children and more come to Alenah’s from orphanages and other sites throughout China to receive expert medical care available in the capital city.

But just as badly as they need medical care (surgeries, medicine, therapy), they need love — and lots of it. And they get it at the home, which is staffed by 14 gentle, caring “ayis” (the Chinese word for “auntie” or “caregiver”) and a series of loving volunteers.

The ayis and some volunteers in the back courtyard at playtime

The “ayis” and some volunteers in the back courtyard at playtime

Alenah’s is run by Children’s Hope International, the wonderful adoption agency that brought Juliet into our lives. (CHI is headquartered in St. Louis in the US and in Beijing in China.) Melody Zhang (Zhang Wen) is the director of Alenah’s and of the Beijing Office of Children’s Hope there. Deeply committed to children’s rights, Melody and her team at Alenah’s have managed to care for more than 70 of these children since the home opened in 2004, and 20 of them have been adopted.
Meal time is a very happy time at the foster home

Meal time is a very happy time at the foster home

Juliet and I fell in love with the children there and are looking for ways to help them. We would love to be able to return next summer and spend a few weeks helping the caretakers.

If you want to know more about Alenah’s Home and its mission, watch this little news clip about it:

http://www.adoptblog.childrenshope.net/2013/05/a-visit-to-chi-foster-home.html

A Korean Adoptee Speaks to PAPs About a China Adoption

Here’s a thoughtful discussion of adoption and race and their intersection.

Adopted from China

Adoption is so complicated—there are so many different ways to look at it. Until recently, the subject was only in the back of my mind because it would make me sad to think about my birthparents. I also felt that my adoptive parents were enough for me; where I am now is where I am supposed to be, and the fact that I am adopted is not important as long as our family loves each other. As I am beginning to understand myself more as an adult, I am realizing just how prevalent adoption is in my life. I am an Adopted Asian American. Adoptees can only relate to other adoptees when it comes to certain experiences and thoughts. This is what makes us different from Asian Americans, and sometimes this can make us feel isolated. We have our issues like other Asian Americans, but we have extra baggage. With…

View original post 1,372 more words

Back to Where She Once Belonged, Part II: The Monuments

Read Back to Where She Once Belonged, Part I

Part II: Forbidden City/Tiananmen Square/The Great Wall

Story by Lisa DeNike Ercolano

Photos by Juliet Ercolano (photo of Lisa and Juliet was taken by Tim, their guide; photo of Juliet was taken by Lisa)

Of course, for years, we’d seen it in pictures and on TV: Tiananmen Square, the 4.8 million square-foot plaza that was the site of the 1989 pro-democracy movement and subsequent government crack-down.

“Oh my gosh, there he is: Chairman Mao! Ni hao, Mao Zedong!” I said excitedly to Juliet, as we stood in the square and looked at the giant portrait of the infamous leader hanging on the scarlet-wall of Tian’anmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace, that leads into the Forbidden City. “Remember when you were a little girl, and thought his name was ‘German Mao’?”

The afternoon before, we had arrived in Beijing, the capital city of the People’s Republic of China, bleary-eyed and jet-lagged after a 14-hour flight from Washington International Dulles. (Juliet slept a lot, and I watched every episode of “Louie,” “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation” that they offered on our United Flight.) By the time we got through customs and security and made our way to our hotel, we were beat, and happy just to walk the streets of Beijing near our hotel, enjoying watching passersby and poking into shops and restaurants.

On the morning of our first full day, our guide, Tim (his chosen English name) and a driver picked us up in our hotel lobby and we set out on the first item on our itinerary, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, to be followed by a chance to spend the afternoon climbing the Great Wall.

I was almost awestruck standing before Tiananmen, or the Gate of Heavenly Peace, knowing that it dated to the Ming Dynasty in 1420 – years before Columbus discovered America! You could feel the history! We had hoped to view Mao’s remains in the crystal coffin inside of his massive mausoleum, but our visit fell on a Monday, when it was closed, so I had to satisfy myself with looking at the building from the outside, and snapping photos of the imposing sculpture of China’s workers that stands outside. We also posed in front of the Monument to the People’s Heroes, and saw the Great Hall of the People – all edifices that we had read about for years.

We spent about three hours inside the Forbidden City, which was home to China’s emperors for more than 500 years. Again, the sense of history was palpable. Our guide helpfully pointed out the symbolism inherent in the architecture, as we gaped and took photos. I loved stepping over the traditional Chinese thresholds as we went from section to section, and was delighted when Tim informed us that Chinese thresholds are thus designed because “ghosts don’t have knees, so they can’t walk over.” We viewed the Hall of Supreme Harmony and the golden throne in the Hall of Preserving Harmony, and my imagination flashed back to film “The Last Emperor,” which told the story of Puyi, China’s last emperor, which was filmed there.

While I was captivated by the sense of history and the architecture, Juliet enjoyed snapping photographs of the other tourists, which not only included other waiguoren (foreigners), but also thousands of Chinese tourists from all over that vast country. We found especially darling the small children wearing traditional Chinese split pants, which allow the wearer to relieve himself freely, anywhere and anytime!

In the afternoon (after a quick buffet lunch where we learned that the Chinese don’t believe cold drinks are healthy, even on 90-degree-plus days!), we tackled the Great Wall. Tim wisely chose to get himself a cup of tea and stay behind while Juliet and I headed up the surprisingly steep, worn stone steps to the first fortification in sight. Again, we were awed by the knowledge that some sections of this world famous landmark date back to 221 BC! Almost equally awe-inspiring was the fact that so many Chinese women were scaling these steep steps in high heels and platform sandals!

Before leaving, Tim helped us bargain for tee shirts proudly proclaiming “I Have Climbed the Great Wall of China.”

Next up: Our visit to Children’s Hope’s Foster Care Home

Help Us Celebrate!!

It’s been ONE YEAR today that we started the blog Don’t We Look Alike?, and what a ride it’s been!  We’ve learned a lot about adoption and related issues and have met some wonderful bloggers and other individuals along the way.

Coincidentally, this is also our 200th blog post!!!

English: Independence Day fireworks, San Diego.

English: Independence Day fireworks, San Diego. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Luanne:

When my husband and I adopted our two children in the 1980s, the only thing we knew about adoption was what we learned from local sources. My brother was adopted as a baby when I was eight, so adoption was familiar to me (link to my very first blog post about my brother). When we decided to adopt, we first thought of fostering because we knew the need was great, but we were told that because we didn’t have any children we didn’t qualify and were encouraged to adopt a baby for our first child. That seemed like good advice.

To do so we were asked to attend an “Adoption Information Meeting.” That evening five agencies were represented, and the bottom line was that if we wanted to adopt a baby we could go through Bethany, which represented Holt in Michigan.  Through that agency, we could adopt a Korean baby.  Within a year or so our son was in our arms. We then requested another child through the same agency because we felt it would be in our son’s best interests to share ethnicity with his sibling. Things were different in the eighties than they are today, and I still believe that was a good choice.

At that time, we didn’t have the internet to get information. Our information came from adoption-related sources, such as our case worker, the agency, other parents from our city who had adopted, etc. When the kids were little, we were connected to this network, but when the kids got older and were extremely busy with other activities and we moved away, we became less tied to any “adoption community.”

We never lost sight of our own notion that adopted children and children in transracial families couldn’t have their special circumstances ignored. But it often seemed like we were the only people around us who felt that way. People insisted that they “never thought” of our son or daughter “as Korean” or “as Asian” or “as adopted.” We would grit our teeth because ignoring realities doesn’t do our children any favors.

It wasn’t until Marisha and I started this blog that I found a whole community on the internet of people who “get” what adoption means, who understand that adoptees undergo trauma (often as infants), and that there are many political issues related to adoption which need to be considered. In fact, it feels as if the issues of adoption are just heating up.  Adult adoptees are leading the campaign to reform the way adoption works in this country.

I also didn’t know diddly about open adoption until reading like mad–blogs, articles, books. Open adoption is very different from the situation of my children’s adoptions, so it’s been such an educational experience for me to learn so much about it from the mouths of others.  We don’t know yet what adult adoptees are going to tell us in the future about their open adoptions, but I want to keep up on all this because it’s so important.

I feel passionate that reform is needed in certain aspects of adoption and foster care issues, while I am realistic about the impossibility of a system which works perfectly for every circumstance. I believe that the interests of children should be put ahead of the interests of adults.   I’d like to see our society work at becoming a “village” that cares for the various needs of foster children and children in need of adoptive families.

Thank you to all our readers and those who have participated in discussions on our blog.  And thank you to the other bloggers about adoption and foster care who share your hearts and experience with the world.

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Marisha:

I have done quite a lot of reflecting lately about this past year–mainly regarding my adoption. Seeing as this is the first year anniversary of our blog, I wanted to write a post about how amazing it is for me to see how much I have learned about myself, my mother, and other adoptees and parents.

I see most of my progress in how I now react to the different situations I am put in regarding being “Asian” and being “adopted.” The stigma has slowly started to drain away, and I am happy to feel a sense of relief when I think about my own adoption issues. In the past I would be overly sensitive and get hurt too easily by the comments someone would make to me such as the “tsunami in Japan” incident or my middle school crush telling me “I’m only into blondes.” I used to think that those comments were a reflection of how people saw me, or that I wasn’t good enough. Instead, I resound in knowing that most of those incidents and experiences have in fact, nothing to do with me or who I am on the inside or outside. Being comfortable in one’s skin is never easy– it would be false to think that one can fully live a life of confidence and not have any insecurities or flaws within them. I have accepted my flaws and faced my insecurities. I face them every day, in fact.

I am so thankful for my mom for being patient with me these past 25 years. This blog has not only bonded us even more, but has given us an honest outlet to communicate with each other about the problems we both are facing in life and with each other. It has been a rocky year personally for both of us. I have done some things that I am not particularly proud of, but have learned from them and found it easier to move on from the past because I have given myself the time to understand my issues of abandonment and insecurities about being an Asian-American adoptee.

At the same time, the amazing adoptees I have been in contact with or have shared some of their stories on our blog or on their own blogs have educated me. They help to fill a void–that feeling of being alone. It has given me a comfort to know that I am not alone in this. That a lot–if not most– adoptees face the same feelings I do at some point in their lives. I am inspired by that.

This next year is full of excitement. I ring in the one year anniversary with the blog by announcing my new journey. I will be playing one of my dream roles: Mimi in the musical RENT! I have waited my whole life for this moment, and I feel as if it has come at the perfect time for me to start this next chapter as a proud adoptee and woman. I have learned to not let my race or my cultural position define me because at the end of the day, that doesn’t matter. What you choose to do and how you choose to live your life is material enough to create a success out of oneself. I am so proud to see the world start to change to give opportunities to people like myself, despite what we look like on the outside or where we come from.

Thank you for tuning in to the blog every week and thank you for allowing me and my mum the freedom to share our stories without judgment. I look forward to many more stories in the future from us and especially from all of you!!!

To help us celebrate, please consider donating to help foster children.  As an example, here is a news story about an Arizona charity (not yet rated by the BBB or Charity Navigator) which seeks funds to send foster kids to summer activities of their choice.  We donated for dance classes for a boy who wanted to take dance. Click this link to read the article.  In the article is a link to donate.

Back to Where She Once Belonged

by Lisa DeNike Ercolano

I had only been Juliet’s mother for a few hours before I started thinking about how my husband and I would have to help her stay connected to her Chinese heritage.

“We have to pledge to take her back to China every few years, so she knows and understands her place of birth and the culture,” I said, solemnly and with every good intention, to my husband on the fuzzy, long-distance call from the hotel in Nanjing where I first met the tightly swaddled six-month-old with the bright red cheeks and a bristly mohawk of black hair.

My husband had remained in Baltimore with our homemade daughter, four-year-old Olivia, while I traveled to the People’s Republic, accompanied by my father, Bob, and a group of other adopting parents, to adopt our younger daughter.

She was handed gently to me in a Nanjing hotel room by the smiling, middle-aged Chinese woman, an ayi, who took care of her in the orphanage.

Sadly, good intentions notwithstanding, that is not what happened. As John Lennon famously said “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” And our lives — as the working parents of two active, busy, growing girls — didn’t include the time, or the money, to make those intended trips. Added to the time crunch was the fact that, as a ballet dancer, Juliet had to spend every summer in training — just like an athlete!

So as Juliet entered her senior year of high school, we decided it was time to bite the proverbial bullet and make that dream of returning to China a reality. We put money aside, and contacted the wonderful agency that brought her into our lives — Children’s Hope International in St. Louis, Mo. — to help us plan the actual trip.

It seemed to take forever to get here, but eventually the calendar turned to June, and Juliet and I took off from Dulles International Airport for Beijing. (We decided, in the end, for various reasons that this would be a mother-daughter trip.) In future blog posts, we will be privileged to share some of the things we saw, the emotions we experienced and the things we learned, with readers of this blog.


Lisa and Juliet

Lisa and Juliet at the moat around the Forbidden City

 

Follow us to Part II of Back to Where She Once Belonged for a visit to China’s monuments

 

 

 

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