Split Between Privilege and Denial, The Truth Brings Wholeness

by Luanne

I finished a book the other day, and I’ve had an irresistible urge to talk about it to every person I’ve seen since then.  Have you had that experience from reading?

If you want to feel that way, read Catana Tully’s Split at the Root: A Memoir of Love and Lost Identity.

It’s a book about adoption, but then it’s not quite about adoption.

Tully was born to a Guatemalan woman of African origin, but she grew up in the household of a German family living in Guatemala. She became a proper German young lady and eventually moved to Germany, where she became a fashion model and movie star.

Although many questions arise for the reader about Tully’s background, the girl herself doesn’t question the narrative she has been given by her German mother.

Only belatedly does Tully realize there is much to be learned about her origins.

Tully moves to the United States where she suffers an identity crisis. She isn’t African-American, although she is a Black woman. Eventually, she realizes the hard truth that she is racist toward African-Americans because she has so absorbed the subtle teachings of her childhood.

She studies and ultimately teaches Ethnic Studies and learns that she has been colonized by the German family who raised her. She begins the long struggle to learn who she is and from where she comes.  To do so, she must search for her birth mother (who has since passed away) and her birth father. Along the way, she meets her birth siblings and another father who tells her that he is her birth father. Additionally, after years of a difficult relationship, she reunites with the German sister who was old enough to be her mother and helped raised her. All this is necessary for Tully’s identity education.

I found Tully’s search to be suspenseful and fascinating. The book reads like a mystery or detective novel in the latter half.  The reader learns the truth along with Tully.

What makes Tully’s story similar to the stories of other transracial adoptees, such as my children who were born in Korea, and what makes it different?

The way Tully absorbed the culture of her German mother and didn’t really “see” herself as the birth child of a Black woman seems true to the experience of many transracial adoptees.

Where I think it differs is here:

SPOILER ALERT

It’s not only where her experience differs, but something that upset me on behalf of the young woman Catana Tully. She was never legally adopted by her German family. Therefore, when the mother dies (the father had been gone for years), the older (bio) daughter inherits the estate, but Tully does not. Tully writes about this injustice, but presents it fairly objectively. Rather than Tully telling the reader how to feel, the reader must pick up the responsibility and get angry (and I sure did).

So Tully had no legal rights as a daughter of the only family she knew at the point that her German mother died.  That she was loved very much is evident, but she was betrayed by this loving parent who didn’t do right by her in death.

The way the book ends answers most of my questions, although I still felt that the German family was an enigma. But what was important was that Tully’s birth parents came to life for me and surpassed the German mother’s heavy influence. Tully’s life seems to blossom into wholeness by the last words of the book.

The only weak point I could find is that the book could have used another editor’s eyes for typos, but I’m picky about those, and many readers might not even notice them.

Split at the Root is a well-written and thoroughly engaging memoir even for those not interested in adoption, and for anybody connected to adoption it is a must read.

Creating a Strong Family Story

The Power of Naming

Menomama3, who blogs about adoption issues as well as about her family, sent us a link to a video which comments well on the power of naming and how that affects this poet who was adopted as a young child.

Read it through to its finish because its effect on you will happen when you take the time to do so.

 

How do you feel about what you just witnessed?

Rachel Rostad’s blog can be found here.

Smore Stories – Daring To Journey Through Adoption: Hope On The Horizon

Tara’s next installment.

Smore Stories – Daring To Journey Through Adoption: Hope On The Horizon.

Smore Stories – Daring To Journey Through Adoption: Welcoming Brokenness

Tara’s next post in her series about adoption:

Smore Stories – Daring To Journey Through Adoption: Welcoming Brokenness.

Two Hearts: An Adoptee’s Journey through Grief to Gratitude by Linda Hoye

Read Sherrey Meyer’s review of Linda Hoye’s sensitive book about adoption and search.

 

Found Between the Covers

TWO HEARTS: An Adoptee’s Journey through Grief to Gratitude
by Linda Hoye
Published by: Benson Books
Published: May 2012
Genre: Memoir
Source: Author

Linda Hoye was in her early twenties when she found herself parentless for the second time.

Adopted at five months of age, her heritage, medical history, and access to information about who she was or where she came from was sealed; it was as if she had never existed before being adopted. When she was barely in her twenties her adoptive parents died and a pattern of loss was put into motion that would continue for years as, one by one, those she called family were torn from her life. Struggling to deal with the loss of her family of origin and her adoptive parents, she ultimately reunites with members of her birth family–but there is never a reunion with the woman who gave her life and…

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Back to Where She Once Belonged, Part V: The Finding Place

SHE ONCE WAS LOST, BUT NOW SHE’S FOUND

by Lisa DeNike Ercolano

Photos by Juliet Ercolano (photos of Juliet by Lisa)

For years, we’ve had the story wrong. I am not sure whether I heard it wrong or the original information I was given was in error.

Let me back up: The day I met my younger daughter in a hotel room in Nanjing, China in December 1994, I swore I was told by our translator that the baby was “found by a police officer at a station and taken to the family planning clinic. They then took her to the orphanage.”

But, apparently, that’s not what actually happened.

When Juliet and I visited her orphanage on our recent trip to China, at one point the director sat down with us and opened Juliet’s file. (We had sent this special request through our contacts at Children’s Hope International months before arriving and were assured looking at the file was no problem.)

Through Savor, our translator, we were told that one-month-old Juliet was found by workers one early morning in July 1994 at a women’s health/family planning clinic, and was taken from there to the Changshu Social Welfare Institute, from which we adopted her five months later. Not a single station (bus or train) or police officer involved! (I am embarrassed to confess that it took me until earlier this year to discover, online, that Changshu doesn’t even have a train station!)

As Juliet and I recovered from our surprise, the director gave Savor and our driver the address of the clinic, and we headed out.

On the way, I once again found myself feeling a little nervous. What would the place look like? How would Juliet feel when she saw it? Would we both dissolve in tears, knowing we were staring at the spot where she was left by her birthmother one summer morning?

We got those answers very quickly, as the clinic was not far away. On the way over, Juliet and I held hands in the backseat of our driver’s car and didn’t say much. Instead, we peered out the windows, both lost in our own thoughts.

About 10 minutes later, the driver pulled into the driveway/parking area of a large, modern, sand-colored building with brown marble steps and an aqua sign saying世代服 Shidai Family Planning Service. 

We hopped out of the car, and Juliet and I looked around silently. We immediately noticed that in order to pull into the parking area in front of the clinic, we had driven through an open metal accordion gate and past a little guardhouse.

Juliet and I were walking over to it when a middle-aged woman wearing worn jeans and a flowered blouse came out of the clinic’s front doors, curious about who we were and what we wanted.

Speaking Chinese, Savor explained and a big smile broke out on the woman’s face. Apparently, this woman worked at the clinic back in the summer of 1994, and remembers “a few baby girls being dropped off here.” She proceeded to tell us that birthparents would wait until dark and then climb over the gate (closed and locked at night, and much higher than the one there now) so they could place their babies carefully up on the steps of the clinic’s front door, safely away from passersby on the street and any danger.

“We would find the babies when we came to work in the morning,” she said, through the translator, “and bring them to the orphanage.”

Juliet asked me to take her photograph with the woman, and commented afterward “Is it weird that I am smiling? I just feel like smiling knowing this lady was there when I was found!”
I told her that there were no “shoulds” when it came to her feelings. I snapped a few shots of the worker and Juliet, as well as some of Juliet in front of the building. Then I handed the camera to Juliet, and she took a few for herself.

I admit that I had a feeling of unreality while clicking the shutter: It was almost impossible to envision my daughter, now a beautiful, healthy and strong 19-year-old, as a helpless, month-old baby wrapped in a blanket and left on that stone step landing. The disconnect was just too much for me.

And later that evening, over dinner, Juliet told me that she felt the same way.

“I am glad that I got to see where my parents put me, but honestly, Mom, it doesn’t seem real,” she said. “One thing that made me feel good was hearing that she climbed over that high gate to make sure I was safe. All this time, I was picturing myself on a train station platform, with lots of people just walking by, maybe not caring or even not seeing me. At least, this way, I know they wanted me to be safe and go on to a better life.”

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

Read about Juliet’s orphanage in Back to Where She Once Belonged, Part IV

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For Lisa’s story about picking up baby Juliet from China, read this post and then this one.

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…

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Reunion Between Birthmother and Child She Couldn’t Keep: A Review

by Luanne

Cover of "Reunion: A Year in Letters Betw...

Cover via Amazon

On the advice of Carrie Mulligan @CCMFeltHats, I read Reunion: A Year in Letters Between a Birthmother and the Daughter She Couldn’t Keep. I’m so glad she mentioned it because I hadn’t heard about the book before. What an experience!

In 1996, Katie Hern, a 27-year-old woman who had been adopted domestically, located her birth mother, Ellen Carlson, and initiated contact. They began their reunion through a series of letters and then emails and eventually met in person.

Because both Katie and Ellen are excellent writers, they allow readers into their lives, their personalities, and their emotions in ways that left me feeling as if I knew them both personally and had been witness to their reunion.

Although I prefer Jaye Roth’s image of a Rubik’s cube as a metaphor for adoption, this book discusses the adoption triad or triangle because of how Katie negotiates her new relationship with Ellen, while handling her position in the family she grew up with. Since I am an adoptive mom, I am the 3rd point of the triangle, and so it was really refreshing for me to read a book by the other two “points.”

Ellen is an educated woman who is thrilled to be in touch with the baby, now an adult, she gave up for adoption over a quarter of a century before. Even so, she makes missteps as she has to learn how to understand Katie’s perspective. She’s a willing student.

Katie, who has been the family peacemaker, learns how to teach Ellen to understand where Katie is “coming from.” Katie has a lot of feelings to deal with—feelings she didn’t expect to have.

As they learn how to relate to each other, they learn more and more about each other. They identify similarities and differences.

Katie admits near the beginning that a lot of literature by adoptees “pisses” her off. She doesn’t want to self-identify as a “mythic hero” or “survivor,” as Betty Jean Lifton would have her do. She thinks that the term “adoptee” sounds “like something you need a prosthesis for.”  Above all, she doesn’t want anybody to tell her how she should feel or think about being adopted.

But as the reunion goes on, Katie becomes introspective, learning more about herself, her feelings about having been adopted, and how adoption might have helped shape her personality and outlook on life. She comes to believe that she has a “fluid” identity because she was adopted.  This means that there is a lot of “shifting” involved.

As things go on there are changes, where the relationship between Katie and Ellen deepens.  Rifts occur. I’m not going to ruin the ending by telling you how the book ends regarding their relationship.

The only other thing I’ll mention is that I’m really glad they decided to put Katie’s brother Matt in their letters. I think his story, albeit through Kate’s eyes, is a good addition to the book.

I can’t wait to hear what y’all think about the book!

American Parents by Adoption: Are Your Kids American?

by Luanne

Today I read an article by Matthew Salesses, “This Is Not About #Adoption.”  As usual for Matthew, the piece is smart, long, and covers a lot of territory.  It’s also super readable.  If you care about adoptees and adoption you need to read it.

I want to bring up one section of the piece.   A section that haunts me terribly.  He writes:

At this moment in cultural time, transnational adoptees in America are being deported for petty thefts, unwitting transportation of drugs, personal possession of marijuana. Some of them are learning for the first time—as they are deported—that they are not U.S. citizens. Their adoptive parents never went through the process of naturalizing them, and suddenly they are thrown into Korea sometimes with no knowledge of the language or culture, with no one they know, as if they could just go back to a life they no longer have.

Then Salesses goes on to list some cases of particular adoptees who are awaiting deportation or who were deported.  They either knowingly or unknowingly committed a crime which made them vulnerable.

And why?  They are Americans.  Raised in America.  By Americans. Speaking American English and steeped in American culture.

All because their adoptive parents neglected or chose not to get them naturalized.

This makes me feel ill.  I can’t imagine.  The minute we were able to get our kids naturalized, we did it. At the age of three, Marc attended a naturalization ceremony in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I was asked to speak to hundreds of people (imagine me caught “in headlights”).

It was a big deal to Marc because the ceremony made it a big deal.  I had no idea how important it could be for him in a tangible sense, but I felt it was important for him as a family member.  He was being raised to be an American, so didn’t it make sense to make it official?  Of course.

I never realized how important it could be for his future.

Marisha’s naturalization was different as the laws had changed.  Hers was handled by paperwork, and we were told that the new law allowed international adoptees to be eligible to run for President of the United States (a point I have not been able to confirm in writing).   She had no ceremony and nothing to mark her legal transformation into an American citizen.  She’s grown up knowing she was American.

Reading the Salesses article, though, I wonder what it would be like if my husband and I hadn’t had the kids naturalized.  What if they just assumed they were Americans and one day learned that, oops, Mom and Dad didn’t bother to make sure they had the rights and responsibilities of citizenship?

What if they were (involuntarily) sent to Korea to live permanently and not allowed to live in the United States?  As complete-and-utter Americans, how could they cope?  Not just with living in a country to which they are expected to belong and do not.  But with the betrayal of the United States and the adoptive parents.

It’s that sense of betrayal that leaves me with a feeling of being punched in the gut.

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