Smore Stories – Daring To Journey Through Adoption..

by Marisha

Tara Bradford has initiated an exciting new series on her blog. As an adoptee and an adoptive mother, she has a wealth of experience from both perspectives which can inspire and enrich the rest of us. Follow the link below to read her description.

Thank you, Tara!

Smore Stories – Daring To Journey Through Adoption...

Tara Bradford

Tara Bradford

10 Ways You Might Be Letting Down Your Adopted Child

by Luanne

Do you have the best intentions to raise your adopted child in the best possible way you can?  If so, you’re like most of us adoptive parents.

In the case of international and transracial adoptions, the intentions can multiply, as do the mistakes made by parents.

Cheri Register, in her book Beyond Good Intentions, lists ten reasons adoptive parents who think they are being good parents often fall short.  In fact, we all fall short in some way or another.41JFR2MD2PL._SY300_

The book is organized according to these ten reasons, so I will list the chapter titles and gloss each one:

  1. Wiping Away Our Children’s Past–a child who is adopted is not a blank slate. She comes with a past, including the past before she was born.
  2. Hovering over Our “Troubled” Children–don’t pathologize your child.
  3. Holding the Lid on Sorrow and Anger–allow and encourage the expression of emotions in your home and don’t show your child that you don’t accept emotions or have to be protected from them.
  4. Parenting on the Defensive–if you’re defensive, you’re going to come off as angry at the child. You might do something dumb like tell her she ought to be grateful. See my recent grumpy post about that subject.
  5. Believing Race Doesn’t Matter–of course, race matters. We live in a race conscious world. Saying “I never see Lauren’s race” isn’t doing her any favors. She has to learn to live in the world the way it is. And her race is something to take pride in–not to ignore.
  6. Keeping Our Children Exotic–This is where sometimes people think “exotic” = cute. Your child isn’t an exotic pet.  Need I say more?
  7. Raising Our Children in Isolation–Children need to be raised in a diverse community. This is healthy for all children, no matter their race or if they are adoptees or not. But international and/or transracial adoptees, need this even more.  This is the one where my husband and I most let our kids down.
  8. Judging Our Country Superior–How does that make a child born in another country to people of another nationality feel pride and instill self-confidence?
  9. Believing Adoption Saves Souls–if you follow this logic to its conclusion you learn that God intended for your child to be torn away from her birth parents, culture, history, genetics, etc.–all to save her soul. How will that make her feel about the religion you bring her up in? Or about herself and her natural emotions?
  10. Appropriating Our Children’s Heritage–This is a big ick. If your child was born in China and you were born a white person in Philadelphia, don’t start to think you’re Chinese by adoption or by extension.  You’re not. It does your child no disservice to have you act like you think you are. It can be perceived as a colonialist attitude.

A huge thanks to blogger Menomama who directed me to this clear and well thought out book.

Can I Get a Venti Cup of Ignorance, Flavored with Assumption, Please?

by Marisha

(Originally posted August 3, 2012)

Although I said the next few posts would be about the business, I thought I would lighten it up by telling you a story that happened in L.A. my first year here.

I remember the day as if it were yesterday. I had recently embarked on this new journey to “The City of Angels” and was excited and hopeful.  I had a plan of stepping stones with which to approach the city and make a name for myself.

I was on my way to meet one of my best friends at the Grove in Hollywood. It is a famous landmark, filled with shops, restaurants, and the Farmer’s Market. They have a Starbucks in the Barnes & Noble there, so to kill time, I went to get a coffee until my friend arrived.

The interior of the Barnes & Noble lo...

The interior of the Barnes & Noble located in The Grove

(To preface, the tsunami had just struck Japan, so you can see where this story is going).

The line was long, and when it was my turn, I ordered my coffee and waited for the barista to ring me up and ask for my card. There was an awkward silence.

Out of nowhere she said, “Hey, are you okay?”

I smiled. “Yeah, of course. How are you doing?”

She acted hesitant. “Fine. I just … am so sorry.”

“Sorry? Sorry for what?”

“For your people. The disaster … it’s just awful. I’m glad you are okay and I hope your family is safe as well.”

“I’m sorry, are you talking about the tsunami?”  I couldn’t believe I was hearing this.  “That is so nice, but I’m not from Japan. I’m not even Japanese. Haha. I’m American.”

“Oh. I just assumed that you were involved.”

Bless her heart. “No, I wasn’t. My family lives in America and we are quite safe. But thank you for your concern.”

“No problem. Sorry. I don’t mean to sound racist.”

“You’re good girl. Have a great day!”

I could’ve taken offense to what she said. Maybe I should have. But I only felt that word “ignorance” again and just let it roll off. She obviously meant well, and I’m sure she felt stupid by “assuming.”

In a coincidence, the same thing happened to me in New York City when I was visiting a couple weeks later.  A man on the street bowed at me with his palms together and sent his condolences for the tragedy.

People are so funny. But when will racial assumptions be erased from American society? I don’t have an accent. I don’t dress out of the ordinary. To me, I am just like them. American.

My guess is that it will never be that easy. I wish her the best, though, and the best for the tsunami victims. But for me, I am Korean-American adopted, and I am proud to be an American citizen. 🙂

Was She Suggesting I Monitor Friendships by Race?

by Lisa DeNike Ercolano

This happened 13 years ago, but I still think about it, because I believe it says something about how white Americans, myself included, tend to think about race.

Juliet was a kindergartener at what some of my friends laughingly called a “hippie dippie” school, where all the female teachers wore long, flowing skirts and Birkenstock sandals, all the toys were wooden, and the children concocted fresh vegetable soup and whole wheat rolls — from scratch –for their mid-morning snacks.

One noontime, I stepped into the classroom, smiling at the usual rough-and- tumble of more than a dozen four-and-five year olds scrambling to get their sweaters and coats on for pickup time, when the teacher, Ms. X, asked if she could please speak with me for a moment.

I figured she was going to tap me to volunteer at a booth at the annual winter festival, so I smiled and said “Sure.” We stepped outside the door (Juliet, coat already neatly zipped, was happily occupied dressing a doll in the “housekeeping corner) and the teacher got right to business. And that business had nothing to do with selling handmade toys at the winter fair.

“I am concerned about something I have seen going on with Juliet in this classroom during free play,” she said.

“Oh, goodness, what’s going on?” I asked. “Is Juliet not doing a good job sharing with her classmates?”

“It’s not that,” she said. “It’s who she is playing with: Bella and Liliana. I see those three little black heads bent together over toys all the time!”

Like Juliet, Bella and Liliana were born in China and were adopted by Caucasian families in the United States. Like my daughter, they were – and still are, of course – Asian.  In fact, the three girls were the only Asian children in a class.

I felt my temper flare, as if I were a match and had just been dragged along a strip of flint.

“Um, Ms. X, do you also happen to notice when three little blonde or brunette heads are bent together over toys?” I asked, biting my tongue so I wouldn’t say something I might later regret. “You’re saying that you noticed the girls because all three of them are Asian: you mentioned their ‘black heads.” So I am wondering: when you see Paul and Susan and Cory (three white kids) playing together, do you take their parents aside to talk to them about it?”

Ms. X blushed furiously, and took a step back from me. Clearly, I sounded more vehement than I thought I had.

“Are you calling me a racist?” she said.

“I’m not calling you anything,” I replied. “I am just pointing out that you notice when kids of color play together, and apparently not when white kids do. Maybe you should think about that.”

I went back into the classroom, grabbed Juliet’s hand, and walked away. The teacher and I never discussed it again.

To be fair, I don’t think Ms. X was a hateful person who was consciously prejudiced against my daughter or other kids or people of color.  To my knowledge, she was a very good teacher to all the children in her charge and treated them all warmly.

But what I now think of as the “Three Little Black Heads” incident remains in my mind as a clear example of how white people (including myself, sometimes) perceive race. The teacher didn’t think there was anything noteworthy about six white kids playing together in a corner, but when three Asian kids did the same, she noticed it. Why do you think that is?

She’s Not from Namibia. She’s from Texas!

[Helen Meyer is a professor at the University of Cincinnati in the very unartistic area of science education. Kayla Richardson is a senior dance major who spent much of her childhood performing in musical theatre in Cincinnati. Along with Brian, they became a family in April 1992, exactly one month after Kayla was born in Fort Worth, TX. From 1995-97, they lived in Namibia in Southern Africa, where Brian and Helen learned something about living as a minority.]


Helen:  Kayla and I decided to share thoughts through questions and answers. It’s not that we don’t talk about adoption or have our private thoughts and ideas, it’s almost that we have too many to know where to start, so some straightforward questions and answers seemed the way to begin.
TOPICS:

THE PROCESS
KAYLA’S ARRIVAL
PUBLIC RESPONSE
CHOOSING KAYLA

 

THE PROCESS

Kayla:  What was the process you went through to adopt me?

Helen: Adopting you was a strange process filled with technical paperwork, meetings with a social worker, background checks, and emotion. The agency we chose to work with did both domestic and international adoptions. We knew the domestic adoptions with this agency were all African-American children or “hard to place” children. When people adopt they get more choice about the family composition than getting pregnant. We specified that we wanted a girl, less than one year of age.  Yes, we would take twins; yes, we would take a child with some minor physical disabilities; no, we would not be able to take a child with major physical disabilities.

The next stage was the home study. This included interviews with a social worker, written responses to several questions which Dad and I had to answer, and recommendations from friends about us individually and as a couple. Once we completed all these, we were approved to be foster parents, which is the first step to adopting.

After all this, which we had found stressful and emotional, we were told the wait for a healthy baby girl was 6 to 12 months. So Dad and I settled back to enjoy the coming Wisconsin spring. Three weeks later we got a call about you. We were so not prepared. Then there was also a whole new round of paperwork. The first set of paperwork, before we were approved to be foster parents, I would best describe as being there to protect you. This new set of paperwork was to protect us, sort of. These were a lot of official foster care papers, legal guardianship papers, and what I thought the weirdest, was the inter-state commerce form. Since you were born in Texas and moving to Wisconsin we had to complete a commerce form. My understanding was this paper work was because while you were in foster care you were legally a ward of the State of Wisconsin and if we decided we didn’t want to keep you the State was legally bound to care for you. But, of course, who wouldn’t want YOU!

The final steps were when you were with us. Legally, you were in foster care for the first year and we had visits from the social worker, who was wonderful. Then exactly one year after you flew into Madison and one year and one month after you were born we met with the Judge to finalize your adoption.

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KAYLA’S ARRIVAL

Kayla:  What do you remember about the day you got me?

 Helen: That’s a good question–as you know my memory is pretty fuzzy these days. Dad and I were really nervous. We were nervous about meeting you and how your flight had gone. We were nervous that we wouldn’t know how to be parents and probably a million other things. Your flight arrived at the Madison airport at lunch time. Those were the days when people could still go to the gate to meet people getting off the flight. The plane you flew in on was one of the little ones, so Cricket, the woman from the Texas adoption agency who brought you, walked down the steps and across the tarmac. I remember you were so little we couldn’t see you because you fit on her forearm.

The other thing I remember really clearly was driving with you the first time and for weeks after. I drove so carefully because now we had to take care of you while driving. You were so tiny in the car seat and so vulnerable.  I worried all the time.

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PUBLIC RESPONSE

Kayla: Did the looks you got when you went out in public with me bother you at all?

 Helen: I know there were looks, but I just can’t recall how they made me feel. But there were several comments people would make that drove me nuts. One of them you know, so I will start with that one. This was when you were older, after we moved back from Namibia. If we mentioned that we moved to Namibia when you were three or say specifically that  we took you to Namibia with us when we went, or even that you were born in Texas–something that would clearly suggest you were born in the States– people would say, “oh, so did you adopted her in/from Namibia?” It was like they heard the word Namibia, saw black child, thought Africa and immediately every brain cell shut down. Or they would click into some celebrity thing about going to Africa to save the poor African children. You probably don’t remember, but adoption in Namibia was very rare because the family structure was different and having kids out of marriage was accepted as just part of life. Extended family members took care of the children of family members for lots of reasons so almost no child was without a family. Families in Namibia actually found the whole idea of adoption a strange western thing.

Another comment that we got regularly, even from some family members, was the “oh, it is so wonderful of you to save this poor child.” The comment tended to come with religious implications or sometimes not implications but stated comments such as what a good Christian act, or doing God’s work.  You know how well comments like that sit with me. The other thing that bothered me about these comments is the people making them were never really interested in listening to why we chose to adopt, they just wanted to go on with their own delusions of our family’s motivations.

The other comment you and I got frequently, which sometimes bothered me and sometimes I appreciated, came from African-American women and it was about HAIR. This seemed to happen most frequently at the grocery store. A woman would come up and tell me what I needed to do with your hair, or what to avoid, or if I was looking at hair products how to pick the right kind. When women would talk with me about hair, I realized I had a lot to learn and over time I have come to understand that for African-American (and Namibian) women, hair is a complicated issue. Now I better understand why they felt it was important to give me advice, but when you were little not so much. Discussions about hair also seemed to be a way to open conversation across race that did not happen if you were not with me.

African-Americans tended to be more open to asking direct questions about our family and engaging in a real conversation about why we adopted you or how or what we were doing to help you understand African-American culture. Also, they never asked if my husband was black, which I did get from a few white women. I rarely felt like they were judging, just interested in a way that almost no whites other than close friends ever seemed to be.

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Kayla the Fashionista

CHOOSING KAYLA

Kayla: What made you want to adopt and what made you choose me?

 Helen: Why adopt at all?  This is a three-part answer. I never was into the idea of being pregnant and giving birth. I don’t know if it was because I tended to reduce it all to sets of biological functions or if I have some weird deep-seated and unresolved issues, but I never had the biological-clock-ticking-away issue. As you know, I have some pretty strong beliefs about evolution, gene pools, and over-population. I didn’t feel the need to pass on my genes; in fact, between Dad and I there are some mental health issues in our gene pools that are probably best not passed down. I don’t know, I think I am just weird that way. Obviously Dad and I talked about adopting a lot versus having our own kids, but in the end Dad couldn’t have kids so it all fell into place.

Why adopt you? When you adopt you actually do get a lot of choices, unlike if you get pregnant. Dad would say he wanted a baby whose eyes sparkled, and yours did. But that wasn’t the decider since we only saw a picture of you after we had made our final decision. So your sparkly eyes were just a bonus! I think the clincher was we were sent your hospital records. You were in the hospital for five days after you were born, while paperwork was being sorted out. In the nurses’ records, they made the cutest comments about you. The nurses would talk about how you loved the swing and you would respond to them when they went to feed you and pick you up, how cute and alert and interactive you were.  Grandma said the nurses probably loved having a healthy baby since most babies in the hospital are there because they are very ill. In the same packet there was the picture of your foot prints; they were so tiny. Dad saw them and started to cry; he knew immediately you were the one. You have a great foot print!

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A Blessing in Disguise

by Juliet

At first, it was just a twinge or two, so I ignored it. As a dancer, I was used to pain, from blistered toes to cramped muscles. But after 15 performances of The Nutcracker in December left me limping towards the wings of the stage after each dance act, and as I continued to feel random bursts of sharp pain and stinging even when I wasn’t moving, I knew then these “twinges” needed to be seriously looked at by doctors.  One exam and two MRIs later, I got the bad news: both my shins were dotted with stress fractures that would take months to heal. I was supposed to spend much of the summer at the American Dance Festival at Duke University in North Carolina, but the doctor said it would take months for me to heal. It was clear I wouldn’t be able to go.

So what now? I couldn’t just sit around all summer moping, though I wanted to at first, believe me!  I knew that, as a dancer, it was extremely important to keep moving. That’s why, since middle school, I have spent every summer at dance intensives. I’ve never had what you might think of as a “normal” summer camp experience, where I would ride in a canoe, swim in a lake and sing around a campfire. So when I got the bad news, my mom jumped at the opportunity to expose me to a real American kid camp experience. But I didn’t like the sound of any of them, until a friend told her about Holt International Adoptee Camps. The idea intrigued me.

At Holt, kids who joined their mostly white families from other countries such as China, Korea and Russia (like me: I was born in China) come together for a week in the summer to share their experiences and just have fun in a country setting.  I asked my mom to look into it and we found out that I was too old to be an actual camper, so I would have to be a Counselor- In-Training (CIT).  Mom made the point that it would be a good experience because I was considering majoring in psychology in college with the idea of someday becoming a therapist or counselor, so working as a CIT would be a good start to see if that was the right direction for me.

All I can say is, thank goodness I listened to my mom; they say that “mothers know best!” and I sometimes don’t like to admit it, but my mom usually ends up being right. (Don’t tell her I admitted that!) So I signed up.

So the big day came. My family and I drove up a bumpy road in Pennsylvania and were greeted by enthusiastic group of counselors jumping up and down and welcoming each car that drove by.  The first thing that struck me is that everyone was Asian! It was overwhelming at first, because I have never before been surrounded by so many people at once who looked like me. I have always been one of a handful of Asian kids at any school I have gone to. But the shock soon wore off , and I began meeting everyone. One of the most amazing things about this camp is it is actually easier to make friends because we can relate to each other on a deeper level because we have shared many of the same experiences. We talk about being adopted into a family that is a different race from us, for sure, but we talk about regular stuff, too!

Though a typical day consists of tons of regular camp-type activities (the kind I missed all those summers in the dance studio!), we also had sessions where we talked about issues that are special to people like us. I loved the time I got to spend with “my” kids, listening to stories about their lives, expanding on their own adoption stories, sympathizing with them about the hurtful things people can say (whether they mean to or not) and just being there to provide support. It quickly feels like you are one big family.

Hopefully I have helped kids with their problems by not only sharing my story, but also being able to relate to them and offering new ways I’ve dealt with people when they ask certain questions. I have learned so much from the kids, too.

Even though the adoption sessions were aimed towards the campers, I benefited from them as well.  Since a very young age, I have always struggled with trusting people, but since I started coming to Holt, that’s eased up somewhat. I think that is because Holt gave me a place where people truly understood, at a very deep level, my personal story. I noticed that even my friendships with non-adopted people have gotten stronger since I have been going to Holt.

Holt changed my life – and me — forever. I have attended for the last two years, and I feel like a little kid waiting for Christmas as I wait for August to get here!

So even though injuries are bad news for us dancers, this one did me a real favor, because they landed me at Holt. At camp, I not only discovered people I can truly connect with, but also how much I love working with people. I am now seriously considering majoring in clinical psychology in college. Those fractured shins were a blessing in disguise.

Juliet and newfound friend Grace at Holt Camp

Guest blogger Juliet Meiying Ercolano was born in The People’s Republic of China and joined her “forever family” in the United States when she was six months old.  She is now a high school senior and getting excited to begin a new phase of her life next year at college.  This is her second piece for Don’t We Look Alike?; her first piece, “Why I Forgive,” can be found here.

Teen Adoptees are “Somewhere Between”

by Marisha

 

INTRODUCTION TO “SOMEWHERE BETWEEN”

SUMMARY: THE GIRLS’ STORIES

SPECIAL AND DIFFICULT MOMENTS

FILM TRAILER

INTRODUCTION TO “SOMEWHERE BETWEEN”

What an experience I had seeing the award-winning documentary Somewhere Between, about the lives of four American teen adoptees who were born in China!  Although I was adopted as a baby from Korea, nothing I’ve seen or heard about adoption has ever opened me up in such a vulnerable way.  I can’t put myself at a distance and be as objective about the film as I would like; however, this review is my best attempt to do so.

I saw the film, which was directed by Linda Goldstein Knowlton, at the Nuart Theatre in West LA last week.  It has moved on to San Francisco and will air in theatres across the country.

The dictionary defines the word “adopt” as “taking into one’s family through legal means and raising as one’s own child.” In the wrong mindset, adoption can seem negative, foreign, not appealing. To raise a child not of one’s own blood. To invite a mysterious, difficult journey, that is both emotionally and physically grueling. But for others, adoption is nothing short of beautiful. A palette of amazing unknowns, the trust in destiny that brings a child in need to a family who can provide. Hearts ever loving, ever forgiving, willing to love a child and disregard all other standards of what makes a family. To understand what goes through the minds of (some) adoptees is like a Rubik’s Cube. The answers are hard to find, but it is possible to gain knowledge and solve the puzzle. This film showed just that and more.

I didn’t know what to expect of the film. To be quite honest, I felt it would only scratch the surface of adoption and focus on the glitz and glamour of the emotional roller coasters. Instead, what I found was a very emotional story–and very deep raw discoveries, not only for the girls, but for myself .

The film followed the lives of four girls who were all adopted from different provinces of China. They all shared different stories, different family lives. They had different interests, different religious backgrounds. But they did share one commonality– their adoption.

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SUMMARY: THE GIRLS’ STORIES

Screening Map

In case you live too far from screening cities, these are the stories of the girls.

We first see Fang Lee, a fifteen year old girl with a maturity beyond her years. She lives in Berkeley CA with her sister, who is also adopted, and two very loving parents, Hanni and Alan. Fang was adopted as a toddler  and spoke fluent Chinese by the time she was adopted in 1998. Her parents embraced that skill and kept the Chinese language alive during her childhood.  She speaks both Chinese and English equally, although her father doesn’t speak any Chinese. Fang travels with her family once a year to China, to keep the memory of her birth city alive.

She speaks of her memories of her birth parents. Her birth dad chopped firewood and her birth mother grew vegetables.  They lived in a shack with only one bed. She remembers her birth mother pierced her ears. Then she tells the heartbreaking story of how she was abandoned. Her mother told her she was going to visit her grandparents and that her stepbrother would take care of her until she returned. Her stepbrother took her into the village and brought her to a little stoop. He sat her down and told her he was going to get some stuff and to not move until he came back for her. She watched him walk away–and he never came back.

Fang is asked if she is mad at her birth parents. She strongly responds no because she believes in fate, in destiny. That the decisions of her birth parents only brought her one step closer to the life she was given. And that the decisions of her adopted parents gave her the life she now has. This is how I feel about my own life.

Next we travel to Newport, Massachusetts, and meet Jenna Cook, also fifteen, who was adopted from China in 1992. She has a sister, Sara, also adopted, with their two moms Peggy and Carol. Jenna was the most artistic of the four girls, something I have in common with her.  She has 11 years of figure skating under her belt, as well as two national competitions. She plays guitar and at one point in the film sings the song “Country Roads” acoustically. She is in crew at school at the Phillips Exeter Academy and holds the leadership position of coxswain. Jenna is a leader, pushing the envelope.  She stays enthusiastic and yet calm. Holding that position has taught her strength and power and the importance of unity and teamwork. She talks a lot about being aware that she is living in a white world and refers herself as a “banana,” meaning “white on the inside, yellow on the outside.” I loved this, because I too make that same joke with “Twinkie” haha.

Her boyfriend is from South Korea.  She says something which struck a chord in me about the comfort she has with her boyfriend’s mother. She feels that being around someone with the same “Asian” exterior is a similarity which makes her feel as if she belongs.  It creates a sense of familiarity.

The third girl, Ann Boccuti, fourteen, lives in Pennsylvania and  is a member of color guard and plays the piano. Cathy and Bob are her parents, and she has an older brother who is biologically related to her parents.  Her issues of being adopted have become more apparent as she gets older.  She says that although her hobbies are known as “reject” hobbies, she doesn’t care. Ann was adopted from an orphanage in China and talks about how her adopted parents thought that she was going to be a “special needs” child because she had cross-shaped legs and crossed eyes. But her father had faith and she grew up fine. She expresses disinterest in finding her birth parents, but wants to visit the Chinese orphanage that she was adopted from one day.

Her story intersects with her friend Haley Butler, thirteen, who lives in Nashville, Tennessee. She was adopted at six months old on February 22, 1995, from China. She has a younger sister who is also adopted and an older sister, Heidi, who is Caucasian and was crowned Miss Tennessee. Haley loves pageants and followed her sister’s footsteps into the pageant world. Religion is a huge part of the Butler family and Haley claims that even if she lived in China, she would find her way to Christianity.

Her mother Jeannie helps kids with the Annabelle’s Wish Orphanage and makes it her goal to help as many orphaned kids as she can. The family has been to China 22 times and has helped over 2000 children. It was quite amazing to watch.

Haley’s story was the most incredible to watch. She had this deep dream to find her birth parents and decided to take action. So she creates a poster with all the information she has on her adoption and birth parents and goes to China to the province she was from, where she posts the poster in the village. Miraculously, a man comes forward claiming to be her birth father and hours later she meets him and two of her three birth siblings. This part of the film was particularly emotional. They proceed to do a DNA test and three months later they discover that he is her birth father. So Haley and her family plan a trip to China to meet her birth mother, her other brother, and to find the answers to what led her to the adoption.

She is really nervous/excited to meet her birth mom because her birth mom chose not to come to the first meeting. This meeting is set up in a hotel room in China with lots of picture books depicting Haley’s American upbringing. The whole family meets and Jane, the translator, helps the two families converse. Haley’s birth mother is emotional and won’t let go of her when she first meets Haley. The family learns that Haley’s birth dad did not want to give Haley up, but her mother could not provide for all four of her children. When he went to work one day, she wrapped Haley in a basket and gave her to a family friend without her birth dad knowing. The parents had thought the family friends were going to raise her, but instead they had taken Haley to an orphanage instead. (The Chinese culture values boys over girls.  The One Child Policy has had a tremendous effect on availability of girls for adoption).

The two families then venture to Haley’s birth hometown, where they have a beautiful traditional Chinese feast. Haley’s family promises to visit every year.

I was mesmerized by this story, especially how she finds her birth parents so quickly in such a big country. It is such an overwhelming situation, and I was so proud of Haley for how she handled it. Maybe it helps that she is still so young. Or maybe she doesn’t understand yet the magnitude of what has occurred?  Her story brought me to tears, because I too hope that when I start searching in Korea, it will come that easily.  However, the odds are against that for most of us international adoptees.  My only reservation about the film is that some teens might watch this movie and get unrealistic expectations about finding their birth parents.

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SOME SPECIAL AND DIFFICULT MOMENTS

These four girls are extraordinary, and their stories plucked a lot of emotional strings in my own life. Three of the girls are now college students and Haley must be close to eighteen.  I wish them all well on this new phase of their lives.

There were many special and some very difficult moments in this film.  The biggest moment was when Jenna goes to Spain to speak at a convention for the parents of adoptees. The word “abandon” is brought up.  They want Jenna to elaborate on her feelings toward the word. She is brought to tears, saying the word is “negative” and that she was placed into a better life because of it.

I really connected with her when she spoke of how adoption has negatively affected her. She speaks of “perfectionist tendencies, fear of failure, and having to compensate for not feeling good enough.” She is happy about her better life, but can’t help those moments and small thoughts of abandonment. It struck me so hard because I, too, have felt all those feelings throughout my life. The “A Word” has always been an emotional one for me, and I am so glad this film touched on it. It is important for people to know.  The discussion of issues in “Somewhere Between” can even help the non-adoptee understand the adoptee in his or her life.

Funny moments throughout the film were the reactions they got from strangers and friends about their adoptions. One of my favorites was when Haley and her little sister and mom were at a salon. A lady next to them said to her sister, “Congratulations on coming to America. Aren’t you so lucky you were able to come here?” My first reaction was wanting to punch the woman, but that of course is the ignorance we have talked about previously on this blog. The girls were asked: “Aren’t you good at math? Do you speak English? Where is your real family?” I thought the girls handled these questions the way I would–with comedy and poise. They understand that they have nothing to apologize for and their maturity and understanding shows by taking these comments with a grain of salt.

Fang inspired me with a story of one trip to a Chinese orphanage where she saw this little girl with cerebral palsy wearing a pink dress. She describes her as ‘looking like a statue but had life in her eyes.” When she returned to the United States, she raised $5000 for her which paid for intensive physical therapy. Fang visited her every year and eventually found her a home with a wonderful family in America who had another adoptee with cerebral palsy. It was an emotional adoption and showed the true beauty of how amazing an adoption is and how incredible Fang is for helping this beautiful little girl in need find a home. She has truly inspired me to want to go back to Korea myself one day and help other children.

The last story I want to share disturbed me so much that it will stay with me forever. Haley travels to Amsterdam, Holland, and meets with an older South Korean adoptee named Hilbrand Westra.  He is one of the people trying to get the rights for adoptees to be able to retrieve their adoption and birth files. Haley asks why this hasn’t been able to happen yet, and he gives a very chilling response. He explains that in Korea, especially, the files for the adoptees were a lot of times falsified, fraudulent, and hidden because a lot of children were not, in fact, orphans. They were children with able families who wrote up fake documents to make agencies believe that they were “orphans.” I can’t tell you how emotional I got in the theatre. I never believed I was an orphan because my paperwork shows that my birth mother was unmarried and unable to raise me, but the idea that the story I have been told may be false, makes me believe that my hopes of finding my birth family is farther and farther from being possible.

All in all, this was an INCREDIBLE movie to see. It really delved into the tough questions and was raw and real. Adoptees share a commonality, a similar journey from a murky past to a different future. We all share self-doubt towards our adoption and the word “abandon” hits an emotional chord for all of us. Adoptees know their stories are unique and that there is no “normal” for them. But most of us  embrace that and understand that adoption has led us to a beautiful life with beautiful families. The film talks about destiny, and that is really what it is. Proof that God did not overlook us, but took the time to give our lives meaning. We feel special, blessed. I think our identities will always be questioned at certain times, and we will feel stuck between the known and the unknown. But through that comes great strength. I leave you with this quote from Fang’s art teacher: “The past reflects from the present, but the present takes us from the past.” Thank you for reading and please see the film if you get the chance! x

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Normalcy: A Play about A White Couple Adopting an African American Child

The Play Cast Creative Media Reviews Tickets Blog

A steady stream of national and local disasters. So steady we’ve grown inured to them. And with each comes the inevitable chorus of “Things must change. We must change. We need to do better. We need to be better.” And that lasts a while, right up until the subsequent and equally inevitable call for “a return to normalcy”.

When confronted with the option of making hard choices that may benefit society, or returning to the personal comfort of what we know, what is the right thing to do?

Bennett Windheim’s play, Normalcy – which begins previews Labor Day weekend at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater on 42nd Street  – tackles themes of identity, race, terrorism, nationalism, manifest destiny, marriage and the media, all through the lens of one affluent white couple’s attempt to make the hard choice – adopting a black child or, as one character says, “saving one life from falling through the cracks” – and the unexpected and unintended consequences that it has on their happy and complacent lives.

via The Play.

Aren’t You Asians All Good at Math?

by Nina Schidlovsky

I looked at the piece of paper in my hand and my heart lurched. A big fat D+ laughed at me in red marker. If I turned the page to the side it looked like the Cheshire cat grinning with a little bow tie—mocking me and tormenting me to no end.

My classmate behind me scooted forward and loomed over my shoulder. “Aren’t you Asians all good at math?” He snorted.

“I’m not that kind of Asian.” I retorted—trying to keep the tears from welling up. “I’m the fun kind—the singing, dancing, laughing, beauty pageant kind.”

“Whatever,” he said. “I still think it’s weird you suck at math. You know? Since you’re Asian and all?” With that, he gathered his notebook, battered textbook, TI-83 and plodded out of the room.

Asian and all? What was that supposed to mean?

Math was never my strong subject. It had even been a struggle since elementary school. One of my teachers would draw an ice cream cone on our quizzes and reward us with ice cream if we did well. I never saw an ice cream cone. All I saw was sad face after sad face after sad face.

People don’t always fit into the mold we want them to. I think it scares people when they can’t place individuals into groups that they are associated with. Jamaicans smoke weed. Southern girls are white trash. Asians are good at math.

So just the for the record: even though I am Asian, I suck at math. I’m terrible at chess. And I never wanted to be a concert violinist. Oh, and I am an excellent driver who uses her turn signal.

***

Nina Schidlovsky grew up in Bei Jing, Hong Kong, Hawaii, and Maryland. She now teaches martial arts and is working on her first children’s book which her aunt is illustrating. She lives in Maryland and is the proud owner of her lizard, Toothless, and her sugar glider named Archer.

Nina’s last piece, “Taxi Driver,” can be found here.

My Social Experiment

by Marisha

We all have insecurities. My own have weighed heavily on me in the areas of race, body type, looks, talent, the whole package.  The biggest question has been “am I good enough?”  Even the most confident, the most outwardly outgoing people fall subject to this kind of poison. It runs through our veins without warning and the simplest trigger can turn our minds to self-destruction.

As I have grown older, I have learned how to deal with and respond to the insecurity poison that I have been so addicted to. I’ve transformed my old response into a healthy perception of myself, and this has affected how I deal with my personal and interpersonal relationships. It hasn’t been easy, a statement which anyone who has gone through this transformation can agree with.

My first big insecurity was wondering if guys would be attracted to me. I hadn’t seen many interracial relationships at my school, and the town I grew up in was very conservative. I have always been attracted to personality, so ethnicity never seemed to hold much weight for me. I suppose it was because of my upbringing and growing up in an interracial family.

I remember having a lot of guy friends who were said to have “crushes” on me, but I never felt like they were attracted to me. I believed I had a personality that they liked and that that was my money shot. I guess I took pride in it. Actually I STILL have pride in it. Most of my relationships or flings with guys have stemmed from friendship, which I appreciate, but I never had the guts to start things off with a guy romantically.

That said, I unconsciously started a social experiment that lasted for years. Every non-Asian guy (and let’s face it, I haven’t grown up around very many Asian guys) I encountered, friend or more, at some point always said the same thing to me. It was either:

1) Asian girls are either really hott or really not. There’s no in between with you guys.

Or

2) You know, Marisha, you are the first Asian girl I have been attracted to. I don’t know why.

Now, they seem like silly statements, but when you have heard them your whole life you wonder if they are compliments or something twisted.

The social experiment progressed when I started asking almost every guy I encountered the first question about no in-betweeners in the looks department. And like clockwork, their answers were the same. Funny because they thought that Caucasian girls could fall in the middle category. But why not Asian girls???

As far as the second comment, I have always been somewhat flattered because my money shot (personality) probably led to that attraction in the first place. Knowing that has given me the confidence to always be myself as it seems to show that, for most people, it’s not really about race. That it’s about your energy and the inner beauty. But, then, why mention race? Can’t you just be attracted to me, race aside?

This post might seem random, but I wrote it to see what you guys think. Do you think their comments are ignorant? Unknowingly racist? Or do you think they are compliments?

More to come . . . .

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