Tag Archives: International Adoption

vegas family reunion

Hey folks! I’ve waited long enough to share some very exciting news. In four days, my family and I are heading to Las Vegas to meet my birth family! My sisters, my niece, and brother-n-law are coming to the U.S. In fact, they are touring Alaska even now and will then head to Vegas for a brief visit. I haven’t written about our reunion because one of my sisters has had some health challenges and wasn’t sure if she could make the trip. I have prayed for her constantly and am so happy that she is well enough to travel so far away. I think that it’s just hitting me that I’m really going to see them again in a few short days. My family and I had planned to take a trip to Taiwan this fall but will not be able to after all, to my great disappointment. However, I’m hoping to be able to go back to Taiwan sometime next year – we’ll see.

So much has happened since our reunion in Taiwan in 2012 when I met my birth family for the first time since my adoption. I can’t wait to catch up with my sisters! My Mandarin, sadly, has not improved. I do hope that one day I’ll be able to speak the language, or at least manage it somewhat. School has taken over my life. It has been a challenge and I cannot wait to graduate in 2015. I often wonder if going back to school will be worth all the trouble. I do hope so. In any case, I plan to enjoy the summer while it lasts, especially the reunion with my sisters and family in Vegas. I’ll keep you posted on our adventure.

international adoptees needed for research study

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Hello everyone! I hope that you are staying cool during these hot summer days. We have officially hit triple digit weather here in Arizona! I have written recently that I’m working on a master’s thesis. I’m currently looking for volunteers to participate in this research study.

The purpose of the study is to examine the ways in which international and transracial adoptees experience racism, prejudice, racial discrimination and/or stereotyping and to identify patterns of coping. To explore these issues, interviews with international adoptees will be conducted. Results from the study will highlight the unique experiences of internationally adopted persons and provide a deeper understanding of how adoptees cope with racial derogation and discrimination. In-person interviews with adoptees will be approximately 1.5-2 hours.

To participate in this study, individuals should:

  • Be at least 18 years of age or older
  • Be adopted from another country to the U.S. by parents of a different race/ethnicity
  • Currently reside in Metro Phoenix, Arizona

All interviews will be conducted in a location that ensures privacy and confidentiality.

By participating in this study you will be contributing to the work of understanding how international and transracial adoptees manage racism and discrimination in their lives and how these issues impact the development of adoptees’ identity. The study will help to inform social workers and other healthcare professionals what types of support services would most benefit international and transracial adoptees and their families.

If you are interested in participating or would like more information about the study, please contact me. The link below contains a formal announcement including my contact information. Please feel free to distribute the announcement to any persons you think might have an interest in participating in the study. Thank you!

This research is conducted under the direction of:

Cecilia Ayón, MSW, PhD

Associate Professor

School of Social Work

College of Public Programs

Arizona State University

Click on the link below for the announcement and my contact information:

Study_Announcement_2014

 

the photo of my birth mother

I finally framed the picture of my birth mother, which was given to me by my sisters in Taiwan. It was one of the first things they gave me at the airport once I arrived in Taipei. It’s a 5×7 black and white photo. My sisters laminated the picture to prevent any damage.

I used to think that my birth mother looked so solemn. She’s wearing a black mandarin collared jacket or shirt. Her hair is short and neat in the style of older women. Her eyes are a little downturned at the outer corners. I thought upon first seeing the picture that she appeared sad. She is not quite smiling, and I often wonder what my birth mother was thinking when the photo was taken. Oddly enough, I never asked my sisters how old she was at the time. I think that I was so overwhelmed with joy to have her picture and to see what she looked like that the thought didn’t cross my mind. My guess would be that she was somewhere in her fifties. My sisters told me that I look very much like our mother in her younger years. Unfortunately, there are no photos left of her when she was a young woman.

It’s a really odd feeling knowing that I was born to two people who I will never have an opportunity to meet. The story of why and how I was placed for adoption is a very sad one. Yet my sisters believe that my adoptive parents were angels and are very happy and thankful that I had the opportunity to be raised in a more affluent, stable environment. I understand why it happened the way it did. There are many privileges that I have received because I grew up in the U.S. in a middle class white family. My adoptive parents loved me very much, but there were many challenges, especially when I was a teenager. My parents were ill-prepared to parent an adoptee with identity issues.

I am happy that my sisters and family wanted to reunify. They have very big and generous hearts. The picture of my birth mother is now sitting in a place where I see it every morning. Framed, she appears happier, if only in my imagination, and it makes me smile.

my chinese roots

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI cannot begin to tell you how relieved I am that my second year in graduate school has just ended!  I’m now taking full advantage of some R & R. Over the summer, I plan to catch up on some reading. Before I explain more, I wanted to go back to my last post, “what’s in a name?“. I completed the paperwork to legally change my middle name to my given birth name, Hsiao-ling; however, upon filing the paperwork at the court, I was informed of a $340 fee attached to the process. I didn’t expect the fee to be so costly and will have to wait to finish this process at a later time. It’s truly disappointing.

Anyhow, I’m embarking on another small adventure. When I first learned about my true identity, I experienced many mixed emotions- shock, surprise, elation but I was also very confused. I know that my birthparents lived in Guangxi (广西), which is situated in the southern part of China. I don’t know when they moved to Taiwan, but know that I was born in Taipei in August 1966, the same month and year that China’s Communist leader, Mao Zedong, launched what became known as the Cultural Revolution. I also know that my birth father served in the military, but do not know to what capacity. I have so many questions, but the path to my past brings up very painful memories for my biological sisters. I am thankful for what my eldest sister was willing to share with me.

ghost brideI decided to take on a reading challenge and am reading books written by Chinese and Taiwanese authors, fiction and non-fiction, or books that depict Chinese culture or history over the summer. Although I was born in Taiwan, my birthparents were originally from China. I just finished reading “The Ghost Bride” by Yangsze Choo. I loved the story – it is a work of fiction with elements of fantasy, folklore, and Chinese culture that I very much enjoyed reading. I learned about some of the superstitions and beliefs in Chinese folklore, especially in regards to the “afterlife” and honoring one’s ancestors. I found it overall to be a very fun and entertaining read. Currently I’m reading “Peony in Love” by Lisa See. See is not a Chinese author, however her works often describe some period of Chinese history and culture. The story is based on actual historical events and goes back to seventeenth-century China after the Manchus seize power and the end of the Ming dynasty. I cannot imagine living under such oppressive conditions for women, who basically had no rights.

good womenI’m concurrently reading “The Good Women of China: hidden voices” by Xinran. Xinran is a Chinese journalist/writer. In the book, she captures through oral histories the voices of several Chinese women, all anynomous, who lived during decades of civil strife in a painfully restrictive society. It is an incredibly moving book. The stories shared by these women with Xinran are heartbreaking. I chose to read this book in order to understand how things may have been for my birth mother, who also suffered many hardships. She lived in China most of her life. I hope to gain a better understanding of what life may have been like for her. Perhaps her story could have been one included in Xinran’s book, but I couldn’t be sure.

The other books that I hope to read over the summer include, “Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love” also by Xinran; “When Huai Flowers Bloom: Stories of the Cultural Revolution” by Shu Jiang Lu; “A Dictionary of Maqiao” by Han Shaogong; “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress” by Dai Sijie; “Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China” by Chang Jung, and “The Third Son” by Julie Wu, a Taiwanese American author. I don’t know if I’ll get to all of them, but I’m going to try. I’m sure that there are many other Taiwanese authors whom I don’t know of but have written wonderful books. Grace Lin has written several children’s books, one of which I purchased awhile back but have not yet read, “Dumpling Days.”

My roots go back to China where my birthfamily first lived. I don’t know our complete family history, but I think that their move to Taiwan was not under favorable conditions. And I know that their lives in Taiwan were extremely difficult. By summer’s end, I hope to understand a little more about Chinese culture and indirectly about my own biological family or at least what China was like when my birthparents were in their youth. Sadly, I will not be able to travel to Taiwan this year with my own family as I’d planned to visit my sisters and extended family. There’s always 2015 – I do hope I can go back to see my family in Taiwan then. Until then, I will strive to learn more about my origins through reading and research.

at the heart of adoption

Heart_ExtraSmallI’ve been interning since August at an adoption and foster care agency that specializes in placing children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned with foster and adoptive families. It’s been interesting. I think what I’m gaining the most at this time is a broadening perspective on adoption. In the past, I’ve been primarily concerned with inter-country and transracial adoption, especially adoption from Asian countries. At the agency, I’m learning about the foster care system and families who want to either foster or adopt children under the care of child protective services (CPS), otherwise known as the foster care system. It’s a very different institution than that of international adoption in many ways. However, in other ways, it’s similar. The similarities between international adoption and the adoption of a child  through CPS are primarily that children have been traumatized and need permanency and adoptive parents need education and support.

It’s been interesting, too, at the agency to encounter different views on adoption. For instance, some have difficulty comprehending why people would adopt outside of the U.S. when there are so many children here in foster care who need loving families. I don’t share that same attitude, however, the number of children in foster care in the U.S. is tragically high. In Arizona alone, one of the highest-ranking states of children in foster care, there are approximately 15,000 children in out-of-home care. On the other hand, it was estimated in 2005 by  UNICEF that there were over 132,000,000 children identified as orphans, children who had lost one or both parents, globally (sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean). UNICEF statistics do not include abandonment or sold and/or trafficked children, and I’m sure that number has increased over the years. According to data released in 2003, an estimated 8,000,000 boys and girls worldwide lived in institutionalized care (http://www.orphanhopeintl.org/facts-statistics/). Alternately, according to the latest available figures from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), there are about 123,000 orphans in America (http://www.orphancoalition.org/new/foster-care.php). The U.S. population is around 317,023,906 (U.S. Census Bureau). Any way you shake it, the number of orphans and children in out-of-home care world-wide is staggering. It’s an enormous issue of social and political concern.

Within child welfare circles, we often hear the phraseology, “in the best interest of the child.” But what does that mean exactly? Essentially it means that the health and safety of the child physically, emotionally and psychologically come first and foremost. I say that because I think that there are misconceptions about adoption. It is a way to expand families and is an option for couples who have experienced infertility, but, more than anything else, adoption should be for the child, not the adoptive parents. In other words, the motivation for those seeking to adopt should be to care for a child who has, through no fault of his or her own, come into adoption due to the circumstances of abandonment, relinquishment or maltreatment. That is and should be at the heart of adoption.

Adoption is often an exciting endeavor for families, yet there are many risk factors to consider beforehand. Most adopted children have experienced trauma and may have difficulties with bonding and attachment and/or problems with behavior and emotions. It’s a fact. As an adoptive parent, are you prepared to handle such challenges long-term? Are you willing to go above and beyond BEFORE the adoption to educate yourself on issues of race and culture if your adopted child is of a different race and ethnicity? How will you handle rejection, bonding and attachment difficulties, caring for a child with a physical and/or psychological disability? What tools and strategies will you equip yourself with  to help your adopted child face racism and discrimination, and how will you as a family respond? What opportunities will you seek to help your adopted child stay connected to his or her birth culture, and how will you respond to your adopted child’s curiosity about his or her birth family? How will you foster open communication with your child so that he or she feels comfortable approaching you about such issues? Most adoptive parents I talk with are unprepared for the task of raising a child adopted internationally, or taken by surprise by some of the challenges they’ve experienced, and some parents I’ve spoken to who have adopted children through CPS express similar sentiments. Parenting in and of itself is obviously a difficult task, but parenting an adopted child has special challenges. Proactive is always better than reactive.

November is National Adoption Month. Adoption provides permanency, love and stability for children who have been orphaned, relinquished or abused. But, what is disturbing is the naivete surrounding adoption and the lack of substantial support for adoptive parents post-adoption, at least for those families who have adopted children internationally. I’m happy that stricter policies have been put into place for inter-country adoption to ensure ethical practices by adoption agencies. But so much more could and should be done to educate adoptive families pre-adoption and support families post-adoption. It is my hope that positive changes will continue to be made legislatively for international adoption and that adoptive parents will proactively seek education and support both pre- and post- adoption.

life books

Last month at a training I attended for foster and adoptive parents, the subject of life books was discussed. The facilitators explained that for a child being fostered, a life book provides an important connection to the child’s birth family until he or she is reunified with them. Pictures of the biological family and special events are typically included in the book. The idea is that as the child grow, the foster family continues to add things to the life book. It is a link to the child’s roots and a history of his/her past and present.

During the training, a sample life book was passed around the room. I watched as prospective adoptive and foster parents thumbed through the pages. I then began to think of the overwhelming number of internationally adopted children who may never be privy to any information regarding their biological families. No pictures of their birth parents or siblings, no physical link to their cultural roots. A hollow feeling, one that I can now identify as loss, expanded right in the middle of my chest as I was reminded that I will never have the opportunity to meet my own birth parents. Yes, it is a tremendous loss even though my adoptive parents are who I consider to be my parents. I am grateful that my biological sisters gave me pictures of our parents when I was in Taiwan. Just to have a few pictures of my birth parents is something significant and that I now have a connection with my birth family is beyond words. I am truly grateful that my adoptive mom kept my adoption contract and many other things pertaining to my adoption, although they remained hidden for many years.

Before I left for my trip to Taiwan, I started my own “life book” mainly to share with my sisters. I included my adoption contract, some of the documents I found with it, and pictures of my adoptive family, school pictures, holiday photos, and pics of my husband and daughter. I remember that first evening in Taiwan and showing my sisters the album after dinner. They saw just a small glimpse of what my life was like with my adoptive family. The years my sisters and I spent apart and the disconnect between my cultural and Western roots suddenly became so very real. How can I express the significance of finding my birth family and establishing a connection with my birth heritage? To say that it was a pivotal turning point is an understatement.

My life as an adoptee began with loss. Though I don’t spend everyday thinking about or feeling such loss, every once in awhile I allow myself to go there. It doesn’t overwhelm me or send me into a huge state of depression – most of the time. It’s more a time of self-reflection. It’s an important part of who I am, and I accept that. Yet, it’s not something that can ever be easily captured in a life book.

our screening event

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The Invisible Red Thread made me laugh, made me cry, made me more attuned to the disturbing fact that orphaned and abandoned children in this world are far too numerous. On Saturday, June 1st, we screened the film documentary at an event called Honoring One’s Cultural Roots. Twenty-two people attended, including adoptive parents and their adopted children. There were seven adoptees, three were adults.

The documentary was filmed in 2010 by directors Maureen Marovitch and Dr. Changfu Chang and follows two adopted adolescent girls from China who live on opposite sides of the planet. We accompany 15-year old Vivian, who lives with her family in Toronto, Canada, as she and her adoptive father, Hubert, travel back to China to meet Shumin. Shumin, 14 years old at the time of filming, was adopted within China by the Zhu family due to the One Child Policy. Unfortunately, Vivian’s adoptive mother was unable to travel to China with her and her father due to a sudden illness.

The film was about an hour long. I laughed when Shumin introduced Vivian to shopping outdoor market style where many interesting and live foods were being sold, including frogs, snakes, and all kinds of seafood. We watched Vivian squirm as she walked with Shumin up and down the aisles of the market holding her nose. On the flip side, Vivian took Shumin and her family to the city, which Shumin had never visited before. Shumin used a fork and ate toast and jelly for the first time. Watching Shumin’s facial expressions as Vivian showed her how a toaster worked was priceless. Vivian pondered what life would have been like for her in China had she not been adopted.

We also met Shumin’s birth parents, as well as another birth mother who was searching for the daughter she gave away in hopes that Vivian might be her daughter. This adoptive mother was obviously feeling so many emotions as the filmmakers documented her story. Vivian was not her daughter. Without fail, whenever I see the pain a birth parent feels due to the relinquishment of his/her child, I’m deeply saddened.

After the film, therapist, Stephanie Withrow, facilitated a discussion with those who were able to stay. One of the highlights of the discussion was how international adoption has evolved since it first became “popular” in the U.S. after the Korean War. One parent pointed out that because much has been learned about international/transracial adoption over the years, adoptive parents are more informed and educated about the challenges of raising an internationally and transracially adopted child. It’s possible that adoptees today may even experience fewer problems with identity and race because adoptive parents are more sensitive to these issues, facilitate an open dialogue with their adopted children, and seek opportunities to help their child develop a healthy sense of identity. I think more research is needed to demonstrate how changes in international adoption over the past few decades may affect adoptees and their families compared to previous decades. Finally, Dalena Watson prepared some information on homeland tour agencies for families interested in perhaps planning a trip one day to their adopted child’s birth country.

As a final note, I wanted to again thank all those who came out and spent the afternoon with us. It was a pleasure to meet all of you and your families. Your thoughts and comments are invaluable, and we hope to continue hosting community adoption events that you’ll be interested in attending.

honoring one’s cultural roots: the invisible red thread

TheInvisibleRedThreadSome 8,668 children were adopted into U.S. families from abroad in the 2012 fiscal year; 105 international adoptions took place right here in Arizona (U.S. Dept. of State, 2013). Although declining in number since 2004, intercountry adoption is still prevalent throughout the U.S. and is so often misconceived. One of the most complicated areas of transracial adoption is the development of identity. I read somewhere recently that identity is defined both by what one is and what one is not. Identity is affected by all members of the adoption triad. Adoptees who are born into one family, a family who will probably remain nameless to them, lose an identity then borrow one from the adopting family. Birthparents are parents and yet are not. Adoptive parents who were not parents suddenly become parents. Adoption, for some adoptees, precludes a complete or integrated sense of self. Adoptees may experience themselves as incomplete, deficient, or unfinished, or may lack feelings of well-being, integration, or solidity associated with a fully developed identity. We often lack medical, genetic, religious, and historical information and may be plagued by questions such as: Who am I? Was I merely a mistake, or an accident? Why was I relinquished? Do my birthparents ever think of me? This lack of identity may lead adoptees, particularly in adolescent years, to seek out ways to belong in more extreme ways than many of their non-adopted peers. Furthermore, adoptees may wish to search for their birthfamily or reconnect with their birth country.

To honor the cultural roots of an adoptee is a necessity. We must make every effort to help adoptees develop a strong sense of identity, to help them navigate through the process of identity development, to maintain the cultural connection to an adoptee’s birth country. This can be difficult, as we know that the tendency to assimilate to the predominant culture is strong (although having a parent of the same ethnic background or who speaks the language of the country from which the adoptee was born lessens the cultural disconnect).

In an attempt to address these needs, we are hosting an event, Honoring One’s Cultural Roots, on Saturday, June 1st. We will screen the film documentary, The Invisible Red Thread, written and directed by Maureen Marovitch of Picture This Productions in Montreal, which I’m very excited to see. Following the movie, Stephanie Withrow, M.S., LPC, will facilitate a discussion as we explore the intersection of adoption, culture and identity and what it means to honor one’s cultural roots. Stephanie and her husband have three adopted children from China. The event is for the whole family, although the film is recommended for children 10 and older. Admission is $10/person; children under 12 receive free admission. Reservations and pre-payment are also required. To make reservations, please contact Mj Nguyen at mjnguyen7@cox.net. For all the details, click on the The Invisible Red Thread- An AZ Premier link located above.

The Honoring One’s Cultural Roots event will be held at The Chandler Public Library, 22 S. Delaware Street, Chandler, AZ 85225, in the Copper Room (2nd level). Please join us for what I think will be a memorable and exciting event! I hope that many will leave feeling a greater sense of community and understanding the importance of honoring adoptees’ cultural roots. Please see the Honoring One’s Cultural Roots facebook page. Screening of The Invisible Red Thread is made possible through Picture This Productions of Montreal, QC (Canada).