Tag Archives: International Adoption

adoption initiative conference

I recently attended the 9th Biennial Adoption Initiative Conference in New Jersey at Montclair State University. I had the opportunity to present my master’s thesis on international and transracial adoptees and how adoptees manage racism/racial discrimination . The presentation was based upon a qualitative study I conducted while completing my master’s degree at ASU. The whole conference was one of those experiences that left me with plenty to think about and process. It was almost overwhelming, as there were many sessions on evocative topics. I wanted to attend them all, but only one selection could be made out of several per the conference schedule. It’s encouraging to see how many bright researchers there are conducting research related to international/transracial adoption, many of the researchers adoptees themselves. I regret that I did not meet and connect with more people, as I was not feeling very well during the 3-day conference and was not my usual self. Nevertheless, I had the pleasure of meeting some attendees who made my experience at the conference that much more meaningful.

NYC

NYC after conference. Patrick (L) is founder of The Brazilian Baby Affair in Zurich, Switzerland  & adoptee. Michele (R) is an adoption attorney in LA.

The week following the conference, my husband and I traveled to California to begin house hunting. We will be moving to California in the coming months predicated upon the sale of our current home in Arizona. Oh the joys of moving – we’ve moved so many times over the years that I’ve lost count. Friends in California are excited about our move back; however, I feel that the task is largely clouded by my own lack of energy and motivation, not to mention the stress of organizing such a move. We will obviously downsize, but have to find a home that will accommodate my baby grand piano. I’ve reluctantly entertained the thought of selling it, but I’ve had the piano since I was 8-years old and for sentimental reasons, don’t want to part ways. The piano was given to me by my adoptive parents, and I grew up practicing on those ivory keys for many an hour. It’s really not important to anyone else but me, but important enough to hang on to. We will travel to California again next week to continue our ventures in house hunting.

Since arriving back home from the conference, I’ve thought a lot again about legally changing my name – my middle name that is. My adoptive parents gave me the middle name “Chaling.” There is no such name in Chinese. My birth name is Hsiao-ling Huang. I don’t know why my parents changed my middle name the way that they did – perhaps to Westernize my birth name, yet keep some token of my birth country? In any case, there is an exorbitant fee attached to a legal name change even in the state of California. If I could change my first name back to Hsiao-ling, I certainly would, but at this point in my life, it seems a little late. Names are important. I never thought so until I realized the significance of being renamed by my adoptive parents. Many adoptees’ names are changed by their adoptive parents, or adoptees are given a generic name by orphanage staff because there is insufficient information regarding the birthfamily. It only makes identity that much more convoluted by all of the unknowns.

At this juncture, there are many big things going on at once. It feels unsettling, like a storm is brewing. We’re moving. I have to find a new job. I don’t know where that will be or what even interests me at this point. Our daughter is going to college in the fall. I guess a name change would go right along with all of the other changes that are taking place. The next time I see you, perhaps I’ll ask you to call me Hsiao-ling instead of Marijane…

 

artistic gene

Monkey FamilyWhen I reunited with my sisters and family in Taiwan, I was so curious about our family history, about what led up to my adoption, and of course, about my country of origin. I had so many questions about our parents and family, but I wanted to be sensitive to my sisters and not press them to reveal things unless they wanted to. It was such a joyous event just to be with them and to meet my extended biological family, to share a sisterly connection despite a language and cultural barrier. I continue to learn about my cultural heritage, although sadly, there isn’t much Chinese or Taiwanese culture in Arizona.

Pic 2I often wondered prior to reuniting with my birthfamily if we shared any similar characteristics, physical features, but also areas of interest or special talents. I grew up playing the piano and studied piano performance in undergrad. I love classical music, learning, academia, drawing, writing, singing, drama/theatre – really, anything related to the arts. I learned from my sisters that our mother also enjoyed classical music and had a love of learning. When I was a young girl, I drew a lot and kept a sketchbook. Who knows whatever happened to that sketchbook – it probably ended up in the trash at some point. In any case, I posted some of my artwork on Facebook recently, and my oldest sister messaged me saying that she also loved to draw. She sent me several recent drawings and gave me permission to share some of them here. I’m so impressed with her artwork, but even more, that we share a common interest and passion. One of my favorites is a drawing my sister made of three little monkeys – of course, my sisters and I! 2016 is the Year of the Monkey, the ninth of the 12 animals in the recurring 12-year Chinese zodiac cycle, so the drawing is especially meaningful. My sister also told me that our brother is very artistic and a gifted photographer. Our father was a skillful calligrapher. So, I’m inclined to say that art is in our genes.

I’m so happy that social media allows me to stay connected to my family in Taiwan in a way that would have been impossible years ago. I hope to travel to Taiwan again in the near future. I had hoped to return years ago, but things seem to come up that prevent me from traveling back. It’s been 4 years since our reunification.

Pic 1

I’ve posted some of my eldest sister’s drawings here, as well as one of my own. I wish that I had more time to improve my drawing skills. It seems that at this stage in my life, I’m getting further and further away from the things I most enjoy artistically. Sad, but true. I’d like to find meaningful work that allows me to use my artistic talents to a greater capacity, as well as my experiences as an internationally adopted person. I haven’t quite found my niche yet, but there is always hope.

another new year

geetanjal-khanna-88899Hello 2016! I say this every new year, but really, where did the time go? Now that Christmas 2015 has come and gone, I’m a little sad that I was so caught up in my busy life, primarily the new job, that I didn’t take enough time to relax and enjoy the holiday season. Everything seemed like a chore. Wow, that’s pathetic. Family and friends are too precious. I’m trying to accept that work is work. I continually strive to better myself professionally and am constantly looking for learning opportunities to do so. It’s both a virtue and a vice, but perhaps more so a vice. I miss having the time to indulge my creative self…blogging, improvising, coffee with a friend, movies, the symphony. You know, a slower mental pace and flexibility of life and schedule. I guess in many ways, though, I kind of asked for it by going back to school and beginning a new career in a profession where the burnout rate is high.

What are you hoping for in 2016? Personally, 2016 promises to be a year of big changes. My niece in Taiwan is soon to be married! How I would love to be there to see my family. In 2012, I reunited with my birthfamily in Taipei and have wanted to go back each year since. One day, I will return, maybe even in 2016.

Our daughter will be going to college in the Fall. She’s been accepted into 4 different universities, so we’re ecstatic that she has options. We’ll hear from 2 other colleges in the spring. I have moments of grief knowing she’ll be gone soon. She’s our only child. Tears are sure to be shed. Life is certainly going to be different when she’s in college. I have mixed feelings about how much less time I have with her now that I’m working full-time. The energy put into work often renders me emotionally depleted. Isn’t that every working mom’s dilemma? She’s a teen and yes, very independent, yet it’s our last year at home with her before she leaves the nest 😦 That time can never be recaptured. On the other hand, it’s exciting that she’s entering a new stage in her life sure to be full of new adventures and paths to increased learning and growth. We couldn’t be more proud of her.

On the professional front, I’m submitting a proposal to the Adoption Initiative’s 9th Biennial Adoption Conference. The theme this year is Myth and Reality in Adoption: Transforming Practice Through Lessons Learned. My master’s thesis investigated how international and transracial adoptees manage experiences of racism and racial discrimination. It also focused on strategies adoptees proposed to better equip adoptive parents and adoption professionals to help international/transracial adoptees manage identity issues and racism/racial discrimination. I’ve never attended an adoption conference and am really looking forward to it. I plan to attend the conference whether my proposal is accepted or not and am excited about traveling to the East coast.

Finally, I hope this year to be one where I focus more on spending time with friends and on taking better care of myself. For the last 2 years, I’ve been rather isolative. It seems that the older I get, the more difficult it is to stay connected with friends.

To all my family, friends, fellow adoptees and followers far and near, I wish you good cheer, good health and a new year full of personal and spiritual growth. Oh yeah, be sure to stop and smell the roses along the way.

Photo by Geetanjal Khanna on Unsplash

roots

kyle-ellefson-196125It’s been almost two months since I began my new job as a child therapist. Man, has it been an adjustment. I can’t say that it’s what I expected…much more stressful than I anticipated. I’m often unsure of myself and how to help the client sitting in front of me. That being said, I guess all new therapists feel that to some degree.

Since I began my blog on international adoption, I’ve received emails from other adoptees, primarily adult adoptees from Taiwan, who are contemplating or in the process of searching for their birthfamilies. I’m thrilled to offer my own experiences, support, encouragement, and to connect with other adoptees. Some have found members of their birthfamilies in Taiwan with the help of the Child & Juvenile Adoption Information Center in Taipei. I received an email from an adoptee recently who found her biological brother, but also learned that she has a sister who was adopted to U.S. parents. She now wants to find her sister. I wish that I could make the process easier. It is difficult to conduct a search when there are very few leads. If only we had the information that we long for.

It is truly a journey to begin a search for your birthfamily. It is one that I do not regret. I talk to adoptees often about what it’s like for them to be adopted. Some do not have a desire to search for their birthfamilies. I didn’t for many, many years. A specific event in my life changed all of that, and I never went back. There is something deep inside many of us that longs to know, understand, connect to our roots. It may come much later in life, or it may start at a very young age (or as I mentioned before, it’s not as important to others). Call them spiritual roots, biological roots, whatever you want – we desire a connection to where it all began for us. The kids I work with in foster care no matter how much they suffered at the hand of their parents still want to be with their mother and/or father. Even if it’s explained to them why they are in foster care, in many cases, they still long to be with their biological families. There’s a story that I read to kids, “The Invisible String,” to help them understand that no matter who they are separated from, there’s an invisible string that connects them to those they love. It seems like such a very, very small thing to offer in comparison to the huge hole that’s been created in their hearts, but it is a way to help them feel connected in spirit. I understand that desire to search for your roots or to stay connected. I’ve said it before – I cannot imagine having never found my biological family. I wish that I could travel more often to see them in Taipei. And I wish that I had the time to learn Mandarin.

Lately, I’ve felt so disconnected to my own birth roots. Work, life, busyness complicates everything, and I miss being involved to a greater capacity in international adoption. I was happy to receive that email from the adoptee searching for her sister. It helps me to feel connected to my own roots, to appreciate the invisible string that connects me to my birthfamily in Taiwan and to other adoptees I wish my fellow adoptee all the best in her continued search.

Photo by Kyle Ellefson on Unsplash

annoying stereotypes & microaggressions

inmyshoesI enjoy meeting and talking with other international and transracial adoptees. That we are adopted persons gives us a social identity that is unique. The environmental contexts in which we grow up are doubtless very different, and our adoption journeys are unique; however, when I talk to other internationally adopted persons, there’s a connection. It’s like, he or she gets me. We get each other.

Towards the end of my last semester of grad school, I learned that the student who sat right across from me in my Advanced Practice class was also an adoptee. She was adopted from Korea and grew up in Michigan. She is some twenty years younger, yet I immediately felt that kinship with her. We met for coffee one afternoon after class to commiserate over school and swapped stories about adoption. We laughed about stereotyping and how we have managed to live in a predominantly white world. It felt good to connect with another adoptee who also happens to be a social worker!

Earlier this month, I met with another adoptee, a friend. She, too, was adopted from Korea. We met for lunch at a Vietnamese sandwich shop to catch up. During our conversation, she asked me about my feelings towards international adoption after having completed my thesis and if I had an interest in working in international adoption. It is such a difficult question to answer, and I don’t think that I have a definitive one. We talked about our conflicted feelings towards international adoption. On the one hand, orphans need permanency and loving families. On the other hand, the complexities of international adoption are significant, and there is a great need for others to be educated. There is still so much to learn about international adoption, how it impacts the psychosocial development of adoptees, and how to help prepare and support adoptive parents, as well as adoptees – not that any parent regardless of adoptive status or not could ever be fully prepared for parenthood. But there are ways to better educate the general public and adoptive families and to offer a more realistic picture of this process.

My journey through adoption continues to evolve. Although I have experienced incredible personal growth through the years, I’m not sure that I could work in international adoption, at least not in the capacity of a caseworker. I’m sure that my own personal challenges as an adoptee have much to do with these conflicted feelings. I can help educate adoptive families, provide cultural training and support, try to impact international adoption policy, but don’t think I could manage the actual adoption process. I have several friends who have adopted children internationally, and I always think in the back of my mind that international adoption is a business. I would support greater efforts to prevent the need for adoption altogether…preventive services and services to keep families together.

While we were sitting and conversing, an older white gentleman walked over to us and interrupted our conversation to ask if either of us knew of a good Asian salon where he could get his hair cut. He told us that most of the Asian women he encounters don’t speak very good English and upon hearing our conversation and ability to speak “good” English, felt like we could point him in the right direction. I felt completely annoyed. I told the man that I did not know of any Asian salons as did my friend. The look on his face was one of complete shock. It told me that he assumed we knew the right salon to direct him to. We did not tell the man that we were both adopted and knew as much about Asian salons as the man in the moon. Instead, we watched him walk away, perplexed, and returned to our conversation. I could not shake off how ruffled I felt. Although this man was completely unaware, he had committed a microaggression that was just plain annoying.

I’m glad to have visited with my friend. It was encouraging to hang out with another adoptee, someone who has walked in “my shoes” in many ways. I didn’t ask her if she felt as annoyed as I did by the man who asked us about a hair salon. She seemed to brush it off and was so polite. I took her lead and decided to be polite, too, despite my feelings.

 

international adoptee research study

In my last post, I mentioned that adoptees in the U.S. adopted through international adoption are often subjected to racism and discrimination. It’s a subject that interests me greatly because I know how damaging the effects of racism and discrimination are. I chose to investigate this subject for my master’s thesis in social work.

Over the past two months, I’ve sent letters and announcements to numerous adoption agencies, primarily in Arizona, but also California and Oregon. I have contacted adult adoptee groups on social media platforms and reached out to friends who may know of families with adopted children. I continue to search for adoptees 18+ years of age who were adopted from another country to the U.S. by parents of a different race/ethnicity to participate in the study. Participation includes an in-person interview. In the interview, I talk with adoptees about their background, experiences with family, peers, and their community. We discuss incidents that the adoptee has experienced related to racism, racial discrimination, prejudice and stereotyping. My hope is to interview at least ten adoptees for my study. So far, I’ve conducted five interviews. The interviews are about 1.5-2 hours in length and are conducted in a location that ensures privacy, i.e, a study room at a local library. Participants are informed that the interviews are confidential and no identifying information will be revealed in the study.

How international and transracial adoptees personally cope with racism and discrimination is not an area that is well understood in the literature. It is hoped that this research will produce data that will inform the development of interventions for international adoptees and their families that will provide tools to manage the effects of racism and discrimination. I hope that the study will also prompt further investigation into this particular area. If you know of an adoptee or are an adoptee who resides in Arizona and might be interested in participating in this study, please pass along the above information. I can be contacted privately at mcnguyen@asu.edu if you’d like to know more about the study or would like to schedule an interview. Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated!

I believe that this is such an important issue for adoptive families and adoptees. It’s my belief that adoptive families and adoptees who are better equipped to face racism and discrimination will be happier and healthier. Thank you.

 

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