Jeff Leinaweaver is a professional storyteller, so it makes total sense that when he told me his personal adoptee story, I was interested from the get-go. Originally born in Colombia, South America, Jeff was adopted in the 1960s by an American man who himself was adopted. Imagine being an adoptee in an era when international adoption was hardly a hot topic, and being raised by an adoptee. Altogether, it was a positive experience that Jeff was grateful for, but at the same time, he recalls his youth as being a time when he often felt like the “only aardvark at the zoo.”
Back in the ’70s, there was a different sense of privacy, especially pertaining to international adoption. In fact, no one yet recognized the idea of international adoption. So it was a challenge for Jeff to explain his background to others. On the bright side of the coin, he didn’t have the same challenge that many adoptees have today of being labeled an “international adoptee.” As a result, Jeff is very adamant that adoptees today can tell their stories and establish their identities beyond the “international adoptee” label as persons who “happened to be adopted.”
For Jeff himself, he didn’t meet another internationally adopted person until he was in his late 30s, which can be hard to imagine for adoptees today who might have grown up spending their summers at culture camps with other adoptees. In fact, Jeff never really came to terms with his sense of adoption until he was older and was considering adoption. After visiting orphanages and being surrounded by young children waiting to be adopted, Jeff realized a side of adoption that isn’t emphasized in the United States. It’s not exactly normal for prospective adoptive parents to visit orphanages here in the states to aid in their decisions. As it turns out, Jeff decided to adopt children of his own from Colombia, and is likely one of few families to have three generations of adoptees.
In reference to Jeff’s current storytelling endeavors, he emphasizes that the distinction between speaking for and speaking as an international adoptee has been erased. Today, these important adoptee stories are being framed and told by people who themselves haven’t been internationally adopted; as a result, these storytellers lack the significant and life-shaping experiences associated with adoption. It’s a form of story theft that robs adoptees of the ability to tell their own stories. Jeff’s work today aims to give more perspective from the adoptee side of the story, and encourage other adoptees to take control of telling their own stories.
Learn more about Jeff and his storytelling work on his personal website, and check out his book on international adoption.
~ Suzi Pratt