Declined

A few months ago, I was approached by a local journalist interested in learning more about my adoption story. I agreed to meet the journalist, without having any expectations. I simply thought the journalist wanted to hear my opinion on international adoption, but I was mistaken. The project proposed was something I had never imagined: documenting my search and possible reunion with my birth family in Ethiopia. Up until very recently, I thought searching would be futile, given the incredibly small amount of potentially flawed information I have (I have to say that it’s mainly my anger at this injustice...

Dear Mom

Dear Mom, I know times were different when I was adopted. People didn’t think it should be made into a big deal—which ended up making it a bigger deal than necessary. I don’t remember being told I was adopted. It was something I always knew. I still like that part of my story. It was the beginning of forming my identity in the world. Since my brother is also adopted, it seemed to be the norm in our house. You’ve told me that experts said not to worry. You felt that we were yours; we would feel that you were...

Contemplations on Being Ugly*

“You could be a model for Benetton,” J.S. said — this being a time when Benetton was putting people we all considered to be highly unattractive on their posters. This being after she had “assigned” future modeling gigs with Gap, Banana Republic, Vogue and Seventeen magazines to everyone else on her private “my dad’s a lawyer” party bus for us junior high-schoolers. This being a moment when J.S. had just listed the magazines and stores that we all considered to be the crème de la crème of beauty (after all, we were 13 or 14 years old) and throwing me...

Created Family

I’m lost. Well, not lost really, but disjointed. Tragedy can do that. It can take you and throw you against a wall so hard and with such force that when you come to, you are not aware of which direction you’re facing or which direction is up. And, the disorientation continues. So, really, you try to scramble for anything that feels familiar, safe, like home. I’m trying to scramble now and realized the level of my disorientation only when Kevin asked for the article and I hadn’t produced one. I’ve re-written it several times and am still unable to produce...

Connecting with Ethiopian-French Adoptees Through Les Adoptés d’Éthiopie

Since my entry into the adoptee world, thanks to my fellow Ethiopian adoptee and good friend Aselefech Evans, I’ve been wanting to connect with more Ethiopian adoptees. In fact, Aselefech and I often discuss the absence of Ethiopian adoptees in adoptee circles. My initial thought was that most Ethiopian adoptees are probably much younger than us since adoption from Ethiopia became more popular toward the end of the 90s and early 2000s, which might help explain why there is less participation in adoptee advocacy. However, a few weeks ago I stumbled upon a French-speaking Ethiopian adoptee Facebook group with over...

Colonization and Adoption – A History

Recently, after giving a presentation on American Indian Transracial adoption, I was asked a question. “Where do you think you’d be now if you hadn’t been adopted?” Without pausing, the man who asked the question answered for me. “I bet you wouldn’t be giving presentations with a college education.” He was a lawyer who handled private adoptions. He was right; I probably wouldn’t be where I am now. However, the price I—we—have paid to be here has been high. So what is the price I paid? That we, as adoptees have paid? We have become second class citizens in our...

Colonialism, Race, and Child Welfare

Note: Excerpts of this essay are drawn from my article manuscript, “Generations Stolen: Opposite Futures and the Elimination of the Native,” in Race, Law and the Postcolonial (Routledge, 2015). My second grade teacher was Native American. Her son and I were best friends during elementary school. I do not recall which tribe she belonged to, but I remember being drawn to this aspect of my friend and his family. The following year was one of my favorites because that was the year Mrs. Glennon introduced me (and the class) to Native American history. Thinking back, it makes me wonder if...

Chapter 2

Cover by Christopher Harrison CHAPTER TWO Dad’s favorite place to go running was Lorraine Creek, on a small path through the woods that he had beat out himself, running there through the years. He said that the trees and the water always felt like they were running with him, like they were the only things moving in the twilight of the early morning. I knew just what he meant. “Creek’s high this season,” he said, his breath jagged. It was the Monday after our win against East. I jumped over a sinkhole. “Yeah.” It had snowed a lot that winter,...

Chapter 3

There were grainy, chopped up tapes of Hank Aaron talking about hitting more than 20 home runs for 20 straight seasons; tapes of him in the early sixties, discussing removal of segregation signs and policies at the Milwaukee Braves’ spring training facility in Sarasota Springs; footage of their contest against the Dodgers in Atlanta on April8, 1974, where he hit his 715th home run in front of 54,000 people and broke Babe Ruth’s record. It happened in the fourth inning, with two outs and a man on first base. Though I knew exactly when it happened, I would never fast-forward;...

Café Korea

I have enjoyed getting to know Korean adoptees like myself, and I have really enjoyed learning about and eating the food. And sure, I am thankful, grateful, blessed, lucky, and so on that I was adopted into a loving family. But tonight at dinner, I had a moment. I wish I would have had someone filming us: me; my Korean adoptee boyfriend; and my non-adopted, half-Korean daughter at dinner at a local Korean restaurant. For me, the moment really illustrated how I have been feeling lately about myself, relative to who I am as a Korean adoptee in this country....

Can you hear me, Guatemala?

When someone adopts they have to reach their hand into a rotting cave and pray to any sort of God that they grab onto you and only you. Like any natural birth, I came with the slime of my mother stuck onto me. For my tenth birthday, I asked my adoptive parents for pictures of this mother, Flora Vasquez. The lawyer who facilitated my adoption went up into the hills of San Lorenzo, Guatemala to hunt Flora down. They sent me a compiled photo album filled with pictures of this woman. I thought seeing Flora would bring me peace. In...

Books

When Gazillion Voices’ parent company Land of Gazillion Adoptees, LLC (LGA) partnered with CTQ Media and Publishing in 2012 to release Parenting As Adoptees, the companies’ founders – Kevin Haebeom Vollmers and Adam Chau – did not plan on doing additional books, at least not in the immediate future. Adam and Kevin both had other aspirations, goals, and projects that needed their attention. Nevertheless, in the last two years, LGA and CQT Media and Publishing have worked with The Lost Daughters collective on Lost Daughters: Writing Adoption From a Place of Empowerment and Peace and Amanda H.L. Transue-Woolston to publish...

Bridging false divides

TRACING POPULAR VOICE In a project I give in my illustration classes, I have students deconstruct a Lebanese proverb literally and figuratively in order to illustrate its meaning. In the ensuing research, we examine how proverbs condense and resonate historical and cultural roots that still carry forward. Students are often amazed at what is gleaned from interviews with grandparents and other relatives as to historical meaning. Many of the proverbs examined comment on the role of children in society. For all of the proverbs I’ve come across that speak to me concerning my adoption, there is one that readily stands...

Bisexual Adoptee Identity, Invisibility, and Inclusivity in Asian American Activism

It’s a sunny summer day in Insadong, an art gallery and souvenir shop-filled neighborhood in central Seoul. I’m inquiring about prices with a shop owner as we stumble over each other’s languages, and to her my face doesn’t make sense with the English coming out of my mouth. Where Am I From? she wants to know. Why Don’t I Speak Korean? Am I Japanese?Aniyo, mi-guk, I reply. Ibyang. American. Adopted. She looks at me, shrugs, and quotes me 15000 won. Back in the States, I sit in a packed room, listening to an Asian American community leader talk about the...

Becoming

Save Me, Acculturate Me, Inform Me The evolution of how our society views children has been changing with every generation. I am of the generation of parents who would like to believe I treat my children as individuals with potential, not mere vessels to fill. Not so in the world of adoption. The stagnation of how we, adopted children, are viewed is troubling. We were and still are the commodity for those doing God’s will. We continue to fill the void of infertility. We are the recipients of many years of purposeful re-education of parents to be more holistic in...

Beauty, Control, and Adoption

Beauty, Control, and Adoption With poetry that’s raw and evocative and prose that’s honest and thought-provoking, I always know I’m in for something special when I read anything by writer Mila Konomos. Her essay, “Beauty, Control, and Adoption” is no exception. Mila’s article is excerpted from Adoption Therapy, Perspectives from Clients and Clinicians on Processing and Healing Post-Adoption Issues. With contributors who are adoptees, counselors, or both, Adoption Therapy is a much-needed tool for adoptees (and adoptive parents) entering therapy or processing on their own, and for those professionals tasked with helping them. The anthology covers topics such as the...

Batman, Harry Potter and the Myth of the Exceptional Orphan

A few years ago, I taught Intro to Playwriting for kids, ages 11-13. On the first day, I asked students what kinds of plays they each wanted to write. To my surprise, nearly half of them wanted to write plays that featured an orphaned protagonist. As someone who had once been legally classified as an orphan, I had grown up with mostly negative associations with the word. “Orphan” always conjured up images of hungry children, cold and alone. In my young mind, orphanhood was something I had needed to be saved from. So what was the attraction for these kids,...

Are You Done Ruining My Movie Yet, Overly Critical Adoptee? Sure. When You Stop Watching Shitty Movies.

Below is a transcript from a conversation I had with myself. All selves are fictitious and any resemblance to real selves, living or dead, is purely, most likely coincidental. Contains random spoilers to movies. Read at your own risk. Me: Oh my god, come over here and sit down. I’m watching this flick called Orphan. It is so fucked up. You should make us some popcorn. Me2: Are you serious? You’re watching this? Do you even know… anything? Yes. Let’s portray adoptees as murderous evil children, who by the way, try and seduce their daddies. I mean not only EWWWW...

Angela Breckenitch

Name: Angela BreckenitchAge: 33Gender: FemaleIdentify as: Asian or Korean, but I’m Italian at heart. Have you always felt comfortable in your skin?: I’ve never felt comfortable in my skin and probably never will. I was teased relentlessly in my youth, not only for being Asian, but for being fat, ugly, and flat-chested. I have always felt like there was a stranger looking back at me in the mirror. I don’t know what I should look like, but the person looking back at me never felt right. I have suffered from eating disorders and body dysmorphia since I was 11-years-old. I...

Angela and Bryan Tucker of Closure

When I was preparing to meet up with Bryan and Angela Tucker, I had no idea I’d have two models on my hands. As luck would have it though, the pair showed up impeccably dressed in stylish summer wear that blended perfectly with our backdrop of choice: the Lake Union waterfront near Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI). Many of you might be flipping through these photos in disbelief at the blue skies and shining sun, but here’s a secret: Seattle summers are among the very best. Visit the Emerald City between July and September, and you’ll have picture-perfect...

An Unwavering Voice

“Did my voice shake?” I was taken aback by the question Kimberly asked me as she brushed her bangs away from her face. “No, your voice didn’t shake,” I whispered. “Are you kidding me?” Kimberly, who omitted her last name for this interview, had every reason to be nervous. She had just descended from a stage after introducing the dean of a prominent graduate school to more than 200 guests. On the night of December 12, 2013, students, professionals, policy makers, and concerned citizens from all over Pennsylvania and New Jersey filed into the large meeting room of a cozy...

An Adoptee at the Baby Box

Young children filled the room, most under the age of 4. We positioned ourselves at low tables while they ate rice and soup and shared other dishes. I was hesitantly offered a pair of chopsticks and the privilege of helping to feed the girls. The boys sat at a separate table nearby and some from my group helped them. The children, all with special needs, ate at a table with one adult. There was nothing personal about it. While the children were sweet and adorable, the environment was more childcare center, less family. Who would these children call parents? Would...

Alternative Voice, Truths, and Knowledge of Critical Adult Adoptees

“How does it feel to be a problem?”—W.E.B. DuBois[1] “How does it feel to be the solution?”—Vijay Prashad[2] Nearly 100 years after DuBois posed his question in the seminal Souls of Black Folk (1903), Vijay Prashad, a South Asian historian and cultural critic, presented the latter question as a way to think about how South Asians in the United States are positioned as a model minority in relation to black Americans. From here, we can consider where the transracial/national adoptee who was an orphan, but now is uniquely positioned as an assimilated, model subject fits. From these thinkers we might...

Am I a Sellout? Why I Work for an Adoption Agency

When I was asked to contribute to Gazillion Voices, I knew it presented a great opportunity to begin bridging the gap between adoptee advocates and adoption agencies. The impetus for this article was based on my interactions with adult adoptees outside of the office and the seemingly inevitable issue of why I work for an adoption agency in the first place. It’s been clear there are some misgivings for anyone attached to Holt (the adoption agency I work for), and while some of it’s justified, there may be more to the story than meets the eye. Or it’s entirely possible...

Adoption Day and The First Day of School

A few days ago, as I stepped into an air-conditioned Target to purchase some toothpaste, I was abruptly reminded that summer was coming to a close and fall was rolling around the corner. I felt my heart drop to the pit of my stomach, and I caught myself gasping for air. What is always synonymous with the beginning of fall? School, of course. At my local Target store, I noticed the dollar shelves being lined with back-to-school junk and all of the bathing suits had red labels screaming, “Buy me! Summer is ending!” As my summer vacation period comes to...

Adopteephobia

What if I am not missing a person, place, or thing? Rather, I am denied the words that are shaping my life. The absence of these words is no less heartbreaking than the loss of my first family, culture, and language. However, these words can interrupt, resist, and heal the undeniable sickness of adoption trauma. Therefore, in an effort to stop missing that which cannot be replaced, I am calling out ADOPTEEPHOBIA. ADOPTEEPHOBIA [uh-dop-tee-foh-bee-uh] (n.) The irrational fear and hatred of adoptees. Origin: White supremacy, patriarchy, class subordination, disability injustice, Christian hegemony. ADOPTEEPHOBIA [uh-dop-tee-foh-bee-uh] (n.) The pervasive, restrictive, and deadly...

Adoptees on the Power, Peril and Promise of Ongoing Reunion, Part II of III

Ji In Lugtu: On the Artificiality of First Meeting, The Immense Challenge of Translating Opposite Emotional Realities, The Myth of Closure We begin this second installment with Ji In Lugtu, a 37-year-old writer, editor and mom living in the Seattle area. Lugtu’s reunion with her birth family happened in 2002 during her first trip back to Korea. I was twenty-six at the time and going through a lot of identity stuff. I was out on my own working. It was a time when I was just getting a feel for where I wanted to go in my career and in...

Acknowledgements, Preface, & Chapter 1

Hank Aaron’s Daughter: Acknowledgements, Preface, & Chapter 1 Cover by Christopher Harrison Acknowledgements So many people and communities have supported the evolution and development of this project, and I am deeply indebted to each and every one of them. Thank you to all my readers, whose candor and encouragement kept me going even when I was sure all the narrative threads would not come together: Karen Hausdoerffer, Christopher Cross, Kenna Cottman, Tayari Jones, Dana Johnson, Tony Ardizzone, Sarah Park Dahlen, Elaine Kim, Kathy Solomon, Evelyn Fazio, the first commercial editor who really “got” the story, believed in its potential, and...

A Social Justice Framework for Adoption

ADOPTERISM [uh-dop-ter-iz-hum] (n.): The invisible box surrounding the adoption triad that positions adoptees, adoptive parents, and first families in opposition to one another. ~Laura Klunder, “Adopteephobia,” Gazillion Voices (March 5, 2014) Reframing Adoption within Adopterism and Adopteephobia Adopterism is the structural power dynamic in which adopters have access to power and privilege, and families of origin and adoptees are positioned as targets of intimate, institutional, and systemic violence. Adopterism is a symptom of multiple and intersecting oppressions including racism, classism, genderism, and ableism. Within the system of adopterism, adoptees are denied access to birth records, under the guise of protecting...

A Reply to the Vitriol

The rant. Angry words splashed onto a virtual page. Nonsensical. “Adoption is child trafficking! It should never happen under any circumstance!” Where does this person live that they can make this statement with such venom, with such determined and righteous force? It sounds like privilege. My mom lay dying. Is this your ‘real’ mom or your ‘adopted’ mom? I hate that question. I didn’t used to. For a long time, I viewed it as a need for clarification, a way of explaining how having two moms works. However, it’s complicated. I share genes with one woman, but nothing else; I...

A Reflection on Mama’s Day & What I’d Take With Me to Mars

Until the age of 29, I had never met anybody who looked like me. That is, until I met my birth mother. This is the memory I’d take with me to Mars. In June, I attended the Allied Media Conference in Detroit for the first time. Described as a “collaborative laboratory of media-based organizing strategies for transforming our world,” it is an annual gathering of healers and rabble rousers of all kinds that pays particular attention to centering the stories, experiences, and leadership of women, people with disabilities, queer and trans* folks, people of color, lower income people, immigrants, and...

A Prayer From An Empty Hospital Bed

I didn’t know till now how secret from myself my hopes were.They tell me you’re on medication.They tell me you don’t remember me.The anesthetic they injected before my birth must have done its work.Now, you remember no pain.Now, you don’t remember the extraction, the surgery,the body that burgeoned like a weed from yours.Me, the mud you wiped from your boot at the door,or maybe it was your mother and father who scraped me from your sleeping soles,either way the rain has comeand rinsed my rust down the driveway. Your mind is fluorescent hospital hallway.Our blood has been bleached from the...

A Conversation With John Ng and Lina Goh of Zen Box Izakaya

For this Gazillion Voices podcast, I took a short trip over to Zen Box Izakaya, one of my favorite local restaurants, and had a nice conversation with John Ng (Owner and Executive Chef) and Lina Goh (General Manager) to talk about the history of their two restaurants, thoughts on the local food scene, ramen on a stick, and perspectives on the concept of food as a gateway to culture. ~ Kevin Haebeom Vollmers About John Ng and Lina Goh (via Zen Box Izakaya) Executive Chef / Owner: John NgIf John Ng’s architectural skills embodied the level of passion, creativity, and...

A Conversation With Hei Kyong Kim, Author of The Translation of Han

My friend and fellow Korean adoptee author, Hei Kyong Kim, has a fantastic new collection of poetry and prose called Translation of Han (CQT Media and Publishing). I talked with Hei Kyong about her book, her writing process, the meaning of Han, and one of my favorite topics: the adopted body. Katie: What compelled you to write this book? Hei Kyong: I have always been fascinated by the concept of Han and noticed a theme that seem to connect to my writing. So I decided that I wanted to explore it further in terms of adoptee identity, the hardship of...

A Conversation With Deborah Jiang Stein, Ho Nguyen & Linda Hawj

In this three-part podcast, three amazing women share thoughts about their work, activism, and aspirations. Many thanks to Deborah Jiang Stein, Ho Nguyen, and Linda Hawj, as well as guest contributors Brie Morris and Andrea Wood. Deborah Jiang Stein Deborah Jiang Stein is a writer and public speaker from the melting pot trenches of multiracial America. Born in a federal prison, heroin-exposed, she now leverages her unique background to reach others with her message of resilience and possibility. She advocates for personal transformation and believes in the power of every person’s story. Check out Deborah’s new book Prison Baby: A...

10 Things Adoptees Don’t Want to Hear

As adoptees, we probably aren’t allowed to tell you we’re tired of dumb comments from adoptive parents, friends, neighbors, and even strangers. But we are. Here are 10 things adoptees don’t want to hear anymore. 1. I Bet You’re Thankful To Be Alive. As if adoptees should be more thankful to be alive than someone who hasn’t been adopted. Why should an adopted person be more grateful for life than you are? In fact, maybe you should be reminded regularly that you, too, could have been aborted or found dead by a dumpster had your parents not saved you. 2....

5 Tips to White Dining

My White boss invited me to have dinner with her family. I am a person of color with WTF (White Trigger Formation) and fear that I am being tokenized. She never asks me about my work, though she always calls me “girlfriend” and goes in for a fist bump when she sees me. Can I confront her about my concerns? Token, Saint Paul, Minnesota *** Dear Token, No. Let me rephrase that: Hell No. Under no circumstances can you bring up the r-word to White people with whom you work. I don’t care if your job is diversity and you’re...

Why Birth Mothers Don’t Search

The other day, during an email exchange about adoption search registries, a colleague pointed out that, compared to the number of birth mothers searching for information, it seemed that the registries were overpopulated by adoptees. He asked me why I thought that to be the case. Did the lack of mothers searching correlate to the desires of the mothers to be contacted by their adopted children? The short answer to that question is no: if adoptees begin searching and do not immediately find a matching search request waiting for them, either on an online or state registry or at the...

Between the Extremes

I have been on this earth for over 45 years now. Over half that time, my entire adult life, I have been a birth mother. I will admit that I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I contacted that adoption agency so long ago. I had no idea of the lifelong ramifications for myself, my child, and really, everyone I would ever come into contact with in my life when I signed those papers in some dark office 26 years ago. I had no idea of the social framework that I would try to force myself...

The Band-Aid of Heritage and Culture Camps and What They Cover Up

Heritage and culture camps are very popular among adoptive families with children from other countries as mini-vacations with similar families (which mostly means white parents with adopted children from Korea, China, India, Guatemala, Ethiopia, and so on). Google “heritage camps for adopted children” and you will see dozens listed that take place all across the country. They are largely run by adoption agencies and adoptive parents, though increasingly they include adult adoptees as presenters and mentors. The camps are billed as ways to strengthen adoptive families and to build pride in the children’s culture and heritage. They are part post-adoption...