Category Archives: adoption

An infant clutching a blanket

Who’s Your Mama?: Race, Sexuality, and the Adoptive Mother [Academic Essay]

by Guest Contributor Sara M. Erdmann, MFA, PhD

The image of the American adoptive mother has emerged gradually since adoption’s inception in 1851, but it has always existed within a racialized and heteronormative context (“Massachusetts Adoption of Children Act, 1851”).

According to the American adoption narrative, adoptive mothers are white, heterosexual women; their decision to adopt a child is an act of goodwill, and, in cases of transracial adoption, even a badge of racial acceptance.

This particular adoptive mother has become an accepted, albeit marginalized, part of mothering culture and is the one for whom books are written, organizations formed, and resources developed. This adoptive mother has defined the adoptive mother identity in modern America and become one of many voices within the larger motherhood narrative.

Yet, research confirms that white, heterosexual women are not the only ones adopting children: many Black and queer (*) non-biological children, but, save for mentions in a few isolated academic texts, their experiences are almost entirely absent from the larger adoption narrative. Continue reading

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Chinese like You: White Adoptive Mothers and the Reality of Racial Privilege

By Guest Contributor Sara Erdmann

Cover to “Forever Lily: An Unexpected Mother’s Journey to Adoption in China.”

Despite the fact that international adoption has become commonplace — most recent studies show that over 70,000 Chinese girls were adopted into the United States between 1991 and 2010 — Beth Nonte Russell’s path to motherhood was a nontraditional one. In her 2007 memoir, Forever Lily: an Unexpected Mother’s Journey to Adoption, Russell describes accompanying a friend who intends to adopt on a trip to China.

This book, while almost 7 years old, is continuously recommended across the web for adoptive mothers — it’s pinned on Pinterest and a regular on the book club circuit. In an era obsessed with memoir, it seems only natural that Russell would choose to chronicle her journey as such, particularly considering the major surprise (read: book sales) that characterizes her trip: Russell’s friend changes her mind. Quickly becoming the heroine of her own story, Russell looks down at the little girl she has only just met and begins conceiving a history in which the two of them were meant to be together. Eager to substantiate her sudden role as Lily’s mother, Russell proclaims that “there was a past life connection between [her] and Lily,” and that her “longing brought [Lily] into being.” To suggest that this child living in an orphanage in China exists because Russell willed her into being is problematic to say the least, but Russell goes one step further in her desire to feel permanently and unalterably connected despite her and Lily’s cultural and racial differences.

White adoptive families are regularly challenged by the idea of incorporating their child’s birth culture into their family. Researchers have long questioned whether an adopted child’s birth culture should be ignored, as in cases when families essentially raise their child of color as white, or whether it should be embraced, even to the point of trying to mimic a Chinese upbringing in the United States (think Chinese New Year parties and Mandarin lessons). In Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s, sociologists Michael Omi and Howard Winant observe that “there is a continuous temptation to think of race as an essence, as something fixed, concrete, and objective. And there is also an opposite temptation: to imagine race as a mere illusion, a purely ideological construct which some ideal non-racist social order would eliminate.” Because Russell sees Lily’s race as an essence, something unalterable, and she needs to feel she was meant to be Lily’s mother, she relies on personal epiphanies and memories that confirm that, in some way, she is also Chinese.
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New online magazine highlights Gazillion Voices of adult adoptees

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“There’s this story out there: ‘We started when we fell out of the plane. We were destined for our adoptive families, and that we are just like you — we are exceptional. We are not like the other poor, undocumented communities that we were born from. And I had questions about that, even as a 5-year-old.”

— Laura Kunder, on being adopted from Korea by a white American family

Gazillion Voices, a Minnesota-based online magazine which was scheduled to launch Monday, aims to change the traditional narrative of global adoptions, by injecting race into the discussion, according to a piece on Minnesota Public Radio (MPR). Created by Kevin Vollmers, who was born in South Korea and adopted by a Minnesota family at age 7, the new magazine is designed to give voice to adult adoptees in defiance of a traditional narrative that focuses most on adoptive families and the babies they bring home, ignoring “what becomes of those babies.”

Vollmer advocates preparing white families to raise children of color, saying:

“If you are going to place an African-American child in the middle of nowhere in northern Minnesota where they are going to be the ‘diversity,’ you best make sure there are resources available for those kids.”

Listen to the MPR report on Gazillion Voices.

Race + Comics: The Man Of Steel Trailer And Fans’ Super-Xenophobia

By Arturo R. García

Since the release of the new trailer for Man Of Steel, there’s been increased hope among many Superman fans that the Christopher Nolan/Zack Snyder collaboration will bring luster back to the character’s cinematic incarnation.

But some fans’ idea of how they want the character’s bicultural nature to play out paints yet another disconcerting picture of geekdom’s self-styled “colorblindness.”

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Quoted: Riding In Cars With Black People And Other Newly Dangerous Acts

“What I remember most about that first stop was that he asked “Where are you headed.” Not “license, registration and proof of insurance, please” ─ but “Where are you headed.” ──

Eighteen years ─ nine months ─ sixteen days and one-thousand seconds of riding in cars with nothing but white people ─ and not once had an officer expressed interest in where we were heading.

While I did not know it at the time, growing up one of the benefits of my honorary white and suburban privilege was the ability to gather, congregate and move aimlessly through public spaces without attention or purpose… Perhaps that’s why for years after leaving home I carried an old family picture, tucked directly behind my driver’s license, where the latter went the former followed, sometimes whispering, and sometimes shouting “I am not the Black Man you think I am. Now please let me pass without delay or further hindrance.”

From Chad Goller-Sojourner’s sophomore solo performance: Riding in Cars with Black People & Other Newly Dangerous Acts: A Memoir in Vanishing Whiteness. ‘Riding in Cars with Black People’ is the groundbreaking and crushingly honest story of what happens when a black boy, raised by white parents, “ages out” of honorary white and suburban privilege and into a world where folklore, statistics, and conjecture deem him dangerous until proven otherwise. ‘Riding in Cars’ will debut in April 2013. Support the project on Indiegogo.

Somewhere Between Explores Transracial Adoption And Identity

TRAILER: Somewhere Between – A Feature Documentary from Linda Knowlton on Vimeo.

 

Check out the synopsis:

Four baby girls are born in China to families who are unable to keep them, largely because of China’s “One Child Policy.” Instead of being raised by their biological parents, the baby girls are raised in orphanages, and then eventually adopted by American families to be whisked halfway around the world to the United States. There, they grow up with Sesame Street, hip-hop, and Twitter. They describe themselves as “bananas”: white on the inside and yellow on the outside. All is well, until they hit their teen years, when their pasts pull at them, and they begin to wonder, “Who am I?”

All four know they were probably “given up” because they were girls (they are understandably uncomfortable with the word “abandoned”), and grapple with issues of race, gender, and identity more acutely than most their age.

Documentaries have been made before about international adoption, but they have always been from the point of view of the adoptive, Caucasian parents, or the adult adoptee. Young women’s voices are rarely heard—especially young women of color. SOMEWHERE BETWEEN lets four teenaged girls—Fang, Haley, Ann, and Jenna—tell their own stories, letting the film unfold from their points of view and shedding light on their deepest thoughts: about their families, their feelings of being “other,” and their powerful connections to a past that most of them cannot recall.

The film captures nearly three years in the lives of these four dynamic young women.

The screening schedule is here.

Central American Horror Story: A Brief Chat With Finding Fernanda Author Erin Siegal

By Arturo R. García

Finding Fernanda is a sobering story–even more so when you stop to think that it focuses on two women out of thousands at opposite ends of a corrupt system.

Journalist Erin Siegal’s book stretches across the continent: it examines the notorious child adoption business in Guatemala via the ordeals suffered by both Guatemalan native Mildred Alvarado, who loses two of her children not just to kidnappers but to her country’s legal and political processes, and Tennessee resident Betsy Emanuel, an American lured in by a Christian adoption agency when she begins the process of adopting one of the children, not knowing the dirty business behind her wish for another child.

Working with a local journalist over the course of three years, Siegal sheds light on the various players: the American agencies and their in-country networks of handlers and attorneys; the medical professionals and court officials who are either on the take or willfully negligent, like the Guatemala City pediatrician who sees his practice expand as he becomes a go-to resource for adoptionists:

On a child’s first visit to his office, Dr. Castillo would ask about his or her background and felt he had no choice but to take the answers provided to him by cuidadoras (caretakers) at face value. Every time one of the women hesitated, he felt chilled. More than half the children examined at his office didn’t have proper paperwork, such as a birth certificate. Sometimes the names would change. It wasn’t his responsibility to investigate, the pediatrician told himself; he was just there to make sure that the kids were being cared for.

Over time, cases like Mildred’s become a cause celebre in Guatemala, attracting more and more attention from the press and the underfunded authorities before a human rights organization represents her in court. For her part, Betsy also feels her own betrayal at the hands of the agency, pushing her to ask questions of her own, culminating in an encounter with Mildred.

In an e-mail interview with Racialicious, Siegal shared more details about the women at the heart of Fernanda, the industry that brought them together, and her own experience as an American journalist working in Guatemala. The transcript, which includes some spoilers, is under the cut.

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G-Chattin’ Modern Family: “Two Monkeys and a Panda” [TV Correspondent Tryout]

By Guest Contributors Amber Jones and Elizabeth Lowry

Episode Recap: Cameron writes a book entitled “Two Monkeys and a Panda” about Lily’s adoption (to dispel any possible stigma) and learns that Mitchell purposefully did not hyphenate Lily’s last name on the adoption papers. Jay and Gloria argue over where their remains will go once they have died. Phil spends the day at a spa while Claire tries to keep peace between her daughters over a shared sweater.

Liz: Ok Amber… a Panda? Really? I know Modern Family likes to make a joke of the ignorance of Cameron and Mitchell when it comes to their transnational adoption, but I had to roll my eyes.

Amber: Girl, I was rolling mine too. I cringe often when Cam and Mitchell talk about Lily. The writers do attempt to make a joke of the ignorance, but I think when it comes to Lily, it gets really hard for me to just laugh it off. For one, Cam and Mitchell seem to be completely OK with exoticizing Lily most of the time. What is that about? Modern Family is so interesting because even though it does show different familial structures, most of the characters are white and upper middle class. :-/

Liz: Yeah, I’m always amused that this show is called Modern Family, as if it’s the “new” family. I’m usually thinking, “whose family is that?” As far as the jokes, I find myself sometimes laughing at the ignorance (cuz the reality is there are ignorant parents) and sometimes cringing when the joke is played less as criticism and more as “awwww look how silly but really cute they are…she’s a panda!” Because you’re right, the jokes exoticize Lily.

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