The topic of international and transracial adoptions seems to be on many people’s minds these days. Last week, PBS began showing a series of documentaries about such adoptions and their trailer for the series is below. My fellow Asian American blogger Jeff Yang has also written an article summarizing these documentaries in his regular column for the San Francisco Chronicle.
The blogosphere has also been buzzing about National Public Radio host Scott Simon’s recent on-air interview and discussion and book Baby We Were Meant for Each Other about his family’s adoption of two girls from China. Some readers found Simon’s narrative inspiring while others criticized him for some ethnocentric assumptions. For example, Malinda at ChinaAdoptionTalk offers a very well-reasoned response to some of Simon’s comments about the adoption process.
To add more substance to this emerging discussion on international and transracial adoption, the following is a post (reprinted by permission) originally titled “NPR’s Scott Simon Discusses Adoption on Fresh Air” by my former student and now colleague Gang Shik at his blog The Transracial Korean Adoptee Nexus. In his post, Gang asks the question, Why is it that whenever the media talks about transracial adoption that the last person they seek to for their input are the adoptees themselves?
It came as no surprise to me that the person talking about adoption, was an adoptive parent. As always, it appears as though adoptive parents are the only “authorities” on adoption. I come back to this same problem every time I hear a program on adoption. Why aren’t adoptees being called on to discuss their experiences? There are professors, researchers, artists, musicians, and poets who all have incredibly interesting stories to tell and who are professionals with opinions on adoption that go beyond the merely personal.
There are three topics I’d like to address with this post. First, I will look at adoption, assimilation rhetoric, and the “magic” of the familial integration. Second, I want to discuss a few things related to how Mr. Simon and his wife have decided to parent their children. And third, I will discuss the politics of racial identity.
As with most of my posts, I want to first start by saying that this is not meant to be slander, nor is it meant to be malicious by any means. The point of posts such as these, and the point of all my posts on my blog, are to discuss representations of adoption in the media, and the often overlooked discussions of race and identity for transracial adoptees. Whether you are an adoptee, adoptive parent, member of the triad, or any other concerned individual, this post is meant to inspire dialogue.
For as long as I can remember, adoptive parents have talked about their child(ren)’s first moments with them as being instantaneous and almost magical. “That first moment was magical. We knew, that s(he) was ours.” In so many ways, adoptive parents want their child(ren) to feel as though they were meant for each other. I do believe that these sort of narratives can gloss over some of the more important details that are occurring to an adoptee that are invisible to adoptive parents.
Some parents recount their experiences saying how the transition was seamless, or minimal at most. The effects of adoption on the adoptee are often dismissed as children are perceived to be “fitting in” to their new environments. There is no discussion of trauma, since many who adopt children believe this to be the least traumatic experience for a child. I’m no expert on child psychology, so I can’t speak to this last point much. But I can say that, adoption can be very traumatic.
I’ve met many adoptees who were adopted later in their lives – some are four, five or even six years old when they are adopted. So many of them have completely lost all memories of their homelands. Most are completely devoid of any bilingual language capabilities that they once had. Think of it this way. What sort of moment in your life could be so traumatic that you push all memories of it out of your mind permanently? Adoption is no easy thing for an adoptee, regardless of age, I have to believe that even young children can sense these things in one way or another.
At one point Mr. Simon said “she immediately became our child.” No doubt, she became your daughter at that very moment. However, I would urge Mr. Simon to not forget that she will forever be not just your daughter, but her birth mother’s daughter too. Continue to celebrate her life in China as much as you do in the U.S. Too often, I hear about adoptive parents who celebrate the day they arrived in the U.S. with out any concept of the life they lived or lost before they were adopted.
I do want to point something out which I found encouraging in Mr. Simon’s interview. He stated that he and his wife wish to provide their daughters with as much of their heritage as possible so that they can make their own decisions for themselves later in life. These things may not necessarily be relevant to them now, but it is important to present these aspects of themselves as important parts of them that should be available to them early on.
Simon is referring to a Chinese school that both his daughter are enrolled in over the summer that teaches Mandarin, Chinese cooking and cultural celebrations. Now, I can’t speak to the quality of these things but I do think it is encouraging to hear that they have considered the importance of making these things available to their children at an early age. He and his wife even went as far as attempting to only hire Chinese babysitters for their daughters.
Finally, I wanted to comment on a particular comment I found confusing towards the end of the interview. Mr. Simon said that he does not believe it is healthy for one to confuse identity with ethnicity. I think that the word ‘ethnicity’ has become a code word for race more recently. Some folks balk at using the word ‘race’ when referring to their adoptee children, especially when they are Asian. However, I think it is incredibly important to acknowledge this.
He says that his daughters are aware of the fact that they are Chinese. They will be made VERY aware of what it means to be Chinese American and Asian American and how this collides with their identities as young women soon enough. And I believe that this can not and should not be left out of the conversation. Race, whether we like it or not, is part of the American subconsciousness. Children are exposed to this at a very young age through television, the media, the other children they are surrounded by as they grow up.
These conversations need to happen. I’m partially encouraged by some of the things Mr. Simon had to say. However, there is so much left to change. I would encourage Mr. Simon to consider helping change the all too common adoption narrative to one that encourages and embraces the opinions and perspectives of adult adoptees. For the most part, adoptive parents are the ones given the microphone to talk about their experiences and frame how adoption is talked about in the media.
Adult adoptees are an important part of the equation since your child won’t be a child forever. I would love for there to be an NPR program that includes adult adoptee scholars, writers, educators, bloggers etc. Our voices are out there, but for the most part, we’re not listened to or honored as much as yours. As adoptive parents, and as reporters and journalists I hope you’ll consider our voices as important as your own and give us opportunities to be a part of the dialogue.