Adoption Stories from Adopted the Movie - A Feature Film by Barb Lee

January 2, 2007

Asian Women as Exotic

Amanda Baden, a transracial adoptee and adoption psychologist, on the exotification of Asian culture.


One of the interesting facets of being Asian in American, an Asian woman in America, I think, is recognizing in our culture that there is a tendency to exoticize Asian women in this society. And so for parents who are raising children who are Chinese and adopted, their recognition of that may take on a different tone. They may not be aware of it in the same way that I, as an adult woman, am aware of it. And so, by emphasizing the child’s tie to Chinese heritage and cultures is wonderful. But there is also this tendency to sort of-there can be a fine line I guess I should say, between objectifying being Chinese and celebrating being Chinese and so when we objectify and exoticize this Far East kind of place, then it doesn’t become real to us here in America. And it’s hard to incorporate that sense of what China is in our everyday experience. So for a child who only sees that being Chinese means wearing those silk jackets and doing line dances, may be an inaccurate way for them to think about it. And may not help them at all understand how they interact as a Chinese person in school or at work with their friends on the playground. So we have to sort of balance it much more carefully.

December 17, 2006

Adopted Children and Racism

Filed under: Chinese Adoption,Film Clips,For Parents,Race and Identity,Videos — Catherine @ 1:35 pm

Dr. Joseph Crumbley, a therapist specializing in adoptive families, discusses racism in adopted children from China.

I was invited by an organization titled "Families with Children from China." They asked me to meet with their children and to see if they were dealing with issues of race. And I met with the children, and I guess they were maybe five or six years old up to ten or eleven. And there may have been about ten children in the group. And I asked them if they knew what prejudice was, and they said "no." I asked them if they knew what racism was and they said "no," so I defined it for them. I defined prejudice as someone having attitudes and ideas about you because of what they heard, not because of them knowing you. And they said, "O.K., all right, we understand that." I asked them if they knew what racism was, and they said "no," and I defined racism to them as meaning when someone feels as though they’re better than you and mistreats you simply because you look different from them. So they got the definition. And then I asked them how many of you have experienced prejudice or discrimination or racism. All the hands went up. So I then went around the group and I asked them what kind of experiences did you have? And they said:

"Well, somebdoy called me a pan face. Somebody called me a round face. Somebody called me a chink. Somebody asked me if I had yellow fever. Somebody asked me where my glasses were, because they figured because of my eyes I couldn’t be able to see. Somebody even said to me that I couldn’t play basketball because the only thing I’m good at is being smart."

So the children were going around with all their different experiences and what people were saying to them. And one of the children in the group was about five years old, and I didn’t really think she could share anything. I asked her, "what was your experience? Did somebody mistreat you because of your race?"No." Well, I asked if somebody said something bad about you because of your race. "No." Well, what did they do and this is what she did, <makes motion.> And the other kids in the group started laughing and saying, "ohh, slanty eyes!" So they kind of knew what was going on, and she said, "but I’ve got an answer for that." And I said, "What are you going to do?"I’m going to have an operation." I said, "What kind of operation?" "Well, I’m going to have my eyelids cut back so that they’ll be round."

December 14, 2006

Nurturing Identities in Adoptive Families

Filed under: Articles,For Parents,Race and Identity — Catherine @ 10:44 am


by Jane A. Brown, MSW

Recently, I watched from the sidelines as my eleven year-old, Chinese-born daughter learned to make dumplings from our international student, Xiang, and Xiang’s mother, in our kitchen and served them to our family. I couldn’t help but reflect on what an exciting, but complicated journey it has been for me to figure out why birth culture is important, how it is best imparted, and how to connect with those people who can truly help children assimilate the useful parts of their culture-of-origin. We– my husband and I–have been part of the adoption arena for more than twenty five years. We are still learning!

Years ago, the adult Korean adoptees began to suggest to adoptive parents and adoption professionals that learning about culture might help have help them to fit into their ethnic communities, and that that is something adoptive parents could do to empower the children they are raising Today. Ever-eager to act in their children’s best interests, adoptive parents responded with gusto. Soon, we were establishing heritage camps, Culture Days, language and dance classes. Our young children enjoyed these activities and experiences as much as their parents did, and the trend caught on– first across the country, and then around the world.

While these were and are worthwhile intentions, I recognize that much of what we do is falling short of accomplishing the original goal which was to empower our children to find and keep a place within their ethnic communities and develop healthy racial and ethnic identity. I wanted to discover why and what else we could and should be doing to promote our children’s racial-ethnic and cultural identities so that they will not continue to grow up and complain that they cannot fit into the dominant racial-cultural group nor their own racial-ethnic groups. My search has led me on a path of self-education and a journey to make significant changes in my life that are benefiting both my adopted sons and daughters, and those who were born into our family.

What our children need in order to feel a sense of fit, is first and formost, comfort with being immersed in their racial-ethnic communities because that trickles down to their feeling comfortable wearing the skin they are in. If our children feel awkward and uncomfortable in the company of fellow members of their racial-ethnic group and are silently insisting that they are not like them because they are growing up in White families, they are not going to have an ongoing desire to take and use cultural information and cultural competency skills. Racial and ethnic identity is heavily context dependent. I realized, at some point in my parenting, that all the discussions about race and culture, all the celebrations and lessons in "high" culture or language, all of the attempts to integrate birth culture into our personal lives at home (eating with chopsticks, hanging Art on our walls), and visits to our children’s birth countries was not promoting healthy racial and ethnic identification.

While our children had fun engaging with other adopted youngsters at these celebrations, gatherings, classes, and holiday celebrations, they were not gaining the opportunities they needed to be with adults and families from their racial-ethnic group in their everyday lives, nor to be in multicultural environments. The fact that these Culture Days, heritage camps, dance classes constituted "special," occasional events, and that while they involved at least a few adults from their ethnic group those individuals were hand-selected by White parents because they have a positive attitude towards adoption, meant that we were not replicating normal, typical, everyday way of life for members of our children’s ethnic community, nor were we giving our children an authentic connection with their ethnic group. We were also not providing regular, meaningful, positive, ongoing opportunities to be surrounded by and get comfortable with people who look like themselves– the very experiences that counteract the stereotypes they otherwise take in an integrate by which they "other" members of their racial-ethnic group. There were no real opportunities for our children to observe, imitate, and incorporate the ways their ethnic group members tend to interact and relate to one another; to absorb the common ways they work, play, and behave within family roles; to recognize what constitutes polite behavior and be able to replicate that; to figure out what tends to be valued, etc.. which are the very things that bind an ancestral "people" together and add up to "culture."

Those were distressing realities to face, and at first, we felt overwhelmed by what we didn’t know how to do, and by the fact that we were going to have to make some major changes in how we live in order to make a difference in our children’s lives. We had to come to the point where we recognize that our children were internalizing racism through the lack of meaningful, regular connection with adults and communities of color– and that we were responsible for that lack. And that that bears on whether and how they could or could not absorb the culture of "their people" and would want to.

We recognized that what is most important to the adoptees is gaining a sense of comfort with people who look like themselves, seeing themselves as authentic members of their racial-ethnic group, and feeling confident in how to "act their race" (as young people describe this). We shifted our focus from providing what amounts to "high culture" that has little practical application, to connecting our children with members of their racial-ethnic group on a regular basis so that they could see for themselves that there are any number of ways of being a member of "their people," and deciding what to incorporate into how they think, behave, value, and can find and keep a place in their racial-ethnic community.

Once we faced up as parents, we began to look differently at the lives we had plunged our children into and at what we could do differently. We moved. That was– for us–overwhelmingly scary, complicated, and challenging– for it meant changing jobs, selling and buying homes, taking our children out of the only home, schools and social circles they knew, and starting over. All the while not knowing whether this would bring about what we hoped that it would. While the cross-country move did immerse us in a community where there is more racial diversity, we also found that our new community is more transient, so while people come here from all over the world to do research and work, they do not stay long and our neighborhood– which we hoped would be racially diverse-is constantly and continually undergoing change. We also chose to move to an area in which there are lots of different racial-ethnic minority groups, so that its multiracial and multicultural, but there are not a large number of people who are of the same race and ethnicity as our children, and the majority is still White. We live in Arizona, where those who are Hispanic and Native American comprise most of the racial minority population, and only a limited proportion of the population is African American or Asian American. So we have to work hard to help our sons and daughters make and keep a connection with their own racial-ethnic groups. One of the most positive outcomes of the move was that my husband and I experienced and had to learn to face and process loss again– which helped us to connect in a more experiential way with the feelings our children will be processing all their lives as byproducts of having moved from one family, country, racial-ethnic group to another.

We began, in a much more conscious way, to focus on race, ethnicity, and adoption in our family discussions. My husband and I devoted more of our time and energy to understanding the lifelong ramifications of adoption loss, trauma, race and ethnicity, and then discovering and implementing practical ways to use what we were learning– to fine-tune our communication style so that we were better attuned to "hearing" the unspoken feelings, self-theories, beliefs in our children (mostly expressed through their behavioral cues); how to approach and gently explore the potential for friendships with adults and families of color; how to connect with people who could sensitize us to cultural cues (what is polite and what is not, what various ethnic groups tend to expect in terms of how people interact and behave) and start to build cultural competency. We also had to learn about racism– and face that we were neither as aware nor as sensitive as we had imagined ourselves to be.

We had to face and accept the reality that because we were born with White skin, we have been given the privilege to take much for granted and to not have to see many of the inequities or the power differential between groups, and thus, benefit from racism even though we would never have wanted that. And face, too, that our children do not have automatic entitlement to those privileges just because they live with us. We had to learn to really, authentically "see" racism, and as our eyes began to be opened to it, we "saw" more and more.

What it means and what it takes to help our children acquire cultural competency so as to be able to feel comfortable within their own skin, and gain a sense of connection to and confidence with being a part of their racial-ethnic community, plus feel kinship with the wider population of people of color has been a long, complicated, but wonderful journey for us, as parents.

We are now, as parents of a mostly-grown-up adoptive family, able to really see the benefit to our sons and daughters. They identify in a variety of ways– all of them normal. One has married a man who emigrated with his family as a teen, from her country-of-origin. They keep a bicultural household, their kids are bilingual, and they have strong ties to their ethnic community. One has married a woman of the same race and ethnicity and they are living, working, and raising their child in his country of origin. One married a fellow adoptee with shared racial and ethnic heritage. Still another has married a woman who is multiracial and multicultural, and that is their primary identification. Their extended family and friendship circle reflects that, and he has developed a career path for himself in which is familiarity and comfort with a multicultural social circle, and his ability to straddle a variety of racial and cultural groups works positively for him. We also have three children who were born to us, two of whom are now adults. They date cross-racially, and their friendship circles show us that they have deeply incorporated multiculturism into their personal identities. One has married a young man who is ALSO the non-adopted sibling in a transracial adoptive family and has a family member who is a birth parent of a grown child who grew up in Central America (was adopted transracially and internationally).

Jane A. Brown, MSW

Adoption Playshops!

Building Racial Identity

Filed under: Articles,For Parents,Race and Identity — Catherine @ 10:43 am

Building Racial Identity: Strategies and Practical Suggestions:
by Beth Hall
Article reprinted with permission from Pact: An Adoption Alliance.

General Approach:

It is important to teach your children that race is a fact of birth which no one has either chosen or earned; and that being a racist is both a state of mind and a choice. It is essential to train your children to recognize racism where it exists (not an easy task, since it also means training yourself). Talk about racism and point it out when you encounter it. Minimizing racism’s place in life may unfortunately allow your children to feel responsible for racist behavior they have experienced; to believe that they have somehow done something to deserve it; or perhaps to believe that you think this could be the case.

Specific Strategies:

  1. Look at the laundry list of your daily errands and life experiences. Whenever possible, choose to surround yourself with people of your child’s race or with other people of color.
  2. When choosing professionals such as doctors, dentists, lawyers, and so on, allow race to be a factor in your choice. It is essential that, wherever possible, you counterbalance our society’s generally negative stereotypes of and expectations for people of color.
  3. Schools are very important places for children. Whenever possible, choose a school attended by other children of color and by multiracial families, for this diversity always offers wonderful opportunities for familiarization and identification. When choosing extracurricular classes or lessons for your children, expose them to skills that will enhance their cultural competence. If they are learning to cook, then choose classes where they can cook the foods common to their ethnic heritage. Languages, art and sports: all can be chosen with an eye to building cultural competence and personal connections within your children’s racial or ethnic group of origin.
  4. When going to the mall, movies or a restaurant, drive those few extra miles if it means being somewhere frequented by other families of color. Your children benefit from every opportunity to observe and join in with others of their race, rather than always being the "only one" of color in a group; similarly, such experiences help to avoid the possibility that the only people of color whom they know are other adopted children with White parents.
  5. When taking vacations or sending your children to summer camps and other recreational activities, choose places and experiences where they can be exposed to people of their own race. Particularly if you live in a predominantly White area, these may offer some of the rare opportunities for your child to be with and around people of color.
  6. Groom your children so they look good all the time. Because of their membership in your family, they may be watched more carefully and judged more stringently by people from their own racial group(s). To give them the armor to feel good about themselves, help them to dress and groom themselves according to the "mainstream" styles of their own racial context rather than of yours. Many opportunities can be found; to offer just two possibilities, African American girls commonly wear long hair (avoiding short afros), oiled and combed (or brushed) daily and either worn up, braided or well-coifed; Latina girls often wear pierced ears from infancy. These physical manifestations not only become vehicles of good self-esteem but provide connecting links between them and other children of their race who are growing up in same-race homes.
  7. Expose your children early and often to the history of "their" people. Don’t shy away from the negative aspects of their history, for they need to understand the whole truth. Don’t just give them facts – point out why and how these facts relate to them personally. And make sure you not only teach them yourself; whenever possible, let them hear from people of their own race so they can understand the pride and importance of this shared history and experience.
  8. Hold out high expectations for your children. Skill-mastery becomes one of the strongest building blocks of self-esteem. Children of color often need the protection of personal success and accomplishment to counterbalance society’s lowered or negative expectations. Communicate to your children your belief that they can be excellent at things for which they have talent and strength and that they can do well in all things to which they set their minds. They need to know that, while it takes hard work and great stamina to overcome difficult odds, this struggle is their legacy and they should not allow others’ diminished expectations to limit their determination to achieve.
  9. Give your children the social and interpersonal skills to act "appropriately" in their cultural context as well as in yours. In order to teach this lesson, you must first explore and recognize the differences between these two. Then you need to clarify for your children the difference between acceptable behavior within the home and safety of the family and acceptable public behavior. Children of color (and perhaps particularly those raised with White parents) are always scrutinized carefully and will be susceptible to harsh judgments from outsiders. If you and your children overlook this fact, then they will have a distinct disadvantage in their interactions with the world when you’re not with them. Politeness and knowledge of appropriate social mores can go a long way to opening doors and relationships for our children.
  10. Strengthening our children’s sense of family identity and unity is essential to helping our children manage the challenges of transracial adoption. Developing and reinforcing family rituals is an important tool for creating this sense of family membership. Such rituals can help emphasize all the similarities among a family’s members, without denying the differences. Seek opportunities to create rituals that clarify family membership. These family rituals, small or large, silly or somber, can become simple parts of your family’s life and can come to define being a member of your family. They can involve things like eating family meals together at certain times during each week; having special family songs, inside jokes or conversations; or developing and maintaining ceremonies or traditions for certain events or holidays (innovative or traditional). There are millions that you can create together; whatever your family’s special blend, they are important and essential tools to help both our children and ourselves feel like fully entitled members of our families.

Copyright ©1998 by Pact, An Adoption Alliance

Latino and Asian Children in White Homes

Filed under: Articles,For Parents,Race and Identity — Catherine @ 10:43 am

Latino and Asian Children in White Homes
by Beth Hall and Gail Steinberg
Article reprinted with permission from Pact: An Adoption Alliance.

"We want to adopt an Asian or Latino child," said the White couple. "She or he will fit into our community with no problem."

White prospective parents sometimes approach adoption with the idea that they can successfully raise a child of a race different from their own as long as the child is from a racial background they believe will be accepted by their community. Because it results in greater adoption opportunities for them, these parents benefit most from the myth that race is not an issue for Latino or Asian children.

What supports the conclusion that minority race doesn’t matter from people without personal experience to justify it? In the public debate, it is rare to hear Latinos or Asians argue that they do not experience race as an issue. An Asian or Latino child being raised in a White family will experience the same stereotypes all Asians and Latinos face today in our country.

Caucasian people cannot fully speak for Latino or Asian people any more than they can be fully aware of what it feels like to be Latino or Asian in a race-conscious society. Though some prospective White adoptive parents also seem to take comfort in the assumption that there are no negative feelings about transracial adoptions in the Latino and Asian communities and that they will be welcomed, this belief may be false comfort. Generalizations are dangerous. Assumptions need to be tested on an individual basis. We’d guess someone trying to investigate attitudes in these communities would find a range of responses to transracial adoption, with as much resentment as support.

"Our adoption worker encouraged us to adopt a Salvadoran baby he had heard about," said the White couple. "He said there was a wonderful birth mother in Florida and the child would match us because, as Italians, we have dark hair, brown eyes, and olive skin tones. He said he was sure race would not be an issue."

When a birth mother approaches a professional service in need of a family to adopt her child, the professional normally turns to families in his or her own client base to assist in making a connection. For a variety of reasons that do not seem to include varying desires to adopt, there are more White families waiting to adopt than families of color. Adoption services are most often paid for by prospective adoptive parents. Thus, some service providers (agency personnel, attorneys, facilitators, etc.) feel that the adoptive parent is their client and that their primary responsibility is to meet the needs of these clients to find a child, rather than to be sure a home will be appropriate for the child, based in part on the child’s racial background. Professionals who are involved in the commerce of adoption and who have mostly White adoptive clients therefore benefit from the myth that race is not an issue for Latino or Asian children because it results in increased business for them.

"I hear what you’re saying, but I want to adopt an Asian child anyway," said the White prospective parent. "After all, people think highly of Asians. Everyone knows they are very smart and hard-working, so why would there be any problems? And children from Asia need homes- so, frankly, I might have a better chance."

Children do not benefit from the myth that race is not an issue for Latino or Asian children placed in White families. Stereotypes, however "positive, remain stereotypes and all stereotypes are limiting. Again and again, members of those groups labeled "automatically good at math" or "great with details" express the burden of confronting social expectations – positive stereotypes – that may not apply. They also express sadness… that the efforts of one’s hard-won accomplishments are diminished by others who account them as "natural" or genetically determined.

There is a notion among many would-be adopters that a racial hierarchy exists which makes it easier to be of one race than another. Certainly, various racial groups can point to differences in their history in the United States and in their current status as measured in socioeconomic terms. But there is not a single population "of color" that does not raise its voices against the racism experienced by all people of color in a White-dominant culture. It is inappropriate for those outside a minority culture to claim to know more than its members about their acceptance within mainstream society.

Adopted children are not genetically linked to their adoptive families. Comfortable acceptance of their dual identity comes from being valued and valuing in the context of celebrating differences. They have a right to feel part of and to participate in the culture that is their heritage as well as to feel part of the culture of the family of which they have become members. It may be harder for Asian and Latino children to make significant connections to their birth cultures because these cultures are closely associated with concrete traditions and the country of origin. Role models, adults whose daily lives reflect that culture, may be scarce.

"We feel it is very important for our Peruvian child to understand the culture of Peru and someday we will travel there with her. She is often mistaken for a Mexican American but we tell her she is Peruvian because we want her to be proud of her heritage."

Clearly these parents want to value their child’s background. No one can argue that a Peruvian child will not benefit from that someday trip to Peru. These parents seem to understand that race is an important issue for their child, but they may be creating more limits than they need to in helping her connect to her roots.

What is the value in making such a strong distinction between this Peruvian child and the Mexican Americans that people mistake her for? In the US, our largest population of Latino people is Mexican American. This means that, for many adopted Latino children, the Mexican American community is where they will find the closest connection to their life experiences as Latinos. By denying this child a feeling of connection to the Mexican Americans she meets, we deny access to a group of people who could interpret and help her gain strength in the face of the stereotypes and differences they experience in common as Latinos. Transracially-adoptive parents need to do as much as they can to minimize their child’s loss of culture and ethnic or racial identity by allowing connections and fostering identification with those with whom their children share a cultural heritage.

Who is hurt by the myth that race is not an issue for Latino or Asian children placed in White families?

Children who lose the history, traditions, and comforts of connection to others who share their racial background are the victims of this myth. Parents who take away their child’s opportunity to feel a true member of their own racial or ethnic groups are depriving their child of a birthright and diminishing the rich contributions of the child’s intrinsic culture. For a member of a minority group in America, it’s an easy leap to conclude that the insignificance of one’s cultural heritage suggests one’s own insignificance as an individual member of that culture. As it is said, race matters. Help to make it matter in a positive way in bringing up adopted children.

Copyright ©1998 by Pact, An Adoption Alliance

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