Casual use of the word “adopt” — as in, “Adopt a Highway” — can be painful for adoptees. Adopted director Barb Lee explains why in this letter to the editor, an appeal to the City of Aspen to reconsider its use of the phrase “Adopt a Tourist.”
I read with interest the story you published about the “Adopt a Tourist” program here in Aspen. It’s a great program concept and truly reflects a part of the Aspen culture that isn’t as appreciated as it should be — kindness. It is with this aspect of our culture in mind that I would like to ask Mr. McFarlane and the city council to reconsider the title of this very fine program.
As an adult adoptee, please allow me to share something that these fine folks must not be aware of. The word adopted is very important and very complicated to so many families here in the valley and around the world. It’s a word that the adoption community embraces because it describes how we built our families and it’s a word which requires us to defend our families much too often. “Adopted” is used as the opposite of “real” children and “real” parents to minimize the sacred bonds adoptive parents have with their children. It’s used commonly as a humorous insult among birth families whenever they want to deny that a child has a legitimate connection to that family. Sadly, it is used much too casually around adopted children, and it causes them to doubt their permanence, their safety and their true belonging to a family that loves them unconditionally and eternally.
In the eyes of a young adopted child, if an Aspen citizen can adopt a tourist for a couple of days, then can’t her adoptive mom send her packing pretty soon? Adoptive parents spend years assuring their children that nothing can ever take them away from their families again. They spend years trying to help their children heal from the trauma of losing their first family. I assure you, these parents don’t need their own townspeople working against them in this cause.
Unfortunately and unintentionally, the title of this new tourist program and the council’s attempt at cute signage minimizes and insults some of Aspen’s families and some of the adoptive families who will visit our town. Furthermore, it creates a new layer of painful, anxiety-provoking questions and doubts for the young adopted children who see the signs.
I’m 45 years old and I’ve never written a letter to the editor of any paper, so I’m not one to overdo politically correct language or try to please every species on the planet. Nor am I one to complain. But, I am going to make a request on behalf of the adoptive community of the Roaring Fork Valley and on on behalf of those adoptive families who might visit us. City Council members, please show our families what Aspen intends to show all our visiting guests — a little kindness.