"A girlfriend who is now on the waiting list for a child from Ethiopia
says that the talk of her adoption group is a recently published book
in which many Midwestern Asian adoptees now entering their 30s and 40s
complain bitterly about being treated as if they did not come from a
different cultural background. They feel that this treatment was an
attempt to blot out their differences, and because of this, they
resent their adoptive parents.
So in a way it is kind of nice to know as a parent of a child,
biological or otherwise – whatever you do is going to be wrong. Like I
say to Willow: "Well, you know, if you were still in China you would
be working in a factory for 14 hours a day with only limited bathroom
breaks!"" - Tama Janowitz, "The Real Thing"
Here is my response, which I submitted as a comment to the NYT blog:
I am one of the co-editors of the book mentioned but unnamed by Ms. Janowitz and I would like to respond.
The anthology is Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption and it was published by South End Press in fall of 2006. My co-editors are Julia Chinyere Sudbury and Jane Jeong Trenka.
I would like to offer a note of appreciation for the comment by Lori Askeland. Ms. Askeland and I happen to share a publisher, Greenwood Press, which produced her (mentioned) anthology and The Praeger Handbook of Adoption, for which I wrote an entry ("Infertility and Adoption").
I find Askeland's analysis and response to Janowitz's article to be intelligent and well informed by the larger picture of global child welfare. I very much appreciate her critique of Janowitz's statements as reductive. It's very easy, and certainly can be "funny," to mimic and make sport of the concerns of people of color regarding issues of race and class inequities. There's no shortage of historical precedent. So I thank Ms. Askeland for lending dignity, intellectual inquiry, critical thinking, and her conscience to the discussion.
I also want to make a correction to her description of the
book's authorship. Only a handful of our contributors are Asian; and
only a few of those are from the Midwest. My co-editor Julia Chinyere
Sudbury is a Nigerian-English woman born in the U.K. and has settled in
Oakland, CA; several of our contributors are from countries other than
I could create a little table of ethnicity and country of origin (and age, a topic to come further down)--but that's not really the point here.
I'm not sure if there is some investment, not just by Askeland, or by others, in configuring our book as a project by "young adult adoptees" (the age range of contributors is through the 50s) and "Asian Americans from the Midwest" but that assessment is inaccurate, and has undertones of dismissal in terms of the book's potential relevance to a global audience. I don't believe Askeland was dismissing the book, but clearly others (in the book group mentioned by Janowitz) have, perhaps for a variety of reasons. Certainly individuals can be compelled by the book's overarching thesis and the individual pieces, or not, but the reality of the discourse around adoption is such that I felt moved to give some context.
I am positive that neither Julia Chinyere Sudbury, the author of one book and the editor of two others, plus a possessor of a PhD in Sociology and a professor of Ethnic Studies at Mills College, nor Jane Jeong Trenka, the author of two memoirs + the anthology, nor I, the author of two books + the anthology, consider ourselves "young adults" or "young adoptees."
I'm a mother myself, of two children aged ten and seven, and have been in a committed partnership for over eleven years, and have supported myself independently since I was twenty years old, working as a business analyst in information technology at a variety of multi-national corporations. I have a BA and a master's degree and frequently speak in public. I have a mortgage and so forth. Although none of these things in particular define adulthood (certainly a contentious category for some), if I'm not just a plain old adult, I'm not sure who is. I realize this sounds like "she doth protest too much," so I'll leave off the adult tip and move on.
Outsiders Within was/is a collaborative project of artists, writers, and scholars--and includes the work of non-adopted persons, most of them (tenured) academics. All of us are "adults," for whatever that's worth, and in adoption discourse, it actually is worth a lot, as many adopted people of color continue to be infantilized. In terms of linguistics and social history, the word "adoptee" denotes a state of childhood (as an adult cannot be adopted) and connotes, sometimes, indigence and certainly dependence.
Readers of the NYT must be aware that people of color are--in material terms and through representations--subjected to neo-colonial notions and practices that reduce us to children in need of the great white savior. Very often our concerns about racism, sexism, classism, and imperialism are variously pooh-poohed through a well-oiled rhetorical machinery of historical denial.
Our, whether we're adopted people of color or non-adopted people of color, revelations and critiques of these oppressive practices are often assessed by whites as the ungrateful whining of children (regardless of our actual age) in a developmental stage posited as universal and timeless of immature (and unfounded) complaint against their parents. It, to my sorrow, sounds all too familiar in terms of US history and relationships of power.
A close(r) reading of Outsiders Within will reveal that the thesis of the book is not that adoptive parents make mistakes or that we'd rather, hm, be working in sweat shops (and yes, that was offensive on a number of levels, and sickeningly casual and classist because some of our birth mothers--the women who provided adoptive parents with their new children--with whom we've reunited _do_ work in factories under sweatshop conditions--and of course some of them are middle class, and some of them are even white, as is the mother of some of the contributors to OW), but that the economies, politics, and intimacies of transracial adoption have much to reveal about the world today, if those most profoundly impacted, the adoptees themselves, are to be listened to.
I'm not certain that a full discussion can be had about transnational adoption, whether from China or elsewhere, without the voices of adoptees. And the question is--why would adoptive parents such a limited discussion anyway? Would white women want a discussion about white womanhood solely by white men? I think American history has shown that not to be the case.
I actually find it sad and sadly curious that white women who are champions of the rights and innate equality of women would derogate the attempts of people of color to participate in conversations that are essentially about them. Of course if we are dismissed as children and as young(er than the parents), our voices remain immature, undeveloped, and easily ignored unless we are grateful, unless we unequivocally privilege the primacy of our adoptive families and adopted cultures--whether white or Chinese, apparently we are not to give "any guff" to our "real mothers." Truly, it's not an either-or scenario--it's much more complex.
I am not here to state that one culture is better than the other, that it's better to be adopted than to "languish in an orphanage" etc., or to promote nostalgia for one's "biological mother," or to imply that (some American) children don't complain bitterly about what they don't have or their parents' "parenting,"--I know all the arguments against adopted people speaking for themselves, unless they say, "I don't care about my home country. Don't send me to camp. ______ is dirty and smelly, I don't want to go back. You are my real mother. I love being American," etc. I really do, I've heard them all. I've said them--when I actually _was_ a child. I get it. As an _adult_--things are more complicated. Absolutes such as "real" and "where I belong" are oversimplifications for many of us who are in fact immigrants. People are free to pathologize me (or any immigrant, or any minority) as wanting to be part of the "Victim Olympics" and so forth. People have the freedom to chastise me as taking advantage of my "model minority status" and "biting the hand that feeds me." Everyone has a right to her or his opinion. Certainly I'm at risk of blindness as much as anyone else. But, what's at stake if the critiques of people like me are actually valid?
What I want is for there to be a kind of ongoing truth and reconciliation process--for US citizens, including myself, to examine our privileges and sense of entitlement and ethnocentrism. I want us, as women, as men, humans in history, to examine, unflinchingly, the realities of reproductive choices around the world, and to see the long-term effects of children being relocated, en masse, from one country to another. What does this relocation of resources mean? Friends, it's larger than the family, it's larger than an individual woman or man's fertility or infertility, it's larger than the one-child policy, or "relative choices." Who has choices and who doesn't?