KAAN 2015: Intersections

Last weekend I had the privilege of participating in the KAAN Conference in St. Louis, Missouri. The theme was intersections, a topic I think and write about frequently. Just about a month ago, I wrote a piece on the importance of recognizing my Chinese heritage with my American upbringing and meeting me at the intersection of this identity. Similarly, I’ve discussed how the intersection of race and gender affect the lens through which Asian women are viewed. Examples of this are in the racist portrayals of women in Miss Saigon and, more personally, the circumstances that allowed a stranger to presume that I was my father’s girlfriend.

The conference’s location in Missouri was significant in furthering the dialogue on race and the #BlackLivesMatter campaign that came out of Michael Brown’s tragic death in Ferguson last year. One panel session highlighted the relevance of #BlackLivesMatter to transracial adoptive families raising children of color, while others suggested tips in initiating tough conversations around race. I again saw the prevalence of intersections when speakers presented their work, sometimes in the position of both the subject and object of their research. It is remarkable to be surrounded in a space by adoptee writers, performers, artists, scholars, and activists – all methods of processing our adoptions and integral pieces of our identities.

I left the KAAN Conference reaffirmed in my understanding that we are never just one thing and should not be perceived that way. We are so complex, and all of the factors that make up our identity deserve to be seen. The intersections not only within oneself, but also between community are so powerful. The importance of conferences like KAAN reach adoptees and families despite generation gaps, regional differences, and even country of origin.

The intersection between the Korean and Chinese adoptee communities is less commonly equated but equally obvious. From the beginning, the Chinese adoption system was modeled after Korea’s. Not to mention, now with easier access to DNA testing, many Chinese adoptees are discovering they have Korean adoptee 3rd or 4th cousins.  Though some issues are specific by country, many are broad enough to be applicable to Chinese adoptees, as well. From race and racism in the U.S. to feelings around first families and ambiguous loss to fears of cultural incompetency, these are situations that are easily relatable across the table.

There have been a few efforts to organize a national level Chinese adoptee conference that have all fallen through to this point. While I believe that we do deserve a space of our own, I think we can learn much from existing Korean adoptee groups, like KAAN, and should use these as a springboard for the Chinese adoptee community until a Chinese adoptee specific conference develops.  I strongly encourage other Chinese adoptees to attend KAAN (hosted in Pittsburgh, PA next year). It is relevant. It is thought-provoking. And it is a place where the intersections of my identity are deeply understood.

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Kimberly McKee PhD, The Honorable Judge Judy Preddy Draper, Lisa Marie Rollins, Shannon Gibney, Susan Harris O’Connor MSW, Robert O’Connor MSW, LGSW ~ Given our location in St. Louis, MO for this year’s KAAN, we would be remiss if we did not discuss the grand jury decisions in the deaths of Michael Brown (Ferguson, MO) and Eric Garner (Staten Island, NY), #BlackLivesMatter activism, and the police deaths of other people of color. We recognize the importance of discussing issues such as white privilege, racial profiling in policing, and the impact of implicit bias within our families. We also realize that transracial and international adoptive families cannot overlook the role racism and race have in the lives of adoptees. A panel of local and national experts, facilitated by Dr. Kimberly McKee, will examine this important issue.

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Kimberly McKee PhD ~ The concept of racialized sexuality produces contradictions on the bodies of female Asian adoptees. As infants they are fetishized as adoptable commodities, while in adulthood, their bodies become attached to legacies of Oriental fantasy. No parent wants to realize that his/her son or daughter will be targeted for any type of harassment based on race or gender. Yet, from my experience as an adult female adoptee and academic research interests, I know that all too often unsolicited remarks will be said from time to time. By not having conversations regarding this type of racialization within our families, we do a disservice to both our daughters and sons. Teaching our daughters to constructively confront and grapple with this kind of harassment will also equip them to negotiate other situations in which women are targeted. At the same time, teaching our sons to problematize and question when such racialized and sexualized incidents occur will also make them more self-aware.

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Martha M. Crawford LCSW, Joy Lieberthal LCSW, Katie Jae Naftzger LICSW, Melanie Chung-Sherman LCSW-S, CTS, LCPAA ~ A panel of adoptee mental health providers discuss the psychological and systemic challenges to finding and engaging in adoption competent therapy and counseling services.

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Rosita Gonzalez MS in Communication Research, Amanda Transue-Woolston MSS, LSW, Soojung Jo, Michelle Lahti, Annette-Kassaye MacDonald, Lisa Marie Rollins ~ The Lost Daughters website has become the voice of women adoptees. Join a panel of Lost Daughters to see how writing heals and also works to “flip the script” as founder Amanda Transue-Woolston coins the phrase. Grace Newton will also join the others listed on this panel.

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Hollee McGinnis MSW, PhD candidate ~ Overseas adoptees share a legacy with other children who, in the aftermath of the Korean War and subsequent decades after, were cared for in alternative settings. While much attention has been placed on the use of intercountry adoption as an intervention for children in need of care over the past sixty years, during the same period nearly two million children had been cared for in orphanages. Currently, Korea continues to disproportionately rely on institutions for children, with approximately 17,000 children residing in 238 child welfare facilities. This presentation will provide an overview of the current situation of adolescents growing up in institutions including the resilience and challenges these youth face in Korean society, and the complexity of the current child welfare system in South Korea.

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KAAN Advisory Council

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Performance by alternative hip hop artist DANakaDAN

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Members of The Lost Daughters with performer Dan aka Dan

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Marissa Lichwick-Glesne MFA ~ Based on Marissa’s life, it is the personal story of Rachel, a Korean orphan, and her experiences as an adoptee in America. Yellow Dress: A Solo Show chronicles Rachel’s early years on the streets of Seoul, her journey to a new and bewildering land when she is adopted and becomes part of a family of ten, and then her fateful journey back to Korea.

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