When I was young and I would get into arguments with my mom, I would oftentimes shout out, “You don’t love me!” Of course, I knew this wasn’t true. My mother showed me she loved me in thousands of silent ways everyday, whether it was reading my favorite stories to me or checking over my homework or spending her time by taking me to and from dance classes. And she reaffirmed her love for me consistently verbally, too. Yet in those moments of frustration and hurt, the words “you don’t love me” seemed to fly out the most naturally.
In one passionate conversation, I broke down crying, “Why do I have to be perfect all the time?” My mother responded undeniably that I didn’t need to be perfect, and while part of me believed her, there was another part, driven by fear, that didn’t. China was a mysterious place to me that I loved and longed to know more about, but it was also a fearful place in my young mind – a place that I could perhaps get sent back to if I was deemed not good enough by my parents (See: “You Got A Keeper!“). Overperforming was the way I ensured this wouldn’t happen. I was always an eager student who leapt at every extra credit opportunity and dressed impeccably. I drove myself to succeed in multiple settings as a competitive fundraiser, a committed volunteer, and a compassionate friend.
I eventually came to understand this childhood fear of mine. A few years ago, I presented at the Midwest Asian American Students’ Union Conference, and a fellow presenter quoted a blog piece by Elle Cuardiagh, in which she says, “There is a certain detachment to adoption. Being ‘chosen’ rather than ‘born to’ does it. Because we did not arrive by natural means, and so much mystery (or outright lies) are our baggage, we often feel not only that we do not fit in, but that we are disposable. That’s the thing about being chosen, you can be unchosen.”
This quote resonated with me deeply and brought me back to those early years. I needed to know that when I got in fights with my mom, when I was rejecting love, that she loved me and that she would choose me again and again and again.
More than just familial security, international adoptees need to feel secure in the country in which they live. Due to political policies like the One Child Policy in China, lacking social welfare systems like in Korea, or corruption and governmental unrest like in some Latin American countries, many adoptees feel displaced by their country of birth. Thus, it is even more imperative that adoptees feel valued and worth as citizens in their country of residency, so that they have at least one place of belonging. The U.S. has been the largest recipient of international adoptees from sending countries, and this country’s sentiment on immigration undoubtedly affects adoptees and their loved ones.
By now it is widespread news that last Thursday, President Donald Trump asked in an Oval Office meeting, “Why do we want all these people from shithole countries coming here?,” referring to places such as Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations. He continued, “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.” This is not the first time that President Trump has made vulgar remarks about these countries and sweeping judgements about people of color as rapists, criminals, and AIDS-ridden. Trump’s filterless candor has emboldened white supremacists to speak out and act out, while simultaneously creating a climate that no person of color, no immigrant, and no transnational/transracial adoptee can feel safe and secure in.
The countries that President Trump referred to as “shitholes” happen to be some significant sending countries in the international adoption system, affecting both children and adult adoptees, threatening their sense of place and belonging. And adoptive parents with children from these countries must be outraged. Moreover, adoptive parents with children of color from countries outside of Haiti and these African nations must be outraged, too. It doesn’t matter that China, India, or Korea weren’t a part of this particular diatribe. One small international incident with one of those nations could deem the entire country and its people unworthy.
Adoption places transracial adoptees in a unique position of further isolation because they may not have access to a support group of individuals who have had similar experiences. Adoptees overwhelmingly live in white, affluent neighborhoods where they are far removed from other adoptees or even adults from the same racial backgrounds who could mentor them in forming a strong racial identity and navigating difficult cultural times. Transracial adoptees are at a loss because their oftentimes well-meaning white adoptive parents have never experienced racial prejudice and lack the knowledge and skills to prepare them for racism and how to cope with it. This does not even include the large subset of adoptive parents who like to refer to themselves as colorblind, refusing to acknowledge the impact of race. Furthermore, some adoptees are growing up now in homes where their parents have voted for a president who has disparaged people from various racial groups and may have openly called their homeland a “shithole country.”
To the adoptive parents reading this: Now is the time for you to speak up and let your child know where you stand on the issue of race. Trickle-down white privilege has never worked, but it is especially unhelpful to think your child would have any of the same protections in the current social/political environment. You cannot affirm your child’s identity and choose them without validating the dignity of their country of birth and their racial background. More than ever, you need to be aware that even if you are trying to protect your child at home, they will hear about mass deportation, remarks about immigrants, and racial name calling at school and in the community. Your adoptee must know that you are a safe place to raise their concerns and fears and that they will be listened to and supported.
To the adoptees reading this: You are loved, and you are wanted. It might be harder to find communities that affirm our identities and experiences, but they do exist. Reach out to other adoptees or people you trust, because we shouldn’t have to — and we don’t have to — face this alone. We can take courage in the knowledge that many people do not support the President’s views, and our collective efforts can make the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty ring true again.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”