Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Sisterhood

Summer brings sunshine, happiness (from the sunshine) and movies! This summer in the spirit of my daughter (aka #feminist9YO), I have vowed to see movies with female protagonists, or as she calls them, “movies with strong female characters.”

This week, it was The Heat.

*spoiler alert*

In it, Sandra Bullock’s FBI character reveals that she was a foster child and a young girl who had few friends. When this played on screen, I cringed. “Great, another Hollywood slap in the face for child welfare,” I thought. I had reported on the abuse adoption received in The Avengers here, and I braced myself.

However, this movie plays out quite differently. At the end of the movie, Melissa McCarthy’s character signs Bullock’s character’s old high school annual. When the audience was able to read it, her words took my breath away. In that moment, when McCarthy’s character refers to Bullock’s as her “sister,” I felt the acceptance that the character felt. My vitamin D-deprived psyche shed some negativity.

In the adoption/foster care world, we talk so much these days about loss … the loss of families, the loss of self, the loss of racial identity. I have cycled through this loss and am still circling back as my children cycle.

But this reminded me of the things that make me truly happy … relationships, and more specifically, my female relationships. The women in my life who have helped me through the loss, the hurt and the anger. My mother taught me the importance of friendships. Hers is the strongest I have ever known, and I model my friendships after hers.

My sister, while younger than me, has also enriched my life. I often find myself looking to her for guidance. She is my sounding board.

So many wonderful women have held me up and given me strength. I consider my “little sisters”: Jenny (my Frances Ha, another excellent movie), LaDawn, Nicole and Jessica. I cherish my relationship with Marlene, who I called my “other mother,” as she nurtured me when I began my life as an adult in the workforce.

There are my other sisters, Kathy and Kayla, and my twin sisters, Katherine and Adrienne, who have tutored me in all things Asian and helped me form my Feeling racial identity. They reassured me that my common childhood anxieties were theirs too.

All these women have cycled through my life, and while they are a big part of my life still, they live so very far from me. Our lives are so busy and finding the time to talk is a challenge. The Wisconsin winters and my move here lead me down a few dark paths, but now, another sister has entered.

This sister has a positive outlook. This sister has an appreciation of my feelings on adoption. This sister is also adopted. There is much to be learned from this next chapter of sisterhood. We all need a “sister.”

The Misguided Guide

My parenting could be described as a “fly by the seat of my pants” philosophy. Before I became a parent, I read parenting books and made notes on steps and rules. I was a planner, and I was certain of my future as a parent.

The minute my boy broke free from my womb, it was apparent that no book could prepare me for this trip, but I wholeheartedly accepted my role as the life travel guide.

If you have been reading my blog, you know that my boy is struggling with his racial identity. One day, he wants to blend in. The next, he proclaims his allegiance to Asian Pride. My love for him drives me to be supportive but also to encourage dialogue so that I, too, can learn. His recent entry through the door of self-discovery has brought many opportunities and also several failings in my job as his tour guide.

Current events and books are often the spark to our talks. Recently, discussions erupted about the Zimmerman trial (Trayvon Martin) and racial profiling. We talked about a local incident.

My daughter asked if the person was “African American.” My son immediately said, “You can say ‘black’ because saying African American is kinda incorrect.” She suddenly teared up. I explained that terms evolved, and I brought up a book she had read to me this year, The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine. We talked about the progression of terms through the years.

My daughter sulked. She felt down the rest of the day. At bedtime, she could not hold back her fears. Through tears, my daughter said, “I want to look more like you. I want to be Asian. I don’t mind if people tease me. I am afraid that people will expect the worst from me because I am white!”

How insensitive I had been! In trying to protect and support my son, I had alienated my daughter. It wasn’t as if I did not know her racial identity struggles. I had written about it here! But when I had asked her the same questions I had asked my son, she had seemed so definitive.

Me: “Are you Korean?”

My daughter: “Yes.”

Me: “Are you Puerto Rican?”

My daughter: “Yes.”

Me: “Are you American?”

My daughter: “Yes.”

Me: “Are you British?”

My daughter: “Yes.”

I thought she was so much more comfortable in her skin, but in fact, she isn’t. She is just as confused as I am.

I have been misguided in applying my experiences as a child to both my children. My daughter is frustrated because she does not have the same experiences I had. She cannot share those experiences like her brother and I can, and we have made her an outsider.

I recognize my mistake. She is mixed and confused. Lending me her spectacles on life, she has taught me her struggles, and I vow to listen more carefully. We will travel these roads together and alternate guide duties.

The Real Decision Begins

Last month, I wrote about the Supreme Court case, ADOPTIVE COUPLE, PETITIONERS v. BABY GIRL.  This morning, the Supreme Court reversed the South Carolina court’s decision. You can read the full Supreme Court decision here.

Now, the real decision begins. Baby Girl is older and has spent time with her biological father. While the decision shows that the lower court was wrong, the matter of Baby Girl’s well being is in the hands of the grown-ups involved.

Missteps have been made on all sides, but can the grown-ups come to a place of mutual agreement? Will Baby Girl be surrounded by the love that drove them all?

The Success Story

Dr. Raible’s words still echo at different points in my days and weeks. One very powerful set of statements keeps playing.

“We are the success stories. But how many of the other stories were silenced by suicide?”

Here’s an account of such a story that was almost silenced.

He was twelve. Another school year was beginning. A new year, a new grade, and an abundance of promises … new books, new teachers, new subjects.

The regulars were present, too … friends, last year’s acquaintances and the same old halls. But this year, everyone was changing … physically, socially, emotionally. Some he considered friends became distant. Some began telling him that his race would exclude him from the relationships they all wanted. The “going together” moniker would be coveted but never his.

He was approached by strangers in the park who would taunt him with words that cut. The seemingly innocuous word, “Chinese” would be said with malice. There would be the pulling of eyes to assimilate his physical racial feature. He felt surrounded by a hate that he did not understand.

The words of others ridiculing him rang through his head. He wanted to hide. He felt alone. He felt he couldn’t tell his parents because they would never understand what it was like to live in his skin.

One night, he waited. He waited to hear the soft quiet of his sister’s sleeping sounds. He waited as his parents ascended the stairs to their bedroom. He could hear them brushing teeth and chatting as they readied themselves for sleep. Then, there was silence.

Quietly, he got out of bed. He took a cord and draped it in his closet. Sobbing softly, he wrapped the cord around his neck. He hoped this would numb the pain of the last few months. He hoped it would silence the voices and darken the images of kids slanting their eyes. He hoped it would give him peace. 

As the cord tightened, he sensed a darkness. Unconsciousness washed over him. Then, he opened his eyes. It was dawn. The cord lay on the floor, broken. His tears had dried. Something in him gave him resolve. He rose, got dressed and began another day.

In the days to come, he would talk with his mother about these racial comments. She would console him and try to work through the pain of the words.

His mother would never know the events that lead up to these discussions. She gave her love and advice, but he would keep this secret with him until many months later when his strength had returned.

His is a success story unlike those of us, the adoptee panelists, to whom Dr. Raible referred. The adoption community is awakening; discussions on race are finally becoming relevant, without suspicions or feelings of resentment.

The Korean American Adoptive Family Network recently blogged on the reluctance of our children to talk about issues of race with those they love the most … their families. You can find this blog post here.

Let’s keep the conversation going and add to the number of success stories.

Teaching Moments

Yesterday, my vitals were up. Tense muscles, fast pulse, furrowed brow, and a hurting heart. 

This blog post by Teaching Underground popped up on my feed. I felt he wrote sensitively about this incident.

My mistake was to go on to the YouTube video.

 

 

What struck me first was the title that BTW21News used, “City Councilwoman Hodge stands behind comments that made local student cry … .” So far, viewing the clip, I did not see a student cry. While this may have happened afterward, it weights the posting and prompts an immediate emotional response.

No one wants to be responsible for making a child cry, but I could sense her frustration and hurt in the first part of the clip as she questioned the use of a “small black person” as the “before knowledge” symbol. The subsequent interview did not serve her well, and unfortunately, the station did not interview others in the community.

That said, the community responded with comments filled with hatred, insensitivity, harsh words and more. As Teaching Underground pointed out, there were few people in support of this councilwoman’s viewpoint. No one seemed willing to put themselves in this person’s shoes. 

The comments pulled me quickly back to the community where I grew up. I remember the use of the words in my neighborhood as a child. When someone was mad at you, you were immediately called, “nigger.” When others wanted to put me down, I was called “Chinese” or when they became more informed of the news, “Cambodian swamp rat.” 

This became the subject of conversation last night at the dinner table. The kids and I talked about “bad words” people use to disparage one’s race. I mentioned the words used in my childhood.  As soon as I said the word, “Chinese,” my son began to tear up.  Now, I had made him cry. 

The mere mention of a seemingly innocuous word had brought back words used to describe him as a kindergartner in Virginia. While this word is an ethnicity and seems harmless, an inflection can change the meaning. 

While the children in the video did not mean to offend, the history of race in the South, and this Councilwoman’s personal history in Martinsville, Virginia, should not be discounted. 

A friend of mine has a great philosophy which I shared with my children last night. These are teaching moments. Unfortunately for this Councilwoman, she is trying to teach in a community where her subject is not accepted. But that shouldn’t stop us from the work at hand. 

When presented with the word “Chinese” used in a hateful context, my children will know to say, hopefully without tears, “Actually, I am Korean. South Korean. It is a country in Asia, and a peninsula near China, but not China.”

What about the child?

Radio Lab this week covered this story on adoption.

I encourage you to listen to the end. There are hard stories from our past, and frightening ideas that ask children to “melt into the wider culture.” What is culture? A source here points out that the viability of a culture lies in its children, but what if all the children were no longer immersed in their cultures?

What has struck me are the comments on the website that say that this little girl was better off with her adoptive parents. Perhaps, but now she has lived equal time with her biological father.

Adoption is complicated for all parties involved. Adoption is about love, but more importantly, adoption is about the well-being of the child. At this point, she seems happy with her birth father.

Perhaps he was naive and young at first, but he loves her. Just because he cannot offer what the adoptive couple can, does not make him a bad parent as some commenters allude.

This is a complicated story. This month, our Supreme Court will make a decision that could affect the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act. Stay tuned.

How We Must Love As Parents (part 3)

Some time later, Patrick was found on a Padre Island beach in Texas. He had been a victim of a homophobic attack. As a result of the trauma, he lost his memory.

As the details became clear, a former co-worker at the Clarksville Red Lobster passed on the phone number for the hospice where Patrick was staying. I called and left messages, asking him to call me back. The Tennessee his memory afforded was not a place where he felt comfortable anymore. He needed to make a new life in Texas, one without the pain of the past.

I had lost a friend. But I still imagined Patrick coming to my wedding, playing with my children and becoming “Uncle Patrick.”

Over time, I continued to introduce my father to my gay friends. One night, just after my wedding, my father pulled me aside at a party and said, “I like Jeffrey! He’s so funny!” I revealed that Jeffrey was gay, and my father said, “So? That is none of my business. He’s a really funny guy.” Patrick’s words of wisdom came back. “He will come around.” My father’s fear was falling away.

In 1998, I was living in Fort Collins, Colorado, and news of Matthew Shepard’s death flooded the media. All the emotions from 1990 came rushing back. Matthew’s lifeless body on the fence became Patrick’s lifeless body on a beach. If I couldn’t connect with my friend, I would fight the hatred and fear that took him away. I devoted my time to human rights … rights for all.

I attended PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) meetings, and listened as parents warned, “Watch what you say. When you say, ‘Someday, you will marry a nice girl,’ to your son, you’re building a wall.” Along with the normal fears of becoming a parent, I was determined that I would never build that wall.  When I had my first child, I promised to teach him to never fear those who were different and to never fear being different himself. 

I still held the memory of Patrick and the hope of reconnecting with him someday. I called the hospice until they informed me that he was no longer there. I searched the internet for Patrick Goettl and found nothing.

In 2009, I moved to Wisconsin, his hometown state. This started my search again. Still, nothing emerged. 

Last summer, I decided to search for Patrick again. This time, I based my search on the crime of his abduction and discovered that he had changed his name to “Zach” and had passed away in Corpus Christi on March 16, 2000, a month and a half before my son’s birth. This time, my loss was final.

I connected with his former boss in Corpus Christi, Marco Mattolini. He filled in the years I had missed, and I told him of the man named “Patrick.” The man Marco knew as “Zach” was Marco’s “right-arm,” and his death affected him and his business. “I might cry now,” he said as he explained how Patrick had died of pneumonia, a complication due to AIDS. 

I wanted to be there at his bedside. While I was rejoicing in the new life I had as a parent, he was wasting away in a hospital bed. I have imagined and dreamed of what ifs … if I had made a different decision … if our society had been more like it is now … if he had found a partner to love … if his family had accepted him as the person he was.

I still feel the loss just as I did in 1990. This loss drives me. When my children are secretive about crushes, I am quick to say, “I respect your secrecy about your crush, and I want you to know that no matter who you may have a crush on, be it boy or girl, I will support and love you.” This dialogue has happened since they were toddlers and professed their desire to marry their parents. It happens so much that they now say, “Yes, Mom, I know you will love me, even if I am gay.”

At The Changing Face of Adoption Conference in Appleton, we were asked to talk about how our race impacted our lives. Interestingly, my fellow panelist, Alex, made it clear that his haunts were not about race but about his being gay. In the same breath, he punctuated the love and support from his adoptive family. He said he felt safe at home. 

I was reminded again of the pain Patrick had felt as his adoptive family slipped from him. I asked some social workers if they ever mentioned to prospective adoptive families that there could be the possibility that their child might be gay. They said they tell families that a child’s future self is unknown, but they did not specifically mention sexual orientation.

We talked at the conference about making changes in transracial adoption. There are huge waves of this spreading love for our cultures. But what about love for other aspects of our being?

Just as Tom French said, “To have a child is to embrace a future you can’t control,” we as parents can control our love. We can love our children without judgement.