Twenty-three years ago when we first contemplated the adoption of a child, I imagined how it would change a child’s life. Our family was able to offer two loving parents, three siblings and an upper middle class lifestyle. At the same time, I had misgivings about taking a child out of their culture and replacing it with another and the hole that might create in their future life. When we made the decision to adopt a second time three years later, I had those same thoughts. Now that these two children are young adults, I realize that adoption changed both their life and mine in ways that I hadn’t imagined and have made me an ally for the complex emotions and stories that define transracial adoptions.
I recognized that our family would look different to outsiders – three biological sons and 2 Asian daughters, five kids when the norm was two. What I didn’t realize is that the interactions my daughters had with the outside world beyond our family, the circumstances that led to the disruption of their original family and the more recent charged conversations around immigration would forever change how I view the world.
International American adoption has benefitted when societies undergo social disruption and are unable to care for families and orphans. It started with the orphans created by the Vietnam War, continued with the social disruption after the Korean War, the One Child Policy of China, extreme poverty in Central and South America due to militia governments and most recently the physical disruption of Haiti after the earthquake. Over the years I have learned that the majority of these adopted children are not true orphans but placed for adoption or abandoned by their families due to a lack of social supports, malnutrition, unaffordable medical bills and desire for a male heir. I have had to struggle with the knowledge that my participation in this system works to perpetuate these structures by infusing money into a country that does not see a need to change their internal policies.
When others remarked how “good, blessed, lucky, fortunate” our daughters were to be raised in an American family, I instantly thought of the opposite connotations that raised regarding their biologic families. The Chinese and Korean families that had been affected by our daughters adoptions made choices that I don’t know if I could have made if faced with similar circumstances. Would I be willing to walk away from one of my biologic children if I thought they had a chance for an improved life outside of our family?
Over the past 4 years as immigration has led to heated discussions and my daughters have moved beyond our protected household and out into the greater world, I have had to reconcile the immigration story of our family with the stories of families south of the US border who have fought to keep their children by making a harrowing journey to a better life. Why is our family put on a pedestal by other Americans while those families waiting in refuge camps are seen as opportunistic and dangerous? Does our American culture value your black/brown body more if you are raised in a white household?
Adoption is complicated… and so is being a parent. I would not change anything about our journey and am immensely grateful that my life and view of this world has been affected by each one of my children. My ongoing task is to be an ally – one who listens to the experiences of others outside of mainstream white America and helps to amplify their voices.