Expat adoptions abroad

How do you feel about white Europeans and Americans living in countries abroad (like in Southeast Asia/China/Africa/Haiti) and adopting children there “domestically”?

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2 thoughts on “Expat adoptions abroad

  1. The question is problematic from the outset, assuming as it does that adoption is culturally universal. The question is attempting to bypass one of the complaints of adoptees, that a child’s culture is taken away from them. The person asking is taking a geographic view of culture, and not a political one, and this is invalid.

    To explain: I have returned to Lebanon and have been living here for six years. The first two years I spent here were uncomfortably among those who made an easy transition for me from New York—class-wise, this was the expatriate community. I wasn’t happy with this at all; this wasn’t the reason I came back, to hang out with people I could just as easily hang out with back in New York.

    After those first years, I moved to a more marginal community far enough away from the university that I could not get away with speaking English or French. To learn the local language, I started hanging out every night on the corner, as is the practice in my neighborhood. This is how things work where I live now: doors are open, and one’s life merges with the neighborhood, public and private, inside and outside.

    My trip to university each day is thus like traveling between two worlds. It reminds me of when I was teaching both at NYU and City College: worlds apart, though physically not that far away. And whereas someone who goes to NYU can say “I am a New Yorker” and someone up in Harlem can say “I am a New Yorker”, these worlds are still very different.

    And it is the same for the expats. They maintain their world, their language, their ways, and like every colonized space historically speaking, the city morphs and changes to make room for them. It is an imposed and imposing life they lead. It changes the local culture for the worse, if you ask me. Their children go to private schools, and they live a private life away from the “local culture” if you will.

    So for me, should one of them “adopt” a child here and stay here or if one of them should “adopt” a child here and return to the States or wherever, it is exactly the same thing. It is the same colonial/comprador class, and the child will still be reared away from the majority of the population, will be educated with peers of his or her class, and will work within the peculiar trades of the foreign contingents here: business, NGOs, academia—all markers of continuing colonization.

    This is where definitions of geographical space fail us. In an article I wrote for Culture Critique concerning these margins entitled “Traversing Meanings: Remapping East and West”, I define this space thus:

    I will therefore define my use of the concepts West and Western to mean the dominant powers to whom belong the hegemonic or dominant discourses of maintenance of power structures, and including the globalized (or globalizing) East following in these footsteps, as well as their compradors and class representatives found in every country of the so-called developing world.

    This is opposed to the use of the term East, which will be employed to describe economically dominated populations, often referred to in the past as the Global South, the Third (and Fourth) Worlds, and the periphery of the centers or core of Capital, and including their class representatives working (not living) within the First World, or in the West.

    The point is to differentiate between geographic and economic space(s), to reflect the mixing of these populations, as well as their potential for action across politically defined entities such as national, confederated, or economic borders as well as ethnic, religious, or other identifying lines; also to render a bit vaguer what has often been a binary distinction used predominantly in a pejorative way.

    What this means is that someone physically in the East, shall we say, can still be culturally, politically, economically, etc., “Western”. Their children will be Westernized, will grow up with concepts of family structure, individual identity, community, and faith very different than if they had grown up within their community.

    And so the answer is no: A Westerner in the East, or a First Worlder in the Third World does not make adoption any more palatable, or justifiable. It is, in fact, representative of everything that makes adoption execrable, heinous, and unjust; it maps for us adoption as yet another arm of exploitation and colonialism, and the attempt to make it more culturally “legit” fails on all counts.

  2. I guess my questions would be, what constitutes domestic?

    In a recent case, a Dutch diplomat who adopted domestically and privately in Korea abandoned their child in China. I had (until I traveled abroad) always thought an expatriate was someone permanently residing in another country. But now I see the term being applied to anyone temporarily residing in another country as well. A diplomat would be considered an expat. Which makes me also question just how deeply any of these foreigners understand the culture in which they are residing, and how committed they are to that country, its customs, or its people.

    As an expat myself, I tend to believe, as Daniel has described so well, that the social structures in which expats were raised during their formative years remain embedded within them. And this includes all the prejudices and privileges that give them the choice to visit another country, to deal with or help a supposedly less capable people. There is, always, an us and a them(the other) relationship. Even when the expat is in the ethnic minority, and is the foreigner, they will be considered the other.

    Living among my ethnic majority as a foreigner here by choice allows me to see just how much a product of colonial mind-set my western upbringing has made me. I could choose to commit to this place, but I would never fully understand it, primarily BECAUSE I have choices, which very few people here have. I could have the most benevolent and charitable of intentions and yet wreak great havoc by not fully understanding the society in which I was not raised.

    Missionaries are a good example of this. They go to destitute communities and isolate what they determine are needs not living up to their western standards so they can introduce their western faith through the witness of their good and benevolent work. And the bestowing from the haves to the have-nots is called charity. But because they deem their western ways superior, they never fully empower them but instead try to make the local communities become a model that works according to their western models. This is called being a colonist. And destitute people without choices often have no choice but to become colonized in order to receive this charity. And the price for this charity is the destabilizing of their own models and communities.

    In the case of expat adoption, charity is not bestowed upon local communities or individual families, but only upon the individual child. It is a closed feedback system, which excludes, rejects and ignores the value of that community to the child. In the case of expat adoption, the foreigner becomes the sole beneficiary at the community’s (and oftentimes living mother’s) loss.

    And the danger: the danger is that this artificially closed system is so rewarding that, combined with the righteousness of western superiority, it can become addictive. Such “charity” is blind to the loss of the community that it supposedly serves, blind to the mothers with empty arms and no choices, and disrespectful and dismissive of the cultures in which the foreign resident has planted themselves.

    So, just like Daniel said, domestic adoptions abroad by foreigners are in no way domestic in a local community sense. And I truly question the motivation of any foreigner who can only “help” by owning. And I don’t believe that charity helps anyone. Respecting local cultures and empowering people to help themselves is a much better way.

    As a product of charity such as this, as a now foreigner in my mother country, and as a person surveying the damage to my country, its communities, and its grieving mothers, I can categorically say that such adoptions are the ultimate selfish act by privileged colonists.

Adoptees, what do you think? We welcome your replies!

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