Define “family”.

I’ve often wondered about the differences in the portrayal of the “arrival home” of the adoptee, based on mediated works like Daughter from Da Nang and The Lost Princess (published by Reader’s Digest). There is a focus on the return of the adoptee to her country of birth as bringing out the entire clan or village. The mediation of arrival to the adoptive country is often quite the opposite, and this goes even further, when the extended adoptive family does not always express welcome, often in racially charged terms. Did this present itself at all as you were growing up? How did you negotiate it?

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4 thoughts on “Define “family”.

  1. Since no one has responded to this yet, I’ll try, albeit with a newborn my time is short, so my answer will have to be less well-thought out than I prefer…

    I haven’t read the mentioned works, but as far as the question goes, which I’m not even sure I understand the question, but I’m hoping I’m grasping the gist of it…basically, did I as an adoptee have trouble finding acceptance once I arrived “home” with my American family versus feeling welcomed “home” by my Korean family/country?

    I did not experience outright rejection from my American family, but did experience it in more subtle and some other complex ways, if that makes sense.

    And for me at least, returning to my birth country/family was/is a mixed bag of heartache, hope, and longing.

    However, I did and still do face racism and discrimination in general within society, and I try to deal with it by using humor and drawing inward, along with some good old fashioned psychology.

    As far as the title of this post, “Define family.” Uh, one word–COMPLICATED. But i think most, adopted & nonadopted people would say that.

    Family as an adoptee,well, from my perspective, includes both my American & Korean family members…whether they like it or not…

  2. Thanks for the reply. I know the question as phrased was kind of strange, so I appreciate the response because now I get to think about what I’m really asking!

    I asked because my extended family was not pleased shall we say with my entry into the scene, and I was just wondering if anyone else experienced this kind of racism within their family situation.

    And yes, I’m curious about the “return”, because for the most part I think it is hugely complex, and dependent on the society of re-entry as it were.

    What’s bugging me is that in the mediated examples I gave, the mediation of the return “home” seems to say, “look at how they welcome the child we raised for them!” Like they did a favor to the community they took a child from.

    It’s even in that horrid book by Hillary Clinton, It Takes a Village, where the non-existent community is given a sense of communal care of children, when the culture is completely individual-focused.

    I don’t have reunion here, but I have something that comes very close that I wouldn’t trade now for anything. And I grow more and more disheartened by the growing anti-Arab and anti-Muslim discourse in the States.

    Perhaps I could rephrase the questions along the lines of: “What do you think of transracial adoption as being a self-cure for those who are acculturated in a highly racist society, with the documentation of the return of the child to his or her roots as being simply a continuation of this same racist bent?”

  3. Sorry I haven’t answered this – there’s a lot going on in the question(s).

    “There is a focus on the return of the adoptee to her country of birth as bringing out the entire clan or village.’

    Are you speaking of the first country or the second country? To me it appears (haven’t experienced reunion but get a lot of first-hand accounts and watched Daughter from Danang like both events are a spectacle at first, whose novelty wears off – much sooner where the adoptee blends in. I think the clan or village quickly disappears in both cases, ultimately leaving the adoptee on their own.

    “The mediation of arrival to the adoptive country is often quite the opposite, and this goes even further, when the extended adoptive family does not always express welcome, often in racially charged terms.”

    I think the introduction of another race into a mono-race family forces everyone to hide their racism. Even the adopters very publicly embracing race differences are often way too race conscious or race appropriating. Maybe this is a result of feelings of inadequacy for not having produced their own offspring or maybe this is, as in my parent’s case, a desire to be charitable to an extra exciting degree, which mixing races accomplishes. In some perverse way, I think I was acquired as a means for my parents to work on their own race issues. And nothing has changed much since I was adopted in that regards…

    My own extended family was very polite to me after the initial excitement wore off. I don’t consider polite necessarily a good thing, as it made me check my behavior more than my non-adopted cousins, etc. had to. It was very clear that some of my relatives were blatantly racist – not TO me, but it was clear they were. If they referred to other people of color, they might abruptly change the direction of their discourse or choose code or a mild slur in my presence, or whisper in lowered voices, for example. My great grandfather was a KKK member (I later found out), and I sat at his feet and never heard or felt anything racist from him. But I wonder what he was thinking to have this little Gook in his house, dark as a piccaninny after baking in the hot Florida sun all summer?

    I don’t quite understand what “the documentation of the return of the child to his or her roots as being simply a continuation of this same racist bent means.”

    I can only speculate on what the family would have thought about my return to my roots. (which I’m culturally denied here in Korea) I imagine they would not be threatened by my actions as a rejection of their race, but I imagine they would be offended and see it as a criticism of their upbringing. You know, all those times they held their tongue to provide their perception of a racism-free environment I just didn’t appreciate enough and don’t have any gratitude for. They’d think I’d get over it soon enough, and grudgingly be supportive. And they’d be right – I’m getting over it. But at the same time getting over much of the culture in which I was raised, so they probably still wouldn’t be happy with the outcome.

    In all, I think my family did a good job at pretending we lived in a racism-free home/world, and their family did a good job supporting that construction.

    But they were still racists. And if you could interview them today, they would vehemently not recognize that they could possibly be so.

    I know my parents were very vanguard making a mixed-race family, and so I can cut them a little slack. I know they were also ignorant, in the same way they would tell me to disregard the ignorance of blatantly racist people I would encounter. I think pointing out other people’s racism and having an adopted child of color is a pretty telling way to proclaim to the world, “Look at me! I’m NOT RACIST!” But most of us are and we need to recognize it so we can be better people. I’m just sad that this new batch of progressive parents can’t recognize their own racism and the hundreds of ways it does a number on young adoptees. It’s all so sophisticated now. But it’s still racism. And it’s denial is invoked by our (us adoptees) presence. For lack of a blank slate…

  4. Daniel,

    “Like they did a favor to the community they took a child from.” That’s an insightful observation and one that I think is very true.

    Your rephrase of the question almost answers the question. 😉

    Again, a very probing and insightful observation, and something I had not thought about…although, in my own case, my parents and family would rather I never reunited with my Korean family or have ties to my roots, and I’m not certain whether their motivation to adopt was a self-cure for guilt in a racist society–infertility and circumstance seemed to have had more to do with it, quite honestly.

    But I definitely think that for many, the self-cure is definitely a motivation, even if at an un- or sub-conscious level. White people in particular are very rarely truly aware of their biases and prejudice. (As someone who married to a “recovering White man”–haha–my husband would back this up…)

    All in all, I def think you’re onto something. I do think there is this fairy tale aspect–“Oh look, we are so wonderful and progressive to adopt across ethnicity and country, and to allow, even encourage, our child to return to his/her roots. Hence, we have rectified the inequities and done our good deed for eternity. Our consciences are clear and the world is at peace with us now…” Or something sanctimonious like that…

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

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