Rematriation and adoption.

I was describing my return to Lebanon to someone and the word “repatriated” came out of my mouth. It went without notice, but I was stuck on this term afterward, and it was bothering me to refer to myself this way. For one reason, it seemed too much to echo “expatriate” as well as “patriarchy”; and although Lebanon is certainly the latter, the former speaks of my “patria” as the United States; so to “repatriate” would seemingly imply a return Stateside.

A bit of searching on a seemingly equivalent term—rematriation—brought up some interesting echoes, in literature, pedagogical studies, and the like. It also seems to come up in Indigenous Peoples’ discussions; a reference to “Mother Earth” as opposed to the “Fatherland”. For just one example [link]:

if “repatriation” involves a “return of prisoners of war to their home country,” and is a term used to refer to skeletal remains and sacred ceremonial objects, what term do we use to refer to the “home countries” that are themselves, in many cases, now being “held captive” by the United States? I am referring, of course, to such culturally essential places as Mt. Graham, the Black Hills, the Wallowa Valley, Lyle Point, the lands of the Havasupai, the Western Shoshone lands, and many others. I’d like to propose “rematriation” as a useful concept.

By “rematriation” I mean “to restore a living culture to its rightful place on Mother Earth,” or “to restore a people to a spiritual way of life, in sacred relationship with their ancestral lands, without external interference.” As a concept, rematriation acknowledges that our ancestors lived in spiritual relationship with our lands for thousands of years, and that we have a sacred duty to maintain that relationship for the benefit of our future generations.

It seems to be a term that would be quite useful to include in the adoption lexicon. So much of adoption smacks of the patriarchal in terms of dominion, property, ownership, citizenship, etc. Perhaps then to speak of “repatriation” implies a “restoration of property”; to speak of “rematriation” implies a “bodily return to source”, as far as adoptees are concerned. Expanding from here, I think of mothers in Argentina demanding an accounting of what happened to their “disappeared” children; I think of women in Spain marching and protesting to find their sons and daughters who went missing; I think of the women in Guatemala who are demanding the return of their children adopted to the United States; their sisters working in that country whose children have also been taken away from them….

I’ve brought this up before [link]; perhaps I am now “musing out loud” and finetuning these thoughts….

My question: Why does it “work” in such countries (Spain, Argentina, Guatemala, etc.) that women be able to stand up for such “rematriation”? Meaning, why is motherhood in these cultures something that is less able to be “signed away”? What is it about Anglo-Saxon societies that prevents, say, legal teams working to rectify, annul, renegotiate, etc. the writs of property ownership that deny women the ability to re-establish their Motherhood? Why the emotional weight placed on things such as official “apologies” from the state, for example, as opposed to actual empowerment of women to “rematriate”? Again, and making reference to a former topic, how disempowering to women is adoption? [link]

My other question: How do you relate to the term “rematriation”? Does it hold any meaning for you?


2 thoughts on “Rematriation and adoption.

  1. I want to say that I find the distinction between repatriation and rematriation helpful, particularly in the sense that rematriation means “‘to restore a living culture to its rightful place on Mother Earth,’ or ‘to restore a people to a spiritual way of life, in sacred relationship with their ancestral lands, without external interference.’” I think some of the emphasis seems wrong, though, in trying to make the distinction. What part of “returning back” gets distinguished between the masculinized and femininized senses of these words, as repatriation and rematriation in particular. Why doesn’t one term over the sense of such a return.

    I recently finished reading Jung’s Symbols of transformation, and he has no shortage of commentary about the Mother(s) in it, but very frequently he adds, sometimes seemingly as an afterthought, that by “Mother” he means the Source (whether in a physical or psychological sense). And this sense of Source (visualized or symbolised in a limited way by a possibly unfortunate gendered terminology) seem to offer he crucial part of what rematriation points to. Rematriation represents a re-connection to the Source (a mythological figure that, far enough back in human cultural history, was not necessarily male or female, n which in present-day depth psychology is the genderless Unconscious). Rematriation then is re-connecting with the Source, whether our personality requires us to do that literally (by being in a given place) or figuratively (such that we might imagine it, regardless of where we are).

    But rematriation would not seem to be merely individual as well. I distinguish between “religion” (as a set of shared spiritual values within a culture) and “spirituality” (as the individual’s specific practice of those shared religious cultural values). Whatever personal value we each might have by returning to the Source spiritually, a key part of rematriation seems to be the reconnection to the religious aspect as well, the shared culturally of it. The yearning of indigenous people to return to their land seems to usually contain not just a desire for “me” to stand in some ancestral place, but for “us” to. And that, even in the absence of any other (living) human being with me as I stand on that land, there is already the communal “us” of the ancestors in that place—all of whom stand in relation to the Source of the place (conceptualized, often enough, in femininize terms, as the Mother).

    Repatriation seems to suggest, in its connection back to “the fathers,” that this involves the history of the place, the physical doings that occurred there without necessarily acknowledging the “ground” (literally) that made it possible, i.e., the source, the Mother. In the same way that patriarchal economics cannot bring itself to take account of the labour of women in the domestic sphere—the work that precisely socially reproduces the means for, in fact subsidizes, the world of production in the first place—repatriation seems similarly to draw attention away the very ground (the land, literally) that makes such doings possible.

    So then, just as we may at the very least acknowledge the (literal) work of the domestic sphere that makes work in the social sphere possible, we may stop pretending that the ground on which the doings of the fathers (history) occurred is passive or is not work itself. Apart from the literal ground of this, culture constitutes the ground for all (patriarchal) doing. I do not wish to denigrate (masculine) doing; goodness knows, males are remarkably inessential creatures in the greeter scheme of things by a number of metrics. But in the course of congratulating itself for its doings, patriarchy has done so by needlessly denigrating matriarchy as passive, as doingless, as non-creative, &c. Whatever the virtues of the Source we want to ascribe it (in gendered term or not), we may at least do it the courtesy of not mistaking its patience for complicity, its silence for assent, its seeming non-activity for approval. We pretend that the Source does not speak to us—even as the world’s ecosystem sends up wave after wave of strange phenomenon, as species commit suicide to warn us of what is to come, &c. It’s a change of mind-set obviously that I’m describing.

    Having said all of this, repatriation points to something one might do alone; one might return to the sacred lands and talk to the ancestors or be in communion with the Source there, just as one might do the rituals in one’s apartment in New York and gain the tenor of that communion remotely, imaginatively (but not illegitimately for all of that). It has a sort of “trivial” emphasis in that it participates explicitly in the transitory realm of history, the fleeting an ephemeral domain of human (individual) doing. Rematriation, by comparison, points to the social experience of this, and all that that entails, good and bad, tiresome (in the sense of social obligations involved) and rewarding (in the deep-seated sense of place). But it participates also on the transcendental plane of eternity, the authentic “home” of religion. It is impersonal, in that it connects to humanity generally, but individuates (not personalizes) one, in the sense that it provides the most “authentic” Source for human experience we may access.

    Our individualistic era wants to ignore rematriation and claim that repatriation suffices. But insofar as repatriation denies and never deliberately reaches for or contacts the Source (other than through pre-established and thus safely delimited an controlled rituals, i.e., culture itself), it becomes only self-fulfilling prophecy at bet, if not a suspiciously hollow mimicry of living. It can offer no surprises except that (1) we are already ignorant and did not know what surprises already exist, hence the current imperative by neoliberal capitalism to impart as little as possible through education, but also (and this is our saving grace), (2) for all we deny the source, our denials cannot prevail forever (unless we die first). Because we misinterpret signs from the Source does not immure us against the consequences of those signs. And eventually, the force or consequence of these things get through to us whether we acknowledge it or not.

  2. So many great points to reply to. The notion of “Lebanon” as a “country” to me is tied to patriarchal concepts of borders, colonialism, foreign mandates, nation-states, etc. And so “repatriation” to me is a negative term, and I caught myself saying it, and wasn’t happy that I said it.

    I remember when my lawyer told me that my (orphanage name) “was Lebanese now” and I burst into tears. I wanted some sense from this “place” of a welcoming back; of a re-integration. Even in Korea, where this is more forthcoming, with special visas and the like, it is also based on the adoptee being seen as a foreigner of privilege returned (as explained to me by an adoptee from there when I told him what I was expecting).

    And so I always refer to my “place” of birth and not my “country” of birth for this reason; the claim to be from “Beirut, in Damascus Country” has a completely different political weight—in terms of pan-Arab nationalism but more importantly for me in terms of the Levantine dialect which defines this area—than to give any credence to the mistake of colonialism and failed experiment of a nation that is Lebanon.

    I feel inclined toward rematriation for a variety of reasons. The Arabic words for “mother” and “Muslim source” to borrow your term—um and umma—come from the same root. I was trying to think of what might incline a given language to refer to the “Father” (Germany) or “Mother” (Russia) etc. one opposed to the other in this regard? How is this gendered (la patrie in French, for example) and then personified (Marianne, same)?

    Mostly I prefer matriation because it is women here who are more inclined to tell me that I am their “son”, or to “claim” me as such. This is very emotional for me, especially when it involves rather potent religious markers, such as being seen without a veil (my neighbor upstairs). The “rematriation” here is popular, not political; I prefer this I think.

    This is where I see the women’s movements in Central and South America, and in Spain to be so potent. And again, I wonder whether this sense of “bringing back the children” can be said to have a cultural basis….

    But I’m rambling now, so that will have to do….

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

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