Blue Bayou

At the Cannes Film Festival in July, a journalist from the Netherlands thanked the director and star Justin Chon for his movie, which centers on a Korean American adoptee. Chon isn’t actually adopted like his subject, Louisiana bayou-bred Anthony LeBlanc, whom he plays in the movie. The film premieres Sept 17th.

LeBlanc is a tattoo artist with a criminal record. Like many adoptees in the real world, LeBlanc was never naturalized and risks being sent to a country he barely knows, prompting questions around citizenship, belonging, family — and who gets to be considered American. 

Chon said his Korean heritage and the experiences of friends in his immediate community in part compelled him to examine the issues surrounding international adoption. The practice began during wartime “babylifts” after World War II and subsequent conflicts when the U.S. asserted its power in part by “rescuing” orphans from communism to demonstrate its goodwill.

In 1955, the practice was further formalized when an evangelical couple, Henry and Bertha Holt, successfully advocated for the right to adopt Korean “war orphans” through an act of Congress. The couple later launched Holt International Children’s Services, the first large-scale international adoption organization. Foreign born babies those adopted by US parents before 2000 weren’t automatically granted citizenship. 

Chon said that to bring the sort of tenderness and care the subject deserved, he first pored over research and news articles about similar cases. One of the most publicized was the deportation of Adam Crapser, who was adopted from South Korea. He endured abuse and later abandonment by two sets of adoptive parents, none of whom filed for his citizenship. Crapser, who had several arrests on his record, was deported in 2016. 

Variety wrote in a review that “Justin Chon’s Blunt-Force Melodrama Takes on the Injustices of America’s Immigration System.” The system is the system, and its rules and loopholes exist to punish more than they protect. The movie holds little back as it rails against the cruelties and hypocrisies of American immigration law to stirring effect. 

At the film’s outset, it’s clear LeBlanc has turned his life around from rough beginnings. Having spent his childhood passed from one adoptive and foster family to another, and having endured a stint in prison for motorcycle theft, he has finally found emotional stability in the home he shares with Kathy and Jessie, her daughter from a previous relationship, who regards him adoringly as her true dad. 

“Where are you really from?” It’s an invasive question that’s awfully familiar to people of color, one that intrudes its way into our everyday lives. Though it can have innocent intentions, it’s often hostile and only works to invalidate your livelihood. You don’t really belong here, is the true meaning that lurks under that query. As the closing titles inform us, tens of thousands of adoptees have been deported from the United States, thanks to an exploited loophole in a law that only protects children born after 1983. 

What Blue Bayou does wonderfully in quiet moments is illustrate that being Asian is not a one-size-fits-all identity but a vast tapestry of different cultures. I’ve not seen this movie yet, of course, but I think I would like to. New Orleans holds a special place in my heart. My maternal grandmother went there to try to convince Georgia Tann to give her baby girl back to her but it failed and my mom was taken to Nogales Arizona by her adoptive mother.

The Child Of Separation

Family separation has taken on a new meaning in the current government administration.  Many of my friends and myself included are horrified at the barbaric and cruel images of what is being done as we witness these.

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote – “Every happiness is the child of a separation, it did not think it could survive.”  I think in the context I am considering, one could not equate happiness with separation.

Family separation means something different in my life.  It means my parents being taken away from their mothers.  It means families so broken they cannot be put back together again.  There is so much damage done when any baby is taken away from the mother who’s womb that child developed within.

Activists and reformers within the adoption world are hoping to see the common place separations end.  We seek stronger safety nets for mothers with children with no judgement applied.  It is not about how hard the mother works or how well she does trying to provide for her children but about the children themselves.  Seeing that children grow up in safe spaces with loving relatives with enough to eat and enough usable clothing to wear.  With a roof over their heads to protect them from the environment.

This is really not so much to ask of society and especially the wealthier members of our society – that we each accept a responsibility to the future generations of human beings on this planet.

Recent advances in the science of brain development offer us an unprecedented opportunity to solve some of society’s most challenging problems, from widening disparities in school achievement and economic productivity to costly health problems across the lifespan. Understanding how the experiences children have starting at birth, even prenatally, affect lifelong outcomes—combined with new knowledge about the core capabilities adults need to thrive as parents and in the workplace—provides a strong foundation upon which reforms can be created.

Not all stress is bad, but the unremitting, severe stress that is a defining feature of life for millions of children and families experiencing deep poverty, community violence, substance abuse, and/or mental illness can cause long-lasting problems for children and the adults who care for them. Reducing the pile-up of potential sources of stress will protect children directly (i.e., their stress response is triggered less frequently and powerfully) and indirectly (i.e., the adults they depend upon are better able to protect and support them, thereby preventing lasting harm). When parents can meet their families’ essential needs stress can be reduced rather than amplified.  Families are better able to support a healthy development in their children.

How Could It Be ?

In my immediate family, both grandmothers, both sisters and my own self, none of us was able to raise our own children.  In what kind of world is it that there is no support for mothers to keep and raise their children ?

That was the heartless world of Charles Dickens long ago – though there was little or no profit motivating it.  Or maybe there was, in indentured servants and poorly paid laborers.  It appears that this is the reality of a world we live in today.

For most in my family, it was profit driven motivations that separated mothers from their children.  A world of for profit adoptions that made it possible for four out of those five to lose their children to strangers with money.  The effects of those separations of mothers and children have reverberated down through our family, skipping my parents who narrowly avoided also becoming victims.

It is the inability of poor, single mothers to financially support their youngest children because there is a lack of societal or familial support.  As a society, we should seriously consider why it is – that we prefer an industry making a profit off of human suffering – rather than a caring, nurturing civilization ?

This extends to heartlessly separating poor families from their children simply because they were seeking a better life for those children.  I don’t believe their idea of a better life was also losing those children to strangers.

Who is it that finds such circumstances advantageous ?  Just follow the money.