Cultural Displacement

I was over the age of 60 when I began to learn about my own genetic/cultural heritage. I have a lot of Danish, some Scottish, a lot of English and some Irish. I got excited when my husband showed a piece of woven textile to me that was odd in shape. He had picked it up long before he met me at a second hand shop when he was living briefly in Denmark at a Peace College. Of course, I fell in love with it and claimed it as my own and guessed and then with google images proved it is a shawl. Probably homemade but someone who wasn’t wealthy. As I draped it over my shoulders, I did feel warmer.

I learned about my Scottish heritage all the way back to an incident with the King of England who was saved from an aggressive animal attack and so named the family Stark. Christmas two years ago, my husband gave me a Pendleton Black Watch plaid wood shirt. I love that it connects me to my roots. My dad’s maternal great-grandmother was full blooded Irish. He was born one day off St Patrick’s Day. His natural mother didn’t name him Patrick but his adoptive mother did and he really did love beer.

When someone has NOT been robbed of their genetic/cultural heritage by adoption, they struggle to understand why it matters so much to one who has. I used to tell people I was an albino African because who could prove differently ? including my own self. I once did the National Genographic DNA test for my maternal line and sure enough we originated in African – actually because ALL human beings did. Our appearance and various genetic characteristics developed over time due to environmental factors.

Today, in my all things adoption group, I read this –

I’m part of a couple DNA test related groups, and there is a pretty outspoken group of people who think that if you’re only learning about your genetic heritage as an adult, and weren’t raised in it, you don’t get to claim it. Basically, the thought process is that if you weren’t raised in a culture, then trying to join it later in life is similar to appropriation.

I’m usually the only displaced adoptee/former foster care youth in these conversations and generally get ignored. I don’t consider myself a person of color on account of being very white, but I’m half Iranian, and was hidden from my birth father because my birth mother was convinced he would steal me and “go back to his country”, so a lot of my experiences are very much based in racism.

So, in my case I get “well you weren’t raised Iranian so what makes you think that you can claim it as your culture”. And on one hand I get it, because it’s not like I grew up with immigrant parents like I would have had I been raised by my birth father. I didn’t grow up speaking Farsi or experiencing any of it. So my ‘claim’ to any of it will always be bastardized because I’m only able to absorb what I can and integrate it into my life. But it feeds into an imposter syndrome that adoptees already deal with.

An adoptive father who is white replied – in general culture is more complicated than this. Heritage still makes up part of who you are, whether you know about it or not. As does DNA.

Someone else wrote – I have found similar issues in some (not all) groups on anti-racism and cultural appropriation. Some people have a huge lack of knowledge about the experience of transracial or transethnic adoptees or others with unknown or misattributed parentage (I am donor conceived and am half of a completely different ethnicity than I thought).

Then there is this heart-felt account –  I still struggle with this. I’m half black and I have the worst imposter syndrome because I was raised by white people and I pass relatively well (I’ll get clocked as mixed or not quite white often, but I would never be seen as straight up black). I think how you claim culture depends on if it’s… ok? For lack of a better word? There’s nothing wrong with wanting to claim your culture that was taken from you, and it’s not fair to claim otherwise. But on the other hand if you’re not going to respect the culture and engage in it in a meaningful respectful way, I could see why people would be upset about that. But in reality I think they’re talking more about people who found out they’re 5% Native American, who have white biological parents and who want to start claiming Native status, than they are about people like us. I still call myself mixed instead of black because I don’t present as black (even though all of my black friends and family say it’s fine and that I AM black and I SHOULD claim it since it’s a part of me). It’s a really difficult conversation though, with a lot of nuance and in this case, I feel like adoptees should be able to claim whatever heritage feels like the best fit and this applies especially to trans-racial adoptees.

I 100% agree with this perspective based on my own experiences shared above – There’s a difference between stealing something and taking back something that was stolen from you.

And yet another perspective – I’m not adopted, but I found out as an adult I’m a lot more Jewish than I was told, and much to the identity crisis of my brothers, we aren’t as Italian as we thought. For me, I use it as a bonding thing with my stepfather and a few Jewish friends that I participate with in some cultural activities, but I don’t feel I can claim ownership of it because I’m so far removed from the family that was Jewish (they are all long passed away). Everyone I’ve opened up to about my DNA test has been welcoming, and I want to learn and respect the culture, but I doubt I’ll ever confidently claim it as my own.

To which this response was received – Someone with a maternal Jewish line is as much Jewish as any other, whether he was raised Jewish or found out after retirement (it happens!).

Another sad experience was this one – I struggle with my identity a lot, both race & ethnicity. But, fuck them! I was raised in a white family. My adoptive parents did their best to raise me around my culture (I’m Paraguayan). But racist fucks (my adoptive brothers included) helped to push me away from my culture and make me feel very unwelcome in this country. It’s definitely not appropriation to reconnect with a culture you were TAKEN from without your consent.

Though my own experiences are far different, I can seriously relate to this one !! I grew up White on the Mexican border. A true minority there.

I’m a half-adoptee, daughter of a fatherless woman, granddaughter of a fatherless woman, great granddaughter of an adoptee. My whole maternal line is very fractured and we have no idea who or what we are. Until recently, when my mom DNA tested and came back with significant percentages (like, 20ish) of Black and “Eastern European”. My grandmother responded to this news with “oh, he told me he was Black and Gypsy but I thought he was kidding, he just looked Indian.” My mother has an unusual hair texture and features for a White woman, as well as the pigment condition vitiligo. Being part Black and Romani answered so much for us. As to me: I reconnected with my genetic father at 23. Apparently his mother was an enrolled Choctaw woman! So now, I’m a few shades of White, Black, Romani and American Indigenous. Nearly 50% of me is nonwhite. I have never in my life felt a part of Whiteness, nor have I felt like Whiteness wanted me. The culture, the appearances, never. I got bullied for being “ugly” most of my life, I’m pale as snow but I don’t look like other White people. I can see now that the reason I was bullied by White, Black, and Brown folks all the same pretty much came down to “Well you don’t look like us, but you don’t look like them either”. So now I’m adrift, a mixed breed without enough claim to anything to belong anywhere. My only mirror is my mother and grandmothers.

This is also how it feels to be an adoptee with DNA testing now so inexpensive and accessible – I have found out recently (I’m 67) that I’m 52% Italian. Funny thing is I’ve always been enamored with the Italian ethnicity. If someone said to me that I have appropriated any culture, I would tell them to fuck off. All my life I had to pretend I was someone, something else. I’ll be damned but I’m not taking any shit from anyone about cultural appropriation. I had to live in a culture that was not mine from the beginning.

Another one – It isn’t cultural appropriation to connect back with what you were taken from. Slaves were taken from their country to this one. Then they had kids here and sold off and forced into American/Western customs. Them wanting to explore their ancestry and know where they came from and reverse the damage of colonizers isn’t appropriation. It’s normal to want to undo the brainwashing.

I have a good friend who recently discovered her father wasn’t who she had been told all of her life he was and that she is half-Puerto Rican. As I read this next one, I thought of my friend –

There’s a difference between race and ethnicity. Race has more to do with if you’re white passing or not. You can’t claim to be a race you aren’t. Your ethnicity is something that can’t be seen unless you get a test done. For example, also displaced and white. My biological father is Puerto Rican and Spanish but I’m white, just with a Latino background. I absolutely think being connected to your roots will bring you healing. I was disconnected from them and am currently trying to get in touch. It’s very hard and I know for me, I always felt like there were missing pieces. I’m in the same boat as you. I don’t think it’s appropriation.

Forced Sterilization

In China –

A teacher coerced into giving classes in Xinjiang internment camps has described her forced sterilization at the age of 50, under a government campaign to suppress birth rates of women from Muslim minorities. Qelbinur Sidik said the crackdown swept up not just women likely to fall pregnant, but those well beyond normal childbearing ages. Messages she got from local authorities said women aged 19 to 59 were expected to have intrauterine devices (IUDs) fitted or undergo sterilization.

In 2017, Sidik was 47 and her only daughter was at university when local officials insisted she must have an IUD inserted to prevent the unlikely prospect of another pregnancy. Just over two years later, at 50, she was forced to undergo sterilization. When the first order came, the Chinese language teacher was already giving classes at one of the now notorious internment camps appearing across China’s western Xinjiang region.

She knew what happened to people from Muslim minorities who resisted the government. In a Uighur-language text message that she shared, local authorities made the threat explicit. “If anything happens, who will take responsibility for you? Do not gamble with your life, don’t even try. These things are not just about you. You have to think about your family members and your relatives around you,” the message said. “If you fight with us at your door and refuse to collaborate with us, you will go to the police station and sit on the metal chair!”

In the US –

Dawn Wooten, a nurse working at an ICE detention center in Georgia, made startling allegations about the treatment of the women detained there. Wooten filed a whistleblower complaint against the agency last Monday.

Natalia Molina has written about the history of forced sterilization. There’s a shameful legacy of US officials ordering operations on people without their consent — often disproportionately targeting people of color — with laws driven by racism and cloaked in terms about mental health and fitness. There’s a long history affecting many different racial and ethnic groups, across many institutions — mental health hospitals, public hospitals and prisons.

The ICE allegations can be seen as a recent episode in a much longer trajectory of sterilization abuse and reproductive injustice.

Back in 1907, Indiana passed the world’s first eugenics sterilization law. 31 other US states followed suit. Women and people of color increasingly became the target, as eugenics amplified sexism and racism. The laws, which led to officials ordering sterilizations of people they deemed “feeble-minded” or “mentally defective,” later became models for Nazi Germany.

Under those laws, about 60,000 people were sterilized in procedures that we would qualify today as being compulsory, forced, involuntary, and under the justifications that the people who were being sterilized were unfit to reproduce. In California, people of Mexican descent were disproportionately sterilized. And in North Carolina, Black women were disproportionately targeted. Most of the state laws were repealed by the 1970s. But their history is something states are still reckoning with.

Could progressives become the next target upheld by a very conservative Supreme Court ? One hopes not but with the craziness that is overtaking the US, one can no longer predict how outrageous an unethical policy might be and still be upheld in the coming future. What has been done, cannot be undone, but we should never be silent about injustice and abuse. We can stop turning our heads away because it is someone else’s problem.

Never forget, social ideas can be twisted in order to promote dehumanization. Like the Muslim ban Trump ordered shortly after his inauguration.

Way Down South In The Land Of Cotton

It was probably a lullaby from the deep south circa 1840.

There’s a little black boy I know
Who picks the cotton from the fields
As clean and white as snow . . .

And momma sings a lullaby . . .

Don’t you fret nor cry.

Today’s topic was inspired by transracial adoption photos of a black girl in a cotton field with two large older white people. The little girl is actually depicted picking cotton in one picture. I noticed her skirt looks like an old patchwork quilt. Just because something is objectively pretty doesn’t mean you can ignore context.

My paternal adoptive grandparents lived surrounded by cotton fields and as children we loved to go out there and pick cotton. It was never a photography shoot. I grew up in El Paso Texas, on the Mexican border; and so, the slavery issues were never a dominant aspect of my life growing up (though one could argue the point that using Mexican labor was similar).

Y’all think this little girl looks happy? Her eyes are not smiling. She may be content, but many viewers doubted she is happy, especially those with adoption in their backgrounds and those most triggered, whether adopted or not, were people of color. Which is easily understood.

Some see a little girl doing what she must to survive. Adoptees have to develop special coping skills that biological/genetic kids living with their original parents can’t easily understand. Adoptees are very good at hiding their true feelings. It is noted that her smile looks forced, as though she is just doing what the photographer asks her to do.

And she may end up at odds with these people who are parenting her, when she hits her teenage or adult years because many adopted people struggle more later in life with the fact of having been adopted, than they did as children.

I really wish a black family would have adopted her.

The truth likely is that this little girl needed a loving home and was available for adoption by anyone qualified. One can question what qualifications were required.

Do these folks need to learn black history ?… yes absolutely!

The little girl appears to be healthy and thriving. The parents look proud to claim her and provide a good home and hopefully lots of love. It is known the foster care system often fails kids.

Whoever’s choice it was to do the photo shoot in a Cotton field – it was a poor choice. Giving the parents the benefit of the doubt, maybe they were just thinking of a beautiful spot for pictures of their beautiful daughter. I would prefer to assume innocence on the part of the parents and hope someone takes a minute to educate them about why the optics are horrible. The photographer should have known better. It may be a regional thing to take photos in cotton fields. Iowans do that in corn fields.

#BlackGirlsMatter

Robbed Of Heritage

The symbolism in this painting calls to something very deep within me.  It is a painting by Barbara Taffet. In 1973, she reinvented herself as Maria Alquilar, a Latina artist whose fictive back story included a Sephardic Jewish father from Argentina. Drawing on her deep knowledge of world myths and spiritual traditions, filtered through her own personal mythology, she began creating idiosyncratic works inspired by the work of the California Sacramento-Davis area narrative expressionist, outsider and funk artists she admired and collected.

Adoption robs us of our actual cultural heritage.  All my life until very recently, I believed my dad was half-Mexican and my mom possibly half-African American.  They were both adoptees and for what little we knew about our familial roots, we could claim any story we wanted and not even our own selves knew whether it was true or not.

So along came inexpensive DNA testing.  Both my mom and I had ours done at Ancestry.  Later on, I had mine also tested at 23 and Me.  My mom has some Mali in her and so, I suspect slavery had something to do with that.  My dad’s dark complexion actually came by way of his Danish immigrant father.  I have learned there is some Ashkenazi Jew in me and suspect that comes via a family that lived for generations on Long Island New York.

Why does this painting call so deeply to my soul – there is that Jewish symbol and there is the Southwestern symbols as well.  There is a predator protecting it’s prey – my maternal grandmother was preyed upon by Georgia Tann, the famous baby thief of Memphis Tennessee.  And it is always about the bunnies in my household.  The angelic image at the top is more like a Jackrabbit which fits nicely with my New Mexican birth.

In many transracial adoptions, the very young child is not only cut off from their cultural heritage but loses contact with their native language.  It may be difficult to understand how disorienting that is but I get it.  It’s time to change the rules of the adoption game.

Questions Without Answers

Try as I might, my heart longs for answers to questions that I will never be able to truly answer.  I may have theories but they may be wrong.  For too many years, when we knew nothing about my adoptee parents’ origins, we made up plausible stories –

My mom had been stolen from her illiterate parents from the hospital in Virginia where she was born by a nurse in cahoots with Georgia Tann who transported her to Memphis.  There was no other way she could reconcile being adopted as an infant in Memphis when she had actually been born in Virginia and who could blame her for that confusion ?

Because my dad was dark complected and seemed so comfortable with the natives in Mexico, I thought that he must have been mixed race with a Mexican mother and an Anglo father and that she had crossed the border with her infant and left him upon the doorstep of the Salvation Army with a note that said – “Take care of my baby, Maria.”

So my maternal grandmother was exploited by three women in Memphis – Georgia Tann certainly but also Georgia Robinson the superintendent at Porter Leath orphanage who had agreed to give my mom “temporary care” and then betrayed her to the baby seller, Miss Tann, as well as the Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley who was Miss Tann’s close friend and could be counted upon to remove any child from their parents for nothing more abusive than poverty and a lack of immediate family support.

And my dad wasn’t Mexican at all.  His dark complexion came from his Danish immigrant father who was a married man, so his unwed young mother went to a Salvation Army home for unwed mothers at Ocean  Beach California just west of San Diego.  His father probably never even knew of his existence.  More’s the pity, as fishermen who loved the ocean they would have been great friends.

I’ll never know why my maternal grandfather never came to my maternal grandmother’s rescue or why they separated after only 4 months of marriage with her pregnant already.  I’ll never know why she went to Virginia to give birth, though I suspect she was sent away to avoid embarrassment to her immediate family in a very conservative religious rural community.

I can only live with the questions that will never have answers while basking in the glow of knowing so much that over 6 decades of living never prepared me to uncover.

No More

No more lies, no more shame, no more hiding.
I’m done with that already.

When my parents died, our family history was full of stories that weren’t true.

My mom was stolen from her parents at the hospital where she was born in Virginia by a nurse in cahoots with the baby stealing and selling Georgia Tann.

Not true.  It was the only way my mom could explain how she could have been born in Virginia but adopted as an infant at Memphis.  The only fact she really had to go on was the scandal that was Georgia Tann at the head of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society branch at Memphis.

My dad was left on the doorstep of the Salvation Army in a basket in El Paso Texas by a Mexican woman because his father was Anglo and he was conceived out of wedlock.

Partially true.  He was conceived out of wedlock and he was adopted from the Salvation Army in El Paso Texas.  He wasn’t Mexican, he was half Danish and his father was dark complected.  His mother was English/Irish not Mexican.

I was an Albino African.

Okay, so I really didn’t believe that one but I did say it on numerous occasions because I didn’t know what I was, so no one, not even myself could deny it.

Now I know the truth.  To find out that you are not who you think you are is mind blowing.  Your world tilts on its axis and nothing is ever the same again.  Even the simple act of looking in the mirror changes.  It brings a whole other element into the equation of my identity.  I am grateful to finally be “whole” after 6 decades of uncertainty.

Adoption is a strange thing that does strange things to the people affected by it.  It doesn’t matter what angle you are coming from – there’s shame and secrecy involved.  That much proved to be true.