Reversal

Sadie & Jarvis, with Godparents, Kennedy & Brandon and kids

I have written before about the special challenges that adoptees of a different race face when placed with a different race of adoptive parents. In the past, this has usually meant Black and Asian children placed with white adoptive parents. In a somewhat recent development, Black couples are adopting white children as shown in my photo above. I was made aware of this couple today.

For most of my life, I really did not have much of a racial identity. True, my skin was unmistakably white. I grew up on the border with Mexico and so my environmental was predominantly Hispanic. My parents were both adoptees with no more than a minimal knowledge of who they might have been before adoption. I used to say I was an Albino African because really I couldn’t prove otherwise and neither could anyone else. I honestly suspected 25% Black, 25% Hispanic and the rest White for much of my adulthood. Now that I know something that my parents never knew – something about the people who conceived my parents and gave their genetic heritage to us all – I know that I have 25% Danish, a lot of Scottish and Irish, quite a bit English. These are the real realities and it is a gift I never expected for over 60 years of my life to receive. Yeah, it matters.

This story has an interesting twist. After agreeing to foster a newborn, actually premature, baby boy they named Ezra. After agreeing to foster, the birth parents deciding to surrender their son to this couple for adoption. Next, the Sampsons chose a new and somewhat surprising path that I am also familiar with – embryo donation. This allowed Sadie to experience pregnancy. Their twin daughters were named Journee and Destinee and they are also white. Their family motto has become, “Families don’t have to match.” 

Because I am familiar with reproductive medicine, I know the difficult next stage – what to do with leftover embryos ? We allowed ours to be adopted. It was all arranged online independently but the couple did hire a lawyer. I never questioned their race nor did the thought cross my mind. Clearly, it was not a predominant concern of my own at the time. Sadly for that couple, the process did not result in a pregnancy and live birth.

White supremacists worry a lot about the dilution of the white race. It is a fact of modern life that the races are mixing. Interracial marriage, the children born to such unions and adoption are all – let us hope – leading to a better understanding that human beings are more alike than different. That peace and harmony on this planet may be the eventual result. The only real question remaining is the issue of adoptee trauma and that many donor conceived persons also have issues with how they were conceived. It is a tricky path to walk but some brave souls are stepping out ahead of the rest of society. With a better understanding of psychological impacts, it may be possible to avoid some of the worst of the worst outcomes. I do hope over time that proves true.

The Stories We Tell

I do beg to differ with Mr Twain. When you don’t know, you make up stories to fill in the gaps. Before I knew the truth of my adoptee parent’s origins – I thought both of my parents must be mixed race – my mom was black and white and my dad was Mexican and white. Neither one of those turns out to be true.

My mom wouldn’t explain how she could have been born in Virginia but adopted at 6 months old in Memphis. She did know that Georgia Tann was in the baby stealing and selling market. My mom died still not knowing the truth because Tennessee couldn’t provide whether her dad was alive when she wanted her file (though he had already been dead 30 years by that time).

My mom’s story went this way. She was born to illiterate parents in Virginia. A nurse at the hospital was in cahoots with Georgia Tann. She gave my mom’s parents papers to sign that they couldn’t read. She said the nursery was too crowded and so they needed to move my mom. When her mother was released and went to retrieve her – she was gone. In my mom’s polite language with the Tennessee officials (though she believed firmly she had been stolen), she referred to her adoption as inappropriate.

Truth was my maternal grandmother was exploited by Georgia Tann in her desperate financial situation. She was married. I have a story about my maternal grandfather. His first wife died almost 9 months pregnant in the dead of winter with the baby still in her womb. I have thought consciously or not, he was concerned because he was WPA, the children from his deceased wife were in Arkansas, his job in Memphis had ended and he went back to Arkansas. He was insecure as to his living conditions there and so didn’t take my grandmother at 4 mos pregnant, also due to deliver in the dead of winter with him. My cousin who has the same grandfather does not believe he was the kind of man to abandon his family that way. I can’t know – no one left living to tell me. My mom didn’t feel close to him and maybe that is because her own mother felt abandoned.

My dad was adopted from the Salvation Army. When his adoptive parents died, he found a letter copy to the Texas requesting the altered birth certificate that mentioned his mother’s name as Delores. Growing up on the Mexican border in El Paso TX, until I finally knew better, my story about my dad was that his mother was Mexican and his father white. Her family would not accept a mixed race baby so she took him into El Paso and left him on the doorstep of the Salvation Army with a note to please take care of her baby. Understandable given the circumstances but still not true.

This is a common experience for people with adoption in their family histories. Making up stories to fill in the gaps. Knowing the truth is preferable – even if the story was a very pretty and exciting one (as some I’ve heard about are).

The Role Of Paternity

The legacy of American militaristic adventures includes an American soldier who fathers a child with a national of another country. In the case of Korea, mixed-race children were considered as a blight upon the blood-line, unworthy of being Korean. According to the system of census taking that existed in the 1960s, in order to be entered into the family registry, the child had to be fathered by a Korean man.

Children born of foreign fathers were unable to be registered, and therefore ineligible for essential government services, such as education and medical care. From the beginning, the bureaucracy conspired to erase knowledge of them from existence.

Korean women were crucial to Korea’s struggling economy, bringing into the economy desperately needed U.S. dollars. Though prostitution was ostensibly illegal, the government not only tolerated but abetted it. U.S. military and Korean local and national government officials coordinated efforts to regulate prostitution and monitor sex workers for sexually transmitted diseases. Both countries saw the sex trade as vital to keeping the massive contingent of U.S. troops in the country contented, and these women’s presence was deemed essential to the national economy.

The government making a profit off of women’s bodies did not stop with the sex trade. When these women had babies, another business opportunity presented itself. Americans like Henry Holt and Pearl S. Buck offered to take these unwanted children away. It turned out that white couples in wealthy nations would pay money for them.

And how do the profiteers make the export of children morally palatable ? By reframing the narrative from that of poverty, prostitution and military adventurism into one of rescue and redemption. By extirpating the past, doctoring documents, and rebranding the children as orphans.

These Korean children were not orphans. They had a mother. And a father, too, though most of these men returned to America before their progeny were even born.

An article in The Korea Times describes the lies that one woman discovered were her adoption file. Her father father was not Caucasian but Mexican American and she had Native American and Latino roots. Her mother’s name was an alias, the Korean equivalent of Jane Doe.

I know somewhat how that feels. I knew that Georgia Tann did not always tell the truth about the children she was placing for adoption to the prospective adoptive parents and so it was easy for me to see where she fudged (thankfully, the actual facts had been preserved because she was not yet covering her tracks at the time).

So back to the Korean woman’s story. Decades after the first children were adopted out, the Korean court system is being forced to confront the many legal issues that have arisen due to dubious adoption practices. The country is forced to accept back adoptees who have been deported from their home countries because their adoptive parents neglected to naturalize them.

Unlike Korea’s other major exports, adoptees are human beings. Cars, phones and refrigerators do not wonder about their origins, but human beings have a deep, innate need to know from whence they come. Korean adoptees are returning to Korea to search for their family, learn about their culture and recover their identity in ever increasing numbers. They are demanding answers, reform, legal equality, and their basic human right to know our origins.

By declaring these children orphans, the Korean government sought to erase them from their national history. By these adoptees searching to know their roots, they are bringing the dark truths to light.

One could say that knowing from whence you came is the universal adoptee calling.

You can read this woman’s essay here – Rewriting The Adoption Narrative by Alice Stephens

Pocahontas’ Son

Last night we watched The New World about the first English settlers at Jamestown. I was intrigued about the story of Pocahontas and for the most part in further research, it was about as accurate as it could be for an event that took place so long ago with few original documents. From a Smithsonian piece titled The True Story of Pocahontas, I picked up some new details and a few reality checks.

Pocahontas died in England where she was treated as the princess that she was. Born about 1596, her real name was Amonute, and she also had the more private name Matoaka. Pocahontas was her nickname, which depending on who you ask means “playful one” or “ill-behaved child.” Much that is known came from Captain John Smith who wrote about her many years later describing her as the beautiful daughter of a powerful native leader, who rescued him from being executed by her father. It’s disputed whether or not Pocahontas, who was only age 11 or 12, rescued Smith or did he possibly misinterpret a ritual ceremony, or worse take the tale from a popular Scottish ballad of the time.

Pocahontas grew up to be a clever and brave young woman, who served as a translator, ambassador and leader facing down European power. Pocahontas’ people could not possibly have defeated or even held off the power of Renaissance Europe. The Indians were facing extraordinarily daunting circumstances. Pocahontas was captured and held for ransom by the Colonists during hostilities in 1613. During her captivity, she was encouraged to convert to Christianity and was baptized under the name Rebecca.

It was during her captivity in the settlement called Henricus, that Pocahontas met John Rolfe. She married the tobacco planter in April 1614 at about the age of 17 or 18 and she bore him a son, Thomas Rolfe in January 1615. Their marriage created a climate of peace between the Jamestown colonists and Powhatan’s tribes that endured for eight years and was known as the “Peace of Pocahontas.” The birth of Thomas Rolfe, as he was both of European and Native American descent, reinstated peace between the Powhatans and the European settlements. Early in his career as deputy governor, Samuel Argall reported in a letter published within the Virginia Company Records that Powhatan “goes from place to place visiting his country taking his pleasure in good friendship with us laments his daughter’s death but glad her child is living so doth opachank”.

The marriage was controversial in the British court at the time because “a commoner” had “the audacity” to marry a “princess”. According to Rolfe, when she was dying, she said, “all must die, but tis enough that her child liveth”. In the movie, Rolfe is depicted carrying Thomas, their two year old son in his arms, as he was going back to Virginia but that is the most inaccurate part I am aware of. Here is where the story merits mention in this blog about adoption. At the time Pocahontas died, Thomas was sick as well. His father, fearing his young son would not survive the sea voyage, appointed Sir Lewis Stukley as his guardian March 21, 1617. Stuckley later transferred custody and care of Thomas Rolfe to his uncle, Henry Rolfe.

This likely saved his life as his father, John Rolfe died in the Indian massacre of 1622. Also known as the Jamestown Massacre. A contemporary account claims the Powhatan had come “unarmed into our houses with deer, turkeys, fish, fruits, and other provisions to sell us”. The Powhatan then grabbed any tools or weapons available and killed all the English settlers they found, including men, women, and children of all ages. Chief Opechancanough led the Powhatan Confederacy in a coordinated series of surprise attacks; they killed a total of 347 people, a quarter of the population of the Virginia colony.

In his will, John Rolfe had appointed his father in law, William Pierce, as executor of his estate and guardian of his 2 children, Thomas and Elizabeth (by a subsequent marriage). Thomas remained in his uncle’s care until he reached roughly 21 years of age. Sometime before June 1635, Thomas returned to Virginia, his transportation paid for by his Virginia guardian and grandfather by marriage, William Pierce. Once established in Virginia, Thomas Rolfe fostered both his reputation as a plantation owner and as a member of his mother’s lineage. He expressed interest in rekindling relations with his Native American relatives, despite societal ridicule and laws that forbade such contact. In 1641, Rolfe petitioned the governor for permission to visit his “aunt, Cleopatra, and his kinsman, Opecanaugh”.

The date of his death after a life filled with service to the crown and land acquisition is not totally known but has been thought to be around 1685.

As an aside, my mom was born in the Richmond Virginia general area in 1937. It is known that her mother’s family, the Starks, immigrated from Scotland arriving at Stafford County Virginia. As her husband seems to have taken leave of her to return to his mother and other children in Arkansas, it appears my grandmother’s father may have thought her husband had abandoned her. Embarrassed that she was obviously with child and no husband to be seen, I suspect there were still members of the Stark family in Virginia and that is why she was sent there to give birth (and I assume, he hoped she would relinquish her baby there but she did not and brought her back to Memphis, where the two of them fell into the clutches of Georgia Tann). Therefore, I do feel genetic familial roots in Virginia and know that one of my Stark ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War because they arrived here before that began. Later some Starks migrated to Tennessee where my maternal grandmother was born.

All You Can Ever Know

Nicole Chung

With Asians on my mind this morning, I stumbled on this book when an essay in Time magazine titled “My adoption didn’t make me less Korean” got my attention. I can not locate a digital link for this (I will share some excerpts – her own words about being Asian at this fraught time – later in this blog). In my all things adoption group, there have been a number of Korean adoptees. The international adoption of Korean children by Americans was the result of a large number of orphaned mixed children from the Korean War after 1953. That is not Nicole’s story.

In looking for her book, I found a New Yorker review by Katy Waldman – Nicole Chung’s Adoption Memoir, “All You Can Ever Know,” Is an Ode to Sisterly Love. Like many adoptees, her parents believed she was a gift from God. Like many transracial adoptees, growing up among white, Catholic Oregonians in the eighties and nineties, students teased her for being adopted and for looking “different.” 

Her adoptive mother couldn’t tell her much about her original parents. They “had just moved here from Korea” and “thought they wouldn’t be able to give you the life you deserved.” This brief story, one of love and sadness and altruism, “may be all you can ever know,” her mother told her.

After a protracted and unglamorous process of filing paperwork and wrangling lawyers, she finally uncovered the reality of her original genetic family, the Chungs. She discovered an older sister, Cindy. Sadly, her sister had been physically abused by their natural mother. She learned that her parents are divorced and not speaking to one another. Her birth father had told Cindy that Nicole had died. 

Nicole explains why having a baby mattered to her so much, “I wouldn’t be alone anymore. There would be someone who was connected to me in a way no one else had ever been.” For her memoir, Chung wanted to explore “the quiet drama of the everyday adopted experience.” 

Remembering the fiction she scribbled down as a kid, Chung writes that she “found a measure of previously unknown power” in envisioning “places where someone like me could be happy, accepted, normal.” 

From Chung’s Time essay – What her adoptive parents struggled with was to fully and consistently see and understand her as a Korean American woman. She doesn’t blame them for this, she notes – “Acknowledging it flew in the face of everything ‘experts’ had told them when they adopted me in the early 1980s – the adoption agency, the social worker, the judge had all maintained that it wouldn’t, shouldn’t matter.” She shares the things they would say to be color-blind with her.

She also notes – “Often, people who’ve read my memoir will note my white family’s ‘color-blind’ approach and ask whether this led to me thinking of myself as white. My answer is always swift, unequivocal: no, I never thought I was white.” However, she goes on to say her adoptive parents did “assume that I’d be protected from racism because the world would see me as they did – their child, no more, no less – and as my race was irrelevant to them, they could not imagine anyone else caring about it either.”

She says, “While my adoptive family saw me as almost raceless and therefore safe from racists, I lived every day from the age of 7, when I heard my first slur from a classmate, understanding that my Korean face made me hypervisible where we lived – and that it could also make me a target.”

This startled me. I cannot imagine children that age knowing racial slurs. Then, I remember reading once that children learn racism in the family. I thought about WWII, the Korean War and more recently the Vietnam War. I could believe that some returning veterans, having done battle with Asians, might have brought bias home with them.

Chung describes how from the start of the pandemic and racial scapegoating, she has thought of other Asian American kids growing up in white families and white spaces, even as she knows their experiences are not interchangeable. She says, “I know it can feel like a unique burden when you witness or experience racism in a kind of isolation, unable to retreat and process your rage or sorrow with people who also know what it’s like to live in an Asian body.”

She speaks of the experiences of transracial adoptees – “asking, sometimes begging our adoptive relatives to acknowledge our experiences; to stand with us; to challenge the racism endemic in our society as well as our own families and communities.”

Her adoptive parents have died. She says, “I’ve had to accept that there are questions I’ll never get answers to, things we’ll never be able to settle. That my parents didn’t entirely understand or accept my racial reality will always be with me, part of my adoption story.”

In her final thoughts she says, “I know the last thing either of my parents would have wanted was for me to despair, or live my life in fear. And so, for their sake and my own, I won’t.”

Separating Siblings

Life is messy and stuff happens.  It is sad that siblings grow up never knowing one another.  My dad had 3 half-siblings he never knew.  My mom had 4 half-siblings she never knew.

Parental rights get terminated for a variety of reasons.  In these cases, there are often multiples of siblings who end up torn asunder.

Take a very complicated case.  8 children in 5 different homes.  Each situation with a different perspective on the circumstances.  One of the most worrying is a white grandma with a baby who’s mother and other siblings are from an African-American heritage.  The grandma delayed adopting because she wanted to see how “white” the baby would be.  It doesn’t end there because people who know about these things suggest –  this child is likely going to get darker as they get older and their hair may get kinkier as well.  This grandma has no interest in staying connected to mom, mom’s family, or any of the siblings/adoptive families. She has been pretty standoffish.

One set of 3 yr old twins is being raised by an enlightened adoptive mother who is desperately trying to somehow maintain a connection among all of the siblings and admittedly, there is never going to be a huge amount of interaction among these children until they are mature and then it will be up to them to try and locate one another and build a relationship that basically includes not having grown up with one another in a similar environment.

Two of the siblings remain with their mother in a different state from all of the rest.  One child was adopted by a family that has other children. This family is very open to a relationship.  The adoptive mother of the twins had to track them down herself… because of privacy rules.  This woman’s story proves that if there is the will to do the right thing then a way will open up.

Finally, two of the other siblings were adopted by a couple that has no other children. They are in contact with the adoptive mother of the 3 yr old twins but will be moving out of state this summer.

8 children in 5 homes is not ideal. Other than the 2 siblings that remain with their mother, she is entirely shut out of 3 of the other families. Grandma doesn’t allow contact with the baby and the two other adoptive families never knew her and and are not interested in being in contact with her even though the termination of her parental rights happened before they took placement of the kids.

Some empathy came to this adoptive mom trying to do the right thing from a woman who was one of seven kids total between the two parents.  Not unusual in what is called blended families. She was the only one who was put up for adoption. She has two sisters and a brother on her mother’s side and three brothers on her father’s side.  She admits that “It’s hard to maintain a close sibling relationship with them, even as an adult. We are currently in 5 separate homes.”  None of these children have the same two parents.

Her perspective is this – “I feel like complete understanding of the situation from a younger age would have helped with this, but separate homes is just really hard to get around, especially when it takes a road trip to visit. It’ll require a lot of time to keep them close to one another.”

Life is messy and it is so very sad that children get caught up in the middle of chaos and yet still grow up and must find a way for their own selves if family connections matter to them.