I recently had the privilege of traveling from Pennsylvania to Minneapolis to attend the Minnesota Transracial Film Festival and the Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative Conference. The theme of the conference was “Reframing the Adoption Discourse” and from my vantage point, it succeeded in honoring this concept.
Both of these events also succeeded in providing me with an opportunity to engage with an amazing group of adoptees. We were a diverse and vibrant bunch. Our countries of origin differed. Our countries of adoption differed. Our ages at the time of adoption differed. Our overall adoption experiences differed. Our thoughts on search and reunion differed. Yet there was so much–so much–that bonded us to one another. We were all separated from our families of origin. We were all raised by people who were not related to us by biology. We were all put in a position to process this specific life experience known as being an adopted person.
What I appreciated most about the format of the film festival and conference was how the diversity within in the adoptee community was acknowledged while also placing focus on the common issues that we all face.
Friday Night Adoptee Film Fest
Films such as Memory of Forgotten War and Where Are You Going Thomas? helped me—a Caucasian adopted as an infant in 1971 through a private, domestic United States adoption—gain a better understanding of how the Korean War resulted in separation of families and created a now-historical context for the mass intercountry adoptions of Korean children that followed. These films also provided a base from which I could engage with my Korean-born counterparts in a more informed way.
Other films focused on search, reunion and the intense emotions that arise. In the documentary Searching for Go-Hyang, viewers watched as Korean-born twins adopted to the United States made the journey back to their country of origin and to their natural parents. Another film, CLOSURE, chronicled the search and reunion journey of an African-American adopted into a Caucasian family through domestic infant adoption in the United States. Tears flowed from my eyes during both films as I focused not on the differences, but on the heart-wrenching similarities between the stories shared and my own reunion narrative. No matter the country of origin or native language, the natural parents featured expressed the same deep-rooted pain and grief of having lost their children. And the adoptees expressed the same complex emotions that come up during reunion.
I was extremely fortunate to spend time with Deann Borshay Liem who directed and produced Memory of Forgotten War and Angela Tucker, subject of CLOSURE. Our experiences were different but we definitely spoke a common language familiar to all adopted persons. I’m extremely encouraged by the number of adult adoptees who are sharing their stories, and those of adopted persons, through creative outlets and media. These film makers illustrate how adoption should be treated as the complex, dynamic life experience it is instead of as a sensational plot device.
Reframing the Adoption Discourse on Saturday
Much like the film festival, the conference itself took a diverse and highly informed approach to adoptee-centered topics such as research, performance, activism, and mental health. Listening to the adoptee panelists—all professionals in their areas of focus–dialogue and discuss these important topics, it became quite clear that actual adopted persons should be at the head of the adoption policy table. Turns out we actually know what we are talking about when it comes to the adoption experience, from both personal and professional points of view.
Want to know how the mental health community can best provide post-adoption services to adopted persons? Ask an adult adoptee who is a mental health professional.
Want to know what policy measures would best respect and honor the rights and needs of adopted children? Ask an adult adoptee who is trained in policy analysis.
Want to conduct a study on the role of closed adoption in identity issues? Consult an adult adoptee who is a professional researcher.
All of these professions were represented by the adopted panelists at the conference. As an adult adoptee who is a professional journalist, I left the conference experience with new ways to frame and communicate some of the issues facing adoptees today. In the past, I was reluctant to address the issues facing my intercountry counterparts, for example, simply due to the fact that I was overly sensitive about speaking to something that was not my experience to share. So I focused on what impacts domestic United States adoptees like myself, original birth certificate access.
Thanks to the policy panel, however, I now feel confident and empowered to exapnd my own ability to engage in discussion on, for example, the more inclusive and holistic issue of documentation for all adoptees. In this conference environment, I was able to take a step back, listen and learn from my fellow adoptees. I heard how some of my intercountry counterparts don’t have original birth certificates or any birth certificates at all. I heard how failure to file documents in the United States can mean that an intercountry adoptee might not be recognized as a citizen. This global issue of documentation in adoption is one of many that can be inclusive of our diverse adoptee population.
It is my hope that within our diverse community of adoptees, we will continue to respect our differences, honor our diversity and work together to develop a holistic sense of advocacy that is inclusive to all. I, for one, need to stop being so adopted and start being more confident in my ability to address our differing experiences so that I can better facilitate discussion and communicate the broader, shared issues in an effective way.Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.