Category Archives: International Adoption

privileging the voice of adoptees

Just over a week ago, the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs with the support of the U.S. Domestic Policy Council hosted a Symposium on Intercountry Adoption (ICA) in Washington DC. The purpose of the Symposium was to bring together a diverse group of ICA stakeholders in order to strengthen the future practice of intercountry adoption. Such stakeholders included professional adoption practitioners; attorneys; government officials from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of State; and Legislators as well as a number of others. Interested adoptive parents also attended, and historically, the Department invited adult adoptees as well as birth parents for the first time, as the Department’s aim was to “create a deeper understanding of the respective views and interests of each stakeholder group.” The Symposium gave a clearer comprehension of the roles of the many different governmental offices in intercountry adoption, and yet there is still much to learn about each entity and their direct roles. It became clear to me that our present system of intercountry adoption and the policies and regulations governing it are far more intricate than I imagined.

All of us care for the safety of children. All of us recognize their vulnerability. All of us want to protect them from those who would do them harm. Bringing all of us together, as this Symposium does, provides us with an opportunity to meet those goals in cooperation rather than in competition.

Carl Rische, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs

Despite moments of challenge, in the end, all agreed that safety of the children is utmost. For long now, fear, trauma, anger, and disconnect have made it extremely difficult for everyone involved to come together. I believe all members within the adoption constellation, that is birth parents, adoptees, and adoptive parents, have suffered tremendous loss, but those losses and how they are experienced and processed are uniquely individual. However, I’m not the first to say, adoptees have had the least voice and suffered the greatest losses, yet have the most to be learned from because of our lived experience. We all need far greater awareness and acknowledgment of the losses, fears of rejection, feelings of shame and guilt and our own processes of grief for true healing to occur. We have to hear each other’s voices and not be put off by them, find connection through difference. I experienced the Symposium as a step towards changing the current environment, an opportunity for all voices to be listened to, despite great disparity at times among different groups. All in all, if intercountry adoption is to exist and we agree that those who should “benefit” the most – the adopted child, youth, adult adoptee – then we must guarantee long-term healing, safety and permanence for the adoptee through adoption practice and policy that provides greater protections.

What Protections?

Citizenship For ALL Adoptees. Today, an estimated thousands of intercountry adoptees who were adopted by U.S. parents are without U.S. citizenship due to a loophole that exists in current legislation. They remain at risk, unable to access critical services and rights. According to 18 Million Rising, 35 intercountry adoptees have been deported with more being targeted. Current legislation (Child Citizenship Act of 2000) granted citizenship to foreign-born adoptees adopted by U.S. citizens; however, the bill did not take effect until February 27, 2001, and as a result, adoptees who were 18-years old or older at the time were not covered unbeknownst to adoptive parents and adoptees. Deportation causes another significant trauma to those adoptees. They are torn away from family and forced to live in a country where they were relinquished, where they do not speak the language, understand the culture, nor have known family. They were guaranteed a “better life,” one of permanence, and yet have been failed. The Citizenship Act of 2019 would fix the loophole in current legislation and grant automatic citizenship to all adoptees; however, the bill remains tied up in Congress. Adoptee activists continue to engage with Congressmen/women and Senators to advance this bill, yet increased and ongoing Adoptee and Ally support is needed. I urge you to support this bill, get involved by donating, volunteering and/or contacting your legislators. Learn more at Adoptees for Justice, Adoptee Rights Campaign, Adoptee Rights Law. And for a brief history of this legislation, click here.

Ethical Adoption Practices. Regulatory oversight is critical to ensuring the safety and protection of children, as we know that those who would cause harm for profit have existed under unethical adoption practices across the history of intercountry adoption. At the Symposium, adoptive parents, Adam and Jessica Davis, shared their story of adopting a five-year old girl, Namata, from Uganda only to learn a year and a half later, as Namata’s English improved, that she had a loving mommy who cared for her back home. Upon further investigation, the family learned that, indeed Namata was not an orphan. Her mother had been tricked into sending her daughter to a family in the U.S. whom she believed would provide for her education and then be later returned home. The Davis’ did a remarkable thing, eventually vacating the adoption and reuniting Namata with her mother in Uganda. This is one family who stood against those who urged them to keep Namata, despite the injustices again her mother and the abhorrent trafficking that occurred. Jessica stated in an interview with CNN.

After unveiling Namata’s true story and doing extensive research, I feel I have gained an awareness of the realities of corruption occurring across the board within international adoption. This complicated yet beautiful act of opening up a home and a heart to a child in need has become heavily corrupted by greed and saviorism.

Jessica Davis, adoptive parent and activist – quote used with permission.

The U.S. adoption agency the Davis family worked with was later debarred. This is only one story, one family, one example of unethical adoption practice, though others exist. And yet, “Harm to even one adopted child is unacceptable.” (Carl Rische, opening statement). Unregulating standards is not the answer, as some alluded to, but efforts to thoroughly investigate a child’s “orphan” status among other things must continue.

Additionally, unregulated custody transfers (UCTs), also known as rehoming, endanger the lives of adopted children. UCT’s occur when parents transfer the physical custody of their child to a person who is not the child’s parent or other adult relative, or adult friend of the family with whom the child is familiar, with the intent of permanently avoiding responsibility for the child’s care and without taking reasonable steps to ensure the child’s safety or permanency of the placement (Child Welfare Information Gateway). Children adopted through foster care and intercountry adoption are at greater risk for UCT. A recent study found challenges associated with these adoptions – the child’s complex physical and behavioral health needs and difficulties finding and, furthermore, paying for needed health services, may lead families to seek out unregulated transfers (Brown, K., Morrison, E., Hartjes, E., Nguyen, N., Sweet, A. 2015. Steps have been taken to address unregulated custody transfers of adopted children. Washington, DC: Government Accountability Office. Retrieved from http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-733). There is legislation currently pending on unregulated custody transfers.

Post-Adoption Services. At this time, there is no federal or state regulation or oversight guiding implementation of post-adoption services. Adoption service providers across the country are at their own discretion to offer such services. We heard from a number of adoptive parents who expressed great difficulty accessing needed resources and support after the finalization of adoption. Adoption service providers themselves agreed that this is the case. We know that children who are adopted are at higher risk for developing emotional, psychological, and behavioral problems as a result of disrupted attachments, trauma and identity issues, even though physically they may thrive in a safe and loving home. The emotional, psychological, and physical state of the birth mother during pregnancy also has tremendous impact on the child. The child brings all of this trauma into the adoptive family, which impacts every member of the family system, including siblings. With this knowledge comes great responsibility to help that child heal. The adoption journey really begins post-adoption. Most services are terminated at that time, yet ongoing support during the first few months and years following are critical to the healthy development and healing of the child.

Lastly, there is legislation pending related to intercountry adoption, but outcomes remain to be seen. And finally, I want to thank the Department of State for welcoming adoptees and birth parents to the Symposium and for showing support to those of us who attended. Thank you to my fellow adoptees for your passion, determination, and tireless efforts to make our voices heard. Huge thanks to Lynelle Long, who blazed the way for us to attend this event. We’ve reached a pivotal point. It is my hope that Adoptees can work alongside other stakeholders to achieve change that brings increased safety, protection, and healing to adoptees. We do need to get it right because so much is at stake, now more than ever, and the way forward is to include adoptees as part of the process.

To read Carl Rische’s introductory remarks at the Symposium in full, click here.

 

 

 

Taiwanese American cultural festival

May is winding down, and boy has it been a busy month. May is officially recognized as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Celebrations occur throughout California during the month including the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival and the Taiwanese American Cultural Festival, which is held annually in the Bay area. TACF is sponsored by Taiwanese American Professionals-San Francisco and Taiwanese American Foundation-No. California. This year, TACF featured a collection of nearly 50 works by authors, writers, poets, and creatives who are Taiwanese American or have ties to Taiwan, and guess what? My book, Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity was one of the works featured! For the entire list of books showcased and brief descriptions of each book, visit Taiwaneseamerican.org.

Thank you, Ho Chie Tsai, for gathering this wonderful collection of books highlighting Taiwanese American storytellers. I wish that I could have attended the festival and seen the display in person as well as all of the other festivities. I’ve put several of the books on my to-read list.

If you’d like to purchase an autographed copy of my book, just follow this link.

Here are some photographs from the Taiwanese American Cultural Festival 2018!

Photo credit: Anna Wu Photography

 

elevate adoptee voices

Since last November, I’ve had the privilege of connecting to many other adult intercountry adoptees around the U.S. via a podcast I hosted called Global Adoptee Talk. Some participated in my podcast and others did not. Nevertheless, just to hear and share stories was incredibly validating, and I appreciate the supportive community that we’re a part of. Unfortunately, I had to let go of my podcast before it even had a real chance to get off the ground due to increasing demands at work and the lack of time and energy I had to keep up with editing/interviewing. I am always inspired, grieved, saddened, angered, and motivated by the many adoptees stories I hear – motivated primarily to elevate adoptee voices in whatever shape or form that may take. It’s always important to be mindful of the fact that though an adoptee may have had a positive adoption experience, there is still undoubtedly loss, trauma, and frequently a longing to connect to cultural roots. That may mean searching for one’s birth parents or first/birth family or traveling to one’s country of origin, learning the language, and/or connecting to others who have similar backgrounds and experiences. It doesn’t go away – it may ebb and flow across the span of an adoptee’s life, but it’s a part of our makeup; it’s part of our DNA and hard-wired into our brains, literally. I don’t have time to go into how separation from birth mother is trauma, but suffice it to say, there is research that supports it. Acknowledging that adoptees have a vital role in the future of how adoption occurs and are given a voice is crucial.

I’m bummed to let go of my podcast, but I have hopes of one day picking it back up, as time allows. I miss that connection to other adoptees. There are plenty of super podcasts out there. Two of my favorite adoptee podcasts are Adoptees On, Adapted, and Born In June Raised in April.    The Rambler was also a favorite, but the show closed earlier this year. All of these podcasts are available on iTunes – listen in – it’s totally worth it.

I sure learned a lot while producing my podcast and am super grateful for those adoptees that I had the opportunity to connect with. Adoptee voices are truly making their way to the forefront of discussions on adoption, as they should. Let us continue to build a strong and vibrant community, inclusive and respectful of all adoptees and their unique stories.

Past episodes of Global Adoptee Talk are available on Soundcloud

ivory

Mrs. Guinn placed the clunky brown headphones snuggly over my head, the giant earpieces squeezed my temples. A long, coiled cord snaked across the shaggy green carpet to a stereo where she stood, ready to drop the needle. I had no idea what I was in for. Mrs. Guinn had never offered to play music for me at any of my other piano lessons. Mandi, my friend next door, and I took weekly lessons at Mrs. Guinn’s home. I loved going to Mrs. Guinn’s for my piano lessons and looked forward to them every week. She lived in a quiet neighborhood in Shady Grove and was a white, 30-something year old woman. She had short brown hair in a long pixie style, a pretty face, and was always dressed in jeans and a nice top. Mrs. Guinn was married to an officer in the Air Force. I remember her as having a quiet and gentle demeanor. She reminded me of Toni Tennille of Captain and Tenille. The front living room where Mrs. Guinn taught had an upright piano on one wall and an organ against another, a large window overlooked the street. Her house was always meticulously clean and smelled good. “I have something I want you to listen to today,” she said as she guided me into the den. The headphones felt heavy against my ears as she adjusted them. I sat silently and settled into Mrs. Guinn’s plush black couch, waiting for the music to begin playing.

“Da-da-da-DUM.” “Da-da-da-DUM!” Those first four notes of Beethoven’s all too famous Fifth Symphony bellowed in my ears. The music accelerated, and I was completely enraptured, magically swept away. The pulse of the bass vibrated in my chest. I was only 9-years old at the time, and yet that was such a defining moment in my life. The rest of the world fell away in those brief eight minutes or so of that first movement. I was an extremely shy, introverted kid, but at my lesson the following week, I mustered the courage to ask Mrs. Guinn if I could listen to that recording again. Of course, she obliged. Little did Mrs. Guinn know how much that recording influenced me. I discovered I had a love for classical music. One of the other things I enjoyed while taking lessons from Mrs. Guin was the monthly gatherings she held at her home where all her students performed. The best part was when she performed for us on her organ. I loved watching her feet fly across the pedals. It was certainly a treat.

Mrs. Guinn was a member of the National Federation of Music and entered me into my first music festival where students performed and were adjudicated. I received a superior + and was selected to perform in the Honors Recital with many other students. Kabelevsky’s, The Clown, Op. 39, No. 2, was my first performance piece ever. As I climbed the stairs the night of the recital towards the concert grand piano, it felt as though I were having an out of body experience. Somehow, I got through my piece without any fumbles and took my bow to the applause of the audience. I would perform in many other recitals, each one causing more anxiety than the last. It was something I continuously struggled with.

Mrs. Guinn moved within a year or two. I was deeply saddened when she told me her husband had received a military transfer to Texas, as I had become quite attached to her. It was very hard to say goodbye, and I remember having a hard time sleeping the night before my last lesson. I probably shed a few tears, too.

My mom found a new teacher, and I began taking lessons from Mrs. Ellis, whom I didn’t like very much. The music she gave me to play was “old” and not very fun. Mrs. Ellis was older than Mrs. Guinn and had short, reddish hair and a southern drawl. I didn’t feel the same connection with her as I had with Mrs. Guinn and dreaded going to my lessons where very often, her daughter, about my age, invited me to play while I waited for the kid’s lesson before me to end. She had what seemed like a million trophies from beauty pageants stacked in her room, and I remember jumping on the trampoline with her in the backyard. I felt awkward next to her, as she seemed so accomplished for a kid our age. Eventually, I moved on and studied with Mr. Robert Buckner during my high school years. Mr. Buckner lived in Shreveport and was quite a colorful character. He had a piano studio behind his house and a dachshund named Angie. Mr. Buckner’s gray hair was always disheveled and seemed to stand on end to one side. I began every lesson with major and minor scales to warm-up, or Hanon exercises. I felt comfortable with his teaching style and sense of humor. Mr. Buckner was bit of a stout man with a laugh that welled up from his belly, which was quite infectious. A couple of times, I caught Mr. Buckner sleeping while I played. His snores always gave him away.

I decided to major in music and attended Centenary College of Louisiana where I studied piano performance, primarily because it meant I didn’t have to take a single, damn math class. I was beyond horrible in math or anything that had to do with numbers. Initially, I felt terribly inadequate compared to my peers who seemed to have much better training musically than I did. I struggled with ear training and theory and loathed sight singing, but loved composition and piano literature. It wasn’t that I couldn’t sing, it’s just that I had never been taught sight singing, and it terrified me, especially when made to sight sing in front of all my peers. That was a very joyless experience. I studied with Constance Knox Carroll and absolutely adored her. She was an inspiring teacher and incredible pianist. I’m sure, however, that I was one of her least favorite students, as I was not very disciplined and did not practice as I should have, especially during my senior year when it was expected to perform a solo recital of full repertoire. I got distracted with theatre and dance and remember her scolding me at one particular lesson for my lack of practice. I hadn’t memorized all of my pieces, and my recital loomed near. I just sat there unable to say a thing. No doubt, part of her concern was that a poor performance would reflect badly on her. She said that it seemed like I liked theatre and dance better. She was right. What did I know at that age? Not a whole lot, except there was much less pressure when you were having fun, for God’s sake.

I wasn’t exactly lazy, but discipline was not my strong suit. Practicing was such an isolating, arduous endeavor, and yet in those days, I didn’t always mind it. I typically hit the practice room four hours a day, sometimes six on the rare occasion that I was super inspired. There were times when it was such a rewarding experience to sit at the keyboard and just play without anyone listening. The freedom from judgment or making mistakes, the connection to the music; it was magical. Those were the times when I performed the best. But in front of an audience, I lost all sense of composure. Performance anxiety plagued me. I could not control my hands; they became leaden.  Adrenaline rendered me helpless, and memory slips haunted me. On one occasion, several students were to perform with the Shreveport Symphony in a special recital. I was performing the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A, K414. I can’t describe how exhilarating it was to perform with a live orchestra. Connection to other musicians performing together was something I had never experienced. It was like flying, but without the motion sickness. Unfortunately, performance anxiety got the best of me, and my memory lapsed somewhere during the development. The orchestra continued to play as if nothing happened while I sat frozen, paralyzed. Eventually, I wove my way back in, but the damage had been done. I barely made it through the cadenza. Instead of enjoying such a performance, I was relieved when it was over. My legs were so shaky afterwards, I could barely stand.

After graduating college, I taught piano for a brief time at St. Mark’s Episcopal in Shreveport and another Christian school before moving to Florida. I didn’t touch a keyboard for nearly 20 years after that. The trauma of it all prevented me. I deeply regret that now. One day, my mom asked if I wanted my baby grand piano, the one they bought me when I first started taking lessons. Of course I did, and a couple of months later, my baby grand arrived at our tiny condo in California. It took up an entire room. I started teaching piano thereafter at a Christian elementary school in Mission Viejo, CA, and eventually taught privately on and off until 2013. My piano skills were sadly more than a little rusty, and I lamented the loss. I attempted to take piano lessons a couple of different times, but just didn’t have the time to commit to practicing with family responsibilities and work. I stopped teaching altogether in 2013 when I went back to school to pursue a Master’s degree in Social Work.

I have now had my baby grand since 1999. It has moved with us many different times in the last several years. It’s sitting in our family room in need of a little TLC – or a lot actually. When we returned to California in 2016, my husband tried to talk me into selling it because all the homes in California are so much smaller! It was more challenging to find an “affordable” (there are no affordable homes in California) home that would accommodate its size. First of all, I silently fumed that he’d ask such a thing that’s so important to me, and second I refused to budge. We were not going to sell my baby grand piano! And so it was and is and will ever be.

Every once in awhile, I sit down to play when things are quiet and I can get away with it. Recently, I felt moved to find Mrs. Guinn and searched for her via Google. Amazingly, I found her, and she wrote back to me immediately. She continues to teach, perform at churches, and accompany choirs in Nebraska. Although she only vaguely remembered me, she said that she looked up old recital programs and located one dated May 23, 1976, that I performed in. She said I played a Schaum arrangement of Yankee Doodle as a solo and again in a trio performance with Mandi, my friend, and another student named Kelly Scott. I was so happy to hear from Mrs. Guinn and that she continues to teach and play.

I trained in piano for many, many years. I wish that I’d continued to play, but there was a part of me that felt my skills were inadequate, so I didn’t play for years. When I decided to study music therapy in 2006, that passion for music rushed back. And now, I long for my piano to be more than just a pretty conversation piece in my living room. One of these days, and hopefully not too long from now, I will get back to playing, perhaps a little at a time. Sometimes, it’s hard to play because I inevitably begin to compare my current level of skill to that of when I played daily for very long hours. People tend to tell me, “you should just play for yourself.” Well, it’s easier said than done. Nevertheless, music is truly part of my fabric. I can’t think of anything more powerful and transformative than music.

So, for your listening pleasure, here is one of my favorite pianists, Murrah Perahia, at the keyboard performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 in A, K. 414. It always makes me happy to listen to this beautiful piece of music.

To Mrs. Carroll, who inspired me to be a better pianist:

My memoir!

Cover

Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity is now live! If you have not yet purchased your copy, don’t delay. I have a few books left, and signed copies can be purchased right here on my website.  Just click on Shop to order. Kindle and hardcover editions are available via my author page at Amazon, and you can also find the book at Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound.org.

If you enjoyed reading the book, please consider leaving a review on Amazon, or wherever you purchased your copy. Unfortunately, I am unable to ship internationally; however, those copies can be ordered through Amazon and Barnes & Noble online. To learn more about the book and to read an excerpt, click here, and to read reviews, click here. Thank you for supporting Beyond Two Worlds.

Happy reading!

Taiwan ROCKs Seattle 2017

It’s always hard to say goodbye. My daughter and I spent a weekend in Seattle, Washington, for the annual Taiwan ROCKs event where adoptive families who have adopted children from Taiwan get together, catch up on each others’ lives, and make some fun memories. Each year, the event is held in a different city. There were about 16 families and 25 kids adopted from Taiwan, not including non-adopted siblings, and one sibling adopted from the DRC. We’re now heading back to California. It was a memorable experience, and I enjoyed connecting with so many families.

The event began on Friday night with a pizza fest at Angle Lake, a park within walking distance from our hotel. There were water features and playground equipment, and the kids looked like they were having a lot of fun. This year’s event was organized by Molly Gleason O’Brien and Kerry Murphy, two local moms. My daughter and I were welcomed, and I was pleasantly surprised when I saw Tien, the very woman who helped me find my birthfamily in Taipei, standing across the way talking to a family. Then it dawned on me that Tien lives in Seattle – I’d forgotten! Almost every family there, if not all, were connected to Tien in some way, as she helped some of the families with their adoptions. We spent the afternoon with Tien yesterday touring the city and eating lunch. It was lovely to spend time with her after our trip to Taiwan together in 2012, five years ago. I have never been able to return to Taiwan since.

On Saturday evening, I talked to the families after a BBQ dinner about my new book, “Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity.” I spoke about how much international adoption has changed since the era that I and many other adult adoptees were adopted. I was struck by how many families had already taken their kids back to Taiwan, as it’s not common for adoptive parents to do so. Some adoptees had the opportunity to meet their birth mothers and extended birth family members. The trips were prompted by the kids’ curiosity about their early beginnings. It was unheard of years ago for adoptive parents to encourage their kids to explore their birth culture. I found that the parents at the event were sensitive to the importance of connecting their children to their birth culture. They appeared to understand the importance of open dialogue with their kids. I was very inspired by the support the families provide to each other and to their kids as they continue to ask questions around birth heritage. One mom told me that her daughter, age 11, wrote an essay about her adoption and birth family and loved to write. Most of the adoptees fell between the ages of 6-10. It was a pleasure to talk with these kids and learn their stories. Truly, the highlight of the trip was connecting with the young adoptees.

Taiwan ROCKs has approximately 400 families within its network. I was told that the Seattle ROCKs event was one of the smallest compared to past years. Nevertheless, I enjoyed every minute of it. Tien told me she believed that approximately 1,000 Taiwanese adoptions have occurred since the 1990’s, and most likely more, including adoptions that were private, or occurred without the assistance of an agency. Adoptions from Taiwan have declined significantly, as have international adoptions across all countries. There is a whole generation of young Taiwanese adoptees who I hope one day will support one another and perhaps even write their own memoir.