Growing up as an adoptee, St Patrick's Day always brought up feelings around my own lack of specific ethnicity information. While everyone was running around with garish green hats and eating green pancakes - declaring that they had Irish ancestry from a grandparent or great-grandparent, I was left wondering, even as a small child, was the ethnicity information I had true? Should I embrace it? How do I embrace it? Would embracing it be genuine since I wasn't with my family of origin?
I wondered not just if I were Irish, but I was left wondering just what it meant to be something, anything, because your DNA made you that something. I remember trying to grasp what lineage meant. The entire concept was mystifying and foreign to me.
So, while it isn't Mother's Day or a birthday - the more recognized adoptee triggers - for me St Patrick's Day was deeper and more problematic. An entire day dedicated to and celebration of family heritage...how could it not be problematic? For each adoptee, these cultural events land differently but don't assume they aren't landing, and landing early. Keep the lines of communication open and, after encouraging conversation, take the time to listen to adoptees, no matter their age.
-Marci Purcell, Adult Domestic Adoptee
“As the adoption industry migrates to social media, regretful adoptees and birth mothers are confronting prospective parents with their personal pain—and anger,” reads the subheadline of a recent article on WIRED.com.
I wouldn’t have expected to see this topic covered in a technology-focused news outlet, but it seems these days that there are few safe spaces for adoptees. Whether it’s subtle tone policing on Instagram about who is qualified enough to speak on issues or the non-existence of adoptee-centered media coverage, we are conditioned to believe our voices don’t matter.
Our pain and anger are not only justified, but necessary to build empathy and raise awareness so we break the cycle.
This country is at the edge of a precipice, reckoning with its racist past and present. With the Black Lives Matter movement and increased awareness around anti-Asian hate crimes, many people seem to be waking up. But the American story is incomplete if it excludes adoptees.
Transracial adoption itself is a clear example of White Supremacy/colonialism in action. It is the result of a system designed to keep certain people at a disadvantage while others thrive. To determine who is fit (or can afford) to parent. Which country or community offers a “better life” for children? Who gets to decide?
And while some of us who were adopted into White families have a certain level of subsequent privilege from our proximity to Whiteness, it doesn’t shield us from experiencing racism or prejudice. It also doesn’t guarantee legal protections and rights.
Approximately 35,000 adoptees are living without citizenship today. On March 4th, Representative John Curtis (R-UT) and Adam Smith (D-WA) introduced the bipartisan Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2021 to provide U.S. citizenship to international adoptees brought to the U.S. as children but were never granted citizenship.
People need to hear the stories of adoptees who have been deported to their birth countries, including Phillip Clay, who ended his life in 2017 by jumping from the 14th floor of an apartment building north of Seoul. Phillip Clay was not alone. A study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics revealed that the odds of a reported suicide attempt were four times greater in adoptees compared to non-adopted people.
We are hurting. Adoptees don’t share our “personal pain--and anger” for amusement; it is to keep someone else from experiencing the same trauma. We can’t afford to wait until people are ready to listen. We must speak so loud and with such frequency, that they hear us regardless.
Stephanie Drenka is a transracial Korean Adoptee. She is the Communications Director for Dallas, Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation. In April 2019, she launched VISIBLE Magazine, an online publication amplifying stories from underrepresented communities. Stephanie’s photography and writing have been featured in Washington Post, Huffington Post, USA Today, and ABC News.
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