Catherine Choy on Adoption – Part Two
Interview by Dmae Roberts
1 CD, Track 1, 24:17
TRACK 1 – 24:17
C: The thing about interviews like this, you know, it’s an exchange. And I felt like I didn’t do really well and there were so many things happening. It was hard to focus.
We are rolling, so I’m just going to keep on talking, hopefully this will work.
Beginning in the 1990s china replaced South Korea as the leading sending country of Asian adopted children to the US. The Chinese government passed an adoption law in 92 enabling foreigners to adopt Chinese children. The law made more transparent adoption regulations for foreign parents wanting to adopt in china. In recent years approx 5000 children from china have been adopted annually by American adoptive parents.
In recent years, 5000 Chinese children approximately, let me restate. How should I? It’s an annual estimate. In recent years, right, every year it’s about 5000, that’s the recent statistic. But china is definitely on top in terms of a sending country of adoption.
Beginning in the 1980s the Chinese government implemented population control policies penalizing families that had more tan one children. As a result many Chinese female infants were abandoned, placed in orphanages to comply with the policies. Chinese male heirs were considered more valuable than Chinese female infants.
To my knowledge it’s still happening today. Yeah.
I haven’t heard about that.
No, yeah. I hope I’m not wrong about that. About the one child because to my knowledge it’s still…okay.
Because the history of Korean overseas adoption in the US is much longer compared to the history of adoption of Vietnamese and Chinese children there are generations of Korean adoptees who have come of age and we are learning from their experiences that they have been talking about in documentaries, in memoirs, in anthologies of writing, and in organizations formed by and for Korean adoptees. Some of these experiences are negative ones and revolve around issues of racial and ethnic identity. in a groundbreaking anthology of Korean writing by and about Korean adoptees specifically, Seeds from a silent tree ed. Tanya bishop and Joe Rankin, some writers talked about their experiences of being in white American adoptive families, being raised as a white child but looking at a mirror or photograph and dealing with the stark physical differences between themselves and parents or other relatives. Some experienced racial taunting fro write children at school, some taunting from relatives in their families. They also experienced alienation from Korean Americans that were not adoptees. So they felt alienation regarding their racial identities being Korean in the US, but having a very different kind of upbringing in a white family. Other problems include for some of them who beginning in the 1980s returned to Korea to visit their countries of origin and also for some to attempt to reunite with their birth families in Korea, some of those experiences have been difficult. Some who were able to reunite with their birth families, some were positive some were difficult. Some adoptees wrote about these experiences and wrote about the frustration felt at not being able to speak Korean, to communicate with their own birth parents, siblings.
I don’t know if that’s not the direction you wanted me to go.
I have to be honest, I don’t know if I can really, okay. Let me think about how I want to…phrase that.
Is it okay if I refer to something specific. For example, the experience of that famous documentary Daughter from Danang. Actually my husband and I are writing a critical piece about that. There are a lot of problems, that’s what we’re writing about. Maybe I shouldn’t talk about that. Reaffirm.
In some ways I think it’s similar, and I was thinking about her story. Let me say this:
We are also learning from Vietnamese adoptees that some of the struggles that they’re facing are similar to those faced by previous generations of Asian and Korean adoptees. Being racialized as Asian but being placed and raised in white adoptive families. At times their families have not acknowledged their Asian ancestries and compelled them to assimilate to white American culture. I don’t know if that’s okay.
One of the things that is happening specifically I the Korean adoptee community, because there is a longer history of Korean adoption in the US, there are now significant numbers of Korean adoptees mentoring younger Asian adoptees. Adult Korean adoptees are forming organizations that focus on Korean adoptee issues. Or international adoption issues more broadly. For example, organizations such as Also Known As, in which adult Korean adoptees are very involved on the east coast, and this org has a mentorship program that enables adult adoptees to meet with other Asian adoptees. On the west coast there are the Association for Korean Adoptees which has similar mentorship programs. What is important about them is that they enable adoptees of different generations to come together, to inform especially the younger Asian adoptees that they are not alone in this particular upbringing, not alone in their particular experience of international adoption.
There is much more knowledge about the challenges and problems faced by Asian adoptive children ads well as the challenges faced by adoptive families in the US. Some of these changes have taken palace in part because there are now adult Asian adoptees who are able to reflect up on and who are talking more openly about some of the problems they faced being raised as Asian adoptees in primarily white adoptive families in the US. Also, changes in adoptive family practices in the US regarding international adoption are also changing because of attitudes about immigration and assimilation. in the 50s – 70s the nation of assimilation, raising an international adoptive child, an Asian adoptive child in a white family meant that that child should be part of a particular American identity and should leave their origins, their Asian origins behind and starting in the late 1970s the 1980s there were changes in attitudes in the US as a whole about multiculturalism, more of a celebration of multicultural identity. so that change of embracing or celebrating diverse origins and cultures combined with the knowledge imparted by Korean adult adoptees of the difficulties Asian adoptive children face when their Asian heritage is dismissed, unacknowledged, or ridiculed, has made changes in adoptive practices here in the US.
An example of this change would be for example, current, okay.
Okay, I’m sorry.
Let me backtrack. We were talking about an example. An example of some of these changes regarding the adoption of Asian children in the US is a change regarding attitudes toward the child’s Asian origins. For examples today the leading sending country of children to the US is china. And there are both white and Chinese American families adopting children from china. Some of these adoptive parents have no knowledge of Chinese language but they are interested and committed to maintaining Chinese culture, example the knowledge of Chinese language I their adoptive children. Some of these changes have to do with Chinese government policy. The policy also wants adoptive families from overseas to maintain a Chinese cultural identity and heritage for their adoptive children.
It work both ways. As I was talking I was thinking I should mention that. But it’s hard to enforce that.
Yeah, right, and then you’re expected.
International adoption is definitely changing the landscape of American life, it’s changing the ways we think about race and ethnicity in the US. There is a very visible presence of international and transracial adoptive families in communities across the US fro the west coast to the Midwest to the south to the east coast. And I think one of the changes this is bringing to the US is a change in the way we think about race from the 60s and 70s and that is the way we sometimes think of race in terms of racial categories, traditional categories such as African American, Asian American, Native American and so on. International adoption from Asia because it is practiced historically by white adoptive families has become anew and visible form of race mixture. a new form of hybridity in which white families for example with no biological Asian background are incorporating Asian children into the very intimate space of the family and the Asian child is transformed by that upbringing but so are the adoptive families.
It is at the very top. Yeah, I know you mention this as a topic. I was thinking about it. Yeah, my feeling, I’ll tell you what my feeling is. My feeling about the future of international transnational adoption is that international adoption is a process that is going to continue in the new millennium. It was a phenomenon that became more significant and more visible after World War II and it has become institutionalized in ways that will continue to facilitate this phenomenon for decades and beyond. Asian countries will continue to play an integral role in this phenomenon. Although china is the leading country and South Korea has sent less adoptive children we are also starting to see other Asian countries – the Philippines and India for example participate in this phenomenon. Asian governments of other Asian countries are streamlining their international adoption regulations to facilitate international adoption. Poverty, social upheaval in Asian countries continue to occur and inform this phenomenon.
I don’t think so. I hope it will be okay.