Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Korea: The next generation of women …

Since that moment, when the face in the mirror seemed that of a stranger, I had wondered from where my features came.

In walked … 23andMe. “Welcome to you,” it said. I spat like a crazy woman one morning to find out who I was. Being an unknown is highly frustrating. You’re an other, an outlier; and frankly, it sucks.


The results arrived soon there after, and I was reminded that long ago, a Chinese international, fellow grad student once told me she thought I didn’t appear Korean at all.

This all struck me as odd. Me? Equally Japanese and Korean with a dash of Chinese? Wow. Since moving to Korea, I am only beginning to fully understand the complexities of a country I thought I wanted as my own. The ever present need within me to satisfy someone else fills me with shame. I cannot nail down my identity. I need an anchor.

Around me, I have watched the younger set of adoptees embrace their original cultures. They attended culture camps, learned their native languages and visited their countries well before marriage and kids, and more have begun to find and connect with their original families. I want so much to have their confidence. They proclaim that they are American. American in Korea.

I once proclaimed I was “American.” I have since struggled with this idea and flopped between American and Korean. One minute, I will be Korean. The next, I meet a Korean man my age who tells me he has a daughter my own daughter’s age. He shows me a photograph of her; she’s sweet but looks very unsure of herself. He asks me, “Isn’t she fat? Very fat.” I am once again reminded of the false sense of beauty and the pressures on Korean women to be an ideal. Pressures are also on the men to achieve and make lots of money to snatch the ideal beauty.

These ideas have worn me down, and yet …

The strong women emerge. Our family attended the Kim Unmi Dance Company’s 70th Anniversary of Korean Independence celebration performance. Their goal? To “awaken the social consciousness.”

The performance focused on the women of Korea during the Japanese occupation. Sadness flowed in the tension between mothers and sons parting as the men were sent to fight. Mothers’ sadness was a common thread throughout.

The most profound movements of this dance were those that focused on the young women of the war. In one powerful scene, a Japanese soldier pulls white cloths that seem to symbolize the waters that flow between Japan and Korea. Each band of cloth is pulled taut so that another Japanese soldier may stand on its end and look to the shores of Korea.

Once all the soldiers are lined up at the shore, young women are seemingly pulled toward them, wrapped in the water’s white foam. They wash ashore at the soldiers feet, but the soldiers are stoic. The women writhe, struggling to break free but are wrapped in the bondage of the sea.

Image provided by the KUM Dance Company

Suddenly, the men ravish and thrash the women as they try to escape. There is violence against them and eventually they die … their limp bodies are thrown on the death cart.

Image provided by the KUM Dance Company

In the following scene, I witnessed a mother’s remembrance of her lost children. She lit incense and knelt. The bodies of women appeared in angelic layers of white crepe. They were free from the bondage of war.

These images solidified my beginnings … why my DNA reveals the struggle among the people I outwardly represent. It was exhausting and terrifying to watch. Women and war.

Here however, a woman, Professor Unmi Kim of Hanyang University, leads this group of dancers in changing the course of conversation. She makes statements about the use of women in the past, the power of business women today and the strengths of mothers.

Mothers. That brings me to the most profound experience I have had so far. Since choosing activism and my part on the Baby Box, I have longed to help the women of KUMFA, The Korean Unwed Mothers Families Association on a personal level. Once we landed, I scheduled a time for our family to volunteer. It was an easy gig … playing with the most delightful young children.

After our work finished, a mother who spoke English insisted I stay. She wanted me in this very large group of single mothers. I felt honored and inadequate. A news crew from Korean Broadcasting was there taping the class the women were taking.

The reporters noticed me and my husband and asked if I wouldn’t mind being interviewed. I agreed. But I was not the one they should have interviewed. They repeatedly asked me why I would be supporting the group. I spoke of how I saw the face of my own mother in these women’s faces and how the bond between mother and child is so strong. I said these women were brave, and yet, the reporter did not want this sound-byte. He said he didn’t want to know about my adoption, but he wanted to know the American way. I felt inadequate to answer his questions. I told him America did not put the same stigma on single mothers that Korea does and that mothers had value. I left it at that.

As long as I keep my mouth closed, I mix in. Old women stop me to ask for directions, but I must then reveal my insecurities. I pass but only for so long … I am American, reluctantly.

Just like anything else, I cannot live in absolutes and Korea cannot either. The absolutes are crumbling as the next generation of Koreans begin to pave the way.

In Korea, single mothers receive a mere $59 a month for each child while group homes and orphanages receive $900 a month for each child. 

If you are looking for ways to help the women of Korea, consider making a contribution to KUMFA; you can donate through PayPal at the bottom of their website. Your donations help single mothers settle in housing and provide for their children. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Korea: A Thanksgiving of Another Kind

The market was bustling as my daughter and I sussed out our lunch for Friday. I was especially excited to see the variety of things for sale. It was like nothing I had seen before in the market. My favorite melons in small sizes, peeled chestnuts, Korean pears as big as a size 3 soccer ball and gift packs of Spam.

The expectation of Chuseok was infectious. Women rushing, squeezing and choosing the ingredients to feed the souls of their children. It felt very much like the build-up to Thanksgiving in the days of my youth. (Today, the build-up to Thanksgiving is less than I remember as it seems to be eclipsed by Halloween and December holidays.)

Thanksgiving in those days was my favorite holiday. It meant not only time off, but time to hang with my family and eat really good food. My mother loved it because it was her time to show her stuff. Our little family would gather with my grandmother, and the entire weekend included treks to cousins’ and aunts’ houses for more good food. We would sit around the kitchen table, mostly the women, as the men watched the Tennessee Vols play ball. My husband enjoyed the women’s table. If you left the table to pee, you knew everyone would talk about you. I often would hold it.

Korean Chuseok is very similar as it celebrates the coming together of families. For me, this is bittersweet. My grandmother, my mother and my great aunts are long gone. Thanksgiving for me today, is just my husband, my kids and me. So, it seemed this Chuseok would be more of the same.

On the Eve of Chuseok, I had my Mom’s day off. I wrote for the Lost Daughters, then went to Ewha Women’s University area. Most shops were beginning to close in my neighborhood of Sinjeong, and the subway seemed skeletal. The tired faces of the elders on the train had my mind racing. Could they be without family too for Chuseok? Were they mourning the loss of a child to adoption? Am I that child?

Yet, when I walked out of the subway station into Ewha, life presented herself as young women shopped with friends and some shopped with their mothers.

I remembered my days of shopping with my mother during the Thanksgiving holiday and then it hit me … how profoundly alone I felt and how I missed these moments with my family.

I bought dinner from the 7-Eleven, returned to our apartment, peeled a few chestnuts and tried to sleep. Lately, sleep does not come easily, and when I slide down into dream land, my dreams become anxious tales of being back in Wisconsin … empty-handed.

Chuseok began like any other, but I was looking forward to time at KoRoot. KoRoot supports adoptees when they return to Korea with translations, a guest house and a place to reconnect with other adoptees. I needed this time; this was my homecoming.

As usual, finding it and navigating the day with the family had its little moments of “family drama,” and once we arrived, my kids were ready to leave. I enjoyed reconnecting with Pastor Kim of KoRoot and bringing a copy of Dear Wonderful You to its new home.

Eating really good Korean food healed my soul. Seeing and meeting so many other Korean adoptees again gave me more strength to continue. Many of them had been in Korea for four, five and even fifteen years! Noticing my connection, my husband offered to take the children home to give me time to reconnect.

Once again, the community of adoptees pulls me up. I found my home for now, and homecoming was sweet.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Your Daddy’s Gone

This week, my father’s birthday came and went.

Birthdays, as you know, are very difficult for me. My birthday is a fabrication, a lie, a secret that only my original mother could reveal.

My father’s birth certificate says that he was born on September 20, but in fact, he was born on September 21. The story, as told by my grandmother (Abuelita), goes like this …

On the day my father was born, my grandfather was overjoyed, so much so he celebrated to utter inebriation. When he finally appeared to register my father’s birth at the town office, he gave the wrong date to the registrar.

My father honored his mother’s words and her story. He knew she would never forget the day he entered the world. His connection to her was sealed that very 21st of September. So, throughout my father’s life, he used September 21 as his birthdate.

This year, the sorrow of losing him mixed with the comfort of knowing him. His life was one of suffering, silliness and sweet moments with his family. I hope to have as many of those moments, whatever they hold, as he did.

As I walk the streets of Seoul, just as he did in 1965 and 1966, I think of him eating rice for breakfast and sweating as he ate kimchi.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Korea: The Ghost Walk

We are in a sea of me’s. Everywhere, people walk about not knowing the scrutiny I subject them to.

Anyone could be a relative … a parent, a sibling, a grandparent, an aunt, an uncle or a cousin. But none of us know it. We are secrets wandering and searching for the key to the box that will set us free to love those who are biological relations.

I think of my domestic adoptee friends in the United States and realize the torture they have felt from the very beginning. You are a stranger to those who share your DNA. You study those who have your traits and long to know if there is a connection between you … an imaginary thread that connects you.

In their first week as Koreans in Korea, my children are learning this as well. My goal this week was to take them to the haunts of my last trip … places that bring me comfort and center my soul. For the most part, it has been a joy to revisit the wonder I felt and watch my children feel the same.

We visited Insadong, Gangnam and Hapjeong. By their third day, they seemed comfortable.

Yet, their minds were playing similar earworms. After the trip to Gangnam, my daughter said, “I just saw a man that looked like Papito.” She is searching for my half-brother, an uncle that would bring her Papito back. Just seeing his features or his mannerisms in a Korean man comforts us. If we found him, we would come full circle in this crazy, complicated thing called adoption.

My son is quieter and shares when it is overwhelming. When a middle-aged man in the Burger King took his tray to clean up, he shared that he felt a connection to him. He recently had a job as a bus boy, but he was struck by the fact that this man was older and doing his former job.

Here we talked about how I felt connection to them as an adoptee … how my imagined story of poverty and desperation lead to my adoption … how I imagine that these “others” are me.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Twinkie Chronicles … American Assimilation in Korea

“Mama Bear. She is said to have birthed the first Korean.”

“Seoul is like the New York City of Asia!”

“Why is your name spelled ‘Losita’?”

“Can we get delivery McDonald’s?”

Exhaustion and hunger. Those two things result in “hangry” family dynamics. My husband and I insisted that we explore our new neighborhood and eat Korean barbecue. Just a few doors down … we found it.


Awkward smiles for the family, but a familiar one for me by the woman in the restaurant. She approached me speaking Korean.

The feelings of inadequacy, mixed with anticipation and fatigue, welled up within me. My mousy voice said, “Do you speak English?”

She shook her head but kept speaking Korean. She appeared sympathetic. I felt horrible.

We tried ordering beef but out came pork. Regret and shame consumed me.

I had spent the majority of my life trying to fit in … assimilating to survive in the white world of America. It worked adequately most of the time, and I have had more privileges than my peers of color because of it.

I can never fully assimilate, but my forced attempts at doing so sever me from my biological ethnic history. It’s survival in America. It’s shame in Korea.

If asked in my 20s, 30s and early 40s if I would ever return to Korea, I stated an emphatic “NO.” I never foresaw the yearning I would have in my later years. Many of today’s young adult adoptees amaze me. They have a sense of self that I am still struggling to find as I approach my 50s.

For our first full day in Korea, I allowed the kids to roam the neighborhood alone. This fact comforts me. They can learn to navigate together without me.

As lunchtime approached, I took them to Insadong, a Seoul tourist area where most speak some English. I visited my calligrapher friend and checked the antique alley for my fixer. I was able to order for us a nice lunch.

My learning curve is steep, but theirs is just peaking.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Korea: The Reckoning

A whirlwind of planning, setbacks and finally a day of “what happens, happens” lead our small family of four (plus three, very patient kitties) to our Korean Air flight. The week prior had held the wrong person’s nightguard not fitting my mouth, the boy’s fractured bone and non-compliant pet micro-chips.

Once the bags were in the van, my friend, Cynthia, at the wheel, and a trio of crying cats cruising down the highway, my mind shut down. I wanted to chat those last minutes with my friend, but I was physically and mentally spent. I immediately fell asleep.

Since my father’s death and the subsequent news of an older half-brother, my life had no time to tailspin. I held it in, again. Small releases of steam came out as cursing at kids and small grown-up tantrums. My remaining little family had been tolerant, but I felt selfish in not allowing them the time to process this trip with me. Shit, I didn’t have time to process.

I have been silent in my sorrow … silent in my fears.  What if my children hate Korea? Will they hate me for the yearning my heart has had since my first trip back last summer?

As the lights dimmed on the plane, and my daughter fell fast asleep, the tears ran down my face. We had done it. We were making that pilgrimage to the place of my birth … the place my father loved … the place where my brother was left. Questions flooded my mind, and I felt I was drowning. Would I find Daddy some closure? Would I find my parents too? Would my brother feel upset with me for not finding him sooner?

I have been lost more times than I can count. Lost from my original family, lost from the only parents I remember, and lost from my big brother. I have almost lost my little family too. I often feel very alone in my sadness.

Just as I had talked myself into this frenzy that I know so well, the hands of my husband came from behind my seat to show his caring and knowing of my fears.

And I am back. The focus. My search. Sharing the joy of the small wonders I found in Korea with my little remaining family …

Not many are able to take this journey. I understand that … and I am grateful for this opportunity.

I am ready to land on my feet.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Twinkie Chronicles … Privilege at an Indigo Girls Concert

Since the early 1990s, the lyrics and music of the Indigo Girls have mirrored themes in my life. They console me, comfort me and cajole me. I love that.

When they came to a town close to me or to a friend, I arranged child-minding to never miss them … Knoxville, Nashville, Denver, Charlottesville, Madison and Iowa City. Their concerts always felt like a family reunion … fans of all types resembled my life and my activism for equity and justice … that is, until I moved to the Mid-West and more specifically Madison.

There is something about seeing them in the South. Perhaps it is the kinship I have felt with them as Southerners. I love “Southland in the Springtime” which rarely plays in the Mid-West. But the overall prevailing camaraderie with the crowd is different.

Recently, they returned to Madison. This was my third concert of theirs since moving to Madison. I invited my Tennerican friend to come see them with me. He’s like a brother to me, a Puerto Rican with Tennessee ties. We were ecstatic! We arrived early and were within the first ten in line to go inside.

As we sat down, a young man sat next to me. Jovial and excited, we began a conversation. He offered to buy me a drink, though I declined. We waited. The space in front of us was a mosh pit, not exactly what I was accustom to, but from our seats, we could still see despite the crowd in front of us.

As the Indigo Girls entered the stage, we cheered. I told the man next to me that I was excited about seeing Lyris Hung. When I said this, he said, “Well, if I weren’t queer, I would do Amy hard. But I also love Asians and think I will end up with an Asian man someday. As a matter of fact, my friends call me ‘The Rice Queen’!”

I was in shock. A man who I had initially seen as a nice enough person was now showing signs of misogyny and racism. This was a precursor to more obnoxious behavior from this white, gay man.

Lyris Hung made her appearance on the stage with the Indigo Girls the year before, at concerts in Madison (on the same Overture Center stage) and in Iowa City. Seeing an Asian musician was a welcomed sight. Since seeing her in Madison and feeling the energy of the “Devil Went Down to Georgia,” I wanted to see more of what her contributions would be to the band that spoke to my heart.

As the set progressed, Amy played the song “Fishtails.” This song speaks of the loss of a father, and of course, it spoke to me since my father’s passing was still an open wound. I had listened to it repeatedly since buying the album. It was the moment I was waiting for. But just as Amy poured her heart out to meet mine about our shared loss, a group of white women in the mosh pit decided to joke and laugh loudly. I was crushed and angry.

Approaching them, I said, “Do you mind taking this conversation outside? I am trying to enjoy this song.” This didn’t quite sink in; they looked at me, dazed. When I walked away, my friend saw them glaring at me. They continued to stare at me throughout the night and chatting amongst themselves like a cluster of sorority sisters, beers in hand and talking loudly. They only came to life with the music of “Galileo” and “Closer to Fine.”

My friend wanted to approach them during the concert, but he expressed his fear that he would be seen as a disruptive Puerto Rican man.

White Madisonians do not realize the prevailing scrutiny that people of color, especially Blacks and Latinos experience. Madison is painted as an idyllic, liberal college town. It is liberal … for whites. White liberalism is a dangerous kind of liberalism where people believe that they cannot be racist because they hold other forms of liberalism high. They are active in liberal politics, the environment and issues surrounding gender equality, but only equality as it applies to whites. Now, not all Madisonians are this way, but the prevailing comfort and smugness of liberalism discredits any dissension in the ranks.

As the evening at the concert progressed, the white gay man decided to stand alone in front of his seat, despite the pleas from the women behind him. Addressing him as “Sir,” they politely asked him to sit in his seat or moved to the mosh pit. We all had chosen our seats for the luxury of sitting and listening; he refused to budge. He stood and scanned his phone, not at all paying attention to the music.

The women approached an usher and asked that someone talk with him. The usher refused. A white, stubborn man, regardless of his gender would not be asked to change his behavior. I just imagined the scene if it had been my friend, a Puerto Rican man standing in defiance. My friend was just as annoyed but recognized his place in this environment.

Despite the annoyances, we enjoyed our time together in a place filled with music that speaks volumes to us, and I was able to get photographs of Lyris to show my girl at home. The image of an Asian woman successful in her musical pursuits.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Birthright

“Nobody’s Perfect.”

This was the line that echoed throughout my childhood. My sister and I had matching nighties with this phrase emblazoned on them. One evening, my three-year-old sibling put hers on backwards. She grinned and said, “Nobody’s Perfect!”

Imperfection runs amok in society, but we try our damnedest to cloak it … mask it … shroud it … bury it.

I was once someone’s secret, the personified shame of some encounter. I am still hidden, but there are now more treasures to be found.

Many times in my life, my father reminded me of the country from which I came. He gave me his 1961 Korean dictionary. He sought out Korean restaurants. He insisted I read books on the post Korean War Comfort Women. The latter always disturbed me. It was as though I had insulted him for dismissing a book I couldn’t stomach at the time.

When my son was seven weeks old, my mother suffered a stroke. This event brought our small family together; my parents had been legally separated for more than 18 years. On our first evening together, my sister, my father, my infant son and I shared a hospital hospitality room.

As a new mother, I couldn’t settle my son down. His infant screams were piercing. We all tried various tricks, but nothing worked. Suddenly, my father shouted, “Can you shut that baby up?!”

My sister quickly whisked my father out the room. The outburst seemed to work, and I was able to eventually calm my child. Sobbing uncontrollably and asking for my forgiveness, my father re-entered the room. I tried to calm him and told him not to worry, that we all were tired and stressed, but he kept insisting that he was a bad man and that my sister and I had no idea what a bad person he was.

This scene always lingered with me. My heart broke for my father. He turned around and cared for my mother until her death some eight months later. She fell in love with him all over again as he made her every meal for the remainder of her life.

Last summer, as I searched for my birth mother, my father called me each morning to check in and see what I had done. He was living vicariously through me as I enjoyed the experience of being Korean in Korea. The day I visited my agency to receive nothing, I begged him to come to Korea with me and help me by asking on my behalf for my file. His response was peculiar … “They didn’t tell me anything either.”

When my father died in January, my heart broke into an infinite number … I felt fully alone in my quest. My most fervent supporter was gone.

Five months later, I discovered the cornerstone, the piece that fit all the others together. My father had been stationed in Korea. In my mind, this fact was the reason why he loved Korea, longed for it and was so determined to keep me Korean. I was his connection to a time that meant a great deal to him.

I unearthed that his connection to Korea went beyond me and my connection. He had a secret too. He fathered a son. Somewhere in Korea or beyond is a Korean Puerto Rican who has my identity as his birthright.

Brother/Uncle, we will soon be in Korea to search for you as well …

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

An Open Letter: Why Co-opting “Transracial” in the Case of Rachel Dolezal is Problematic

Dear readers, please share this letter with those who question the validity of the word, “transracial.” Saying the word “isn’t a thing,” is denying my lived experience as a transracial adoptee. If you Tweet, please use #DefineTransracial.

My sister, my parents’ biological child, would never consider herself Korean, but we both consider ourselves Tennerican. Let that sit a while …

June 16, 2015

Please direct all media inquiries to Kimberly McKee, PhD at mckee.kimberly@gmail.com.

This past weekend the world took to social media to dissect the events surrounding Rachel Dolezal, the former president of Spokane’s NAACP chapter who came under heavy scrutiny for falsely representing herself as black. As part of this real-time discussion, the term transracial is being co-opted to describe Dolezal identifying as black despite being born white.

As members of the adoption community — particularly those of us who identify as transracial adoptees — we are deeply alarmed by the gross mischaracterization of this term. We find the misuse of “transracial,” describing the phenomenon of a white woman assuming perceived markers of “blackness” in order to pass as “black,” to be erroneous, ahistorical, and dangerous.

Transracial is a term that has long since been defined as the adoption of a child that is of a different race than the adoptive parents. The term most often refers to children of color adopted by white families in the Global North, and has been extensively examined and documented for more than 50 years by academics and members of the adoption triad: adoptees, birthparents, and adoptive parents.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Twinkie Chronicles … The Isolation Tank

This girl. She sat in the classroom, mostly alone between two seas … one black and one white. Listening … always listening.

Giggles would explode from one group or another. I would often laugh with the white girls, in hopes of “fitting in.” But when the tables turned and either group would make an Asian slight, I was utterly alone … and left laughing nervously with everyone, hoping it would end.

Recently, at the American Adoption Conference (AAC), I had a similar experience that Lost Daughter sister, Amira Rose documented. It went like this …
“Whoa, there was a hospitality suite? How did I miss that?!” (This was me, joking.) 
“Yes, we have been waiting just for you to arrive!” exclaimed the black bartender. I returned his warm smile and said a “thank you.” But then from the only other couple in the room … 
“Can’t you read?” asked the white man, deadpanned.  
“Yes.” I replied. 
“It was in here the whole time. Did you not read this?” he says as he points to the conference schedule book. “I mean, you appear to be an educated woman … ” There was a slight smile and hushed giggle from the white woman. At this, I just needed to flee. I had been here before. 
When discussing the many incidents at this predominantly white conference, I messaged this incident to Lost Daughters founder, Amanda Woolston. I had already heard excuses about why the man was “defensive,” how I needed to get a tougher skin and how I needed to get out more. But Amanda changed me. She said the words no other white person had ever said, “If [you] were white, would he have felt so free to be rude, specifically question [your] abilities and intelligence? The power imbalance of a white male speaking that way to a woman of color in a space where most people are white is incredibly hostile and racist.” When I read her words, I sobbed uncontrollably.

My perforated soul … each blow pierces my heart and bruises my self worth. Each time someone says something demeaning, I shrink … go into my hidey-hole. 

At the AAC, my fellow adoptee Lost Daughter sister, Angela, asked why I laughed nervously sometimes. I couldn’t really answer her. She then said, “You seem fragile.”

I am. I was. I have always looked at women like Angela and wished that I could feel as strong and empowered, like the united front of black girls from my high school with their confidence and bravado. In the 1980s, I longed to emulate them and Lisa Bonet. Having finally secured a job where I could buy clothes, I began to morph into Denise Huxtable. I shrank from the white girls group that I had once coveted. I found my isolation tank.

The most validating moments of my senior year in high school came from the black girls. They wrote me beautiful, sincere notes in my yearbook.

In the Dear Wonderful You video, I speak of this cyclical self I created. Over and over again as I entered a new environment, I began my cycle as an outgoing, white wannabe. I did whatever it took to assimilate. Polo shirts … check. Join a fraternity little sis group … check. Be the graduate school student representative on committees … check. 

But none of this worked. The off-hand comments, the “you almost look normal,” the references to Yoko Ono or Connie Chung, the tokenism of being the “model minority” … all served to place me below the white privilege. Eventually, I would shrink and hide. 

In this solace of aloneness, I would find my voice again and reemerge strong, yet guarded. Each new environment or new acquaintance began the cycle again. 

Today, Twitter has allowed me the freedom to speak strongly and hide, while here on my blog, I reveal more of my vulnerabilities. Having these two parts of myself is exhausting. 

Each tweet or means of speaking out gives me so much validation and relief, but then, the adoptee guilt and adoption loyalty set in. In public spaces, I use walls, podiums and my reading glasses to separate myself, protect myself and hide in the open. I use laughter and my comical façade to mask my pain and humiliation.

As the Lost Daughters take to the road and do more speaking engagements, I fear the notice. I hide in my room. I realize I like the loneliness and isolation. It’s comfortable and safe.

And yet, I know that by hiding I am not claiming my space to be heard.

The valve on the radiator has held back long enough. There have been long pshhhhhhhhts and short, angry spurts of steam. Pressure is building.

This cartoon from Empathize This illustrates what is brewing in many of us.

Shared with permission from Empathize This.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Twinkie Chronicles … Parent School Meetings

Last week, an email was buzzing around the school community in the near west side of Madison.

In it, the parent wrote:
“It has not yet been announced to families but the world languages program at [Middle School] will be drastically cut. This will affect all kids except for the DLI/DBE (bilingual Spanish) program (My kids are in the DLI program so they won’t be affected but I’m concerned for the majority of students at [Middle School], who aren’t in that program). What I have learned through the grapevine and is at this point only been reported to some teachers, is that 7th graders will only be able to take language for 1/4 of the year and for a full year in 8th grade year. (The current program is full 7th and 8th grade years which is equivalent to one year of HS). This cut has a HUGE impact on students potential to articulate into the high school program and will likely increase, not decrease the achievement gap for a large percentage of [Middle School] students.”
An email campaign that flooded the Middle School principal prompted the school to have an open forum to discuss the changes in curriculum. Photo below shows the high numbers of white students who do not speak Spanish at home as a percentage of the DLI (Dual Language Immersion) program.

My reasonings for going were to hear what was exactly happening. I knew of the DLI program in Madison and its impact on kids at different elementary schools. I had seen this program as a means of providing language immersion for students who did not speak Spanish at home. As was restated many times at this meeting, “Kids need to be bilingual in order to be competitive in the workforce.” 

I couldn’t agree more, however, the students everyone in this room were talking about were white, affluent students with supportive parents at home. 

No one seems to talk about the students who already speak Spanish or those who just want to survive day to day living. Students of color were not the subject of this meeting, though the principal was trying to bring the conversation back to the ones most impacted by the achievement gap.

The principal seemed blindsided by the number of parents in the room. He was also not fully prepared to handle the questions. His intentions were well-meaning as he had agreed to this last-minute meeting but did not know the full extent of the privilege he would face.

There were certainly pearls of wisdom in the room … foreign language helps in learning the language of computer programming … kids need creative courses … middle school is not so much academics but a time to find what you enjoy … “language teaches literacy.”

Again, I completely agree with many of these sentiments, but again, the parents in the room were talking about their children.

They were not talking about the ones whose parents were not in the room …

… kids whose parents were most likely working the second shift at the time of this meeting.
… kids whose parents did not have transportation to get to the meeting.
… kids whose parents are fearful of coming to the meetings because they do not speak English well and would need an interpreter who English-speaking parents often have non-verbal disapproving body language as they glare at the “disruptive” interpreter.
… kids who get a crash course in English as a second language to integrate in the classroom, only to later be denied work as an adult based on the sound of their name on their resumé.

… and finally, the kids who for the last three years have been double-dipped (given a second period in the day of a course they have failed in order to close the gap) because their parents couldn’t start an email campaign to stop it.

Last night’s meeting happened because parents discovered that their children would now be double-dipped with all the others at the expense of cutting a foreign language.

When I spoke, all the feelings of knowing the othering came to the forefront. I was emotional as I tried to express my difficulty with what I was hearing, but amidst all this, a white woman interrupted me. I hadn’t finished, but she wanted desperately to share her rebuttal. 

I had had a day of being belittled by an adoptive parent, and this was the straw that broke my back. I said, “Do you mind, I’m not finished.” I regret that (and my Southern mother was turning over in her grave). It discredited everything I had said before. I listened as this woman went after me, listing all her credentials as a World Languages leader and teacher. But where are the credentials in fully understanding the injustices of the others?

I do not have the World Languages certification, and I did not have a full understanding of what was happening. I do, however, see the injustices in the classrooms, in the hallways and have had glimpses of them as I have driven the children I spoke of above home.

None of this was talked about. None of this is ever discussed.

One final word from one of the parents was that she understood the systemic problems of the achievement gap and the racial disparities, but she wondered how it could be solved in that room and in that school by just a curriculum change. 

It cannot, but there needs to be a shift in how we teach. How we reach children who are hurting, children who desire inclusion, and children who just want equity in the classroom. Meetings such as this one only reinforced the true divisions, the illusions of white liberalism and the vast chasm between the haves and have nots.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

My anger protects my pain.

I dread today. That sounds selfish and unkind … especially to those this day is made for …

… those with intact families,
… those who have not lost children,
… those who have not lost mothers,
… those who profit from the expression of love through material items.

I sound bitter and angry. I am.

I have repeated this many times … my anger protects my pain.

As I watched my social media flood with photographs of those who look just like their mothers, it pained me for they have their mother’s eyes, her nose, her lips, her skin-coloring and her hands. They have a physical reference.

Here is where I hate myself. I hate that I feel this way. Here is the person adoption proponents and agencies hold up to say, “See? Look how ungrateful she is. She was loved to such a degree. She was saved from the throes of poverty and woe in Korea as a child of a single mother.”

And yet, what they chose to ignore is that on any other day, I relish the joy of seeing people smile in the comfort of Mom, but on Mother’s Day, I envy it. I want it.

I had it … once … twice and now. I had six months with my mother, seven with my foster mother and Mom’s entire shared lifetime. But those moments of motherhood are now fleeting memories, relegated to the frozen moments in time that film could capture or the moment that only my cellular tissue could memorize.

Luckily for me today, my first read of the day was a post from a new friend, April Dinwoodie of The Donaldson Adoption Institute. I met her at the American Adoption Conference, and we became fast friends. The image below shows Angela Tucker, Kat Nielsen, Dinwoodie and me breakfast fresh!

I could quote Dinwoodie’s entire post, but that wouldn’t do her words justice. You must take the time and read it all. She brought me back … to sanity. She reminded me of focus and purpose.

A little anger doesn’t harm if the intention behind it is well-meaning, right? My purpose is to help the children of adoption sort out their feelings. My purpose is to bring validation to those feelings because it’s okay to own your feelings. They are your feelings, your narrative, your life.

It’s okay to consult qualified professionals (social workers, therapists, psychologists) and allow them to help you sort it out. It’s okay to long for something you just cannot put your finger on.

I longed for the beauty of seeing myself reflected in someone. Today, I have that. My own family is my start from scratch, now that my adoptive parents are deceased. My children are my joy. We share DNA and the longing to be loved. We share the sorrow of loss and the shortcomings of adoption.

My day ended with this beautiful recital piece by my daughter. As she played and a few others too (including a few adoptees), I let the tears fall. Music has always moved me, and these young musicians brought me peace on a day that had also brought me pain.