May 10, 2018

Powerful Stories From Adoptive Parents And Adoptees On Transracial Adoption

A Montgomery County family with five adopted children.

A Montgomery County family with five adopted children.

As the national conversation over race and identity continues, parents who adopt across racial and ethnic lines are becoming more intentional about offering their adopted children race-conscious childhoods. Rather than parenting “race-blind,” a race-conscious approach centers the role of race and ethnicity in a child’s identity and encourages parents to discuss the differences their adopted children may have in life experience.

In response to our on-air conversation on transracial adoption, the Kojo Nnamdi Show received many responses from adoptive parents and adoptees.

Eli | Greenbelt, Md.

My experience was mixed. I was adopted as a baby from Peru to white Jewish parents. They divorced when I was seven. My mother raised me in the Jewish culture but both my parents tried to make sure I had knowledge of my biological heritage. The history and lore of South American indigenous peoples filled my childhood cultural milieu. In my elementary school years I recall attending summer camps and other extracurriculars specifically for children adopted from South America. Honestly, these experiences we’re pretty horrifying. I remember being very aware of the reasons I and the other children were there. The profound alienation of being sent to a place I’d never asked to go, with similar-looking strangers I was expected to relate to, but never feeling more alone has never left me.

I had a difficult childhood to say that least and relationship with my parents was always strained. I do not know if this is characteristic of all transracial or other adoptions. I do know I have mixed feelings on adoption.

I have worked exclusively in kitchens and this has given me the chance to meet many people native to Central and South America. It has also led to conflicting experiences, the myriad lines of my identity inexorably converging in sometimes explosive ways. I can never be anonymous, blend in, or simply be accepted. I am a jack of identities, master of none. Are these feelings characteristic of all transracial adoptees? I can’t say. I am privileged in many ways, but I can not say I have ever had an easy time. I’m in my late twenties now and proud of who I am, the hard work it’s taken to get here, and the hard work I am putting in to get where I am going. I do sometimes wonder how I would be had I grown up in my native culture. Oddly, I don’t really wonder what it would be like to be the biological child of my parents. I’ll take that as a positive. For all their faults, and I do believe they never should have raised a child, I do love my [adoptive] parents.

Keekee | Washington, D.C.

I was actually abandoned somewhere in Asia as a baby and was adopted into a white family in New Jersey.

I also have an adopted little brother who is from Guatemala, and then my older sister is biological.

I just find it very interesting how many people still don’t understand what adoption is, and when we are out to dinner or in public, people still get confused when I say that we are family.

Also, side note, it is interesting how many people ask me “where are you from” and do not accept New Jersey as an answer.

People always want to know where I was born, and then I have to explain how I was abandoned. I feel like if I was white and said New Jersey, people would accept that as an answer, but because I am more “exotic” looking people do not accept that I identify as American.

Angela | Northern Virginia

I’m a retired Army Officer and now stay-at-home Mom. Three of my four children joined our family through adoption as infants. I am white; my 15 and 17-year-old sons are black. White parents need to understand that they will not always be able to protect their black children with their white privilege, as a young black boy’s life is very different. When they become black young men and you are not present, they will have to face racism…My gentle giant of a son was called the N-word for the first time in his life the day after the last presidential election. This year has been an eye opener. I have witnessed racist interactions by simply standing a distance from my sons. The answer… read, read, read. Learn, listen and validate! Teach them how to respond. Empower them.

Ann

I am a single white woman who adopted two children three years apart from Latin America more than 25 years ago. My daughter, the older one, has said she doesn’t fit into either the white or Latino societies ––one, because of her skin color and two, because she doesn’t speak Spanish. My son, on the other hand, can flow seamlessly from one group to another even though he also doesn’t speak Spanish. They are both very bonded with my family and are both very secure but there is a difference in how they feel culturally outside the family. I think it’s because their personalities are so different.

Ginnie

I’m the mother of a Colombian girl. Through my adoption agency and the support of Adoptions Together, I feel my husband and I were well prepared for how to address our daughter’s needs, including preparing her for racial bias. We know we don’t live the experience she will have as a Latina female in our society. Still, we believe it is extremely important to continually connect her with her culture. We think about where we live, who we interact with and what activities we participate in. We will continually learn how to be the best parents for her to ensure she is prepared for every aspect of her life. We don’t ignore the racism she sees and we discuss it and provide role models who can relate directly to her experience. Community is certainly important.

Anonymous | Northern Virginia

As someone who is in the process of trying to adopt, I do not care what the race of the child is.

The issue of potentially being unprepared to have any discussion with my future child (race, gender, sexual identity) is terrifying. I want to be prepared for everything, I really do. As a white, straight woman, I don’t know what it is like to live as a black man, an Asian woman, a gay man or a trans person, and I never will.

All I can do is my best, and instill this in my future child: while everyone experiences life differently, you treat people for who they are, not what they are, and you expect nothing less from others.

These responses were edited for clarity. You can send your own experiences to kojo@wamu.org, and listen to our panel conversation online, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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