Why were we “relinquished”?

I put “relinquished” because not everyone was…some were stolen, others abandoned, some lost?  I ask because there are many reasons, many causes for our path leading to adoption.  My own cause for becoming vulnerable to adoption lay in new circumstances and old roots.  There was something stemming from modern circumstances and things arising from ancient roots and mores.  I know this because my natural mother told me.

She did not like Japanese men.  Born in Hawaii, Nisei, she decided that Japanese men were spoiled.  Her circumstances enabled the possibility for her to find a man who was not Japanese.  She liked that.  On the other hand, finding my father who had a certain social status, who was completing his residency in a hospital in Honolulu, she found someone who could betray her. He was the oldest son from a family in Cuba.  It was a family that boasted of its Catalan roots; and a family who (at some point) kept black slaves. I don’t know the depth of what she knew about his family.  She knew how many sisters and brothers he had; she knew they were affluent.  When she became pregnant, she wrote him but never heard back.  I suppose he had gone back to Cuba.  There are a jumble of stories.  She says nothing about him or what happened.

This is where the older elements come in.  She was unmarried.  In Japan, this was a problem.  It was a problem in Hawaii too.  I don’t know any details.  In Japan, some women would abort their children and put the fetus in a jar and place it at a Buddhist Temple.  I imagine that she felt a great weight of history.  Generations of Japanese women were directing her actions.

Hawaiian culture was also playing in from another direction.  She said a friend offered to raise me in Hawaii.  She could not accept the offer of Ohana.  Another friend even offered to marry her.  In the end, she took me to Colorado and had me.  She left me at the hospital.  She took two months to decide.  In America, another possibility existed…adoption.  But that too was complicated because in 1955 adoption practice required same race placements.  She knew nothing about that.  She knew nothing about closed records.

As adoptees, our lives began in a variety of circumstances…some or all of the motivations for our ultimate adoption (or fostercare) may have come from old social mores.  Some from a combination of new possibilities that were in a way unripe, that society could not fully embrace.  In consequence, the shape of our lives has taken a fairly new course and enabled (on the one hand) new experiences with new questions…and simultaneously, demanded and forced a “new” course of life.  In ancient society, the parents always had absolute authority to decide the “fate” of their children, even to the point of exposure and death.  Ancient customs and ways loosened up for some of us because of our natural parents modern circumstances…but ancient mores and beliefs still played a role, as well as the new.

Our origins are may be a blend of new and old: in what way are adoptees new and old?  How do we enact what are ancient roles (or do we) and how do we find a new one?

6 thoughts on “Why were we “relinquished”?

  1. I’m lately occupied with “prince and the pauper” kinds of tropes in adoption “fantasies”. Whatever stories I’m told (I don’t want to try to maintain an air of generalization in this, but I’m not intending to make my remarks only about myself), a kind of Faulknerian narrativization clings to it. By that I mean, Faulkner’s narratives are famous for being told by someone; there is no “true history” in Faulkner, but only stories people have told, sometimes with all the earnestness of “true history”.

    This narrativization is available to biological offspring, if they choose to view the stories told to them by their parents and relatives in that way; this becomes easier when there are family ruptures, divorces, scandals, incarcerations, the displacements of war, etc. Even so, such narrativization is kind of like a luxury–Roseanne insisting on sexual abuse at the hands of her father (as an alternative narrativizing of the family tale) was treated by her (biological) family as simply a lie. For those orphaned, fostered, or adopted through some institution, the institution intervenes as a politically interested party that easily takes the projection of “framer of truth” (i.e., someone who tells a tale), and thus makes narrativization perhaps unavoidable.

    Consequently, I am at liberty (of a sort) to project my adoption “fantasy” on whatever “story” is available. I had a friend who discovered his biological mother was a well-heeled socialite, who’d avoided a scandal by getting rid of him. I remember his narrative because it has an appeal to me. I’ve long had aristocratic conceits, although one can arrive at the same position merely by being smart. Fortunately, I was disabused of my intellectual elitism, but that just puts me in something like Tolstoi’s position, at least making the gesture of solidarity with a non-aristocratic crowd. And one can arrive at “aristocracy,” by what I elsewhere called the pathetic genealogical gesture that wants to find one’s heritage in some famous ancestor. In New Age circles, being Cleopatra reincarnated is a similar mess.

    The question becomes, how integral is it (in the US at least) that a sense of fate or destiny that a young person might feel (is this even a typical thing to feel?) finds no adequate outlet (dreams, perhaps ill-advised or foolish, are crushed; the evil comes calling on the Bargain to assimilate, &c) and turns into “pathetic” attempts to feel “special” by a resort to dubious eugenic, spiritual, or class notions (that I’m aristocratic by blood, that I’m Alexander the Great reincarnated, that my biological mother is really upper crust)? This hardly seems only an adoptee trait, but our ability to narrativize makes indulging in these “fantasies” much easier, perhaps even much more necessary as a compensation for the one narrative that /is/ certain: that we were “relinquished”.

    Personally speaking (for a moment), when I did some past life regressions (because why the hell not?), to my pleasure and surprise, what surfaced was not at all some high-born narrative about a king’s son or whatnot. In one, I was a profligate and irresponsible father (somewhere in the British Isles of the 11th century or so) who, returning to his family after five years, stayed for dinner and then left again. In the other, I was as a priest (again presumably in England long ago) with a reputation for faith-healing, but in fact I was an atheist who’d lost his faith in god because I’d lost my brother. I will accuse myself of “tinging” the second life with a touch of consciously directed fantasy, but at least I didn’t resort to claiming to be high-born. Similarly, in my daily life now (walking around as I do wearing a fake snow leopard tail), the “story” associated with my snow leopard persona is utterly non-aristocratic–like every other snow leopard (in my fictional back-story), my mother birthed me into an ice creche by myself and then wandered off. Plain and simple.

    By this, I’m defending myself unnecessarily against hte charge of being an aristocratic elitist. In those moments when nothing prevented me from spinning out some fabulous yarn about my past, I didn’t. Nevertheless, I’ve tended to imagine my biological mother was (to use girl’s sense) a “have”. At this point, I think that’s just a reflex, residual from my younger days. To the extent that my desire to find biological siblings might be attached to a class fantasy about who they would be, this puts me at risk to find a bunch of folks who might have no use for all by book-learning and such, perhaps somewhat like Daniel feels threatened by at the prospect of finding his own family. Nevertheless, i feel like I can count it as something like “growth” that I’d rather be a working-class person’s impossible inconvenience than a socialite’s scandal.

    I had to pick my words carefully there, and I’m still not satisfied. Because, what’s at stake behind all of this narrativizing (along with the pathetic genealogical gestures and dramatis personae of the drama of reincarnation) involves a desire for significance in the moment of my (our) creation.

    What Mark’s post makes clear in the details of his biological mother’s story is a history that no fantasy could (or would?) invent. It’s not like my mom got knocked up on prom night and that was it, etc. I appreciate all the detail that Mark’s story has, because it points to the possibility of such detail in all stories–such detail being desirable, only because it is the “truth” as opposed to a (simplistic) fantasy: my mom was a princess but her (evil) parents wouldn’t let her keep the baby, etc. Even as a narrative, I’d rather have that story than whatever fantasy projection I might spin out, primarily because I’m suspicious of the value (for me, for others, for the world) in the fantasies I would otherwise spin out on my own. If I’m against the largesse of adoption, why invoke an aristocratic milieu as the source that made me adoptable in the first place; that seems like something that reproduces the undesirable status quo.

    Mark justly questioned the utility of “destiny” or “fate” as social terms, especially in a world context where the luxury of even having a fate or a destiny stands in grotesque comparison to what happens to most people in the world–as something one would sooner not calla fate or a destiny. To put it bluntly, only kings and queens have destinies, and so long as we (meaning everyone who is not socially actually a king or a queen and who is not ONLY a subject of the king and the queen) are trafficking in a duplicitous, compensatory lie that both makes the untenability of our social position bearable but also permits us to keep our foot on the neck of those we count as below us (whether in this country or abroad).

    Again, I don’t see this as adoptee-only; it’s certainly classist; and we’re certainly involved in it (1) to the extent that we are raised in the United States (and places like it) and (2) to the extent that we were made into part of an assimilationist or middle-class project of social entitlement.

  2. I remember thinking as a child the wish that I might be abducted by aliens. This was at the height of Chariots of the Gods furor, and the idea that we had been visited in the past by extraterrestrials. This still lingers today, which probably explains why I went and saw Prometheus two times.

    In hindsight, I can see that there was something preventing me from thinking that I was connected to other people; that I was from this or that family, royal or paupered. Teaching at an elitist foreign university, there were many times where, walking around campus, looking at the privilege of those around me, I found the thought entering my head that it was bizarre somehow that someone like me—”min ez-zbaleh” (“from the garbage”, i.e., as this elite sees my origin)—was teaching there.

    As my gut instinct formerly and now actual clues point to this likelihood, I think my fear has much less to do with the probable station of my family here, or the reasons for my relinquishment (I feel I have steeled myself toward the possibilities along these lines); certainly this is more how I live my life these days such that the former “class” acculturation of my life in NYC now seems false and alien to me.

    I think the fear is more based on the distance away from them I will find myself based on this acculturation, and the “proof” this will lend to the idea that I am somehow “better off” for having been adopted. I don’t want the circumstances of my relinquishment to counter in any way my “thesis” concerning adoption if you will.

  3. There’s something interesting here, Mark, in your questioning you’re “place” in the world. Alien or aristocrat? Interloper or entitled? I read something this week about the inter-generational ties that we have, that stick with us no matter whether we are adopted or not. The character traits of our grandparents, and great-grandparents etc. follow us in some ways—traits that we inherit by both biology and adoption.

    From the way you told the story, it seems as if your birth mom had the same introspectiveness as you. It also seems that she was caught “between” worlds, Japanese living in Hawaii, giving birth on the mainland, unclear of her identity and place in her cultural history.

    This is not a judgment, just an observation. Does it hold any water for you?

    • My (natural) mother is (I think) fairly introspective. She told me that she believes that her mother brought me back (her mother had died years before.) She also never explained. Yes, I think as Nisei she was between worlds…the coming statehood of Hawaii, the state that is very unAmerican because its cultural roots are such a curious jumble, but still with a strong English heritage (part of the hegemony of England).

      She cannot tell anyone that I am back and this hurts. The ability to imagine her (as opposed to having fantasies) stems from concrete information. I know her name, her age, size, hair color…simple stories of her history; odd and small facts about my birth (I had a round head). The stories of her parents and her grandfather and mother add concrete imaginations to the fantasies (which are pure fabrications).

      I still have to work the imagination…so that the divide between that and fabrication is less clear…in order to understand my relinquishment.

      For my father’s side, it is another story because he died before I found him. But, he told people about me in Cuba; and the family knew about me. They thought of me as the Hawaiian child. They had their own fantasies because I never grew-up in Hawaii and was born on the mainland. Why did he let me go…yet hold-on enough to mention me? Or am I the one they think of? Was there another child? I don’t know the truth. Here is where fantasy comes in again…inseparable from thought.

  4. You hit it right on the head! Thank u! Also, nature vs nurture. I sincerely believe it’s a 50/50 of both elements.

  5. In the society I came from, a deeply conservative society, the rationale for abandoning/relinquishing children has morphed over the years, yet I feel the never-ending cause is really all about class climbing. And Western intervention turned it into a huge problem that didn’t exist prior to their intervention.

    Blame it on Confucius, is what most Westerners tend to do. But Confucius didn’t tell people to throw away their children. Confucian tenets of who to honor and what is honorable were instead codified into law by Neo-Confucianists in Korea and (forgive me my unscholarly liberties) into something resembling a combination of fascism and cast system to a degree that was almost as restrictive as the Taliban. Though terrifying in its consequences, I don’t see the morality as any different than existed/exists in many other societies, such as Sicily, or Greece, or the Puritans, Victorians, etc., and which were still prevalent even in America of the 50’s. Utilizing morality as a means to regulate society is quite ingenious, in that the dirty work of control is left to the masses to employ for self-regulation, and because class aspirations are behind the avoidance of that stigma.

    In this Neo-Confucianist state, the only way to climb classes was through education and possibly marriage; otherwise ones caste was sealed. So the vast majority of poor took care of each other and were very very careful to live within the moral boundaries since the consequences could mean death, social or physical. Even up through the Korean war, poor families took care of each other. They didn’t abandon their children – they all starved together. It wasn’t until Western capitalist ideas took hold that Koreans entertained the idea that they could jump classes, which has created nothing short of a frenzied obsession to attempt. They’re literally killing themselves to do so. Education and marriage remain the chief vehicle for this, and people spend money they don’t have in the vain attempt to do so – vain because of course the previously and still elite families will always have the advantage – and where altering ones appearance might mean a better life, and still the elite have the advantage. Everyone blames orphan creation on stigma, but I believe children are now relinquished more than in the past because they are liabilities to potential class climbing. As are the imperfect and the non-pure.

    In my case, abandoned on the streets during post-war reconstruction and prior to the economic miracle, these ideas were in their infancy. Yet I still believe it was the promise of class climbing combined with extraordinary poverty which precipitated Korean parents at that time to divide their too-large families to the economic benefit to themselves and, as promised by the adoption agencies, to the abandoned child they would send to streets paved with gold. Hundreds of us were dumped every week and the only reason is because they knew their children weren’t being left to fend for themselves on the streets, but because they knew the adoption agencies were there waiting and hoping for them. The adoption agencies were originally there to save children of mixed race from racial violence, (who existed due to other examples of Western intervention, yet it is the Korean people who are the only ones vilified in this scenario) yet they stayed long after that task had been completed because demand for international adoption had grown to exceed supply, and because the West judged themselves superior and compassionate while judging the East inferior and barbaric. and their wealth and power were pretty convincing to undermine the East’s self esteem. I believe their continued presence was not as a response to abandonment, but that their presence was a catalyst for abandoning.

    When you take centuries of social order – however much you disagree with it – introduce a promise of equality which is mostly a pipe dream, and then provide a means to jettison liabilities on the path towards that promise, then you create orphans. The East loses on several accounts: social systems do not get developed while quality of life loses meaning and many hearts live with regrets. The West gains their children.

    That’s why I was relinquished.

    Now, raised in the West I have a hard time respecting those who relinquish, for whatever reason. But I respect those who congratulate themselves while taking advantage of such introduced chaos even less. I shudder when I think of all the other countries where this experiment is replicated anew and I wonder how their societies will handle the irrevocable changes that result. And I’m not even against adoption. But this way just doesn’t seem right to me.

    Sorry to be so opinionated, but I just didn’t know how else to talk about pauper and elite, old and new. It’s always so complicated…It seems to be we are all where we are at because somebody judged somebody else. It seems to me that the key to this whole mess is to stop judging, and that starts with ourselves.

Adoptees, what do you think? We welcome your replies!

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