I was talking to a former student of mine who has taken to traveling through South Asia. This time around, she was heading to Nepal, and she met a man there who was formerly working in Iraq. She asked why he had to return, and he replied that after the U.S. invasion, much of the slave labor work force got caught up in the line of fire, and the Nepalese government put a ban on foreign labor there. This was related matter-of-fact and without offense; my friend said she felt obliged to apologize.
She then paused and said, “Do you know what some Lebanese people said before I left? ‘Can you bring a Nepalese home for me? I need a new girl to work in the house.'”
Foreign workers in Lebanon are discussed like so many different breeds of dog, and categorized according to similar “traits” such as personality, docility, obedience, etc.
What do we then make of adoptive parents who categorize themselves according to our country of origin? How does this even make any sense, except along absolutely racist/classist lines?
I wonder if things have changed over the decades of adoption practice. In 1957 adoption was glanced over and so was my original race…so that I was for practical purposes bleached flour. I made bread, pancakes, whatever was needed (not that I was forced and not in just a literal sense). I belonged to these people; I was theirs and was always proving to myself that they were equally mine. No one belonged to me. I felt like I was always hiding my true self. It was never a simple or obvious thing, that hiding, but it was a real part of my life with my a-family. I never knew how they defined themselves in relation to me.
I was dining with some white expat friend one evening when some of his expat colleagues joined us. We were all of us teachers – they at a foreign academy where privileged Korean children were taught all subjects in total English immersion and me at the poorest of the poor public high school.
Of course, being the only Korean at the table speaking perfect English, the conversation got ’round to – as always – my “amazing” command of English and incredulity that I couldn’t speak any Korean. Upon hearing that I was adopted, one of the colleagues literally squeeled and said, “I totally want to adopt! I’ve got to have one!” Stunned, jaw dropping, that she had referred to a human child as an object, and – worse still – as a commodity, I struggled for how to respond.
My friend cleared his throat and told the diners, with some gravity, that I had conflicted feelings about adoption.
It didn’t matter to the colleague who obliviously talked about how she was going to save one of them. Here she was, working in Gangnam, her wages paid for by people who might consider HER the great unwashed, whose children would one day attend Ivy League schools and never set foot on public transit. And who, like your Lebanese friends, probably had maids or nannys of some other more brown or imported race.
She was, at first glance, a free-spirit here on an adventure, very liberal in her dress, almost defiantly so, and arrogant in her actions in that she wore a western superiority of ignoring local customs along with her bohemian dress. I can relate to that, unfortunately. She is like so many westerners here – unbelieving that American imperialism no longer has much purchase power in the world, believing that American benevolence fixes all the worlds ills.
Which brings to mind the following video:
The mother in this video is like so many adoptive parents, who completed their social minded life by bringing one home.
Whether one is seeking servants or fleshing out the global village-minded family portrait, the acquisitions both revolve around the notion that the other is somehow less.
Currently, this thread is the, “Can I believe my ears?” thread to me. So here’s one.
I just don’t typically think about being “out” about being adopted but hanging out with you folks, I’ve become more pointed about bringing it up. In those “go-rounds” of introductions when we’re supposed to say something about ourselves, I will tend to say, “I’m not heterosexual and I’m adopted.” And I have a friend with whom I have a great deal of amity; I enjoy his company a lot. And I was describing to him a potential short play or scene I was imagining, where three siblings who haven’t spoken for years are meeting again for the first time because their last parent is dead. Of course, one of the siblings is adopted, and she is the most alienated and scapegoated of the three although, again, the three haven’t spoken for literally decades. And so, when the non-adopted sibling is told by one of the other siblings, in so many words, “You don’t deserve any of the family inheritance,” the adopted sibling immediately replies, “Then I’ll murder your kids.”
It is the case, when one writes dialogue, that listeners can go in unanticipated directions. In this case, I wrote the adopted sibling’s threat not as an actual threat and more as a sign that trying to leave her out of the inheritance could only come at the heaviest of costs to the one who would deny the inheritance. For my friend, I don’t think this is what registered and, to be fair, I have no trouble seeing why. But his response still surprised me, as shortly after I gave this snippet of a scene, he said, “I knew some adopted kids in college and they were all crazy.” That’s not quite an exact quote. I was too busy being surprised that he’d just called me crazy, and so readily. The response was like one of those involuntary powerful bursts of laughter–it just came right out of him. What a legal expert might call an “excited utterance”.
Part of me is pleased that my friend understood this much: sometimes a seemingly small remark gets answered by adoptees with Total Nuclear Annihilation. But of course, the crazy part is that one can, as a matter of course, say you’d dispossess an adopted child of his or her inheritance and expect no resistance or lose any sleep about it.