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Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption Paperback – November 1, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
In 30 personal essays, research-based studies, poems and accompanying artwork, transracial adoptees "challenge the privileging of rational, 'expert' knowledge that excludes so many adoptee voices." Conceived by the editors as "corrective action," the collection offers an eye-opening perspective on both the "the power differences between white people and people of color, the rich and the poor, the more or less empowered in adoption circles" and the sense of loss and limbo that individual adoptees may feel while "living in the borderlands of racial, national, and cultural identities." This provocative, disturbing collection reveals the sociological links between African-American children placed in foster care and El Salvador's "niño desaparecidos (disappeared children), between Christian missions and "the adoption industry," between a transracial adoptee born in Vietnam and raised in Australia and one born in Korea and raised in the U.S. "We must work," the editors urge, "to create and sustain a world in which low-income women of color do not have to send away their children so that the family that remains can survive." Anyone contemplating transracial adoption will find provocative ideas, even as they may quarrel with generalizations that don't fit their own lives. (Nov.)
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From experience, I know that as an adoptee it is often difficult to convey the experiences of immigration and assimilation-an obstacle that is compounded by attitudes from more traditional immigrant communities (I am Asian American, but not quite) and the attitudes of the social infrastructure that considers the Asian adoptee archetype as "well-adjusted" and "practically white"-which is why this book is so important. It represents the adoptee experience in all its multi-faceted joy and sorrow and offers a voice when one's own feels stifled.
I have recommended this book to all of my immediate family and I believe that it should be required reading for any potential adoptive parent. This book has taught me how tragically lax prerequisites to adopt are and how important global consciousness and race education should be in the decision making process. It also stresses the need to redirect the adoption debate to its core by fixing the political and social systems leading to adoption rather than fretting about the ethical/unethical aftermath. This book is a crucial component for changing the tide of current attitudes towards adoption.
In my experience as a transracial adoptee, as well as talking with fellow transracial adoptees, the perceptions in this book are the ones we (transracial adoptees) often don't or can't tell our adoptive families. There is an inherent lack of power that orphans have. By contrast adoptive parents have the power to choose the children they adopt based on a set of criteria (age, race, gender). Being an orphan (and eventual adoptee) in the position where you have to be chosen, where you have to seem good enough to be kept and loved, and where you often want to fit in, makes it difficult to express ambivalence about your identity. It's easy to feel that this ambivalence (and even hurt or anger), is a rejection of your adoptive family--people you love and who took you in. But, like all families, feelings of anger, ambivalence, hurt, etc. are common and above all okay to express. Hopefully these stories will lead to better practice and informed decisions by all parties involved.
To adoptive parents and families, my advice would be to read this with care. It provides insight into how important it is for adoptive families to be open about cultural challenges. Being open, however, is not a simple task. This book acknowledges that adoptees are often told in subtle ways (sometimes by their families and often by society around them) that their birth culture and race is less than mainstream European/American culture. As a transracial/transnational adoptee, I lost a lot of access to my birth culture. In losing things like language, it became difficult for me to access my heritage outside of cultural tropes from mainstream American media. Many of those tropes were racist or belittling/insulting and, like many of the adoptees in this book, I grew up thinking less of myself as a result. I wish my adoptive mother had read this book and knew to keep those doors and options open to me, instead of following the advice of adoption agencies and focusing on assimilation. In many ways the negative accounts reflect a critic of adoption policy that tries to completely assimilate a child. I understand that this was done out of the concern that adoptive children wouldn't feel like they belonged, but, in ignoring or downplaying difference, adoptees have been left without ways to process the aspects/experiences that their families don't share. I realize there is a lot of anger in this book, but for adoptive parents and families, it is important to acknowledge this. It is important to realize that being an orphan is the result of an unjust world, and the adoption process is something we go through before we can even consent to or understand all the implications and challenges. It is natural for this experience to leave some anger, some hurt, and certainly confusion.
My advice to adoptees about this book would be that it can provide insight to the identity conflicts that you may share. It doesn't mean that you have to have the exact opinions and experiences. Every family is different. In particular, I found the story about dealing with black hair really spoke to my own experience with trying to fit into aesthetic standards of mainstream American culture. It let me know, that I wasn't the only one who was excluded from these norms or whose families weren't prepared to deal with this. It gave me the courage to realize that this wasn't my failure. I was able to look in the mirror and see myself rather than all the aspect about me that didn't conform to European/American ideals. At the most, I hope it will give other adoptees the courage to face issues and hopefully resolve them (ideally with their adoptive families love and support).