National Adoption Awareness Month – What’s at stake?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always known I was adopted.

This sentiment is shared among transracial adoptees (i.e., those of us who are adopted to families of a different race than our own). After all, we can’t hide the obvious physical differences between ourselves and the people we call family. It’s apparent, noticed, questioned.

Is that your dad? Your mom must be Chinese.
Is that your daughter? Where did you get her from?

Extended family, friends, and strangers feel that it is their right to know private details about your family, about your fertility, about your reason for being. From a young age, we learn to be ready for this interrogation.

So while I knew my parents loved me unconditionally and accepted me wholeheartedly, I received conflicting messages from those around me, from the news, and from media. In short:

Was I just like one of the family? or Was I unwanted, unloved, and abandoned?

Even now, I can’t escape those questions. Although I know the answers, questions like these, and many others, continue to play out on TV, in the news, and among the public. These questions about what family is and who are family members touch on something deeply personal and important. And, not just for adoptees. When adoption crosses color lines, as it does in transracial adoption, questions of identity, community, and what’s best for the child take on another dimension. And, when you add in national citizenship, as is the case with transnational adoptees, this idea of who is included and what that means becomes even more complicated. The idea of belonging is both personal and political. There is something at stake.

Adoption is not just about the family that is created but also about the family that is left behind. It’s not just about children that are taken from harm or relinquished willingly, it is also about ideas of who is fit to be parents, financial gain, and power. Adoption is not just about celebrity adoptions or the families portrayed on screen; it is about how adoption is crafted in the public’s imagination and by whom and then how that guides who is adopted, who adopts, and from where. When it comes to building families, there is something at stake.

Today starts National Adoption Awareness Month. While its purpose is to bring awareness to the thousands of children in foster care who are waiting for permanent families, this is also a time for adoptees to claim and amplify their voices. Voices that have historically been silenced or ignored. During this Adoption Month, I will explore the history of adoption in the U.S., how it has been portrayed in popular culture, and how adoptees have created and claimed space in this ongoing dialogue and portrayals of adoption. To be an adoptee and leave the story of adoption to adoption agencies, media, or the general public is not an option. There is indeed too much at stake.

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