You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2008.

Timeline in Brief:

Dec 20, 2007
A New Family

Dec 26, 2007
Preparing and Waiting

Jan 3, 2008
Across the Miles

Jan 11, 2008
Aftermath of adoption: adjusting to the culture

Jan 13, 2008
Sent letter to the editor expressing our concerns about the series.

Jan 14, 2008
Kevin receives reply from Anh Do requesting further discussion.

Jan 15, 2008
Anh Do speaks with Kevin over the phone and mentions Jami Farkas will be in touch.

Jan 16, 2008
Response from Anh Do (Letter from the editor)

Mar 12, 2008
Jami initiates contact via email stating she’s “doing a follow-up story on our adoption series and would like to speak briefly” with each of us.

Two of us respond the same day. She tells Kevin she will call him the following evening.

Mar 17, 2008
I respond to Jami’s initial email asking her to elaborate.

Kevin sends follow-up email to Jami inquiring as to why she didn’t call. He also sends a follow-up to Anh Do.

Mar 18, 2008
Anh Do responds to Kevin’s email explaining that Jami had some serious health issues and was unable to contact us.

Mar 26, 2008
Jami sends explanation and apology. She asks if we would agree to answer a few interview questions. She tells Kevin and I that she will send her interview questions later that night.

That’s the last the three of us heard from her.

April 12, 2008
I send follow-up email.

No reply.

* * *

As Kevin previously mentioned, events did not go as we’d hoped. Though it began as a gesture of goodwill, Người Việt’s offer quickly turned into what felt more like a brush-off. I have worked with editors and journalists before, but none have ever dealt with me so unprofessionally and with such disregard.

The three of us had discussed blogging about the series but decided to first write a letter to the editor expressing our concerns. After Kevin received Anh Do’s email response requesting a follow-up discussion with him, we were optimistic and enthusiastic about continuing the discussion. Apparently, Anh Do shared our enthusiasm given her prompt responses. However, once she handed responsibility over to Jami Farkas, there was a marked change in interest on the part of Người Việt.

Jami did eventually get in touch with us – two months later. Yet her email was completely devoid of the kind of professionalism one would expect from “the premier English-language publication of the Nguoi Viet Daily News, the oldest and largest Vietnamese-language newspaper in the United States.”

Wed, Mar 12, 2008

Dear Kevin, Khai, Sume and Anh:

(Fellow adoptee) gave me your e-mail addresses. I am doing a follow-up story on our adoption series and would like to speak briefly with each of you. Would you mind sending your phone numbers so that I can call you?

Thanks!

Jami Farkas

First, we didn’t know who the “fellow adoptee” was as she mentioned him by his first name only. Second, we thought Anh Do had already given her our email addresses. Why was she getting them from another adoptee? We didn’t know Jami from Judas and weren’t entirely comfortable just handing over our phone numbers to her.

Despite our reservations, we continued to express our interest in contributing to Jami’s vaguely proposed “follow-up story.” Two of us sent in replies the same day which resulted in Jami making an appointment to speak with Kevin over the phone that following Friday the 14th. She sent no reply to Anh Dao.

After taking more time to consider, I sent in my reply on the 17th.

Mar 17, 2008

Hi Jamie,

Thank you for your interest. Can you please tell me a little more
about your follow-up story and our expected contribution to it?

Sincerely,
Sume

No response.

Having not heard back from Jami, Kevin sent emails to both Jami and Anh Do the same day inquiring as to why we hadn’t heard back from Jami. She’d missed her appointment with Kevin and had failed to respond to either me or Anh Dao. In his emails to both Jami and Anh Do, Kevin conveyed our concerns about Jami’s lack of communication and professionalism. Anh Do sent a reply the next day explaining that Jami had some health problems and couldn’t get back with us. Feeling bad that we had jumped the gun, the three of us decided to just wait and see.

Jami did eventually get back with us on the March 26 explaining her situation and apologizing for not getting in touch with us. We expressed hopes that we had not been too harsh in questioning her lack of response along with well-wishes regarding her health. It seemed we could resolve the situation as a misunderstanding resulting from events beyond our control. In her email, Jami said she would send us some interview questions via email later on that night, but we never heard back from her. Kevin and I both sent yet another series of emails – mine being the last, dated April 12, 2008. We have not heard back from anyone at Người Việt since.

* * *

Confused? So were we.

Initially, we wondered if perhaps Jami had again experienced health problems and perhaps that might explain her failure to communicate with us. Despite our enthusiasm to get things underway, none of us wanted to jump to conclusions or be inconsiderate of any recovery time she might need.

Shortly after I sent my email on April 12th, we learned that protesters had gathered outside Người Việt’s office angry over a photo they’d published that allegedly “denigrated the old South Vietnamese flag.” Again, we decided under the current situation, it might be understandable that the entire staff at Người Việt might be pre-occupied with handling their sudden public relations crisis. So again, we waited.

It wasn’t until we entered May without a word from Jami or anyone from Người Việt that we began to wonder. Was she so incapacitated that she couldn’t send a brief update or acknowledgment that she’d received our emails? If so, then couldn’t she have asked another staff member to get back with us?

Thinking something might have happened to her, I went to Người Việt’s website to see if Jami had been updating. A quick search proved to be telling.

1. Doctors say stylish helmets less safe
(Thursday, May 22, 2008 12:12:12 AM – Compiled by Jami Farkas from news reports)

2. Teen births cost taxpayers $61 million in O.C. region
(Thursday, May 22, 2008 12:08:22 AM – Compiled by Jami Farkas from news reports)

3. Women wrestlers’ Olympic bid canceled
(Thursday, May 22, 2008 12:01:45 AM – Compiled by Jami Farkas from news reports)

4. UK continues annual grant of $100 million to Việt Nam
(Wednesday, May 21, 2008 11:56:07 PM – Compiled by Jami Farkas from news reports)

5. China quake rattles buildings in Việt Nam
(Friday, May 16, 2008 3:39:11 PM – Compiled by Jami Farkas)

6. Golf courses displacing agricultural land
(Friday, May 16, 2008 3:34:49 PM – Compiled by Jami Farkas)

7. First private plane in years now in Việt Nam skies
(Friday, May 16, 2008 3:25:18 PM – Compiled by Jami Farkas)

8. Car sales up in Việt Nam
(Friday, May 16, 2008 3:22:36 PM – Compiled by Jami Farkas)

9. 2 reporters nabbed for scandal coverage
(Friday, May 16, 2008 3:15:12 PM – Compiled by Jami Farkas)

10. Activist convicted, to be deported
(Friday, May 16, 2008 3:07:50 PM – Compiled by Jami Farkas)

11. Letter from the Editor
(Thursday, April 03, 2008 9:50:36 PM – By Jami Farkas)

12. Practicing what he preaches
(Wednesday, March 26, 2008 10:39:45 PM – By Jami Farkas)

13. Letter from the Editor
(Thursday, March 13, 2008 6:56:20 PM – By Jami Farkas)

14. This label is easy to make
(Thursday, February 28, 2008 7:32:00 PM – By Jami Farkas)
Kim-Oanh Nguyễn-Lâm is an educator, first and foremost.

15. Letter from the Editor
(Wednesday, February 06, 2008 10:38:15 PM – By Jami Farkas)

Obviously she’s been quite active – so busy that she couldn’t take the whole of five minutes to get back with us. Did Người Việt think we would simply go away? In good faith, we’d postponed our response to Venus Lee‘s adoption series only to be stalled, dropped and eventually ignored without a word.

Personally speaking, I never doubted the sincerity of the previous editor, Anh Do. Her response time alone implies her interest. As Kevin states in his previous post:

To say the least, I was impressed with Anh Do’s act of reaching out to our aggrieved party and seeking to make amends by bringing balance to the discussion on adoption from Vietnam. Each of us were notified that Anh Do was going to contact us with prepared questions and conduct a brief interview with each of us.

However, I have to seriously question that of Jami Farkas – not only because of her poor response time, but because of the offhand way with which she approached us from the beginning. Obviously, both the paper and Jami had remained active despite any “health issues” or public relations problems. What Jami’s actions seem to indicate is simply a lack of interest and/or that she didn’t take us seriously.

* * *

As my co-blogger, Kevin Minh Allen, has already done such a commendable job, I will only throw in some supplemental thoughts of my own.

I’m fully aware that there will still be people out there thinking, “So what?” There may be others who question whether it’s even appropriate for us to be pointing out Người Việt’s lengthy yet sadly lacking series. Still there will be others who will dismiss our criticism of Jami Farkas and her paper as nothing more than whining. Whatever.

On a personal level, of course, being dropped is never fun, but I could get over that part. Even the cavalier, flaky way with which Jami treated us, while insulting, could be passed off as a problem with her more than us. However on a deeper level, as a Vietnamese adoptee, being given the proverbial finger by a Vietnamese American paper really bites.

I’m not talking about journalistic integrity or anything so impartial *cough, because this is personal. To try and wrap Người Việt’s actions into a supposedly more objective skin diverts attention away from an adult adoptee perspective. Isn’t that contradictory to the goal (for many of us) of getting our undiluted point of view out there? We can argue about journalistic integrity all we want, but I think that makes it too easy to ignore how events like this can affect an adoptee on a deeply personal level.

And why should we? Life as an adoptee is a profoundly human experience. For many, the effects of adoption are deeply felt and last a lifetime. Dismissing or completely ignoring how our lives as adoptees affect our perspective feels like trying to take the water from an ice cube. Of course, it’s always a matter of balance. Hopefully, I’ll be able to maintain some as I attempt to bring this back down to a personal, though hopefully not overly ranty level.

Người Việt published a series of articles that basically functioned as a sales brochure complete with savior theme whilst adoptions from Vietnam were under scrutiny for unethical practices and outright corruption. On top of that, they completely ignored how being adopted under false pretenses might affect an adoptee. Adult Vietnamese adoptees would have been able to offer more realistic though possibly less idealistic insights into life after identity-revision.

On top of that, the last post of the series – Aftermath of adoption: adjusting to the culture - is so short-sighted that it also ignores the long term “aftermath” of adoption. If any part of the series should have featured adult adoptee perspectives, it should have been that one. And to top it all off, Người Việt offers to interview us after we call them on it, but then quickly drops us without a word. That’s just rude.

But like I said, I can get past that. As an isolated incident, it doesn’t mean much other than Người Việt did a really inadequate job of covering adoptions from Vietnam. It’s when I look at the wider picture and how the Vietnamese American paper contributed to the compounding problem of non-critical, AP-catered adoption literature that it really matters.

In light of the imbalance, is Người Việt obligated to compensate for the disparity? We could debate that endlessly, but in the end it’s ultimately the editor’s privilege and responsibility to make that call. That’s just the reality of it and why many of us have turned to adoptee-run mediums like our blogs, programs like The Adoption Show, and groups/forums like AdopteeRights.net and AdultAdoptees.org. Note the stark contrast between The Adoption Show’s recent contribution and Người Việt’s four-part series.

Người Việt’s recent actions would seem to indicate not only a willingness to pander to adoptive parents, but also a reluctance to allow critical or questioning adoptees to represent themselves. The fact that it’s a Vietnamese American paper seems to suggest an attitude that it’s okay for Vietnamese Americans to speak for Vietnamese adoptees, but not okay for adoptees to speak for themselves – if they have something critical to say about their adoptions. Think I’m stretching it?

Venus Lee isn’t even Vietnamese. As pointed out in the article written by Jami Farkas, Venus is “Half Japanese, half Chinese” who’s fellowship project involved “A study of adoptions from Vietnam.” Great. Given the negative experiences that I and others have had while trying to “re-integrate” into the Vietnamese/Asian American community, this is just the icing to top the you’re-not-Vietnamese/Asian- enough-cake. Thank you very much, Người Việt.

If we zoom out the lens and view the greater landscape of adoptions in the media, very little of it involves adoptees speaking for themselves as they interpret themselves and their experiences. Great strides have been made, but the overall perspective is still a very narrow view, often sifted and re-interpreted by a non-adoptee. For Vietnamese adoptees, who have had their experiences and stories milked relentlessly by non-adoptees for money, self-praise and promotion, political fodder, humanitarian causes and career advancement, this is doubly so.

It’s not that I think only adoptees are capable of and should represent their own stories. That’s unrealistic anyway. I believe we can and should work closely with non-adoptees to get our voices out there. However, there is a fine line between representation and exploitation, contribution and substitution, working with and working for. If, as adoptees, we do not adamantly draw those lines, I believe we endanger the very voices we claim to support.

  1. The Người Việt2 Online series written by Venus Lee about adoptions from Vietnam is but one egregious example out of MANY that demonstrates how the media excludes alternative voices/stories/opinions, which do not conform to the adopt-a-Third-World-infant-at-all-costs program.
  2. The value and merits of a listserve are quite different from that of a blog: A listserve is ostensibly for members of a specific community to post information and opinions and to reply to said information and opinions; a blog is essentially an individual literary endeavor where one person posts private opinions and thoughts. That being said, both mediums use a moderator. In the case of listserves, the moderator’s, or administrator’s, job is to keep group discussion on point and to delete abusive comments and/or (usually porno) SPAM. In the case of blogs, the author reserves the right to allow, or disallow, comments and to publish, delete or modify any of those comments. Therefore,…
  3. I chose to post the Letter to the Editor on VAN’s listserve (as well as several other listserves) in order to expose its content and message to a wider audience. In regard to your suggestion about posting the exchange we had on VAN’s listserve, or any other personal email correspondence we may have had, on my blog, I reserve the right to accept or refuse said suggestion. My blog is not an Arby’s restaurant. With that being said, I allow comments on my personal blog (the Misplaced Baggage blog also allows comments from the public) and do not intend to micromanage them. You had every opportunity to leave your own personal comment about the Người Việt post on either blog. But, you chose to open  your own blog, which brings me to my last point…
  4. Welcome, Adam. You have joined the ranks of adult adoptee bloggers who are pushing their points of view out there and getting heard amongst the din of mass media. Not only that, but you are now one of a very few adult Vietnamese adoptees who decided to stick their necks out there and start blogging.

Now, was getting your “voice” heard really that difficult?

Listen Now

ANGRATE ACTION ALERTS

with

KALI COULTAS

Kali talks with Kevin Minh Allen about current and past adoption practices in Vietnam. Few know or understand what’s going on in Vietnam, such as its 42 operating adoption agencies. What’s disturbing, but not surprising, is that no one is consulting the daughters and sons adopted out of this country: the true voice and perspective of international adoption.

About Kevin: Born Nguyên Ðúc Mînh in Gia Ðịnh district of Sài Gòn on December 5, 1973, Kevin Minh Allen was adopted at 9 months and flown to the U.S. in August 1974. He grew up in a suburb of Rochester, NY, until at 27 years of age, he moved to Seattle, where he is currently enjoying the view. He has written and published poetry, book reviews, news articles and information panels for a museum exhibit. His work can be found online in Tiếng Magazine, Asian American Movement Magazine, The Fighting 44s and the Poetry Superhighway, and in print as well, such as The Northwest Asian Weekly, The International Examiner and HazMat Journal.

So, there’s a new adult Vietnamese adoptee blogger on the block, Adam over at Permanent Rice. And, one of his first orders of business is to take me on over my critique of the four-part series on adoption from Vietnam in Nguời Việt2 Online.

Apparently, Adam also believes there is not enough balance shown in the media when it comes to adoption. However, instead of taking the media to task for its overly generous deference to P/AP’s concerns, he implies that the status quo is not in need of change and that all viewpoints are equally valid, no matter their intentions or implications.

In fact, his stance on the Nguời Việt2 Online adoption series is quite confounding and confusing, as exhibited below, in reference to our Letter to the Editor:

4. I think the letter makes a great point about the article having a very strong savior feel to it, and while nothing is completely altruistic, I think most agree adoption shouldn’t be as narcissistic as it can sometimes be perceived, or actually be on the parts of families who have children via adoption. Somedays, as much as I like to see happy stories of adoption, I do get tired of the fluffy material out in the world with the Christ Complex…

Well, Adam, is the desire to adopt an “altruistic” or “narcissistic” endeavor, or is it only “perceived” to be that way? And, how do these characterizations affect your view of the practice? A little clarification would be nice, I think.

In the above example, Adam generalizes his critique of Nguời Việt2 Online’s series by writing that it has “a very strong savior feel” and that he gets “tired of the fluffy [adoption] material out in the world with the Christ Complex”. Makes me wonder how closely he read the series. Again, his point of view could have been solidified with the use of concrete examples that bolster his contention that the articles leaned a particular way.

3. I understand where you were coming from on the commodities issue especially in regard to the lists…while adoptions can go horribly wrong because of bad information, bad parenting, bad preparation, et al. – when adoption is good, it can be great – so for those that I would hope have good adoptions I do think it was kind of a nice primer in a way.

As the above excerpt shows, in an attempt to have it both ways, Adam shoots himself in the foot by recognizing one of the major shortcomings of the articles while, at the same time, embracing it. My whole contention was that Venus Lee, the author of the series, betrayed a lack of understanding and compassion by minimizing the adoption of Vietnamese children down to an import/export business. In my assessment, Lee propagated a shortsighted summary of adoption to the detriment of everyone’s understanding of the complicated issues surrounding this human interest story. I actually see an unavoidable correlation between the media’s simplified accounts of international adoption and the public’s poor perception of whom adoption is for and why, thus leading to some adoptions going “horribly wrong”.

The most perplexing part of Adam’s post is when he pinpoints what he thinks the main issue of this debate is. He deduces it to being “simply the lack of views and viewpoints…versus individual representations.” To me, the first part about the “lack of views and viewpoints” sounds redundant because I’ve already pointed out in Misplaced Baggage that the Nguời Việt2 Online series essentially froze out many interested parties within the adoption community, not least the voices of adult Vietnamese adoptees. But in the context of Adam’s post, I think he is going to bat for the majority voice (i.e., P/APs, ASPs and the uninformed public) because of what he writes directly after that assertion:

For instance I don’t think there’s anything wrong with looking at the good aspects of adoption and not focusing on the trials and tribulations of adoption if that’s the goal, and sometimes it can be. Sometimes it should be.

I still rub my eyes after reading this quote in association with the previous one. It begs the following question: Does Adam honestly assume that there is a dearth of “happy” adoption stories or ones that sympathize with the “plight” of P/APs in their expedited quest for building “forever families”?

Again, this makes me question how much and how closely he read the Nguời Việt2 Online series, as well as whether or not he’s ever taken a serious survey of articles on adoptions from Vietnam, especially in light of the most recent suspension on adoptions placed by the Vietnamese government. For if he did, it would become obvious that time and again the same actors appear, and their stories and viewpoints are featured to the almost entire exclusion of anyone else’s. This continued oversight does a disservice to an honest accounting of the concerns raised by people who are intimately connected to adoption and those who have a passing interest in the issues generated by adoption.

That’s why I wholeheartedly support what Kev Minh is doing, because sometimes you have to take the offensive, especially to get noticed.

At the same time, I do question if that was the right magazine, the right venue to go after.

Thanks for the “support”, I guess.

And, again, Adam leaves too much up to the imagination with his vague suppositions. He makes it seem as if my effort to scrutinize Nguời Việt’s handling of the adoption series was a case of either me being out of line or it being a waste of time because it turned out to be the incorrect target of my ire. What would be “the right magazine” or “right venue”, Adam? And, when exactly would you “take the offensive”?

With his emphasis on equal representation of voices and open dialogue, I get the feeling that Adam wishes to see the expression of opinions without the attendant reactions and critical interactions that normally come with their utterances. When it comes to the conversation on adoption, it cannot be unhitched from the reality of world politics, economics and social mores. From my point of view, one should be both actively engaged in laying out the salient points of an issue and then coming up with realistic solutions in order to make the world a better place.

I freely admit that’s a challenge I have yet to fully meet.

So, now that we’ve had our dialogue, Adam, let’s have a real debate.

WAMU’s The Kojo Nnamdi Show recently hosted a discussion on current changes in international adoption. Kudos to our boy, Kevin, who managed to get in a few excellent questions!

Recently, a growing number of countries have tightened control on the adoption of native children by American parents. And concerns about corruption led several nations to halt requests for U.S. adoptions altogether. Join Kojo as we discuss how restrictions on overseas adoptions are affecting Americans families.

Guests

Michele Bond, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Overseas Citizens Services

Thomas DiFilipo, President and Chief Executive Officer; Joint Council on International Children’s Services

Linh Song, Executive Director; Ethica

Listen:
Real Player
Windows Media


“Experiencing social injustices and political corruption during my high school career sparked my interest in investigative reporting,” she said.
- Venus Lee in Người Việt Online -

Sometime in 2007 Venus Lee, a graduate of the University of Southern California (broadcast journalism and social sciences), became the first recipient of the YenDo Vietnam Fellowship, given by the Orange County newspaper Người Việt. She will have received a $5000 stipend because of this accomplishment. It’s also worth mentioning that Lee’s fellowship project is a “study of adoptions from Vietnam”.

Back in December 2007 Lee authored a four-part series on adoptions from Vietnam, which is still online for you to read:

  1. A New Family
  2. Preparing and Waiting
  3. Across the Miles
  4. Aftermath of adoption: adjusting to the culture

Now, if Người Việt had been playing some elaborate joke on the public by publishing these articles under the guise of “professional journalism”, then it couldn’t have picked a better candidate than Venus Lee to act the fool and merry prankster. Because, in my discriminating opinion, the series was a travesty of journalistic objectivity and ethics. It is beyond me that the editors of Người Việt could have allowed such pedantic and cloying reporting represent their well-established news organization.

With respect to Venus Lee, I would have loved to have asked her what her definition of “investigative reporting” is, since her articles demonstrate none of the standards of that distinguished practice. It’s obvious that her writing lacks a variety of sources, a penchant for serious research, comprehension of the subject at hand and will to go deeper than surface appearances. If I had been the editor assigned to oversee her work, I would have had serious reservations about publishing any of it until she demonstrated some of those “investigative reporting” skills she supposedly so admires.

Considering that Lee received a fellowship and two Hearst Journalism Awards (!), one would assume that she would attempt to meet the expectations inherent in such distinctions and prove her worth among her peers. Being given responsibility to write a four-part series in the biggest Vietnamese-American newspaper in the country showed that they had put a lot of faith in her up-and-coming status. However, based on the weak, and very skewed, content of the series I would have to venture a guess that Lee underestimated the complexity of the subject matter and overestimated her talent to tackle it.

For years, China has been the Asian superpower when it comes to adoptions, but Vietnam is becoming a viable option for Americans seeking to adopt a child. Today, Người Việt 2 begins a four-part series looking at the history of Vietnamese adoptions, at the cost and the waiting time of the process, the experience of traveling to Vietnam to pick up a child, and then how the youngsters assimilate into American culture.

Above is the preamble to each of the four articles. In my mind, this implied that the series is going to take a comprehensive look at the history and present situation of adoption from Vietnam and the adoptees themselves. Plus, the fact that Người Việt decided to do a four-part series on adoption from Vietnam made me believe that a lot of information and point-of-views were going to be covered, and that the articles were going to contain a lot of things for their readers to consider.

I was sorely mistaken, as the following three quotes demonstrate:

“I looked into the face of my own daughter and realized how lucky she was that we were rescuing her from a life of poverty and enormous need, unlike most of her orphan mates who may never have their basic medical, nutritional, educational and individualized attention needs met.” [Robert Kalatschan]

Người Việt Online, A New Family, Thur., December 20, 2007, by Venus Lee

“You don’t understand. My daughter’s waiting for me,” she said. [Catherine Nelson]

Người Việt Online, Across the Miles, Wed., January 3, 2008, by Venus Lee

“…For us, it’s a bedtime story that children grow in your heart and not in your tummy.” [Karen Calvert]

Người Việt Online, Aftermath of adoption: adjusting to the culture, Fri., January 11, 2008, by Venus Lee

These quotes represent a major hurdle in facilitating the equitable distribution of voices that should add color to the bigger adoption picture. As I see it, too much deference is shown to adoptive parents, including their interests, their needs and their troubles. As long as the media only focus on one group within the adoption community, the public will remain unaware of the myriad stories out there and start believing that only certain people have anything to say about adoption.

The series is replete with basic information on the process of adopting infants from overseas. The virtual checklists at the end of each article resemble brochures seen in adoption agencies. Thus, Venus Lee created a paradox: by spreading out this information catering to P/APs throughout three of the four articles, she narrowed the subject matter so much that she (perhaps unintentionally) overlooked so many topics that could have elevated the debate on international adoption within Người Việt’s pages. That’s not to say that the information on the adoption process isn’t useful; but, to provide this information to the exclusion of other equally valuable information that would have given the topic of adoption some weight and much needed context seems unnecessarily conspiratorial to me.

If one wanted more proof that the series was stacked in favor of P/APs, then it should be noted that Venus Lee interviewed mainly just five families: the Hacks, the Calverts, the Kalatschans, the Franks and the Noltes. The writing had more to do with these families and their experiences adopting their children rather than adoption itself, with all its logistical and emotional complexities.

The lack of representation in this series presents a serious flaw in its original mission to inform the public about the state and progress of adoptions from Vietnam. Without input from different interested parties, the appearance of favoritism looms large and makes calls of unfairness all the more credible. In fact, so egregious is the pandering to P/APs’ self-interest that the serious ongoing concerns about alleged corruption in the facilitation of adoption of children from Vietnam are glossed over, even though the topic is addressed directly, like so:

Since there were growing concerns of purchased or stolen babies, officials at the USCIS took some time to investigate inconsistencies in the circumstances surrounding the Calvert child before issuing her a visa.

First, unlike most adopted children who are filtered through an orphanage, Ally was transferred directly from a hospital to her new parents’ open arms. Second, the entire adoption process for this child was unusually brisk – a mere six months from start to finish.

The Calverts are not sure how they finally received clearance, but they don’t ask.

Người Việt Online, Across the Miles, Wed., January 3, 2008, by Venus Lee

The failure of Lee to follow up on this extraordinary revelation of likely malfeasance in the adoption of this family’s daughter and the figurative sweeping under the rug of the USCIS’ suspicions speaks unflatteringly of the newspaper’s quality of reporting. Worse, such an omission of alternative (i.e., differing) viewpoints does a disservice to the reading public’s ability to come to its own conclusions about an admittedly confusing (and conflicting) situation.

For me, the most significant example of the series’ attempt to manipulate public opinion in favor of one side over another is the last installment that deals with the adopted children once they arrive in the United States. Lee focuses on the Hack family who, in 2005, took their three children, all adopted from Vietnam, back to their country of birth for, ostensibly, a visit, but which appears to have evolved into a compare-and-contrast missionary junket.

The author singles out Emily Hack because she had the opportunity to meet her biological parents while visiting Vietnam. Her adoptive mother, Theresa Hack, soon sets a gratitude trap for her daughter that will more than likely have her thrashing in agony for quite a long time:

“I think she saw the poverty her birth family lived in and realized her mother gave her up for adoption to give her a better chance at life,” Theresa Hack said.

Người Việt Online, Aftermath of adoption: adjusting to the culture, Fri., January 11, 2008, by Venus Lee

Suffice it to say that the inclusion of the voices of adult Vietnamese adoptees would have provided a more realistic perspective about the turmoil and triumph inherent in return visits to their country of origin, especially if contact with the natural parents is made. If Lee had taken the initiative to do a simple search on the Internet for “adult Vietnamese adoptees”, she would have been able to find a plethora of information on the websites of organizations like Vietnamese Adoptee Network (VAN), Adopted Vietnamese International (AVI) and Operation Reunite. She could have contacted representatives of these organizations and conducted interviews with them, and these contacts could have provided her with even more contacts within the community.

If Lee had done her job properly and expanded her list of primary sources, she could have avoided the following unfortunate passage altogether:

The difference in lifestyle and opportunity was evident by comparing Emily to her twin sister who resided with her birth family. Emily enjoys hearty meals, a generously-sized wardrobe, a good education and the chance to join in extracurricular activities such as dance, choir and sports. In contrast, her sibling lived with parents toiling to buy enough clothes for everyone in the family and put food on the table.

Người Việt Online, Aftermath of adoption: adjusting to the culture, Fri., January 11, 2008, by Venus Lee

This callous comparison of real-life situations between Emily Hack and her biological sister begs an experienced editor’s red pen to cross out the offending text. Lee’s juxtaposition of the girls’ current lifestyles could constitute a form of child abuse because it is a sucker punch to each of the girls’ heads that unwittingly injures any sense of autonomy and dignity that they both possess. To elevate the hegemonic perception of material wealth over the rudimentary stereotypes of poverty serves to oversimplify and then negate any real loss that both girls will eventually have to come to terms with.

The ironic omission of any adult adoptee or first parent voice within the realm of adoption typifies many media outlets’ simplistic dealings with the topic and how little regard they show to people who could possibly have a point of view that upsets the status quo. The Vietnamese diaspora following the Vietnam War not only included the regular cast of characters, but also the thousands of infants and children who were rushed out of the decaying nation-state of the Republic of South Vietnam. To have not included any of our opinions or stories constitutes gross negligence from where I sit. Did not someone on Người Việt’s editorial staff inform Venus Lee that P/APs are not the be-all and end-all in the totality of adoption?

As far as journalistic integrity goes, it’s a foregone conclusion in my mind that Người Việt had the obligation to be all inclusive in its treatment of Vietnamese adoption because it affects so many people and deserves more than just a preoccupation with how to get a child, how to travel to get the child and which culture camp to put the child in when he/she is feeling lonely and needs friends.

Due to Người Việt’s lackluster four-part series, four of us adult Vietnamese adoptees decided to draft a letter to the editor in order to lodge a complaint against the series’ content in order to hold the paper’s feet to the fire and make our presence felt among our peers within the adoption community. The complete letter appears below:

To the Editor of Người Việt2 Online:

When we saw that Người Việt2 was featuring a 4-part series on adoption from Vietnam, we were more than a little intrigued because of our background as adult Vietnamese adoptees. We are just a few of many members of the first generation of Vietnamese adoptees who were flown out of the country to join families around the world during and at the end of the Vietnam War. So, it was with much anticipation that we wanted to read what a Vietnamese-American publication had to say about adoption from Vietnam. Unfortunately, the articles fell far short of any wide-ranging examination of both the history and continued practice of adoption from Vietnam.

Người Việt2 had an extraordinary opportunity to inform the public about issues surrounding international adoption, specifically from the point of view of birth parents, adoptive parents and the adoptees themselves. The series on adoption could have sparked lively and constructive debate about the social, economic and political factors that drive international adoption between Vietnam and the United States, as well as the far-reaching consequences felt by birth families, adoptive families and society at large.

Apparently, Người Việt2 has simply allowed an easy-to-use guide for prospective adoptive parents to be published. As superficial as the content is, it is even more disturbing that the overall message of the series is that Vietnamese children are commodities on the store shelves waiting for American consumers to pick out and purchase. It is regrettable that the author sought no comment or opinion from Vietnamese government officials in charge of adoptions, birth parents or their relatives, social workers or officials from child welfare agencies, or even any adult Vietnamese adoptees. For if she had, a more complex and comprehensive picture of the process and its effects on everyone involved could have painted. The series could have gone beyond the traditionally narrow focus of “orphan” and “savior”.

Although the series mentioned allegations of official corruption and the selling of infants on the black market, which forced the Vietnamese and American governments to briefly halt adoptions from Vietnam a few years ago, the articles appear to treat these crimes as nuisances by highlighting the prospective adoptive parents’ anxiety and anguish as they were forced to put their adoption plans on hold. To seemingly sweep these charges under the rug and forget about them is an offense to journalism.

Perhaps when Người Việt2 chooses to report on adoption again, the editor will keep in mind that its audience will be comprised of many diverse members from the adoption community, and they will expect to be informed rather than ignored.

Soon after we submitted the letter, the former editor of Người Việt, Anh Do, responded and in her own letter to the readers hinted at further constructive dialogue with adult Vietnamese adoptees in order to address just one of many gaps in the series.

Fortuitously, Anh Do personally contacted me by phone and expressed great interest in interviewing me and the three other signatories of the letter for a follow-up piece. To say the least, I was impressed with Anh Do’s act of reaching out to our aggrieved party and seeking to make amends by bringing balance to the discussion on adoption from Vietnam. Each of us were notified that Anh Do was going to contact us with prepared questions and conduct a brief interview with each of us. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, Anh Do stepped down as editor of Người Việt and handed the editorship to a long-time reporter at the paper named Jami Farkas.

And, this is when the goodwill gesture turns into farce. For a detailed recounting of events, both past and present, that have led to unexpected silence from Người Việt’s end, please stay tuned…

My two mothers are arguing again right over me. I’ve awoken to their bickering. I lie here waiting for them to stop. My first mother is to my right and my second mother is to my left. They’re annoying me with the same old argument.

My first mother questions my second mother as to why I smell like potatoes and butter all the time. My second mother accuses my first mother of wanting me to smell like fish and sweat.

My first mother crosses her thin, brown arms and huffs about how ignorant I am of classic Vietnamese poetry and songs about my people’s origins, and is sad that I still do not know how to answer her in my dreams in Vietnamese. My second mother crosses her arms too and raises and lowers herself on the balls of her feet, signifying agitation. She accuses my first mother of giving birth to me in a crowded flat where two of her brothers were secret guerrillas who would have thrown me out with the bathwater if they saw my American eyes staring back at them. She says that if my first mother really wanted me to speak Vietnamese, she would have kept me and raised me instead of giving me to my blind grandmother and skipping town to do every Tom, Dick and Harry who arrived on base.

My first mother counters that my second mother doesn’t know the slightest thing about her situation, never bothered to ask and warned her to stop putting lies in my head. She yells, “What does an uptight, midwest farm girl know about life anyway?!” My second mother jabs her chubby finger at my first mother and says, “What does an uneducated, manipulative Vietnamese city girl know about life since you’re dead to your son anyway?!”

That’s the last straw. I’ve had enough. I sit up, get out of bed and quickly get dressed. I plug in my earphones, put on my sneakers and head out the door. I’m deaf to the pleas of my two mothers as they reach for me and beg me to stay with them. But, I belong to neither of them. They both have foisted shame upon me in order to mold me into a more sympathetic person. Yet, it’s turned me against them. I do the opposite of what is expected of me so as to counteract the imposition of a foreign will on my life’s territory. I’ve convinced myself that I am no one’s son, regardless of who gave birth to me or who fed me. I’ve always been a burden.

On that point, there is no argument.

About


A blog by three adult Vietnamese adoptees as they move forward, reflect back and express their thoughts on just about everything in between. More...

Contributors:
Anh Ðào Kolbe

Kevin Minh Allen

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  • Call for Submissions: Vietnamese Adoptees November 21, 2013
    I’m so very excited to announce this particular call for submissions.  We are looking for entries from Vietnamese Adoptees across the globe.  Please help spread the word! CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS FOR “Vietnamese Adoptees 2.0: In Our Own Words” Online Submission Deadline: March 1st, 2014 Type: Essays, Poetry, Short Stories, Art & Photographs Theme: Adoptees/A […]

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© All rights reserved, Misplaced Baggage, Sumeia Williams, Anh Ðào Kolbe, Kevin Mînh Allen. 2008. May not be reproduced without individual author's consent. The rights to all referenced content is held by the original owners.
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