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  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?

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.

posted by Kevin Mînh Allen

Well I was born in a small town
And I can breathe in a small town
Gonna die in this small town
And that’s prob’ly where they’ll bury me

- Small Town, John Mellencamp -

American soldiers nicknamed the country of my birth ‘The Nam’. As far as the average joe was concerned, it was a country filled with VC, free fire zones, kill ratios and POW/MIAs. As far as a Vietnamese adoptee like myself was concerned, that same country became a fairytale kingdom where I could act out all my forlorn fantasies of a black-haired mother who missed her son and only wanted to welcome him back into her arms one day. However, America came to see me as the cast-off, the war orphan, the dust of life; the war trophy, the charity case, the Saigon street urchin. Before I knew it, I was given one mission and one mission only: prove my worth.

As I look back on my youth, my status as an adopted person from Vietnam was very rarely announced in public. Subtle remarks or comments about my anomalous genealogy probably floated through my ears, but the hardened perception of myself as a normal red-blooded American kid smacked away any doubts or inconvenient truths about the mismatch between me and my community. My adoptive parents were very adept at concealing reality from me (when it was convenient for them) and avoiding drawn-out discussions about my past that could have resulted in meaningful dialogue which, in turn, would have strengthened the brittle bond between us. I guess it was less taxing for them to convince themselves and me that I was simply their son and had always been a part of their family. I was stuck with them, and they to me, for better or worse. Just one more happy family in the ‘burbs.

However, my vision sharpened and I started seeing cracks in everything around me – cracks in the mirrors, cracks in the kitchen table, cracks in friends’ faces, cracks in school walls and cracks all over my body. Layers of paint and polish started sloughing off of the identity in which I had been locked. I began holding people accountable for my shitty attitude toward feeling displaced and disoriented. It felt as though I was not only confronting missing chapters in my life, but whole volumes of history that encompassed innumerable stories and facts about momentous events connecting me back to my adoption. Inexplicably, the bottom fell out and I was left with a contemptuous void, down which I kept throwing question after question. No traceable answers ever seemed to crystalize.

Today, as I orbit the core of my existence, I am coming full circle, coming back around to the beginning of one teensy little life that was born somewhere in South Vietnam in December 1973. No longer am I content, no longer am I at ease. As I take account of lost time and memories of an era that I dare not relive, and yet am inextricably drawn to, one undeniable truth no longer eludes me: It was in Vietnam where brutish violence, angelic redemption and pure indifference had blended together and created me. It’s now up to me to piece together this self-portrait. What it may reveal about myself is still anyone’s guess.

Far be it for me to tell other war-era Vietnamese adoptees what to think, but I do believe that each one of us will eventually be made to face the facts and long-term effects of that specific time period in American and Vietnamese history, as intertwined as they are in our cultural and political consciousness. As we embark on our own personal journeys of self-realization, we shall hear more and more proclamations about how we had been saved from a lifetime of deprivation and wretchedness. Especially from elders who lived through that war, we will hear how much gratitude we owe them for not abandoning us to languish in the chaos, violence and retribution meted out to those who were left behind, and how lucky we are to be alive in the greatest nation on the planet.

Yet, these platitudes work. No matter how rebellious or contrarian I wish to appear, sometimes I must admit that our benefactors’ words strike at a layer of truth, however thin it may be. For the sake of argument, let’s give the people who facilitated my departure from Vietnam their just due. I will concede that they held an on-the-ground perspective that caused them to clearly act on my behalf. Knowing what they knew, they could foresee that any delay in my removal from the perilous situation unfolding before them would result in a five-fold increase in my imminent death. To think of the odds stacked against me and the high likelihood that I could have been just another corpse for fleeing people to step over on their way to planes, helicopters and boats still weighs on my shoulders like anvils. When I contemplate just for a moment the death toll among children my age at the time and the wasteland awaiting those who survived, pangs of guilt wrack my conscience and I have to second guess my attempts at raising doubts about the institutionalized myths of the Vietnam War and our insistence that they be maintained. I have to pause and ask myself whether I would want my life any different than it is now, considering all that I’ve been given, all that has been offered me and all the years I’ve been fortunate enough to celebrate. The sense of betrayal of everything I’ve known and loved grows stronger with each step I take toward the dark unknown. The choice becomes starker between accepting the comfort and ease of just letting go or the sheer grind of pursuing enlightenment. It doesn’t seem fair that I would have to choose between these two outcomes which I know are not guaranteed.

That brings me to my younger sister. She was one of the hundreds of children flow out of Vietnam on the wings of Operation Babylift. From what I know and what I’ve experienced, my sister belongs to the majority of adult Vietnamese adoptees because she refuses to discuss her adoption or anything tangential to Vietnam. Thus, out of a sense of protectiveness I shield her from my struggle for the truth and understanding of the circumstances that caused me to be an orphan. Instead, I actually admire her resolve not to contemplate what was done to us in the name of “saving” us. She has the remarkable ability of putting disappointing ventures behind her and appreciating her accomplishments and the people she gathers around her. She lives for the here and now. In the same vein, my sister has never implied that my writing is a betrayal of our parents or the country that took us in and raised us. When I told her of my decision to return to Vietnam for a visit, she was genuinely happy for me, although she knew she probably would not contemplate such a trip.

The relationship and understanding my sister and I have developed with regard to adoption serves to remind me that adoptees of differing opinions or outlooks can remain compassionate about each other’s decisions to search or not to search, to wrestle with the past or not bother with it, to step out of our skin or remain comfortable within it.

Keep in mind, though, that these stages of coming-to-terms with our adopted selves are not static. The desire to explore our adoption stories can wax and wane according to many factors and with the passage of time. I may get to the point where I feel I’ve done enough probing and finally put down my hammer and chisel, exhausted, and yet feel all the better for it. My sister may very well come along and pick up her own hammer and chisel and start working on that sheer cliff face. Our interests and motives may intersect and we could come to the same satisfactory conclusions. Or, our viewpoints could diverge so sharply that we will never see eye to eye.

All I know, right now, is that I am not content with letting bygones be bygones. People can say that I was saved. But, I’ll be damned if I let them have the last word.

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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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