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Where has the time gone? It was almost a year ago that I received an email from a television show that offered to help search for my supposed Vietnamese foster mother. The application requires a large amount of personal information. I start to fill it out, then stop, start filling it out again, then stop again. My mind seems trapped in the risk/benefit analysis of giving up my privacy to complete strangers and the slim chance of finding a woman who isn’t even my mother.
During my interview with John Safran, he brought up the subject of privacy rights vs. birth searches. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to convey the thoughts I’d expressed in an earlier conversation with a fellow adoptee. Some people seem to focus on the privacy of parents over the need for an adoptee to know, but there’s more to it than that. Many adoptees have to give up their privacy in order to even begin a search. Many of us have to trust complete strangers with information of which we’re usually very protective. We become ripe for exploitation. Then there’s that devastating disappointment when nothing is found.
Thinking about it makes me want to scream at woman considering giving up their babies to stop. Do they understand the vulnerable position in which they place us? Did they ever consider it? I’m sure many were convinced they were doing what was best for themselves and their babies. Maybe they were in some situations, but it doesn’t feel like it from where I’m standing now.
Part of me dreads another disappointment. I’ve so far sent out two inquiries. One ran into a dead end. The other never got back to me, not even to tell they were still looking or to say they’d found nothing.
So I waffle back and forth, filling out the form a little each day as I continue to weigh the costs against the potential benefits. I know I’ll eventually send it. How can I not?
Killers at the orphanage gates. They’ve all come with their blades, their grins and their candy. Everyone in town recognizes their arm sleeve insignia, their flags and their loud, easy talk. To cut off the heads of one’s enemies while sparing the heads of their offspring must be a horrific enterprise. Even if one of these killers were to sever and then burn down his enemy’s bloodline, another line could be traced back to a rubber tree in a plantation on the western edge of town that survived the onslaught.
These mercenaries photograph themselves performing puppet shows or giving the tikes rides in their Jeeps. All the while, their humanity and magnanimity clash with their mission to engage in the sordid business of murdering these kids’ parents. Their wide fleshy smiles seemingly cradle the enemy’s children as if they were their own; as if they had fathered these children themselves.
Life is crowded in by death. It is a bizarre, fatalistic, ritual these Grim Reapers engage in when they hand out food and supplies to the sons and daughters of liberation. They mingle among the living, finicky about whom they take an interest in, searching for the cutest in the bunch. These shadows of death cross in front of the bright, shining orbs of young life lying expectant in their cribs, creating a voiceless void that sucks in both the infants and the soldiers, minute by minute and molecule by molecule.
A friend and I headed out one morning in search of the art district. I’d never been to that area of town and had to google up a map. Anyone who regularly uses google maps eventually learns that trying to navigate those things can tricky. Sometimes it’s like trying to find true north using a needle-less compass. We ended up heading straight out of town.
Luckily, backtracking was just a matter of getting on the other side of the highway via a u-turn. So back we went to find the nearest gas station to ask for directions. Undaunted, we headed out again hoping the gas station attendant knew what he was talking about. As we continued down the road, I saw the word “Danang” on a store sign and mentioned it to my friend. We decided to check it out and, wow, it was a newly opened Vietnamese store.
For me, it was a big deal. Over two years ago, I wrote a post bemoaning my inability to connect with Vietnamese adoptee bloggers and the Vietnamese American community in general. I couldn’t seem to find an “in” door. Since then, I’ve made contact with other bloggers and even had the privilege of co-blogging with two of the most distinctive voices out there. However, my attempts to establish contact with the Vietnamese American community in my area remained halfhearted.
Still gun-shy from previous experiences, my efforts were minimal. I knew there was a fairly sizable community here, but still did not actively seek them out. My justifications were endless: I was busy. There were more urgent matters to attend to. The community isn’t really a community and is too scattered. It’s too hard, dammit.
The truth is I’d turned into a big chicken and didn’t need much of an excuse to lull me back into forgetfulness. Ah, will I ever learn? As with my adoption, the signs were everywhere and popping up when I least expected them. The Vietnamese store served as yet another reminder that there was something I should be doing and wasn’t.
Of course, to reduce my reasons to merely fear would oversimplify and misrepresent the psychology behind my reluctance. I think the common set of fears did come into play: fear of rejection, fear of judgment, fear of not being able to connect, etc. However, something that I rarely talk about is the resentment. Being summarily rejected by a recruiter for the Vietnamese student organization at the college I was attending left a bitter taste in my mouth. True, I was hurt and felt seriously discouraged, but just as importantly, I felt this blood-boiling rage.
It felt as if “my own” had thrown me to the wolves and then refused to let me back in because I’d been mauled beyond recognition. I didn’t walk away. They’d given me away. I’d survived to seek them out again but rather than welcoming me back among them, they slammed the door in my face. They wanted nothing to do with me, and why should I care? What had they ever done for me other than relinquishing me to an eternal state of otherness?
I was aware these feelings were unreasonable but felt them anyway. Because I knew they were irrational, I buried them. However, I would eventually have to face the truth. Denial of those feelings numbed my awareness of them but still allowed them to affect my behavior. It’s weird how the mind works. I feel weird just writing these thoughts down, but surely I can’t be the only one.
I know as well as anyone that it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to resent a whole community of strangers. They had nothing to do with what had happened to me – either individually or as a group. Furthermore, I’d met and befriended enough Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans to know better. Why did I harbor such a sense of betrayal?
My mind immediately goes back to my childhood. Insomnia and I have been joined at the hip since I can remember. A lot of those late night sessions with sleeplessness involved thoughts of my Vietnamese mother. As I’ve mentioned before, not all of my midnight daydreams were childish fantasies of tearful reunions. Many times my imaginary interactions with Má were rendered with classic feelings of abandonment common to adoptees.
Some part of me felt that she’d sloughed me off like so much unwanted hair to be swept away and forgotten. Of course, now I know that’s not necessarily the case. There were other options, but to a child with limited knowledge and understanding, the only ones were a) orphaned by death and b) orphaned by abandonment. To compensate, I waffled between the two scenarios. Did she die or just dump me to my fate?
Sadly, Má wasn’t around to answer my questions. She only existed in my head and could neither confirm or correct my assumptions. Those thoughts never dissipated. They were never resolved but lay dormant just below the surface of my consciousness. I guess the recruiter for the Vietnamese student organization was just the trigger. He’d unwittingly turned on the light behind my skewed optical lens allowing for a whole lot of projection.
It is the proverbial elephant sitting in my room: my circumstantial birth to an American man and a Vietnamese woman during one of America’s most morally ambiguous wars. Just the thought of it brings forth so many loaded assumptions in both Vietnamese and American representations of the Other.
I wasn’t spared the rhetoric of competing political interests, so without any alternative on the horizon I fell into the clichéd storyline of the war orphan whose father was one of the roaming soldiers going around setting fire to thatched huts and raping the native women whenever he got the chance. With all the melodrama of a soap opera, my father became the enemy of my enemy. I demonized the man because he wasn’t here to defend himself and no one could tell me any different. No one presented any evidence to contradict my suspicions. His absence made it easy for me to dress him up in fatigues and stab him repeatedly, jerking his body back and forth, while shouting down at him. With such blinding anger, I went on holding the world up for ransom, demanding answers.
The addition of his DNA in the construction of my physical body subtly sickened me. Some days I couldn’t look myself in the mirror. Then, there were those odd days when I couldn’t stop glaring at myself in that same mirror wondering what parts of me I needed to cut off in order to feel whole again.
And, yet, intermittently, in one incarnation or another, he appeared in my thoughts and dreams as a smiling, doting father bending over to pick up his young protégé. As any proud little boy would do, I wanted to show and tell him what my new hobby was or what sport I was trying out for, or what I was thinking about at that moment. I not only sought his acceptance, but I also wanted to know that I was going somewhere and that I needn’t feel alone while on this journey. Instead, without him in the picture, and no one I could honestly trust, I felt as if I were always going astray and in desperate need of direction.
The appearance of normalcy and then the jarring absence of it affected in a deep way how I viewed and dealt with my adoptive father, as well as how he may have viewed and treated me. Out of respect and a healthy dose of fear, I didn’t want to tell my adoptive father how much I just wanted to be like all the other little boys I knew in my neighborhood who had fathers with looks that resembled their own. I was acutely aware of my illegitimacy among the other boys when I was with my adoptive father, especially when they looked from me to him and from him to me. My mind’s eye started viewing my adoptive father as a surrogate whom I wanted to replace with the man who sired me. I couldn’t stand being a paper son anymore. I vehemently wanted to erase the doubt in other kids’ minds as to whether or not I belonged to a family of my own.
There were times when I thought the only real emotion I possessed was anger. Although I was good at throwing it under the bed and hiding it, it would inevitably swell and regenerate into an inhuman beast that jumped out of nowhere at the most inconvenient times. It also didn’t help that the man who made me call him “dad” my whole life passed down his short fuse and barely tolerated my accidental infiltration into his household. Combine that with the feeling that there always seemed to be swaths of uncontrollable wildfires eating their way through my subconscious, and you can probably guess what kind of rueful young man I had become. I used to attribute some of those infernos to the man who, for reasons only known to him, didn’t come to claim me as his son when I was born.
Finding themselves directly in the path of my rage toward my biological father, my adoptive family simply became collateral damage when the emotional bombs came raining down all around me. My immature mind cut a deal between my pride and my insecurity that if my own father didn’t want me, and I couldn’t have him back, then I refused to allow anyone else to lay claim over me.
This exasperating thought may have been a contributing factor as to why I felt more and more pushed out of the clique that society liked to call my “family”. Looking anxiously back on it now, I believe it was me who was doing most of the pushing of my own Self out of their lives. I rejected their sphere of influence as a direct result of the man who made up the other half of my genealogy cutting himself off from me in order to eliminate me from his life.
Whenever people tried to convince me that my biological parents made the right decision to sacrifice their own happiness, and possibly their own lives, so that I would be given the chance to live a life in relative luxury, I wanted to string that obligatory gratitude around their necks and hang them with it so they could experience just how truly thankful I felt about being alive, as someone else’s property.
On those particularly harsh days and nights when I found myself being punished yet again for one of the myriad offenses I committed, I came to despise not only the family I was sent to live with, but also the very people who condemned me to live out this life without them even there to witness my falling star. With bitter tears running down my cheeks, I would lay my head down on my pillow and take up that whip and start flogging the whimpering mound of flesh I named ‘father’. I cursed this naked specter who filled my mother up with all his hatred for her people and her land. I tortured myself with the awful fake memory that my mother was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, and got in my father’s way, and so he had his way with her.
I now have to face the probability that my own apple didn’t fall far from my father’s twisted tree. I’m his living legacy, whether I like it or not. But, that certainly doesn’t mean I have to follow in his footsteps. I can now tell the difference between my shadow and his.
Now that I’m an adult, I’m slowly coming to terms that I may never know who my father actually was. There never has been any name, any picture, nor any rumors of an old guy two houses down who is asking about a son he may have left back in Vietnam. The wildfires within me have been reasonably contained, but they still smolder with the thought that no one, and yet everyone, is to blame for keeping my father from me and that I may never find the culprit(s). I’ve been comforting myself with the matter-of-fact idea that his bones could be buried deep in the ground anywhere on this planet, or he could be alive and living a rundown existence in a small town somewhere. The possibilities of his whereabouts or identity are simply endless.
I’ve also come to the realization that I, too, am an endless set of possibilities because my father may not even know about me yet. And, he probably never will.
Thinking out loud…
What exactly defines an “adoptee perspective?” In the most general sense, I guess it could mean “from the point of view of an adoptee,” but is there something more specific that makes an opinion, essay, poem, work of art, etc. particularly “adoptee?” If there is, then what are the characteristics that distinguishes it from that of non-adoptees?
As far as I can tell, there are none except the fact that we are adopted. There are signs we can look for in the case of TRAs. Ethnically mismatched names and faces, photos with racially different family members, but even those are extraneous and could be attributed to other factors.
Unlike the previously mentioned, a sense of rootlessness or not belonging can be conveyed as part of an adoptee point of view, yet even these fall short. While perhaps particular to an adoptee, they are not exclusive. So what the hell are we talking about when we say, “adoptee perspective?” And why am I even thinking about this?
I suppose it’s because recent events have forced me to ask myself some hard questions. The recent scandal and subsequent closing of adoptions from Việt Nam, the blog exchange between Kevin Minh Allen and Adam Theodore, recent events in my personal life, and some less than stellar experiences with adoptees and people from the media have all thrown me for a loop. I guess it’s going to take me a while to get my bearings.
There is a new term that’s floating around out there – TRAmbiguity. It was originally coined by TRA writer Bryan Thao Worra. Any number of definitions might be assigned to this term but I prefer to think of it as: a behavior and/or state of being specific (though not exclusive) to transracial adoptees that allows them to remain undefined – ambiguous. The reason I use “TRAmbiguity” is because I am a TRA and that is how I chose to define my existence based on my experience as a transracial adoptee.
I believe living between races and cultures has allowed me to fine-tune my diplomatic skills down to an art-form. That’s not to say I wasn’t sincere. The lens through which I see the world is very gray. At first, I considered TRAmbiguity as more of a tool, but have since come to accept it as a state of existence through which I’ve learned to navigate. There didn’t seem to be a lot of choice in the matter – not if I wanted to avoid getting stuck in the polarized world in which society says we should live. Vietnamese or American? White or Asian? For or against? Pro or anti? Who’s side are you on, anyway?
The nebulousness of TRAmbiguity becomes problematic when faced with situations where I’ve felt pressure to pick a “side” or take a stand on some issue. Sometimes that pressure is internal, sometimes it’s external and at other times, both. The pressure I exert on myself is much easier to manage as I understand its source. The external pressure, however, is outside my control. Dealing with it can be tricky. Of course, one would think neither should matter as long as one is true to oneself, but it’s rarely that simple.
A recent example could be the recent accusations of corruption and subsequent closing of adoptions from Việt Nam. I voiced my concerns quite loudly questioning whether it was wise to continue allowing adoptions from my birth country. In fact, I did feel it was prudent not to until things were sorted out.
Some could interpret that as a stance against adoptions from Việt Nam, against international adoption or adoption period. Yet all the while, I supported Ethica’s efforts to try and ensure that pending and any future adoptions from Việt Nam remained ethical. Some could interpret that as a my being for adoptions from Vietnam, for international adoption and/or adoption period. Both interpretations would have been wrong as I have never expressed either opinion and truly cannot think in such binary terms about adoption or anything else. Support, criticism or outright opposition to one thing need not imply generalized support or opposition to another.
Likewise, choosing to embrace one’s ambiguity need not prevent adoptees from taking strong stands on issues important to them. Support for open records and adoptee rights, pushing for stronger support for birth families, exposing corruption and abusive adoption practices and being critical of ones own adoption or adoption itself should not imply that one is against adoption as a whole.
Ideally it really shouldn’t matter, but functionally it does. Whether a person is perceived as either pro- or anti-adoption can influence who that person speaks to in the media and who speaks to that person. It can be a factor in who links you if you blog, determine whether one’s loyalties are questioned and by whom and sadly, determine who trusts whom and with what.
Being too ambiguous or diplomatic can create doubts about one’s loyalties, foster feelings of suspicion and can make it difficult for an adoptee to find a place in which they feel they “belong.” From an “adoptee perspective” that is perhaps the saddest of all outcomes, because many of us are specifically seeking comradery with our adopted peers. To end up isolated or falsely labeled is detrimental to adoptees as a community. Such a split weakens us and could be exploited for any number of agendas other than our own. If I must be against something, it is that.
The blog exchange between Kevin and Adam was encouraging and drove home the importance of Vietnamese adoptees having similar open discussions – adoptee to adoptee. I think it would be a productive venture to continue discussions started a few years ago and spark new ones relevant to current circumstances.
Unlike forums, blogs allow us the liberty of engaging one another in lively discussions from the comfort of our own “turfs” under our own terms. It’s encouraging to see more and more VN adoptees getting their perspectives out there on their own. Hopefully, that trend will continue to expand and deepen in expanse of topic and depth of discussion.
Perhaps once adoptees begin to actively define and broaden the meaning of “adoptee perspective” on our own terms, TRAmbiguity will no longer be a source of suspicion. Hopefully, it will come to be seen as a liberated state of existence that allows us to speak freely without the fear of being labeled. Maybe it’s just a pipe dream, but it seems like a worthwhile goal – especially if it leads to a greater sense of solidarity among us. At the risk of sounding sappy, that is where I think we’ll find our greatest strength and what will enable us to make some of our most worthwhile contributions.
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.
* * *
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?
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
Thank you for your interest. Can you please tell me a little more
about your follow-up story and our expected contribution to it?
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.
- 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.
- 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,…
- 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…
- 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.
ANGRATE ACTION ALERTS
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.
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.