Making Space at the Table

[Update 7/12] Thanks to the quick mobilization of the adoptee community in MN and beyond (see herehere, and here), Tom Weber of the Daily Circuit will be hosting a round-table discussion with adult adoptees on Friday morning, 9am CST.  Go team!

Yesterday MPR’s The Daily Circuit did a feature segment on the decline of international adoption. It came on the heels of the announced merger of Children’s Home Society & Family Services and Lutheran Social Services (a decision made for the financial survival of both agencies). The segment featured the executive leadership from both agencies, a pediatrician at an adoption clinic in Minneaplis (who’s also an adoptive father), and another adoptive father.  No adoptees were invited to join the panel, although two did call in later in the show.

Go listen to the show if you like…I found it disappointing.  Most times, I expect this, and don’t have the energy to call out the journalist. Frankly, it’s exhausting and frustrating, and after a while, I find myself half-jokingly wondering if I really am just a “bitter, angry adoptee” (someone needs to write a frickin’ book about that phrase and its insidious presence in the adoption world, by the way, but that’s a post for another day).

So, in the spirit of meaningful conversation and walking my talk that public radio can and should be a forum of and for the people, and the way to make it so is to show up and participate, I’ve submitted the following comment to their blog.  We’ll see if it is posted.

~

I am a Korean-American adoptee, born in 1983 and brought to the US through CHSFS at 3.5 months. I grew up in the Twin Cities and spent my childhood completely ignorant of the larger historical, political, and economic institutions that brought so many Korean children to this particular state. The stories I was told about my adoption focused only on the individual family-level. The few other adoptees that I knew were all told the same story: our mothers were poor and couldn’t afford to keep us, so they gave us up so we could have a “better life”. No one bothered to consider why all these women were so poor in the first place.

When I tuned in to listen to this show, I was hoping to hear a nuanced exploration and analysis of the legal, political, economic, religious and historical contexts that have shaped the adoption industry into what it is today. I was hoping that someone would talk about how cultural frameworks of what constitutes “family” determine who is considered “fit to parent,” and the implications those frameworks have on social welfare policies. In other words, why do we continue to see international adoption as a viable, permanent solution to the preventable problem of poverty?

I was hoping someone would talk about the financial underbelly of adoption–why does it cost so much, and what the heck is happening with that money? I was hoping someone would ask the real question: what are agencies doing to eliminate the need for adoption in the first place?

These questions, and so many more, are questions that would have offered a rich, deep, nuanced conversation about international adoption. Instead, what I heard was a bunch of agency insiders side-stepping questions about whether this decline in international adoptions was permanent or not, and a bunch of adoptive parents talking about how great adoption is. Not only did this program not actually answer any of the questions it set out to answer, it left a key voice out of the conversations: adoptees themselves.

I disagree with Meggan’s claim that adoption is not talked about in the media. Do a Google search on adoption.  There’s a ton of recent articles, blog posts, etc. that come up. It’s on TV shows like Glee and movies like Juno and Kung Fu Panda. There’s a million books, many by adoptive parents and a growing number from adoptees themselves. As Jane Jeong Trenka points out in her comment above, it’s been all over the media in the past several years. Several well-known journalists have recently used public media to share their personal stories as adoptive parents (Scott Simon or John Seabrooke ring a bell with anyone?). After the hurricane in Haiti there was a big NYTimes article about the issue of adoption of “orphans” from Haiti, raising the larger question of the ethics around using “crises” as a reason to increase international adoptions. Adoption’s in the media alright…but from the perspective of adoption agencies and adoptive parents, not birth parents or adoptees.

So, although I was disappointed that yet once again, adoptees were left out of the conversation, it’s with great sadness and frustration that I admit I wasn’t surprised at how MPR squandered a good opportunity to use the forum of public radio to actually engage in real dialogue. That’s been the status quo for years now.

Someday, someone’s going to figure out that we are an amazing group of people. There are over 200,000 Korean adoptees alone.  We are scholars, teachers, activists. We are poets, musicians, chefs, dancers…doctors, social workers, landscape architects and web designers. I myself am in the process of pursuing my calling to become a nurse-midwife. We are young and old, some of us have children of our own, and many of us are eager to share our stories. We don’t speak with one voice (what group ever does?), but I think most of us could agree that the adoptee voice is woefully lacking in the mainstream narratives of adoption, and there is not a single good reason why…except that few journalists have yet to show the courage to step outside of the space already occupied by the “experts” and invite us to the table.

I hope that MPR will consider following up on this story by taking Jane Jeong Trenka’s challenge and putting together a panel of adoptees to discuss the trends in international adoption. Shelise Geiseke, who blogs at Land of Gazillion Adoptees, has already put together a great list of possible panelists for you, which you can read here. I promise that it will be a thought-provoking, insightful hour of public radio, the kind of public radio that I would like to support.

Sincerely,

L. Soo Hee, Portland, OR

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6 responses to “Making Space at the Table

  1. Thank you for writing this letter, Lena. I was adopted in 1953 through CHSM. Just a run-of-the-mill domestic Caucasian, my only connection to international adoption is that I was the surprise result of assumed sterility after a bullet went through my father’s scrotum during the Korean War. Butterfly effect or something. I miss the old MPR, which I used to listen to daily. I’m not in Minnesota any more but, these days, public radio anywhere isn’t what it used to be. What a shame.

    • You’re welcome, Julie. You’ll be pleased to hear MPR, after hearing from many of us, has decided to do a round-table follow-up discussion on Friday, featuring adult adoptees. I don’t have more details yet, but it should be pretty awesome!

  2. Pingback: Agencies – Who Needs ‘Em? « Land of Gazillion Adoptees·

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