Rambling thoughts on “Fear”

Jae Ran at Harlow’s Monkey has written a thought-provoking post on the debilitating fear of adoptive parents when their internationally-adopted children begin to search for their natural parents.

I’ve always known that my parents loved me, they just didn’t like to share. They didn’t want to share me with my Korean family and they didn’t want to share me with the Korean American community.

When I listen to adult adoptees talk about their search stories or when I watch movies like First Person Plural or Daughter of Danang, to be honest, I feel most for the Korean or Vietnamese families. How could those children become such strangers? Of course, there’s some kind of estrangement in any adoption, even domestic ones. But the cultural chasms here seemed unbridgeable.

I worry about this for my own daughter. Just as my immigrant parents must have worried that their children were getting too Americanized, I worry that my daughter won’t be Asian enough for me, what more for her first parents. A Korean friend of mine has similar worries. She fears her children won’t be speaking fluent enough Korean for her to be able to communicate effectively with them as teenagers and as young adults. Something will be lost in their exchanges if their Korean doesn’t get up to par. Language does have a lot to do with my worries as well. We both think of Seung-Hui Cho, obviously, as the worst-case scenario.

Maybe there’s another elephant in the room. White adoptive parents may fear not just losing their children to their first families and to the past but may fear their becoming more “other” than they would like. They may fear their work of re-making their children will go to naught.

Jae Ran concludes: 

Adoption is not just about “building families.” It’s about the most traumatic event in a child’s life – separation from his or her first parents – and the placement of that child into another family. Adoptive parents MUST face the fact that while they are the parents in charge of raising this kid to adulthood, that child still has a history and a story and a family that exists outside the adoptive parent’s scope of control.

“Building adoptive families” too often means: in order to fit in the new family, children must be stripped of their foreign-ness (name, family, citizenship, religion, culture). But adoptive parents are not alone in doing this. Society contributes in a major way by showing its lack of tolerance for diversity. If an immigrant parent finds it hard to raise a child in such an environment, what more an adoptive parent? (Not that many of the latter even try.) In an ideal world, society should be helping adoptive and immigrant parents to preserve their children’s heritage. A glaring example: If Americans can celebrate the anniversary of an English settlement like Jamestown with such fanfare, why can’t “other settlers” do the same for their traditions, like Mexican Independence Day?

3 thoughts on “Rambling thoughts on “Fear”

  1. Yes, yes, yes. I recently made a statement that I fear was too harsh, saying that I really thought that American A-parents were obliged to help their internationally adopted children learn their first language, to better equip them to communicate with their first families/countries should they ever choose to go back for visiting/work/reunion/anything. I really think that language/culture chasm is so heartbreaking, too.

    Is that even realistic? How many families would ever agree to such a thing? I fear a fraction of a percent.

  2. I didn’t mean to let a-parents off the hook entirely. As A. would say, it’s about giving children access and opportunity to learn. As another friend would say, it’s about giving them permission. I wanted to add that society also bears a responsibility. In essence, children are transferred across borders without their consent, they didn’t ask to lose their language/culture. If society values diversity it ought to help preserve a child’s first language/culture.

  3. Susan, I don’t think that statement was too harsh. Why shouldn’t adoptive parents attempt to minimize the losses of their children? I believe not speaking your language of origin is a huge loss.

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