By Joie Norby Lê, Ph.D.
Over the course of my life, people have been curious about my adoption story. It is a story that begins in the Vietnam War. At the time, adopting from Vietnam was as much a humanitarian movement as it was an opportunity for couples hoping to establish or expand a family. As such, questions about my adoption were numerous and while many people were supportive of my parents’ transracial, international adoption, it was still a tenuous time and the choice was not devoid of criticism by others. Adopting a child was one thing; adopting a child from an unpopular American war was quite another. Even so, my parents fielded the positive and negative comments with dignity and managed to pass on to me a healthy sense of love and belonging in a society that would not always afford me the same.
In the past forty-three years, I have come to understand that being adopted is an integral part of what defines me. It is not just about “being adopted” that shapes me, but rather how I learned to cope, to survive, and to reconcile the ambiguity of it all that gives my adoption context. People have asked me when I first knew that I was adopted. While many young children may not comprehend difference in a family that is based in acceptance and love, I always knew that I was not the same race as my adoptive family. It was not difficult to see the difference—my skin was as dark as theirs was light. Their eyes were as blue or green as were mine dark brown. Their characteristics became markers of what I considered to be “ideal” or “normal” because in my neighborhood, most of the other families were white as well. I understood that I was a child of another color, and while those in my closest circle of friends and family never blinked an eye about that difference, I soon realized not everyone felt the same. Racial confrontations were a constant in my life growing up. One of the most interesting aspects of transracial adoption is that it is not necessarily the difference in ethnicity that matters most to others, it is the difference in skin tone. While certainly children of any transracial adoption may be subjected to similar confrontation, I always felt that the stark dissimilarity between my family’s skin color and my own was the true determination of whether I would be accepted or rejected by society. If I had lighter skin, would it have been easier for me to integrate? While this remains speculation, I cannot help but consider that the darkness of my skin is what mostly relegated me to marginalized spaces. Couple that with misgivings about the Vietnam War and it would be safe to say that throughout my life, especially up until I turned eighteen, it was not easy being adopted. Continue reading
By Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker
I was about five years old, on a road trip with my parents somewhere in the South. We stopped at a campground and set up our tent, then headed to the pool area. Three kids, a boy a little older than me and two girls a little younger than me, were already in the kid’s pool. As my parents secured chairs, I began climbing into the pool with the other kids. Not one step in, the girls slid over to the boy with frightened expressions and he put his arms protectively around them. The boy gave me one of the meanest glares I had ever seen and said, “You can’t be here. You have to pay to be here.” I was confused, but assured him, “My parents paid, we’re staying here tonight.” He gave me the hateful stare again, his voice even harder, and said, “Well, you still can’t be here.” I didn’t say another word. I felt confused, afraid, ashamed, and humiliated. I slowly backed away from the pool and walked over to my parents, saying nothing.
This was the first time I remember experiencing racism…except, it wasn’t until I was much older that I recognized it as racism. At the time, I was just a young Indian-born adoptee, living under the umbrella of my parents’ white privilege, with no understanding whatsoever that there may be people in the world who don’t like me because of my skin color.
By Amanda Purvis, COPARC Project Director
Growing up in DC I was often times one of the only white people in a room. I grew up with friends who were born in India, Israel, Sudan, Iran, Burma, and Bali. We were all different colors, different economic classes, and all of our lunches looked and smelled completely differently. Play dates consisted of attending synagogue with a friend, before taking off my shoes and bowing to the Buddha at the entrance to the neighbor’s house, and finally racing home to not miss Wednesday night church. I grew up with all of the people. I didn’t realize what a privilege that was until the first day of seventh grade.
The summer between 6th and 7th grade, my parents moved our white, middle-class family back to their home, Colorado. My first day of seventh grade was nothing but terrifying; for all of the normal reasons. I remember when I finally got home (I forgot how to get home once I got off the bus and wandered the neighborhood for some time) my mom was waiting to greet me at the door. Her first question, “How was it?” my response, “Mom, everyone here is white. Where are we?”
Fast forward fifteen years, my husband and I became foster parents in the Denver Metro area. During one of our monthly visits we found out from our certification worker that we were currently the only family in three counties who was willing to take African American boys under the age of three. I first thought she was joking. She wasn’t. I started to get angry, and she could sense it. She explained that many families in the area weren’t racist, but felt that they couldn’t meet the needs of Black children within their community and didn’t want to expose them to negative racial experiences that might happen if they were to move into their neighborhoods.
I am still chewing on this explanation seven years later. Continue reading