By Schylar Baber
At the age of six, I entered the Montana foster care system with my half-brother, after being removed from my physically and sexually abusive biological family. Thrust into a system that was intended to protect me, I experienced even more abuse and neglect. I went to eleven different foster homes, then group homes, residential treatment centers, and a flood of respite providers. I was separated from my brother and all contact with my biological family was cut off. I never achieved permanency in the system and aged out of care at eighteen without a transition plan or a known permanent connection; and yet, I not only survived – but also thrived.
I think the question I get asked most frequently is, “How did you become so resilient and so successful?” When I was younger the question frustrated me, because to me, it meant that people expected me to fail. There is a high amount of stigma that comes with being a foster kid. Many view foster kids as being troublemakers, and not just troublemakers, but bad enough that their own families wouldn’t want them. What many people don’t realize is that children in foster care aren’t bad kids. Rather, a lot of very bad things happen to children for them to wind up in care, such as abuse and neglect, and death. Children don’t earn foster care, it is thrust upon them. Foster care is intended to be a temporary safe-haven, but for orphans like me, we grow up and age out of foster care.
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.