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Think. Discuss. Act. Adoption

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Review: A Sisterhood Made Not Born

Yenawine, J.S. (1997, November 8). A Sisterhood Made Not Born. Whatever: A weekly column by writers in their twenties. The Boston Globe, pp. C5,C6.

Summary

(Download Sisterhood Made overview as a PDF)

Pondering a newborn baby’s expressions at the adoption agency where she had begun working, this writer pondered adoption in her own family:

Mi Hae became part of my family through adoption from Korea when she was 7 months old. My parents named her Jenny, but a few years ago she took back her birth name. She is now 25, and I am 28, and we have passed through the competitiveness of childhood and the grouchiness of teenage years spent sharing a room that was far too small. We are now arriving at a point of some real understanding.

Partly because of my new job, we have talked a lot about her adoption, and my version of Mi Hae’s integration into our family has begun shifting…I have always thought that ‘forgetting’ (that her sister was really Korean) was a mark of how natural it was to me that we were family. Only recently did I begin to think about the fact that Mi Hae could never ‘forget’ that she looked differently.

Ironically, Mi Hae fit in at our nearly all-white high school in Vermont better than I did. In our school, as in most, to be ‘different’ was to die a slow, lingering death. While I survived by merely fading into the background and turning the Violent Femmes up loud, Mi Hae proved she belonged with clothes, makeup, a dizzying whirl of extracurricular activities. Looking back now, I know Mi Hae fit in better partly because she had more at stake.

We did not talk much then about how race and adoption affected us; time and experience are teaching us now their significance. Now in our almost-daily phone conversations, these issues come up naturally. She tells me that she feels scarred because her birth bond with her first mother was broken. I hear that racism was an everyday part of her life growing up in Vermont. She challenges the rightness of her adoption by a white family, into a culture far removed from the one she was born to.

The writer explains how, rather than saying she does not wish to be part of her adoptive family; her sister is rather expressing the hurt of things lost in separation and suffered in the process of integration and adjustment. “Adoption is as much about the loss of a family as it is about the completion of one.”

Joan and Mi Hae have come to accept each other as sisters “with inseparable histories that bind us securely to each other. We are each other’s best, most stalwart, and oldest friend.” They have moved from denying to accepting the differences between them, and in that acceptance found the difference to be less than they once feared.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What most impresses or distresses you in reading this article?
  2. How important is the identity crisis for teenagers and young adults? What is it more crucial and painful for them at that age? How does “fitting in” and peer pressure relate to the working out one’s identity?
  3. Do adults understand “the slow, lingering death” felt by teens taunted or silently ignored for not fitting in?
  4. What do you feel and what do you believe about interracial adoption? Can you speak to its benefits and its disadvantages?

Implications

  1. It is crucial for adults and society generally to understand the importance and difficulty in the adolescent identity crisis. Working out one’s ethnic or racial identity (as well as sexual, social, vocational identities) is part of this process. Teenagers feel a self-conscious pressure to define themselves and fit in that early and later ages do not feel…at least not with the same intensity.
  2. It is also crucial for children and young people to have supportive families in which to be protected and nurtured. Orphans and neglected infants and children desperately need families.
  3. As a child grows, the influence of social systems such as school, media, community, and friends become more important as the influence of the family wanes somewhat. The provision of family must therefore be considered along with other factors in weighing the appropriateness of interracial adoptions.
  4. There is probably no absolute answer to whether or not white parents should ever adopt a black child or a Euro-family receive an Asian infant into its family by adoption. It is clear that ethnic, racial, and identity issues must be taken seriously and that the adoptive family must make strong commitments to the culture of the adopted child.
Dean Borgman
© 2017 CYS

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