24 May 2015

The Twinkie Chronicles … The Isolation Tank

This girl. She sat in the classroom, mostly alone between two seas … one black and one white. Listening … always listening.

Giggles would explode from one group or another. I would often laugh with the white girls, in hopes of “fitting in.” But when the tables turned and either group would make an Asian slight, I was utterly alone … and left laughing nervously with everyone, hoping it would end.

Recently, at the American Adoption Conference (AAC), I had a similar experience that Lost Daughter sister, Amira Rose documented. It went like this …
“Whoa, there was a hospitality suite? How did I miss that?!” (This was me, joking.) 
“Yes, we have been waiting just for you to arrive!” exclaimed the black bartender. I returned his warm smile and said a “thank you.” But then from the only other couple in the room … 
“Can’t you read?” asked the white man, deadpanned.  
“Yes.” I replied. 
“It was in here the whole time. Did you not read this?” he says as he points to the conference schedule book. “I mean, you appear to be an educated woman … ” There was a slight smile and hushed giggle from the white woman. At this, I just needed to flee. I had been here before. 
When discussing the many incidents at this predominantly white conference, I messaged this incident to Lost Daughters founder, Amanda Woolston. I had already heard excuses about why the man was “defensive,” how I needed to get a tougher skin and how I needed to get out more. But Amanda changed me. She said the words no other white person had ever said, “If [you] were white, would he have felt so free to be rude, specifically question [your] abilities and intelligence? The power imbalance of a white male speaking that way to a woman of color in a space where most people are white is incredibly hostile and racist.” When I read her words, I sobbed uncontrollably.

My perforated soul … each blow pierces my heart and bruises my self worth. Each time someone says something demeaning, I shrink … go into my hidey-hole. 

At the AAC, my fellow adoptee Lost Daughter sister, Angela, asked why I laughed nervously sometimes. I couldn’t really answer her. She then said, “You seem fragile.”

I am. I was. I have always looked at women like Angela and wished that I could feel as strong and empowered, like the united front of black girls from my high school with their confidence and bravado. In the 1980s, I longed to emulate them and Lisa Bonet. Having finally secured a job where I could buy clothes, I began to morph into Denise Huxtable. I shrank from the white girls group that I had once coveted. I found my isolation tank.

The most validating moments of my senior year in high school came from the black girls. They wrote me beautiful, sincere notes in my yearbook.

In the Dear Wonderful You video, I speak of this cyclical self I created. Over and over again as I entered a new environment, I began my cycle as an outgoing, white wannabe. I did whatever it took to assimilate. Polo shirts … check. Join a fraternity little sis group … check. Be the graduate school student representative on committees … check. 

But none of this worked. The off-hand comments, the “you almost look normal,” the references to Yoko Ono or Connie Chung, the tokenism of being the “model minority” … all served to place me below the white privilege. Eventually, I would shrink and hide. 

In this solace of aloneness, I would find my voice again and reemerge strong, yet guarded. Each new environment or new acquaintance began the cycle again. 

Today, Twitter has allowed me the freedom to speak strongly and hide, while here on my blog, I reveal more of my vulnerabilities. Having these two parts of myself is exhausting. 

Each tweet or means of speaking out gives me so much validation and relief, but then, the adoptee guilt and adoption loyalty set in. In public spaces, I use walls, podiums and my reading glasses to separate myself, protect myself and hide in the open. I use laughter and my comical façade to mask my pain and humiliation.

As the Lost Daughters take to the road and do more speaking engagements, I fear the notice. I hide in my room. I realize I like the loneliness and isolation. It’s comfortable and safe.

And yet, I know that by hiding I am not claiming my space to be heard.

The valve on the radiator has held back long enough. There have been long pshhhhhhhhts and short, angry spurts of steam. Pressure is building.

This cartoon from Empathize This illustrates what is brewing in many of us.

Shared with permission from Empathize This.

14 May 2015

The Twinkie Chronicles … Parent School Meetings

Last week, an email was buzzing around the school community in the near west side of Madison.

In it, the parent wrote:
“It has not yet been announced to families but the world languages program at [Middle School] will be drastically cut. This will affect all kids except for the DLI/DBE (bilingual Spanish) program (My kids are in the DLI program so they won’t be affected but I’m concerned for the majority of students at [Middle School], who aren’t in that program). What I have learned through the grapevine and is at this point only been reported to some teachers, is that 7th graders will only be able to take language for 1/4 of the year and for a full year in 8th grade year. (The current program is full 7th and 8th grade years which is equivalent to one year of HS). This cut has a HUGE impact on students potential to articulate into the high school program and will likely increase, not decrease the achievement gap for a large percentage of [Middle School] students.”
An email campaign that flooded the Middle School principal prompted the school to have an open forum to discuss the changes in curriculum. Photo below shows the high numbers of white students who do not speak Spanish at home as a percentage of the DLI (Dual Language Immersion) program.

My reasonings for going were to hear what was exactly happening. I knew of the DLI program in Madison and its impact on kids at different elementary schools. I had seen this program as a means of providing language immersion for students who did not speak Spanish at home. As was restated many times at this meeting, “Kids need to be bilingual in order to be competitive in the workforce.” 

I couldn’t agree more, however, the students everyone in this room were talking about were white, affluent students with supportive parents at home. 

No one seems to talk about the students who already speak Spanish or those who just want to survive day to day living. Students of color were not the subject of this meeting, though the principal was trying to bring the conversation back to the ones most impacted by the achievement gap.

The principal seemed blindsided by the number of parents in the room. He was also not fully prepared to handle the questions. His intentions were well-meaning as he had agreed to this last-minute meeting but did not know the full extent of the privilege he would face.

There were certainly pearls of wisdom in the room … foreign language helps in learning the language of computer programming … kids need creative courses … middle school is not so much academics but a time to find what you enjoy … “language teaches literacy.”

Again, I completely agree with many of these sentiments, but again, the parents in the room were talking about their children.

They were not talking about the ones whose parents were not in the room …

… kids whose parents were most likely working the second shift at the time of this meeting.
… kids whose parents did not have transportation to get to the meeting.
… kids whose parents are fearful of coming to the meetings because they do not speak English well and would need an interpreter who English-speaking parents often have non-verbal disapproving body language as they glare at the “disruptive” interpreter.
… kids who get a crash course in English as a second language to integrate in the classroom, only to later be denied work as an adult based on the sound of their name on their resumé.

… and finally, the kids who for the last three years have been double-dipped (given a second period in the day of a course they have failed in order to close the gap) because their parents couldn’t start an email campaign to stop it.

Last night’s meeting happened because parents discovered that their children would now be double-dipped with all the others at the expense of cutting a foreign language.

When I spoke, all the feelings of knowing the othering came to the forefront. I was emotional as I tried to express my difficulty with what I was hearing, but amidst all this, a white woman interrupted me. I hadn’t finished, but she wanted desperately to share her rebuttal. 

I had had a day of being belittled by an adoptive parent, and this was the straw that broke my back. I said, “Do you mind, I’m not finished.” I regret that (and my Southern mother was turning over in her grave). It discredited everything I had said before. I listened as this woman went after me, listing all her credentials as a World Languages leader and teacher. But where are the credentials in fully understanding the injustices of the others?

I do not have the World Languages certification, and I did not have a full understanding of what was happening. I do, however, see the injustices in the classrooms, in the hallways and have had glimpses of them as I have driven the children I spoke of above home.

None of this was talked about. None of this is ever discussed.

One final word from one of the parents was that she understood the systemic problems of the achievement gap and the racial disparities, but she wondered how it could be solved in that room and in that school by just a curriculum change. 

It cannot, but there needs to be a shift in how we teach. How we reach children who are hurting, children who desire inclusion, and children who just want equity in the classroom. Meetings such as this one only reinforced the true divisions, the illusions of white liberalism and the vast chasm between the haves and have nots.

10 May 2015

My anger protects my pain.

I dread today. That sounds selfish and unkind … especially to those this day is made for …

… those with intact families,
… those who have not lost children,
… those who have not lost mothers,
… those who profit from the expression of love through material items.

I sound bitter and angry. I am.

I have repeated this many times … my anger protects my pain.

As I watched my social media flood with photographs of those who look just like their mothers, it pained me for they have their mother’s eyes, her nose, her lips, her skin-coloring and her hands. They have a physical reference.

Here is where I hate myself. I hate that I feel this way. Here is the person adoption proponents and agencies hold up to say, “See? Look how ungrateful she is. She was loved to such a degree. She was saved from the throes of poverty and woe in Korea as a child of a single mother.”

And yet, what they chose to ignore is that on any other day, I relish the joy of seeing people smile in the comfort of Mom, but on Mother’s Day, I envy it. I want it.

I had it … once … twice and now. I had six months with my mother, seven with my foster mother and Mom’s entire shared lifetime. But those moments of motherhood are now fleeting memories, relegated to the frozen moments in time that film could capture or the moment that only my cellular tissue could memorize.

Luckily for me today, my first read of the day was a post from a new friend, April Dinwoodie of The Donaldson Adoption Institute. I met her at the American Adoption Conference, and we became fast friends. The image below shows Angela Tucker, Kat Nielsen, Dinwoodie and me breakfast fresh!

I could quote Dinwoodie’s entire post, but that wouldn’t do her words justice. You must take the time and read it all. She brought me back … to sanity. She reminded me of focus and purpose.

A little anger doesn’t harm if the intention behind it is well-meaning, right? My purpose is to help the children of adoption sort out their feelings. My purpose is to bring validation to those feelings because it’s okay to own your feelings. They are your feelings, your narrative, your life.

It’s okay to consult qualified professionals (social workers, therapists, psychologists) and allow them to help you sort it out. It’s okay to long for something you just cannot put your finger on.

I longed for the beauty of seeing myself reflected in someone. Today, I have that. My own family is my start from scratch, now that my adoptive parents are deceased. My children are my joy. We share DNA and the longing to be loved. We share the sorrow of loss and the shortcomings of adoption.

My day ended with this beautiful recital piece by my daughter. As she played and a few others too (including a few adoptees), I let the tears fall. Music has always moved me, and these young musicians brought me peace on a day that had also brought me pain.