Ethiopia is Ending International Adoptions: Today’s State Department Conference Call

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National Adoption Awareness Month can be triggering for many adoptees, but it can also feel like a month of urgency to get involved and talk about adoption in a critical and transparent way. Today, I and other adoption community members, majority of them being adoptive parents (no shock there), engaged in a conference call held by the Department of State to discuss the current suspension of intercountry adoptions in Ethiopia.

While the conversation was enlightening, I couldn’t help but notice how so much of the conversations and questions was centered around advocacy efforts to push back against the Ethiopian government and to advocate on behalf of prospective adoptive parents. One person on the call even thanked the embassy for advocating for families. And for a moment, I caught myself gasping, because I thought to myself, yes adoption is a viable option for some, but shouldn’t we think about the impact it has on birth families and adoptees?

Why do adoptive parents continue to see themselves as victims when Ethiopia is pushing back on intercountry adoptions?

The State Department gave back instructions in April asking agencies not to make referrals for new adoptions, citing reasons for adoption coming to a halt due to corruption, the welfare of adopted children, and the lack of post placement reports. I would add another reason as an adoptee: the erosion of biological families, who are often left out of the conversation. However, prospective adoptive parents continue to hold a sense of entitlement and a sense of ethnocentrism which conveys that children are better off with them, and give no acknowledgment that Ethiopia’s efforts to end adoption might be positive.

Hopefully the Ethiopian government will work to reunify families and invest in family preservation efforts. As the call came to an end today, I decided to ask a question, based on the tone of the conversation, hoping that it would allow those fierce advocates for adoption to pause. My question was “Why does the State Department think Ethiopia has decided to end intercountry adoptions?” Their response walked a fine and diplomatic line, citing issues of severing cultural ties, welfare of children, and lack of post adoption reports.  I honestly asked this question to see how critical their response back would be. Again, it wasn’t surprising. While they acknowledged corruption, they didn’t cite possible trafficking, the murdering of adopted children, rehoming or displacement, because their job isn’t to critically educate people invested in adoption. It is to continue to push for adoption as a viable solution despite ethical dilemmas. Many of you might read this and ask me what side I’m on, why am I so anti adoption. I’m not.  Adoption has touched and impacted me in positive ways, but I and many adoptees have also been the victims of unethical practices that benefited many adoptive parents and caused birth parents pain and heartache that will last a lifetime and impact generations to come.

So my sense of advocacy comes from being a privileged adoptee who’s had the opportunity to reunite with my Ethiopian family and get answers regarding my relinquishment, but who also has spent hours on the phone with adoptees who have been harmed and paralyzed by the injustice of adoption. While I don’t know the intentions of the Ethiopia government, I hope that ending intercountry adoptions means providing services for families separated by poverty and for adoptees to have access to their birth records or any information. I’m no longer looking for the United States government to make a structural difference, despite having heard from numerous adoptees. I am sure that adoptees and their Ethiopian families need to be the ones to bring about long overdue change.

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Being Black in White Liberal Seattle

I’ve often wondered about the experiences of black adoptees raised in an all white environment, where they had very little contact with people of color. Moving from DC area to Seattle has made clear to me how exhausting, isolating, and alienating life can be as a black person in a sea of white liberalism.

About 8 months ago, my daughter and I flew out of Reagan National and landed at SeaTac. Settling into Seattle, WA, the 5th whitest city in America, has been a huge cultural shock in more ways than one. I was raised in a diverse community with people of different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, which I believe in many ways gave me an extremely balanced perspective on the black experience and a strong black identity. Even so, I don’t think anyone could’ve ever prepared my daughter and me for the challenges and complexities of living amongst well-intended progressive white liberals.

As an outsider, before moving here, I was somewhat blinded and misled by the utopian rhetoric of Seattle and its racial progressiveness. That veneer can at times undermine and silence the injustices that many blacks feel in Seattle. My curiosity began to kick in after I’d been here a while, and I searched the web for black voices in Seattle. I’d hoped they would give me better insight about the experiences of black people in Seattle, but that in itself became challenging: there weren’t many resources out here. I felt deprived and alienated.

I soon started to grapple with the realization of how exhausting it is to be black in a predominately white environment.

The racist incidents here have ranged from small (“What kind of name is that?” “Your hair is nappy.” “Your name is funny.”) to overt, tinged with violence (My daughter was told by a 3rd grade classmate: “My grandfather said he would kill a black person if they ever came to my house.”). I began to see painful parallels between my daughter’s experiences and those of thousands of transracial adoptees who are raised in racial isolation, with no contact with people of color.

The huge difference in her experience is that she has a black mom who can validate those experiences as real and painful. I have found myself engaging in many conversations of self worth and acceptance with my daughter, with the hopes of repairing the damage and preserving the innocence of a compassionate, accepting and loving 9 year old whose world had been turned upside down. I have gone to bat for her at school in handling the racist incidents, and modeled for her how to negotiate a white world that is often shocked to hear about racism in its midst.

The harsh reality of living in a predominately white environment is that your space is violated intentionally and unintentionally more often than you’d like through microagressive comments and other forms of racism. You begin to feel and internalize the weight of racial scrutiny. This is true for my child, and for me, an adult. My world started feeling unfamiliar, more intense, and I began to observe everything that made me different from the people around me: my name, my hair, my blackness. Those differences made me become more conscious than ever of my race and reality. They reminded me that racism is systemic, and that liberal empathy is an insufficient solution.

If I wanted to reclaim my own space and strength, I had to fiercely advocate for my child, and engage and connect with other black people in Seattle, which isn’t easy. Even traditional black spaces are predominately occupied by white people, whether it’s a talk about Blacks in Seattle or panel discussions on Hip Hop as a Form of Activism. The biggest challenge I faced and continue to face is the lack of accountability and recognition of white privilege amongst white liberals, who are undoubtedly misinformed and in denial about racism.

As I continue to find my way in a space that doesn’t quite feel like home, I’m reminded of the strength and resilience of many black people, especially transracial adoptees who manage to remain strong in completely isolated communities. I’m also grateful that my white parents raised me amongst people of color who I can call my best friends, teachers, and mentors. If I had not had that experience, my solidarity with black people wouldn’t feel as validating and powerful and positive as it does. In a racially divided nation, black children’s self worth will be constantly challenged, in the classroom, the neighborhood, the court room, and across social media. What makes those challenges manageable as they grow up is the strong bonds they create with other black people, and the reassurance they gain through meaningful connections and engagement.

 

Zariyah in Seattle

Lions Roaring, Far From Home

2016 is going to be a great year for Ethiopian Adoptees of The Diaspora . Our upcoming anthology, Lions Roaring Far From Home will include essays by Ethiopian adoptees from the US, Canada, Spain, France, Holland and Sweden, ages 8 to 47. Edits are done and author agreements will be sent out in the next 2 weeks. In the interim, we are creating a website for the book. In the next few months, we will launch a fundraiser to help with the cost of the translation, publication, and marketing. This probably has been one of the most fulfilling projects that I’ve been a part of, and of course it wouldn’t be possible with out Maureen McCauley Evans and Kassaye. Stay tuned!

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Ethiopian Adoptees Are Also the Diaspora

When we discuss the Ethiopian Diaspora, people typically think of immigrants, refugees, and Ethiopian Americans. Adoptees often times are not acknowledged as part of the diaspora, not purposefully but because people are not aware of us. We are a wave of immigrants through adoption who have been displaced in many ways. Balancing our multiple identities as Ethiopians, Africans, Blacks, and Immigrants is a constant struggle. We never really feel at home in one place.

Although we share many parallels with Ethiopian immigrants and Ethiopian Americans, we often lack cultural confidence and competence. The huge disconnect for us as adoptees is that we in many ways don’t feel Ethiopian enough. Having been raised by white parents has stripped us of our Ethiopian identities and put us at a cultural disadvantage and isolation. For me, creating a community for Ethiopian adoptees was critical. When I established Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora (EAD) with my co-founder Annette Kassaye, our mission was to create a space for adoptees to feel connected and at home. We’ve only been around for 6 months, and already the support and feedback have been amazingly empowering. Our Facebook fan page is at almost 600 likes. We have been contacted by journalists in Canada, the US, and Europe, and we have done interviews for newspapers and radio shows. We have appeared on TV through our involvement with the #flipthescript campaign, thanks to Lost Daughters. We have also spoken at conferences in Boston, NYC, and St. Louis.

Our most exciting venture is our upcoming anthology, Lions Roaring, Far From Home: An Anthology By Ethiopian Adoptees, which aims to tell the stories of Ethiopian adoptees in the diaspora. We have already had submissions from adoptees in Ethiopia, U.S, Canada, UK, France, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium. It’s very exciting, and the perspectives of our contributors (as we envisioned) have a lot of variety.

The most impactful moment for me has been the support and feedback we’ve received from various Ethiopian communities. Through our work with EAD, the gap and disconnect between us adoptees and the Ethiopian community could possibly be bridged. Most recently, we connected with Ethiopian Diaspora Fellowship (EDF),  whose mission is to promote leadership development, public service, creative storytelling, training, and peer-to peer mentorship. They seek to increase cultural identities and to be a catalyst for growth and change in Ethiopia. Currently, EDF and EAD are working together to see how we could be of service to each other. Ethiopian Diaspora Fellowship has an amazing program to train Ethiopian Americans in the U.S and then send them to Ethiopia to work and volunteer in Ethiopia. This perfectly ties into what we at EAD hope to do some day. While we are a community working on adoption-related issues, one of our missions is to also go back and give back to Ethiopia. Aligning ourselves with organizations like EDF allows us to build our community worldwide. Although EAD’s following is largely by the adoption community, specifically adoptive parents of Ethiopian children, our hope is to expand our network and connect with Ethiopian immigrants, refugees, and all who are a part of the Ethiopian diaspora community.

Connecting with Rediate,the founder and Executive Director of Ethiopian Diaspora Fellowship, made me realize the need for educating the Ethiopian community about the adoptee community. Contrary to what others may believe, adoption in Ethiopia is a taboo, often misunderstood ,and its realities are often poorly communicated. Many Ethiopians understand issues regarding adoption, but the need for transparency with the community is very critical. While educating the Ethiopian community about adoption, I hope to make people more aware of the complexities, and to open doors for other possibilities to help families in need. Our next big step at Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora is to establish ourselves as a non-profit organization, especially as we move toward establishing a presence in Ethiopia for adoptees who are there to visit, live, work, volunteer, search for their Ethiopian family, or learn about their culture. EAD is rapidly growing. Many thanks to those who continue to support us.

Girl's hands holding globe --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis
Girl’s hands holding globe — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

I Am Black History: Ethiopian Adoptees on Race, Identity, and More

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I am Ethiopian, Ethiopian-American, black, African-American, American, and African. I am also an adoptee, an immigrant, and part of the African Diaspora. All these identities and categories have had different impacts in my life. As part of Black History Month, I collaborated on a video with three other Ethiopian adoptees (three of us raised in the US, one in Canada).

You can view it here: I Am Black History.

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My thanks to Rahel Tafere

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To Annettte-Kassaye

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And to Mekdes SOulgarden.

You are all so beautiful, speaking truth to power.

Thank you also to Bryan Tucker of Closure for his incredible patience and talent in editing. My sisters at Lost Daughters have given me so much support and inspiration as we continue to #flipthescript.

Please watch our video, and share it with others. Let us know your thoughts. “Black History” means so much more than a month on the calendar.

Ethiopian Adoptees: Our Voices in Black History

Black History Month is a month set aside to learn, honor, and celebrate the achievements of black men and women through history who have paved the way for many people like myself. To honor Black History Month, I have collaborated with 3 transracial Ethiopian adoptees on a video project which aims to educate others on how Ethiopian adoptees fit into Black History Month.

Although most of us identify with being Ethiopian first, as transracial adoptees we’ve had to juggle multiple identities such as being immigrants, Ethiopian American, African, and black. Those multiple identities sometimes can be challenging and hard for us to explain to others. Often times our identities are challenged, with some people considering us not to even be black, and some who challenge the authenticity of our Ethiopian identities.

My hope with this project is also to pave a way for Ethiopian adoptees to be a part of the adoption discourse. I think it’s very important for us to share our experiences, because oftentimes our stories are being told through the adoptive parent perspective. That needs to be challenged and changed: no one should be speaking for adoptees except the adoptees themselves. Ethiopian adoptees may be the youngest wave of adoption to the United States, but we are loud and proud and ready for our voices to be heard.

I would like to thank my sisters at Lost Daughters for inspiring me through their #flipthescript campaign which was launched during National Adoption Month, and which I was also a part of. This project could have not been possible without Bryan Tucker, who is the producer of the highly regarded adoption documentary Closure and a huge adoption ally. Last but not least I would like to acknowledge Annette Kassaye, who has really been an amazing friend and teammate on this project. Looking forward to sharing this exciting venture with you all–the video will come out at the end of this month. Amaseganallo! Thank you!

The shadow of a supporter of Ethiopia's Unity for Democracy and Justice party (UDJ) is seen through an Ethiopian flag during a demonstration in the capital Addis Ababa

Écoutez: The Voice of a French Ethiopian Adoptee

From Aselefech:  I am very happy today to share on my blog the story of a fellow Ethiopian adoptee. His name is Yared, and he lives in France. My good friend Annette-Kassaye interviewed him, and the story is below.

While many current Ethiopian adoptees are teenagers or younger, many of us are adults. And while many Ethiopian adoptees were brought to the US, many of us also have been raised in western Europe, Canada, and Australia. We are a unique, vibrant, important part of the African Diaspora. We may have had very different experiences, wherever we grew up. We may speak many different languages, and Amharic may not be one of them. Still, we have important stories to share, and this is a start.

As a global community, Ethiopian adoptees are connecting. We are seeing this at Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora on Facebook. (If you are an Ethiopian adoptee, anywhere in the world, please join us here.)The common themes are the hope of visiting Ethiopia, the complexity of searching for birth families, the complications of reunions, and the ways to give back to Ethiopia. Some of us are beginning to work on programs to underwrite adoptees’ return trips to Ethiopia, as well as the creation of a “home base” there for adoptees only. We envision this as a place where adoptees could find support, information, and resources while in Ethiopia.

Sharing our stories is one way of beginning this work. I want to thank Annette-Kassaye (adopted to Canada) and Yared (adopted to France) for working together to share Yared’s story here. Annette-Kassaye and Yared have never met in person, but have talked together, in French, several times. Please note that the French version is below the English. Many thanks, merci beaucoup, to Yared, for being willing to tell his story.

Making French Connections

By Annette-Kassaye

 About a month ago, I stumbled on a Facebook group called Les Adoptés d’Éthiopie (The Adoptees of Ethiopia) with over 350 members. This was a pleasant surprise! I had no idea that such a large community of French-speaking adult Ethiopian adoptees exists in Europe, especially in France. As an Ethiopian-Canadian who learned French and English as a child, I quickly started participating in the discussions. I posted links to American adoptee initiatives like Gazillion Voices and Lost Daughters, two adoptee-led groups in which I participate.

Some of the French adoptees appreciated my keen interest in their group and private messaged me; with others, I had lengthy Skype chats. Through our conversations, I was surprised to find many similarities between our experiences as adoptees. In many instances, our adoptive parents were not well prepared to deal with the complexity of adoption and with us. We adoptees have had to struggle to find our way and to make sense of our situation, usually by ourselves.

Interestingly, some of the adoptees in the French group knew each other from having lived in the same orphanage or had been adopted through the same agency. Still, many of them informed me that talking about their adoption in anything but a positive light is taboo—even with other adoptees. At the same time, many, including me, believe that adoption will only improve if adoptees start sharing their views and experiences.

This is the beginning of what I hope and believe will be part of a larger project in which Ethiopian adult adoptees, not children, tell their stories.

Meet Yared…

 As told to Annette-Kassaye

 Strength, courage and resilience: not words we usually associate with six year olds. When he was probably less than six years old, Yared says he was abandoned by his father after having had a fight. Yared lived on the streets of Addis Ababa, surviving by polishing shoes, carrying luggage and selling snack food to earn money for food. He became very ill at one point, and was taken to a doctor by two women. They advised him not to return to the streets, deciding to take him to the Missionaries of Charity orphanage. Not long afterwards, he was adopted by a French family.

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In Dijon, Yared learned French extremely fast, and was a good student. He excelled in sports and had a lot of friends. Yared says that he wanted to fit in so much that he even asked for his name to be changed to “François” changed. His parents finally decided to modify his name to Yared-François. Even so, growing up as an Ethiopian adoptee in France was not always easy. His parents were always there for him, Yared acknowledges, though their relationship has not always been smooth.

While on the surface, Yared was a well-adapted adopted child, he says he often felt pulled between two worlds, two very different worlds. Although Yared doesn’t have many positive memories of Ethiopia, he says that he was very sad to leave…because it was his home. When you are adopted, Yared says, you don’t decide that. Someone decides for you, usually someone unknown to you. Even after 13 years away from Ethiopia, twice as long as he lived there, he remains very attached to his homeland.

While his French life provided him with many material comforts, Yared is clear that his years living on the street ultimately prepared him for the challenge of growing up as a French-Ethiopian adoptee. His advice for young adoptees is “de ne jamais baisser les bras,” which translates into never put your hands down, or never give up. While Yared recognizes that being adopted has given him many opportunities, he firmly believes that the best way to help Ethiopian children is to make sure they get an education, and to create sustainable employment opportunities so that parents can provide for their families and not be forced to relinquish their children.

Yared’s childhood years in Ethiopia shaped his life profoundly, and he attributes both the struggles and the triumphs to his life there. In the future, he hopes to give back to Ethiopia. This past spring, Yared successfully obtained his French Baccaleauréat and plans to attend university next year. In just a few weeks, Yared will be returning to Ethiopia for the first time in 13 years. We wish him safe travels, and look forward to hearing about his journey.

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Il y a quelques semaines, j’ai découvert le groupe Facebook appelé Les Adoptés d’Éthiopie, qui compte plus de 350 membres. Quelle surprise! Je ne savais pas qu’il y avait autant d’adoptés éthiopiens francophones en Europe! Heureuse de découvrir des gens parlant la même langue que moi, j’ai commencé à participer aux discussions… Peut-être un peu trop, même! J’ai pris l’initiative de publier plusieurs liens sur des projets menés par des adoptés, tels que Gazillion Voices et Lost Daughters, des groupes desquels je suis membre.

Certains ont appréciés mon enthousiasme et m’ont envoyé des messages en privé. J’ai aussi eu de nombreuses conversations sur Skype et Google Hangout. J’étais éblouie par les similitudes de nos expériences, même si nous vivons dans des pays et cultures différentes. Dans la plupart des cas, nos parents adoptifs n’étaient pas préparés à affronter les défis liés à l’adoption. Ils n’avaient pas envisagé que l’adoption était un processus aussi complexe et compliqué. Nous, les adoptés, avons dû trouver nos propres chemins et trouver un sens à notre situation, et ce souvent, par nous-même.

Certains des adoptés avec qui j’ai parlé se sont connus en Éthiopie: ils étaient dans les mêmes orphelinats ou furent adoptés par les mêmes associations de parents adoptants. Tout de même, parler de leurs réalités d’adoption était parfois douloureux, mais surtout complexe, et souvent mal vu.

Malgré le tabou, beaucoup d’entre nous croyons que le public aura une meilleure idée d’ensemble de l’adoption si les adoptés témoignent de leurs expériences et partagent leurs points de vues sur l’adoption. Nous espérons que cela servira à sensibiliser les gens face aux enjeux liés à l’adoption et à améliorer le sort des enfants et adultes adoptés.

Il s’agit du début d’un projet qui, je l’espère, servira à donner la voix aux adultes adoptés d’Éthiopie et à raconter leurs histoires.

Je vous présente Yared…

 Tel que raconté à Annette-Kassaye

 Force, courage et résistance ne sont pas des caractéristiques souvent évoquées pour décrire un enfant de six ans. Yared dit que lorsqu’il avait à peu près six ans, son père l’a abandonné après une dispute. Yared s’est retrouvé seul dans les rues d’Addis Abéba. Pour payer sa nourriture, il a dû occuper de petits boulots comme cirer de chaussures, vendre des bonbons et transporter des bagages. Après être tombé très malade, Yared fut amené chez un médecin par deux femmes. On lui conseilla de ne pas retourner vivre sur la rue. Les femmes ont décidé de l’amener à l’orphelinat Missionaries of Charity, où bientôt, il fut adopté par un couple français.

À Dijon, Yared a apprit le français rapidement et il était un élève curieux, qui réussissait bien. Il excellait dans les sports et avait un grand cercle d’amis. Yared raconte qu’il voulait tellement s’intégrer qu’il a demandé à ses parents d’avoir un prénom français, soit « François ». Suite à ses demandes persistantes, ses parents ont finalement accepté de l’appeler

« Yared-François ». Cela dit, grandir en France en tant qu’un enfant éthipien adopté n’était pas toujours facile. Yared reconnaît que ses parents étaient toujours présents et soutenant pour lui, bien que sa relation avec eux n’était pas toujours facile.

Même si, d’un point de vue extérieur, Yared était un enfant adopté qui s’adaptait bien à sa nouvelle culture, il dit qu’il se sentait souvent tiraillé entre deux mondes différents. Bien que Yared n’ait pas beaucoup de beaux souvenirs d’Éthiopie, il dit qu’il était très triste de quitter ce pays. « Quand tu es adopté, dit Yared, quelqu’un que tu ne connais pas prend une décision sur ta vie et sur ton bien-être ». Même si ça fait maintenant 13 ans que Yared a quitté l’Éthiopie, il reste très attaché à son pays natal.

Bien que sa vie en France lui ait donné un confort matériel, Yared affirme que sa vie dans les rues d’Addis Abéba l’a préparé aux défis qu’il devait surmonter en tant qu’adopté Franco-Éthiopien. Il conseille aux jeunes adoptés de ne jamais baisser les bras lors des moments difficiles. Yared avoue que l’adoption lui a donné beaucoup d’opportunités, mais il croit que la meilleure façon d’aider les enfants éthiopiens est de s’assurer qu’ils aient accès à l’éducation et de créer des emplois qui aideront les familles à subvenir à leurs besoin pour ne pas être obligé d’abandonner leurs enfants à l’adoption.

Dans le futur, Yared espère accomplir de grandes choses pour son pays de naissance. Son enfance dans les rues d’Addis a profondément marqué sa vie et a fait de lui une personne déterminée et ambitieuse, prête à affronter les difficultés de la vie afin d’accomplir ses projets.

En ce moment, Yared vient de terminer son baccalauréat et rentrera à l’université l’an prochain. Dans quelques semaines, il décollera pour l’Éthiopie pour la première fois en treize ans! Nous lui souhaitons un voyage sécuritaire et nous avons hâte d’avoir des ses nouvelles.