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.

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.

A Tee Shirt Is Just a Tee Shirt, Right?

First of all, I want to acknowledge those parents who continue to be amazing advocates for their young adopted children. I know you love them, as my family loves me. That’s why I am writing this post.

Yesterday, on Facebook, there was a fundraising tee shirt posted for Ethiopian adoptions. There were a lot of comments about it, some in support of the shirt and many criticizing it. The post isn’t there any more. I don’t know why it was deleted.

I would have written my comment on the original post, but since it is gone now, I decided to speak out about it.

The shirt said “Adopt Ethiopia,” and  “Love makes a family…changes a life.”

I find a few things problematic about these tee shirts for Ethiopian adoptions. One is the perception that children need to be saved or rescued. This approach is often used for African adoptions and let me tell you: it sickens me. When white adoptive parents fundraise with these shirts, it unfortunately echoes and perpetuates the white savior complex. This shirt is meant for the adoptive parent to wear. It is difficult when seeing this shirt to avoid the immediate conclusion that prospective parents are romantically reaching out to the farthest corners of the globe to save a desperately lost and innocent child, and should be congratulated.

Adoption does change a lot of lives. Too often, people forget that this also means the first/birth families, who have to lose their child for adoption to happen. Too many “orphans” turn out not to be orphans.

As an adoptee who has been in reunion for seven years with my birth family, I consider my perspective to be representative of my first family. I find this shirt offensive because it dismisses the losses that first families go through when a child is placed for adoption.

Although adoption is a gain for adoptive families, it’s a loss both for the first families and the children. We need to do a better job of acknowledging that. Believe me, I understand there are children who still need homes, and there is no question that all children deserve safe and loving families. But with all the fraud and corruption that’s going on in Ethiopia, why are parents still willing to do fundraisers for adoption? We actually need to be fundraising for more resources that work to make adoption more transparent and ethical. We also need fundraisers that promote family reunification and preservation, because that would help many more children at a lot less cost.

Last, but not least, the quote on the shirt suggests that love conquers all, which is a huge misconception that far too many families believe, or at least want to believe. It also suggests that first families didn’t love their children enough. It dismisses the rejection many adoptees feel, from their first families and from their country of origin. I also believe this shirt supports the profitable industry of adoption (I’m sure many agencies would love it,).

I’ve been critical in my comment here, and some of you might view it as anti-adoption, or dismiss me as an unhappy, even angry adoptee. I hope you will view it as pro-ethical standards. I love my adoptive family, and I love my Ethiopian family. The adoption community needs to be more compassionate about first families, which include not just birth parents but also grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and more. Please educate yourselves. Talk to other adult adoptees, especially those who have searched and/or reunited with their first families. Many adoptive parents active in Facebook groups have young children, but I hope you reach out to adult adoptees that have walked the walk—and lived the talk.

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Back Home to Ethiopia, and a Movie in the Future

For many years, I’ve openly discussed my adoption journey. It has been both therapeutic and liberating. In August of 2014, I returned to Ethiopia for my second reunion since my adoption in 1994. With the permission of my (Ethiopian) first family, I captured some powerful moments. The trip was incredible. I learned so much about my mother, my late father, my siblings, and also myself.

One of the amazing results of the trip is a partnership with Gazillion Strong to create a film about my journey. I’m thrilled to be working with them (and with loads of still photos and video clips, thanks to the talented Jemal Countess) to share my story of being adopted from Ethiopia, and my reunion with my Ethiopian family.

My partners at Gazillion Strong have already created this short clip, a glimpse into the story which I hope to tell that honors both my birth and adoptive families. Thank you!

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My mother and I, in Ethiopia August 2014