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Transracial adoption has its challenges

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  • Sunny Jo
    FAMILY LIFE Transracial adoption has its challenges March 12, 2010 Nicole Baute LIVING REPORTER Jinoo Muther is 19, an age marked for most by the first wobbly
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 12, 2010
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      Transracial adoption has its challenges

      March 12, 2010

      Nicole Baute

      Jinoo Muther is 19, an age marked for most by the first wobbly steps
      into adulthood and the search for identity that comes with them.

      But for Muther, who buses tables at a Lebanese restaurant and takes
      hip-hop dance lessons, that search is complicated by the fact that he
      was transracially adopted and, as adolescence comes to an end, he
      finds himself wanting to reconnect with his Korean roots.

      Muther was born in Seoul, where the first year of his life unfolded
      like a sepia-toned movie: he was born with a tumour on his neck,
      blocking his airway. He ended up in an adoption agency with other
      children with "ailments," where he was given a tracheotomy.

      He captured the heart of the Swedish doctor who took care of him. That
      doctor and her American husband would become his adoptive parents.

      Muther's family was incredibly diverse. His parents had one "homemade"
      son, a son adopted from Vietnam and a daughter from Guatemala. They
      lived in South Korea until Muther was 4, when they adopted another
      little girl and moved to Hong Kong. They arrived in Toronto when
      Muther was 11.

      Last summer, Muther, his younger sister and his parents went back to
      that adoption agency in Seoul, where Muther learned that his birth
      mother was alive but "mentally incapable" of taking care of herself
      and living in a shelter. She had other children – his siblings.

      Emotions hit Muther in a tangle of happiness, sadness and anger.

      "I was just so blown away, I kind of just sat there, blank-faced,
      trying to hold back," he says. "My sister was next to me. She said,
      `Are you OK?' I didn't answer."

      The trip – which his father helped organize for the Korean Canadian
      Children's Association and which included almost a dozen other Korean
      adoptees – changed things for Muther. Before, he didn't think anybody
      would understand or relate to his questions as a transracial adoptee,
      so he "kept a lot in." As a kid, he didn't tell his parents when his
      classmates at school made racial jokes or comments.

      "I don't think they would understand it, personally," he says. "I
      don't think they would have ever really gone through it, at all."

      But after returning to South Korea and bonding with the other adoptees
      on the trip, that is starting to change. Sitting in a Tim Hortons on
      Yonge St. near Eglinton Ave., Muther says he wants to learn Korean and
      go back to Seoul. He hopes to meet his birth mother.

      The scarf draped around his neck doesn't hide his deep tracheotomy
      scar – a reminder, he says, of where he came from. These days, he does
      want to talk about it.

      Voices like Muther's illuminate the complexities of international
      adoption, the importance of motherland trips and cultural kinship, and
      the fact that racism exists.

      And so, as foreign babies continue to be placed in the arms of
      Canadians, the adoptive parents are increasingly warned that love
      alone will not be enough.

      Sandra Scarth, president of the Adoption Council of Canada, says the
      way parents raise a child of a different race or culture has changed

      Adult adoptees are speaking up as they come of age, she says. Their
      message: "We had great families, we knew they were supportive. But we
      had to deal with this identity thing pretty much on our own."

      Some, like Ola Zuri, were adopted within Canada but across racial and
      cultural lines. Zuri and her twin are black but their adoptive parents
      are white. Adopted as 2-year-olds in 1968, Zuri says she has since
      been told by their adoption agency that her family was one of the
      first transracial adoptive families in Canada.

      That, she says, made them guinea pigs. For example, she says, her
      mother lacked the tools and support to cope when Zuri came home from
      her Calgary school and said other kids didn't want to play with her
      because she was "dirty."

      Now 43, Zuri is trying to help empower children adopted transracially
      by writing a series of books, including Why Can't You Look Like Me?
      and Where Do I Belong?

      Jeannine Carrière, a professor in the School of Social Work at the
      University of Victoria, is working to improve a B.C. policy that
      requires parents who adopt aboriginal children to develop a cultural
      plan to help adoptees stay connected to their roots.

      Carrière is Métis and was adopted by a French-Canadian family in
      Manitoba just after the '60s scoop, when aboriginal children were
      taken from their homes and adopted.

      She had been told that her birth family was dead. When she was 12, she
      learned that was not the case when her biological sister came looking
      for her.

      The B.C. cultural plan is a commitment to preserve children's cultural
      knowledge: their language, spiritual practices and ceremonies, and
      their connections to elders and, ideally, their birth family. Carrière
      has found inconsistencies in the way the plans are implemented and
      thinks improvements will give the children confidence to cope with
      racism when they encounter it.

      In the GTA, another groundbreaking project is underway. With funding
      from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, social worker Susan Crawford is
      trying to better prepare parents for the challenges they will face
      when raising a child adopted transracially.

      Through the Halton Multicultural Council in Oakville, she has
      developed a 10-hour course that challenges prospective parents to
      answer some very difficult questions.

      Many parents are already very prepared. They do research, connect with
      other parents, have diverse social circles and believe it's important
      for their kids to have role models who reflect who they are. But
      others may not even be familiar with the concept of white privilege or
      realize that racism exists, even in multicultural Canada.

      "There has to be a concentrated effort," Crawford says. "How are we
      going to ensure that our child doesn't feel as though they stand out,
      doesn't feel as though they are less than, doesn't feel as though our
      family is in any way inferior?"

      Most important, parents have to understand that raising a child of a
      different race will be lifelong work, she says. They have to look deep
      inside themselves to make sure they are up for the challenge.

      "Because there are going to be so many learning pieces and challenges
      that you may face and experiences that your child may have and you're
      going to have to walk along with your child and sometimes say,
      `There's nothing I can do to help you.'"

      Kelly and Chris, a Burlington couple who did not want their last names
      used, already had two biological sons when they adopted Grace from
      Ethiopia three years ago.

      Every day, they find subtle ways to talk about Ethiopia and Grace's
      history with all three of the kids, discussing, for example, how the
      lone Ethiopian Olympian in at the Vancouver Games trained in such a
      warm climate.

      Kelly says Grace will always be Ethiopian first, and then Canadian.

      "We just can never forget that one piece, that she has an entire
      history that we have to teach her about. Her roots, her country,
      everything that's happened is a part of her and now part of us, which
      is very exciting, because it's part of our family now, too."

      Only 3, Grace is starting to understand. She knows she was a baby in
      Ethiopia and that her "tummy mommy" still lives there. When a visitor
      was at their house before a trip to Ethiopia recently, Grace went into
      the kitchen, got a packet of hot chocolate, and said, "You take this
      to my tummy mommy for me?"

      When she watched the The Princess and the Frog, in which the princess
      is black, Kelly recalls Grace saying, "That princess is just like me,

      "So she is starting to see," Kelly says. "And I love that. I want her
      to be a confident black woman; that's what she is."


      More stories:

      The Making of a Family: An adoption story

      Should my baby stay or go home to China?

      Medical journal calls for more adoptions from child welfare system

      Toronto Star


      In 2008, 1,908 children were adopted by Canadian families from other
      countries. Here is a breakdown:

      429 China

      189 United States

      183 Ethiopia

      148 Haiti

      118 Philippines

      105 South Korea

      105 Vietnam

      90 Russia

      62 Ukraine

      54 India

      Source: Adoption Council of Canada

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