written by Anti-Racist Parent editor Tami Winfrey Harris
Mother: “I personally thought you fit in quite well. You had a lot of friends. They all loved you. You were always busy.”
Daughter: “Mom, I didn’t fit in. On the bus, the most popular boy in school would sit behind me and taunt me and tell all the kids on the bus he could blindfold me with dental floss, all through junior high.”
Dialogue between Judy and Jennifer Fero in the documentary “Adopted”
Jennifer Fero is 32-years-old, but she is still struggling with her identity. She is Korean-American, but growing up she wanted nothing more than to be white, like most of the people in her town, like her friends, like her adopted family. She is trying to become comfortable in her skin, to find some connection to her biological roots and to other Korean-Americans. She is trying to heal relationships with her parents, to care for them, love them and ease their pain as they succumb to terminal illnesses. But she wants them to know how their well-meaning failure to acknowledge her race and to prepare her to be a woman of color, has in many ways crippled her.
“Adopted,” a documentary directed by Barb Lee and distributed by Point Made Films, is not pessimistic about transracial adoptions. It is frank and clear-eyed.
We’ve seen them in grocery stores, playgrounds and at our children’s schools– little Asian girls with their loving white parents. Of the 1.5 million adopted children in the United States, international adoptees are the fastest growing segment, of which most are Asian girls. While many of their stories are heartwarming and reflect our image of American compassion and generosity, the realities are much more complex. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, adoptees have significantly more behavioral problems than non-adopted children.
Adopted reveals the grit rather than the glamor of transracial adoption. First-time director Barb Lee goes deep into the intimate lives of two well-meaning families and shows us the subtle challenges they face. One family is just beginning the process of adopting a baby from China and is filled with hope and possibility. The other family’s adopted Korean daughter is now 32 years old. Prompted by her adoptive mother’s terminal illness, she tries to create the bond they never had. The results are riveting, unpredictable and telling. While the two families are at opposite ends of the journey, their stories converge to show us that love isn’t always enough.
Here on Anti-Racist Parent, we talk a lot about the folly of colorblindness. This film illustrated for me that for white parents of children of color, this thinking is not just a benign mistake, but a potentially destructive one.
Fero tells her mother, while cuddled beside her in bed, “I say I am an Asian woman and I want you to see me as an Asian daughter, because you can’t separate my race from me.” Her mother sighs in response. It is heartbreaking, watching this woman wheedle and cajole to get her parents, products of a different era, to notice what is a basic part of her identity, and they—perhaps eager in their final days to feel they have done right by their children—simply cannot oblige. A viewer can’t help but feel for the entire family.
“Adopted” also follows the Trainers, who are just beginning the process of adopting a baby from China. They are hopeful and full of love. You cry with Jacqui Trainer when she and her husband get the call saying “It’s a girl.” But, knowing Jennifer Fero’s story, you worry that preparations for little Roma’s arrival seem to include little pondering of what life will be like for a Chinese-American child in overwhelmingly white Nashua, New Hampshire. The Trainers have developed a circle of friends that includes some people of color and they are shown watching a Chinese-language video with their daughter. But when Jacqui comments that kids are cruel and that classmates may pick on her daughter’s ethnicity “just to tease,” you wonder if the Trainers yet understand the full impact of racism on children of color.
Preparation and realism with lots of love–that is the key. The makers of “Adopted” don’t just highlight challenges, but also give parents the tools to handle them.
“Adopted” is part of a two-DVD set. It comes paired with “Adopted: We Can Do Better,” “with more than two hours of experts’ advice to help families clarify their intentions, cope with grief, identify themselves as a mixed-race family, foster identity for their transracial adopted children, and become educated about the politics of international adoption.”
“We Can Do Better” is wonderfully clear and easy-to-understand. It features compelling case studies that bring the principles it covers to life.
Together, “Adopted” and “We Can Do Better” are a powerful resource for parents who are thinking of or have already transracially adopted.
We’d like to make this DVD set available to one ARP reader. All names in the comments section of this thread will be entered in a drawing to win a review copy of the “Adopted” set. A winner will be randomly drawn and announced on Monday, March 16. Thanks to Point Made Films for making this possible.