Sunday, May 9, 2010

Adoption Immigration Studied and Then….?

At the end of April I went the Adoption: Secret Histories, Public Policies Conference. It was presented by the Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture at MIT. I particularly was interested in the session titled, "Transnational Adoption as Immigration Policy: Exceptions, Parallels, and Dilemmas". There were three presenters.  
  • "Adoption and (as) Immigration: Exceptions, Parallels, and Dilemmas" was presented by Sara Dorow from the University of Alberta 
  • "'They're Cute When They're Young': Adoption and the 'Racelessness' of Babies" was the talk given by Karen Dubinsky of Queen's University
  • U.S. Immigration Policy and the Embrace of Transnational Adoption in the 1950s and 1960s" was Karen Balcom's topic. She's from McMaster University

Darrow's presentation seemed mostly about ethnic and national identity, both as perceived by adoptees themselves and their adoptive parents. I had a problem with the fact that she interviewed children and their adoptive parents but no adults who had been internationally adopted. However, I did find phrase that she used interesting: culturally naturalized. 

Balcom's presentation illustrated that children as orphans and refugees have historically been used politically. She also juxtaposed adoption history and general immigration laws of the U.S. which showed that adoption often leads immigration policy change and people trying change permanent immigration policy are often stymied by adoption advocates.

Dubinsky noted that the immigrants adopted by Americans are desirable as babies but are not desired as adult immigrants. This is because babies and children up to pre-teen years are "raceless". Liberals wanted to experiment with interracial families (despite racelessness!). Anti-communists wanted to seem charitable to the world during the Cold War.

I wish the session allowed more discussion about adoption and immigration with points made with by the panelists based on their research. 

I would have asked Dr. Darrow to guess what adult adoptees would have said about being "born again" Canadians (or Americans). Does that mean their lives before their "rebirth" was unmeaningful? I would have asked the other adoptees in the room if they were perceived by white people as "culturally naturalized" as adults. Or, if they've been asked where they're from, where they learned such good English/French/Norwegian/etc. after they're no longer easily identifiable as adoptees like they were when they were at their adoptive parents' sides. 

Dr. Dubinsky's provocative title compares raceless babies to racialized adult immigrants but seems to present them as separate people. Doesn't it make sense to also study those of us who might have started as raceless babies but grow up to be politicized, racialized adults? What does that mean to us personally? Will that have an effect on future adoption policies and practices? Maybe her, upcoming book, Babies Without Borders: Adoption and Migration Across the Americas, will ask and answer these questions. 

The presentation from Balcom seems to have the most implications for the most people. If international adoption laws leads change and justifies the draconian laws that allow first world adopters to get the children they desire at the expense of other immigrants, clear lines need to be drawn so that adoption supporters know all the repercussions of their advocacy. I think the timeline of general immigration history makes it obvious how racist our past is. I would hope that anyone who adopts transracially would act to make amends for this history and advocate for a more just future. 

I also would have asked what conclusions and recommendations could be supported by their studies. I want to know if my opinions and calls for action are supported by these professors' studies. And for the record, I'd also like to know if these academics are adoptive parents or adoptees and what their personal stake is in this research. 

Side note:
The conference concluded on May 2. That meant that I missed the May Day CIR rallies in New York. I saw no shows of support for comprehensive immigration reform at the conference. What a shame.

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