Sunday, December 2, 2012

Food Sovereignty

Food Sovereignty Tours gave me the opportunity to learn about the agricultural and culinary history of Oaxaca from indigenous experts. Learning directly from a Zapotec professor, a local dairy farmer, and a community leader whose qualifications came solely from working the land, could never be equaled by reading book or in a classroom. Travel is education that should be accessible for everyone.

When I applied for the program, I was worried about the cost. It seemed so extravagant to spend so much on just two weeks. That was also two weeks and a day of work I had to give up, in addition to the tuition fee of the trip, and airfare from New York to Oaxaca. I decided to do it in lieu of a school program which would have also been in Mexico, and started fundraising. Part of the cost was covered by funds provided by the school where I’m studying public policy, and another portion was covered by Food First’s scholarship. It all worked out, and I got to spend one of my most memorable Christmases in the Sierra Norte in a temazcal.

My interest in Mexico comes from working with indigenous immigrants. Many students of the program where I work are from Oaxaca and neighboring Puebla. After visiting Mexico, I have a better understanding of the forces which have compelled so many to migrate from the south to the north. A big part of that story is that of the trade agreements between the US and Mexico, and the encroachment of the global business policies on food sovereignty.  It explains why some of these students whose mother tongues are Mixe, Mixteco, or Nahuatl are studying English as their third language as adults in New York City.

For me, one of the most profound points made during the trip was by the Zapotec professor of anthropology. He pointed out that organic food and GMOs are culturally important. The mainstream media never focuses this. Instead, they talk about environmental impact or nutrition, but these seem remote and abstract when we’re talking about daily survival. Sitting next to a lake in Benito Juarez’s hometown, and hearing how invasive strains of corn are endangering cultural practices, made the matter one of containing the attempt at cultural genocide that the people have been resisting for 500 years. He was able to link indigenous food sovereignty and cultural preservation because he is a part of that culture.

While there are many reasons that food sovereignty is an important issue, none have resonated with me as much. As an immigrant to the US, and as someone who is very sensitive to the value of lost language and culture since I lost both, Professor Ramos’ point made the entire trip and issue more relevant for me. If I hadn’t traveled to Mexico, I never would have heard this point. As a result, while continuing to work with indigenous immigrants, the fight for food sovereignty has become mine as well. It is a part of their struggle for empowerment and social justice both here in the US and in Mexico.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Well, no wonder!

While doing some research about the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 and it's author, McLane Layton, I found Equality for Adopted Children which is the organization that McLane is the founder and president of. Her bio page says,
It was during the adoption process that McLane began her quest for equal citizenship rights for internationally adopted children. In 1995, as she was going through the adoption process, she discovered that her children would not be automatic U.S. citizens even though both she and Rusty were U.S. citizens. “Every time I would sit down to fill out my children’s naturalization paperwork, I would get offended,” she recalls. It was not right that her children needed to be naturalized. They were not immigrants, but children of American citizens!
Really, I'm not surprised. This is just one more way that adopters try to make believe that the children they adopted are "natural issue" of their bodies, with no history before being adopted. But, it shows why so many adoptees refuse to believe they are immigrants; their adopters tell them they're not!


PS Notice, too, that the offense is about the adopter, not the child.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Exceptionalism Revisited

I'm glad that the issue about adopted people being deported is being discussed more, but I really hate the rhetoric around the issue focusing on 'legal' or adoptee exceptionalism. Making exceptions for adoptees or for certain other involuntary immigrants like DREAMers, isn't the answer. We need a comprehensive change in the immigration and citizenship laws that reflect justice and human rights.
In this entry from Land of a Gazillion Adoptees, this quote really bothers me:
 “I would say that the US should change and amend the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 and make citizenship retroactive for all foreign born adoptees, regardless of age.  We adoptees never asked to be adopted and sent to the US.  However, since we had no choice and we were brought to the US legally by US citizens, then we should all be granted the same rights as biological children.” — Matthew Scherer, 3/4/2012
Why is this the argument? Whether you were brought to the US legally or not, or adopted by US citizens or not should be entirely beside the point. It's only by chance, random chance, that adoptees were brought to the US and not another country. It's random who gets chosen to stay in Korea and who is imported into the US. It's political decision who the US says is worthy and eligible for citizenship, visas, asylum,  refugee status, and who is not.

Furthermore, those decisions are far from just and fair. I have said this many times, but legal does not equal moral. The moral reason for allowing adoptees and other unwilling immigrants to remain in the US are:
  1. We are culturally American
  2. We had no choice about our immigration 
  3. Most of us have no ties, no support system in our birth countries now and few resources to survive there, including a lack of language skills
  4. The US created, facilitated, and encourage people from our countries to come to the US through legal and extra-legal means
  5. The US has colonized our countries and exploits them for natural resources, including labor and adoptable children
  6. In the case of adopted adults, there was an implicit agreement that we would be at least minimally taken care of in our new country by the adoption system which includes the various agencies and adoptive parents. 
So, while I appreciate the support that we are beginning to get from Korea and other sending countries for automatic retroactive US citizenship, I think we should aim higher and advocate for justice for all immigrants because adoptees aren't exceptional.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Well, not quite, but today the opening bell at the NASDAQ was rung by representatives from the National Council for Adoption. 

I guess as the 'authoritative voice for adoption' they are acknowledging the adoption industry is indeed controlled by market dynamics of supply and demand. How nice to finally some honesty from the self-appointed experts! 

Soon we may just see a return to literally putting children up for adoption and having outright bidding on orphans again. Of course, this being the NASDAQ, the auction would probably be on EBay.
The National Council For Adoption to Ring The NASDAQ Stock Market Opening Bell

ADVISORY, Feb 29, 2012 (GlobeNewswire via COMTEX) What: The National Council For Adoption, an adoption advocacy non-profit that serves children, birthparents, and adoptive families as the authoritative voice for adoption, will visit the NASDAQ MarketSite in New York City's Times Square. In honor of the occasion, Chuck Johnson, President and CEO, Lauren Koch, Director of Development and Communications, and Donna D. Conway, Board Member of the National Council For Adoption, will ring the Opening Bell.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Some more numbers: International Adoptees and African slaves

Some adoptees assert that intercountry adoption is the largest migration of unwilling immigrants since the transatlantic slave trade. In fact, that premise gave me the idea for this blog. 

The numbers are comparable: About 500,000 Africans were brought to the U.S.* (and the colonies that would become the US). If we accept that this website is correct, from 1970 to 1999, then 265,677 people were brought to the US for adoption. Then, to bring the numbers to include the boom years of 1999 to 2011 another 233,934 must be added, for a total of 499, 611. Now, if 1999 is included twice since we’re combining sources here, then we have to subtract 15,719 (all of these figures are from the State Department) we’re down to 483,892. But, of course, intercountry adoption in its current form started in 1954, which these numbers don’t capture. Additionally, some of these adoptions were not intercountry adoptions in the sense that most think of; they were relative adoptions. So, if we take out the relative adoptions, but add in the adoptions before 1970, I estimate we would still be in the same ballpark as 500,000. 

Now, of course the numbers of Africans who were brought to the US does not include the great number of humans who were captured but died on their way to the western hemisphere. It also should be noted, too, that the transatlantic slave trade to the US existed from 1675 to 1866, about 200 years. Intercountry adoption in its current form has been around for just about 55 years.

I’m not arguing that the experience of Black slavery is comparable to what intercountry adoptees experience. I'm just pointing out that the two groups are similar in two ways: we are unwilling immigrants (forced migrants) and we have similar numbers, currently. Adoptees will mostly likely soon surpass the number African slaves who were brought to the US. Interestingly, the source of the post-500,000 will also come from Africa, at least in part. 

Will adoptees also impact the demographics of the US in the same way that Black slavery has? 

*This website, however shows 305,326 Africans slaves coming to the US.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Our families cannot come to the USA

Most families separated by adoption are never reunited. The few that are are reunited customarily verify their relationship with a DNA test. Usually adoptees travel to their motherlands to search for, visit, and find their families. Their families usually have no legal way to even visit their daughters and sons in the US because obtaining a tourist visa is nearly impossible, as is being granted an immigration visa because we are no longer legal relatives of our natural families.

We adoptees cannot sponsor our DNA test-proven relatives for immigration. We cannot have our long-lost parents visit to attend our weddings, graduations, or births of their grandchildren. The US-CIS says we're not family. Not immediate relatives. We are denied our right to reunite our families although adopters are constantly given special consideration and insist on special privileges for 'their' [adopted] children. Men are allowed to sponsor their not-yet related fiancées from mail order bride catalogs, adopters sponsor their not-yet related babies, but adoptees cannot sponsor their parents or their siblings. How is this logical? just? legal?

Before 1965 it was nearly impossible for Asians to legally enter the US due to the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Gentleman's Agreement. (*The US Border Patrol was established to keep Chinese people from crossing the US-Mexican border.) The Civil Rights movement inspired change in the immigration laws that abolished blatantly racist policies that only allowed immigration from northern and western Europe, to one that was flawed but somewhat fairer. Quotas still limit immigration from many countries, so people who want to immigrate from them can only can do so if they have relatives sponsor them.

Even visitors from countries that source international adoption are mostly excluded. To secure a tourist visa, one must prove sufficient ties to the home country (job, owning a business and/or a house), adequate money to visit without working (and to not be working during the visit in the home country), and pay high application fees without any guarantee of those applications being approved. This is usually impossible for people from China, Guatemala, Central and South America, Eastern Europe, and until 2008, Korea. (The Republic of Korea, aka South Korea, is now part of the Visa Waiver program which allows visits of up to 90 days without a visa for tourism or business reasons. All of the countries in the program are rich, and produce low numbers of perceived visa-overstays or other irregular immigrants.)

Adoption cuts all legal ties between the adoptees and their natural families. Because adoption is a zero-sum game, we must lose one family if we are to gain another. Sometimes (rarely) families separated by adoption are reunited. Usually this happens after years in the US., after names, identities, histories, records, and citizenship have been changed. Once DNA tests establish an undeniable relationship between child and parent or between brother and sister, we still are separated by miles, language, customs, and laws. While distance and culture are formidable barriers, it is only the law that is insurmountable and unjust.

US Citizens and permanent residents are allowed to sponsor immediate relatives and fiancé(es) to immigrate. In the US, an immediate relative is a parent, sibling (does not specify full/step/half), spouse, and of course, child. In fact, adoptees are permitted to immigrate to the US as immediate relatives of their adopters, despite most not being finalized adoptions, therefore not legal relatives of the parent(s) sponsoring their immigration, on IR visas. The reverse right is not afforded to adoptees' natural families.

*From Customs and Border Patrol's website: "Although these inspectors had broader arrest authority, they still largely pursued Chinese immigrants trying to avoid the Chinese exclusion laws."