You must have seen one—they’re everywhere. Photo blow-ups of Hollywood star Angelina Jolie and Zahara, the child she adopted from Ethiopia, both beaming. “Saved by a Mother’s Love”—it’s People’s cover story. Zahara, we’re told, is thriving. Nothing is said of the grandmother who tried to keep her, broken ties, loss. Adoption is a win-win. Right?
Healthy white infants have become hard to locate and expensive to adopt. So people from around the world turn to interracial and intercountry adoption, often, like Jolie, with the idea that while growing their families, they’re saving children from destitution. But as Outsiders Within reveals, while transracial adoption is a practice traditionally considered benevolent, it often exacts a heavy emotional, cultural, and even economic toll.
Through compelling essays, fiction, poetry, and art, the contributors to this landmark publication carefully explore this most intimate aspect of globalization. Finally, in the unmediated voices of the adults who have matured within it, we find a rarely-considered view of adoption, an institution that pulls apart old families and identities and grafts new ones.
Moving beyond personal narrative, these transracially adopted writers from around the world tackle difficult questions about how to survive the racist and ethnocentric worlds they inhabit, what connects the countries relinquishing their children to the countries importing them, why poor families of color have their children removed rather than supported—about who, ultimately, they are. In their inquiry, they unseat conventional understandings of adoption politics, ultimately reframing the controversy as a debate that encompasses human rights, peace, and reproductive justice.
In 30 personal essays, research-based studies, poems and accompanying artwork, transracial adoptees “challenge the privileging of rational, ‘expert’ knowledge that excludes so many adoptee voices.” Conceived by the editors as “corrective action,” the collection offers an eye-opening perspective on both the “the power differences between white people and people of color, the rich and the poor, the more or less empowered in adoption circles” and the sense of loss and limbo that individual adoptees may feel while “living in the borderlands of racial, national, and cultural identities.” This provocative, disturbing collection reveals the sociological links between African-American children placed in foster care and El Salvador’s “niño desaparecidos (disappeared children), between Christian missions and “the adoption industry,” between a transracial adoptee born in Vietnam and raised in Australia and one born in Korea and raised in the U.S. “We must work,” the editors urge, “to create and sustain a world in which low-income women of color do not have to send away their children so that the family that remains can survive.” Anyone contemplating transracial adoption will find provocative ideas, even as they may quarrel with generalizations that don’t fit their own lives.
Imagine, a postmodern book on adoption. This dense assemblage of brief texts addresses the challenges of transracial and transnational adoption. Written by, and largely for, adoptees—editors Trenka and Sun Yung Shin were both born in South Korea and editor Julia Chinyere Oparah is an ethnic studies professor—it replicates the marginalization experienced by transracial adoptees as it invokes various art forms, including poetry and photography. With contributions from over 30 writers, this collection is comprehensive, offering adoption stories by people of both genders and different races and sexual orientations. Each of the six sections concentrates effectively on a different set of issues facing transracial adoptees, from “Where Are You Really From?” to “Journeys Home?” Like Trenka’s previous The Language of Blood: A Memoir and Cultures of Transnational Adoption , edited by Toby Alice Volkman, this book provides profound insight into what it’s like to be adopted from another race or into another nation. Recommended for university collections and large public libraries.
…Transracial adoption may be a story about loss, but is one of reclamation as well. This reclamation is not only an individual’s endeavor to make sense of one’s life, but also a journey of self determination which includes the building of transracial adoptee networks, organizations, and communities. This collection self-consciously witnesses, giving voice to and for the transracial adoptee… Ultimately, this anthology provides the breathtaking power of artful politics and the breathgiving possibility for change.
If we are to be productive in our questioning of adoption, we can no longer employ a language that is purely framed within the discursive confines of ‘practicality’ and ‘humanitarianism’ – a trite, obsolete mode of expression that our dominant media outlets are so grossly guilty of perpetuating. The limits imposed by invoking ‘practicality’ and ‘humanitarianism’ can only take us so far in examining the complexities of adoption before we find ourselves unable to confront the limbo, one involving solely issues of morality. Writing against the currents of this binary dead end, Outsiders Within transgresses the dichotomy of ‘Adoption: Good or Bad’ and, instead, chooses a much more intellectually rigorous, multifaceted approach to dismantling the assumptions and systems which make this practice an increasingly thriving, normalized occurrence. This is a book that bravely and forcefully demands alternatives.
Overall, Outsiders Within is heavy—with information on the politics, economics and history of transracial adoption, and with personal and heartfelt testimonies from those inside the system. The first makes the book extremely educational and worthwhile for socially-conscious readers. The second make it a comfortable companion for adoptees who are seeking connection to people with similar experiences.
Outsiders Within is not the first book to explore the experience of being adopted across racial lines, but is perhaps the most challenging and ambitious to date. Rather than exploring the experiences of one ethnic or national group, the editors have gathered a collection of essays, poems, and memoirs that put transracial adoption in a multi-national context. The result is a book, in the editors’ words, that is not only about adoption, but also about “loss, love, belonging, alienation, home, and exile.”
–American Adoption Congress
This is a book that will make everyone who has ever thought of transnational, transracial or any kind of adoption feel deeply uncomfortable. But as Beth Hall, an adoptive parent herself, comments: “All the more reason to read it.” Although not all the writers who contributed to this project are from Minnesota, the issues raised in this book have special relevance for our state, which is a leader in transnational adoption, especially Korean adoption. This book opened my eyes to the tragic flaws in the adoption system/industry, especially in that Western-style adoption sidesteps and erases non-Western extended kin networks and perhaps cynically “markets” foreign children as exotic commodities, but it still did not convince me that transracial adoption is inherently wrong or undesirable, or that we can or ought to make windows into the souls of adoptive parents, seeking a purity of intention that we would probably never apply to birth parents. David Mura writes, “Both moving and thought-provoking, its implications reach far beyond its immediate topic into broader questions about all our identities in this multiracial and multicultural America.”
Anyone who works and/or lives in the world of international and transracial adoption could benefit greatly from reading this book. I thank each of the gifted authors for their honesty and depth, and for allowing us all into their reality, in hopes of sensitizing people to the complexities of being adopted and of being adopted cross-culturally. It
is exhausting “seeing and touching both sides of things … being a damn bridge for everybody” and this is the experience of all of us who are adopted, but it is etched just a little deeper when cultures, races, and ethnicities are different as well. Parents, by birth and by adoption, who have formed, or will form, their families transracially will have
a deeper understanding of some of the challenges for their children; and professionals who work in international adoption have a duty to research, read, listen, and learn from these adult voices of the infants and children that they made life altering decisions for.
—Joyce Maguire Pavao, founder of Center For Family Connections,
author of The Family of Adoption
It is wonderful to finally hear a range of voices refusing to consider transracial adoption as something that either damages children or proves that love has no color. By gathering writings about both domestic and international transracial adoptions in one book, Outsiders Within treats transracial adoptees as authorities on their own complicated lives rather than as “outcomes” of a controversial practice that has been a child welfare battleground for decades. This is especially welcome now, when processes of globalization and racialization are transforming families as profoundly and unpredictably as they are shaping economies and cultures.
—Ellen Herman, The Adoption History Project at the University of Oregon
This groundbreaking work on adoption politics redefines how both activists and scholars organize and theorize around gender and racial justice. This book goes beyond arguing whether transracial/cultural adoption is good or bad—rather it looks at how adoption politics themselves are constitutive of white supremacy, colonialism, and patriarchy. Centering the voices of transracial/cultural adoptees, the incisive analyses in this book herald the importance of this previously neglected social movement. A must-read.
—Andrea Smith, co-founder of Women of All Red Nations and INCITE!
and assistant professor of Native American Studies at the University of Michigan
This startling collection shocks the reader into the awareness that adoption involves much more than individual family building. Especially when race is involved, it is an act that has far-reaching cultural, emotional, political—and yes, global—consequences. Required reading for anyone interested in the modern multiracial American family.
—Myung-Ok Lee, author of Somebody’s Daughter: A Novel and lecturer at Brown University’s Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in the Americas
In a world where too often the voices of parents and professionals dominate the landscape of decision-making and practice that ultimately affects the children of adoption, it is a relief to see those children claim their voices as adults. Experts on their own experience, the writers of Outsiders Within offer an illuminating and provocative glimpse into the world of transracial adoption that will make many of us uncomfortable. All the more reason to read it.
—Beth Hall, adoptive parent, and co-author of Inside Transracial Adoption
Outsiders Within is an important contribution to the literature on transracial adoption that presents both a range of adoptees’ voices and critical perspectives linking personal experiences to systemic social and global inequalities.”
—Sandra Patton-Imani, author of BirthMarks: Transracial Adoption in Contemporary America and assistant professor of American studies at Drake University
Incisive … Moving … Courageous. Outsiders Within is a long awaited intervention in the ongoing debate on transracial adoption and a challenge to transnational feminism.
—M. Jacqui Alexander, author of Pedagogies of Crossing, co-editor of Sing, Whisper, Shout, Pray!: Feminist Visions for a Just World, and professor of women’s studies and gender studies at the University of Toronto
Domestic transracial adoption and international transracial adoption often are viewed as distinct experiences. Outsiders Within demonstrates that the two histories and life courses are intricately intertwined. The selection of authors for this book reflects this symbiosis, as well as surveys the wide range of experiences of adoption in the United States and Europe . Outsiders Within will be a valuable addition to academic scholarship on adoption and will surely help to improve the lives of adoptee children and their families.
—Richard M. Lee, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota
Outsiders Within is a book that many of us have been waiting for to inform and guide our understandings of the complex issues and questions posed by transnational, transracial adoption. The authors offer powerful political analyses of global economic processes alongside compelling personal narratives of individual and social transformations. The book gives us much to consider in our thinking about transracial adoption, its impacts and meanings, uses and misuses. It challenges us to ask the real questions and helps us to answer them through the insightful analyses and testimonies of the real experts— transracial adoptees.
—Grace Chang, author of Disposable Domestics: Immigrant Women Workers in the Global Factory and assistant professor of women’s studies at UC–Santa Barbara.
Outsiders Within is an essential book, both moving and thought provoking. It explores complexities and contradictions in the process of transracial adoption that many would choose to ignore. By providing a space for adoptees to tell their stories and analyze their experiences, the anthology fills a significant gap in discussions about adoption and race. Its implications reach far beyond its immediate topic into broader questions about all our identities in this multiracial and multicultural America .
—David Mura, award-winning poet and author of Where the Body Meets Memory: An Odyssey of Race, Sexuality & Identity
Finally!!!! A book that explores the complexities of adoption through placing our voices, those of international and domestic transracial adoptees, at the center. From the dedication to adoptees that begins this book to the final chapter, “speaking for ourselves,” the essays, poetry, and art within put forth a political perspective that will be impossible to ignore. A gift to the transracial adoptee community.
—Gina Miranda Samuels, MAVIN Foundation board member, Illinois Adoption Advisory Council Research Expert, and assistant professor of social service administration at the University of Chicago