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On  people from First-world countries adopting Babies from Third-world countries like mine

As she told me her story, I wanted to cry because, even though she didn’t say it out loud...I could see this wound in her spirit that was festering and eating away at her.

There’s a line in Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s “The Boy who Cast no Shadow” that sticks with me. If you’ve read the story, it’s a very tiny line and if you aren’t Filipino, you probably didn’t notice it. This line is quite peripheral to the story and it goes like this: “We’ve just adopted a little Filipino.”

I want to congratulate Thomas’s translator on getting the spelling right. Lots of Dutch people think Filipino is spelled Philipino or some other variant of that, but Filipino is the correct spelling, so thank you very much.

I thought about this line because of a conversation I had with a young woman who was adopted by a Dutch couple. This young woman was born in a third-world country and the Dutch couple had adopted her when she was five months old.

As she told me her story, I wanted to cry because, even though she didn’t say it out loud, when she talked about being depressed and having concentration problems, I could see this wound in her spirit that was festering and eating away at her.

The relationship between the Dutch and the country where this young woman was adopted from is quite fraught. A lot of the younger and more socially conscious Dutch acknowledge that their ancestors didn’t do their colonies any favors, and some of the enlightened acknowledge that while they may claim that they were doing whatever they did for the “good of the people”, they were really doing a lot of problematic and atrocious things. (As one of my language teachers said: “Dutch people have nothing to be proud of because we engaged in slavery and in the abuse of other races.”)

In Thomas’s story, the flippant insert of “adopting a little Filipino” is telling because it speaks of an attitude that the Dutch would rather not talk about.

As this young woman told me, from a very young age, she was constantly aware of how she had to be everything a model child should be. She was the child who sat in a corner reading a book while other children wrestled over the toys. She was the ideal daughter who never disobeyed or questioned her parents.  She spoke of an awareness that misbehaving or acting out would be unacceptable. She had to be perfect.

When she asked about the place where she was born, she was told that she didn’t want to go there. It was not a happy place.

When I asked her if she ever talked about her adoption with her parents, she told me that when she was a child she was very conscious of owing her adoptive parents. They told her that they had adopted her from an “undeveloped” country and if they hadn’t adopted her she would never have known a good life.

She felt indebted to them. They had saved her, and in return, she thought it was only right to try and be the ideal daughter. I thought of her as a little girl and I ached inside and wished there had been someone who told her she didn’t have to try so hard. It hurt to hear her say that no matter how hard she tried, she knew that she would never really fit in. She was too brown, too different, and too obviously not like everyone else.  But still, she tried. She tried to live her life by the rules of the Dutch society, and she tried to fit into the mold demanded of her.

Whenever she asked about the country of her origin, she was told that she would only be disappointed.  When she asked about the place where she was born, she was told that she didn’t want to go there. It was not a happy place. It was not an ideal country. People were poor. It was dirty.  Etcetera, etcetera. . .

I am writing about this because I am thinking now of the many third-world children who have been taken away from their birth countries and adopted as babies by white people from the first-world.

I appreciate that flippant bit of dialogue in Thomas’s story because if this comes from an overheard real life conversation (which I suspect it does), it tells us how the person speaking thinks of the child who has been adopted. That bit of dialogue makes my heart ache because I can imagine that child sitting in someone’s living room one day and talking about this enormous wound that they can’t even begin to talk about with their adoptive parents.

In this young woman’s case, her parents continued to discourage her from visiting the country of her birth even after she married and had her own children. If she even mentioned it, her parents would stop the conversation and tune her out.
She told me of how she felt when she was to be questioned by her daughters: “Mother, did you never want to see your birth country?”  “Mother, did you never want to try and find your birth mother?”

She noticed that her children sought out other children of mixed descent. Their best friends were colored children just like them, and they were so curious about their mother’s heritage that she was forced to face the pain that she had kept hidden inside her for a very long time.

Thankfully, this young woman has wise people on her side. Her parents-in-law who lived and married in the country of her birth keep on telling her that going back will be good for her. They tell her it is important for her to reconnect to her roots. They encourage her to study the language and to read about the country. And best of all, they keep telling her to go see for herself and if she needs it, they are willing to shoulder her airfare costs.

Anyone who knows me can probably predict what I said to her.
First-worlders adopting children from another culture have to understand that when you take a child from their birth country, you are snatching them from their cradle. To cut them off from any information about their birth country is like chopping off their roots. When they are tiny, the wound seems like a scratch and many first-worlders reason out that babies don’t feel attachment to the country and so it’s okay because they can be shaped into first-worldness without pain. But what first-worlders forget is this: roots matter.

No matter how poverty-stricken and chaotic you think a country may be, children have the right to know where they come from. They have the right to be allowed to discover it for themselves, to understand it, to own it or reject it, and to give it a place in their lives. The refusal to allow a child access to information or people from the country of their birth is the same as putting a gun to that child’s promising future.

First-worlders who adopt a child from the third-world are not "doing the children a favor"—they are being given the favor of raising these children.

What this woman’s first-world parents failed to see was this: when they told their child that the country she came from wasn’t worth knowing, it was the same as telling their child that she wasn’t worth knowing. They created this wound that festered and grew as the years passed. Each time they told her she’d just be disappointed and that there was nothing there for her, they widened the wound. By the time we spoke she was taking meds for depression and meds for concentration disorder. She had to stop school because she just couldn’t focus. She told me that she was barely keeping it together.

Children are a precious and beautiful gift. I count myself blessed to have two of my own. To be given a child is a privilege. First-worlders who adopt a child from the third-world are not "doing the children a favor"—they are being given the favor of raising these children. These children are not there as accessories or acquisitions or status symbols, they are a trust. The failure to instill self-worth, the failure to value the child’s origins and natural heritage are grave sins—sins that are hard to overlook or forgive.

I wish I could append a happy ending to this entry. But unlike fiction, real life happens in more than so many thousand words. I do hope she decides to take her in-laws up on their offer and go see her country for herself. While the truth may not be the romanticized one, I hope the journey there will bring her one step closer to the healing that she needs.

© Rochita Loenen-Ruiz

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