Last night I went to the west coast book launch of “Outsider’s Within”. Yay! Whoo Hoo!! I don’t have to repeat how important this book is to adoptee voices and how much you need to pick this book up if you are interested at all in TRA lives, politics and stories.
In attendance were what I estimate to be over about 150 folks, coming out to support and to be part of the discussion. The editors who were there were Julia Chinyere Oparah and Jan Jeong Trenka, and contributors to the book Gregory Choy, Ellen Barry, and Kimberly Fardy and Sandy White Hawk.
The first speaker was Jane Jeong Trenkawho spoke of the ways in which adoptees are utilizing the internet to make connections with our TRA familia and to make space for healing. She gave us a couple stats that tripped me out and that I didn’t remember reading from the book. First, that 1 in 10 Koreans in the U.S are adoptees. 1 in freaking 10 ok? I mean, damn people. Second, that over 40K Chinese girls have been adopted in the last 5 years. These stats didn’t surprise me, but hearing them aloud caught me off guard and actually – pissed me off and began what for me was an emotional rollercoaster of a night. Jane spoke of reproductive justice and the import of us finding ways to understand that empowering a woman / birth family to find ways to raise their own children is one place to look to think about this diaspora that is marked by the very real fact that it is entirely a migration of children. (more on this in book launch blog #2)
I’m feeling like I’m a little girl, sitting in front of a crowd who doesn’t know who I am, but somehow I am completely naked, forced to hear about myself, trying to hold back tears, trying not to cry out loud, stand up and scream “me too!, me too! they took me away too!”. What is healing? is this what healing is? I cant stand it. Sandy White Hawk in a short new film about her work spoke of ripping the bandages off our wounds so they can heal – I didn’t even remember putting the bandage on, it’s a part of my skin, its melded into me and now its come open and I’m bleeding all over the floor, help me make it stop! I cant breathe, I gotta get out of here, what made me freakin sit in the middle of the crowd, I know better.
Julia Chinyere Oparah spoke of the difficulty of adoptees asking for help, and this totally resonated with me, (along with about thousand other things last night) and gave us specific things to ponder, much like the radio interview, made direct connections for the audience between structural, systemic issues in the national and international social welfare system, and called for discussions around adoption to move beyond the simple “is it right or is it wrong” debate. Julia called upon these discussions to consider deeply why there are so many children for adoption to begin with. What are the circumstances that create thousands of black children in the U.S. to be “without families”? What is wrong with a discussion that ignores these realities? Julia is sharp and asks those who want to simplify TRA and IA debates to push themselves.
After Julia, Jamilah Bradshaw – sang an amazing – powerful rendition of Bob Marley’s “Redemption song”.
Why are they singing and doing praise songs? what is she singing? Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”? what does that have to do with adoption? isn’t this supposed to be a book launch? I’ve never heard it quite like this before – redemption- is that what this is? a redemptive act, or as Jane and Julia say a ‘corrective action’ – redemption. I’ve been redeemed, sounds like church (snort), is she going to stop? I’m trying to network here 2nite, trying to share information about the blog about the show, I don’t need this, don’t cry, don’t cry – wait is my period coming? maybe that’s what this is, I’m just PMSing! where the fuck is that tissue, I cant breathe. all I ever heard.. redemption song. all I ever heard…
Gregory Choy read a poem by Bryan Thao Worra. After which, Ellen Barry made direct connects between the PIC, adoption and the social welfare system reminding us how class factors directly into the foster care system and the high percentages of removal of children from homes of impoverished women and from women of color. As she is speaking I am reminded of a blog entry I began a long time ago but haven’t finished. I try to get at what is it about termination of rights that lends itself to re-affirming the paternalistic, racist and imperialistic notions of who can take care of whose children? What is it about ownership that is missing from this conversation. for me ownership resonates too deeply with the slave trade. My papers, the signatures to claim me. My naming. Black bodies, branding and naming. “Heal this brand burned into my side, maybe I should instead, violate all the boundaries/ of respect for your elders / obey your parents/ love your enemy and simply - SCREAM. . . ”
Kimberly Fardy came to the mic next. She read from her piece in the anthology, and read so powerfully it was like I hadn’t read the piece twice before I walked in the room. Her story of isolation in white suburbia, acting out, speaking out, responding to her surroundings, fighting for survival finally kicks my anger and pain into overdrive and I know I’m not going to make it through this evening without screaming at someone.
Its not just about you, this night isn’t about you, its about sharing and celebration that people are going to understand something about you they never have before. you are not alone, you are not alone. then why do I feel so scared? why cant I speak?
Sandy White Hawk finishes out the book launch evening with the screening of an excerpt from a film/newstory about her work in Native communities assisting adult adoptees in returning “home” . (look for book launch blog #2 for my thoughts on this concept of home). Sandy speaks of her work as providing a place to mourn and heal from the deep scars that are left on our bodies from adoption, theft, giving away and the shame and guilt that surrounds this experience. Both her and Jane speak of shame of the unknown and I am reminded of the yet another blog entry I am writing (to also be an academic paper) about that shit film “Secrets and Lies” that won all kinds of awards for using a black woman’s body to mediate white pain, desire and shame.
Yeah I said it.
ok, I need time to mourn, she says, time to cry for my loss? right now? right here? you don’t want that, because if I start crying here – im gonna scream so loud they will call an ambulance, they will wonder why there is a woman outside the building tearing her hair, her clothes. a woman looking like she has lost everything, like she is crazy. like I am crazy. I feel crazy. I cant talk to my friends right now, I don’t want to even look at my roommate, I cant go to my partners house. I just need to get out of here, I wish I had enough money I would leave right now and go to Vegas. I could drive right now. I wish I could get out of here and just go where no one knows who I am. when is the time to mourn? and how can I mourn what is unknown?
After the program, I had the exciting chance to meet Jane Jeong Trenka whose book, The Language of Blood has for many of us TRA’s been the first memoir to speak directly to our experiences. I was overwhelmed. Poor Jane – I didn’t even get a chance to tell her how much her work meant to me, although she can read on my blog an earlier post. I wanted to invite her to my show and to just chat and vibe – Unfortunately for her, she was the first person I walked up to at the end of the program and I busted into tears like a total ASS. I felt like I was – well, one of the women who comes up to me after MY shows, crying, and telling me how much my story spoke to their lives and experiences. But I know the difficulty of trying to handle someone breaking down in front of you, some total stranger who you somehow have a connection to, but you aren’t responsible for her pain and need. Its like, what are you really supposed to do with that? It was a little embarrassing for me, but maybe it wasn’t so bad, but at least I know she wont forget me. ha! dude – Jane, I promise I’ll be normal next time.
After collecting myself – I spoke at length with Kimberly Fardy who expressed interest in AAAD (Adult Adoptees of the African Diaspora), and we connected on the touch point that how rare and precious it is that we have a space that is all about us. For Kimberly, this night was the first place she has been in the presence of so many TRA”s, talking about TRA issues and being a voice that is validated and heard. Last night was only my 3rd time being in a space that was all about me. TRA camp, a panel I did on TRA experiences and then – last night. THIS absence of space and time is the reason why AAAD needs to exist. This is bullshit. Its like the first time I took a black studies class at university, why didn’t anyone tell me this shit before? Why am I 36 and JUST NOW finding people like me? just now creating a community from this thing that we have to attempt to unravel. I don’t understand!
I leave the student union and barely make it to my car where I’m talking on the phone to my partner about the energy I’m feeling. I don’t speak of the anger and pain I am feeling. I’m pissed I didn’t bring him, he needs to know this, know that I’m not crazy, know that right now something is happening to me, something big and its changing me and that its gonna have reverberations on us.
don’t cry, don’t cry, hold it in. you’re a professional, you are a scholar, you know how to distance yourself so you can communicate difficult ideas. I don’t think I can do this. Its too intimate, its too much. the bandage refuses to disconnect from the recent scab and my entire body is pain, my entire ride home is tears and maybe I need a break from all this talking about being abandoned, I’m startin to believe this crap – something is wrong with me, why am I feeling this way after 36 years of being fine with my adoption. I’m fine. I’ve always been fine, healthy, dealing with it creatively . why now, why today, why do I just now feel – broken?
more on the book launch soon.