Dima Yakovlev Bill, Russian Adoptions, and Dissolutions by Death

Many in the adoption community are discussing the December 28th Dima Yakovlev Bill or ban on Russian children adoptions by US citizens. Dima Yakovlev was the original name of a toddler Russian boy, adopted by US parents, who was left in a hot car in the summer months and died. The news has brought forth high emotions on social media and in the articles’ comments sections. The themes that are most common seem to be the following: the United States has many children needing homes, why go abroad? Adoptive parents (majority white) choose Russia to adopt same race, white children, and thus do not have to worry about cultural socialization, and finally, white adoptive parents do not want to adopt children in the US because they are of color and because first parents can still be involved. All of these are valid points but don’t address the current ban, it’s purpose, and motivation.

This ban, clearly retaliatory in nature, came after the US instituted Magnitsky Act. That law imposes asset freezes and visa restrictions on Russian officials linked to the death of whistleblowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow jail in 2009 and other alleged human rights abuses. Now Russia is reportedly outraged by abuses of Russian children that happened in the past decade and instituted this ban. This is incongruent at best and a downright fabrication at worst.

Last summer a group of adult adopted persons, self included, many of whom are founding members of the Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative (APRC) met with members of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) on Capital Hill to discuss many policy concerns. Among them was adoption dissolutions and disruptions and the fact that these largely go unmonitored.

Here is an excerpt of what I said:

I will take a moment to highlight the Dissolution by Deaths for internationally adopted children. We are grateful for the Forever Family Forever Dead tribute found on the Daily Bastardette blog. It acknowledges the over 18 Russian children who have died because of murder or gross negligence by their adoptive/forever parents. More recently we acknowledge the death of Hana Williams, an adoptee from Ethiopia, who was slowly starved and tortured to death at age 13 by her adoptive parents. Dissolutions by death or less drastic means are NOT monitored in a central database. Agencies are NOT held accountable for reporting dissolutions.

If these deaths were truly the motivation for this ban than Russian most certainly would not have entered into a new negotiation on international adoptions with the United States as recently as November 2012 and this ban would have been enacted years ago. Perhaps after Artyem was returned at age 7 by a US mother who reported that she no longer could parent him. What is outrageous is the timing of this ban and impact on Russian children in institutions.

Yesterday, on the President of Russia homepage, this post revealed new orders to establish policies that would encourage more inter country adoption and provide support for adoptive families. Vladimir Putin indicated that maybe the quality of life in Russia was not as good as elsewhere (meaning the USA) but questioned why they are sending their children to live abroad when they should be caring for them at home. Somewhere I read that he questioned their loss of national identity and culture. These also are valid points. Ones that are made frequently in the international adoption arena. My hope is that Russia is serious in its new policy mandates to care for its thousands of institutionalized children.





Cultural Tourism in Transnational Adoption and the China Daily Interview

Every so often I am asked to comment on a news story about adoption. This was the case when NPR’s Weekend Edition interviewed me about the seven year old boy heartlessly returned via airline to Russia or when Good Morning America online wanted more information about Genetic Sexual Attraction. Sometimes I feel good about these interviews and the information I was able to convey. Other times I am left feeling like I could have said more such as the Creating A Family Interview about adoption disruptions and dissolutions.

Last week I was approached by China Daily, a Bejing based, English newspaper, to offer recommendations/advice in regard to adoptive families relocating to China to foster the identity development of adopted Chinese children. The article “Positive attitude to adoption” can be found here. I offered two pages of recommendations, all proofread by my mom, a former English teacher and resident proof reader to everything I do, and fully aware of the possibility that none of it could end up in the article. But the most important information did. Here is an excerpt of my response email:

I know the answer to #6 is not a popular one among adoptive parents because it calls into question white privilege and the need for them to make some difficult decisions regarding their families. I would really hope that you would include this response as many families will read China Daily versus doing research at a University, like I do for both my educational pursuits and my practice. I am not a Chinese adopted person, but am a Colombian adopted person. I feel quite strongly about this subject and greatly enjoy my work with this population and children from all over the world. I truly appreciate being asked to contribute.

Here is question #6

6) If adoptive families who would like to live in China don’t have a chance to do so — or are not comfortable living in a foreign country — what other helpful experiences or activities closer to home would you recommend?

– I know that some adoptive American families send their kids to Chinese language school, enroll them in Chinese cultural/art classes or regularly celebrate Chinese holidays. How important are activities such as this in raising an adopted Chinese child?

The answer below is for both questions/comments

It is extremely important that adoptive families understand the concept of “Cultural Keeping” versus “Cultural Tourism”. Quiroz’s 2012 article examining discourses by Chinese and Guatemalan adoptive parents on listserves highlights the benefits of Cultural Keeping, defined as those activities that provide cultural socialization including contacts and engagement with members of the child’s ethnic/racial group, memberships in cultural organizations, and relocation to a community that shares racial and ethnic similarity to the adopted child. “Cultural Tourism” is the most common way adoptive families incorporate their child’s heritage in family life via attending culture camps, purchasing and displaying cultural artifacts, attending cultural celebrations, but not necessarily fully embracing the child’s racial/ ethnic community in their daily living. It is important that adoptive families strive towards Cultural Keeping to fully help their child develop a sense of biculturalism versus Cultural Tourism which is much easier to enact but has not been shown to be nearly as beneficial in helping an adoptee develop biculturalism. Another excellent source of information on this topic is the Beyond Culture Camp study (2009) from the Evan B. Donaldson Institutehttp://www.adoptioninstitute.org/research/2009_11_culture_camp.php

The reporter included this information in the article. If you are interested in reading the 2012 article on cultural tourism the reference can be found below.

Quiroz, P.A. (2012). Cultural tourism in transnational adoption: “Staged authenticity” and its implications for adopted children.Journal of Family Issues,33 (4), 527-555. doi:10.1177/0192513X11418179.



The Misappropriation of the End of Times and Adoptee Racial Identity

Very recently, many throughout the world went into unneccessary panic over the misreading of the Mayan calendar. When a majority culture takes aspects of a minority culture with the goal to make it “fit” into their culture, misunderstandings and misuses, like what we experienced with the Mayan calendar, can occur. Yesterday, NPR’s Science Friday featured two scholars of Mayan studies. They explained the following; at the height of the Mayan era, they were a powerful and highly functional society with the capabilities to create sophisticated calendars;  Mayan are still alive and well today, mainly living in Guatemala, and many, Westerners included, misunderstood and, therefore, miscalculated the meaning of the Mayan calendar which resulted in the panic we witnessed yesterday.

I wish we heard more about the successes and acheivements of the Maya people during this frenzy. When working with Latino clients, especially adopted adolescents, I frequently note that many Latinos have a Native American heritage. This is not often discussed or acknowledged. My point in highlighting this part of their heritage is to remind them (and myself) that our ancestors were powerful, proud, intelligent, creative, and highly industrious people. Connecting to that sense of cultural continuation is important to ground oneself to who she is as a person, a culture, a nation today.

Last month the American Counseling Association showcased a Brown Paper, “Lifting Latinos up by their ‘Rootstraps’: Moving beyond Trauma to a Healing Informed Model to Engage Latino Boys and Men” by the National Latino Fatherhood and Family Institute. It described how their lost connection to their native ancestry has negatively impacted the community. The Brown Paper describes interventions to address trauma using connections to this ancestry as an alternative to current treatments. It is time for increased acknowledgement and access to this aspect of cultural heritage be recognized and attended to in treatment. For Latino adopted persons this recognition can assist in facilitating and reclaiming the culture and heritage that is often lost to them.

Ethics in Multicultural Practice

I am a Latina person who was raised in suburban Philadelphia. There were very few Latino or Hispanics, as this group was called at that time, in my community and school. I learned by the second grade that it was easiest to pretend I was Italian than risk social isolation and teasing if I disclosed my original home country.  This dodging and weaving of my true identity made adolescence that much more complicated. I think about this a lot as the holidays approach and I make my way home to be with family. The surrounding area of my growing up town has changed demographically. Mexican and Central American taquerias and mercados replaced most of the former Italian owned stores and eateries. Every time I make the drive back home I wonder if and how my identity integration would have been accelerated or not if I grew up with this community in such close proximity.

So I was particularly saddened when I saw yet another unpleasant story out of Penn State. This story is not of the same tragic magnitude as the disgraceful news of last year, but rather another glimpse into racism and long held stereotypes. A sorority posted a photo of their Mexican themed party. Most wore sombreros and serapes. They held signs that said “Will mow lawn for weed and beer” and “I don’t cut grass, I smoke it”. I thought about the large percentage of my graduating class that went to Penn State. I did not even visit knowing that my goal was to get out of the state as soon as possible. And I thought about how things seem possibly worse than they were 20 plus years ago. The sorority apologized for upholding “untrue stereotypes”. But the truth is that many janitorial staff, grounds crews, and child care workers remain largely populated by Latinos. There are many reasons for this and I will not go into them here but all the reasons remind me that we still need to be especially mindful and sensitive to providing culturally sensitive and quality services to immigrant and minority populations.

By choice I live in an ethnically and racially diverse area of northern Virginia. The local Family and Child Services department utilizes independent therapists to work with Spanish speaking immigrant first families seeking reunification with their children. I applied to be one of the therapists and am finding that I exceedingly enjoy this aspect of working with this population. It combines all the things I am most passionate about: parent and child relationships, trauma and its impact on families, the Spanish language, and cultural awareness. I am often horribly outraged when I learn about the injustices many clients have endured during their time in this country and this includes extremely poor mental health service delivery. I am fully aware of the privilege I have experienced and continue to maintain, as a documented citizen with a professional position and economic means, when I work with these families. The Penn State episode reminds me that we still need to be hyper-vigilant towards ensuring social justice, multicultural and racial sensitivity issues are taught thoughtfully and passionately in higher education counseling, social work, psychology, and marriage and family therapy programs.  We have a lot of work to do.