April 15, 2015

Reunited Korean American Transracial Adoptee Mila Konomos Shares Her Thoughts About Adoption, Christianity & More (Part 2 of 3)

Once again today we're talking to the ever insightful Mila Konomos! If you missed Part 1, be sure to catch up by reading here.

Deanna: What do you feel are the greatest misconceptions about adoption in general?

Mila: I think one of the most popular yet inaccurate views of adoption is that it is ultimately a good thing. There is a general perspective toward adoption that it is ultimately a noble and beautiful thing--when all is said and done, all the suffering, loss, pain, damage associated with adoption is ultimately mitigated by adoption. Adoption is still viewed as an overall gain in which the loss is cancelled out by the love--this is a harmful misconception that hurts everyone involved from the adoptee to the original parents to the adoptive parents, because it creates unrealistic expectations for everyone.

Another HUGE misconception that so many, especially Christians, REFUSE to dismantle is that adoption does not cause child abandonment/relinquishment, corruption, trafficking, and the like. Christians rarely acknowledge the demand and supply relationship that has been created by modern adoption philosophy and practices.

Christians revel in willful ignorance and choose to believe that adoption is “saving” children from orphanages and/or unloving, dangerous family situations. This is a terrible misconception--and this “head-in-the-sand” approach has provided the perfect substrate for pervasive corruption and abuse to flourish within the international adoption industry. And that’s another misconception--that adoption is not an industry. Oh, but it certainly is.

There is such a strong misconception that adoption causes no harm and that it is the best solution to child relinquishment/abandonment. So few people realize the various alternatives available that actually PREVENT child relinquishment/abandonment by supporting family preservation. Reunite is an organization that supports such efforts as well as groups like KUMFA (Korean Unwed Mothers Families’ Association) and KUMSN (Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network), Abide House, All Girls Allowed, and RiverKids to name a few. Now, to their credit many of these organizations have been founded by Christians. But they are still more the exception than the norm. I believe that within the Christian community, family preservation should be the norm and international adoption the exception. But right now it’s not that way. The focus is adoption, adoption, adoption.

People need to educate themselves and stop living in ignorance. In the case of international adoptions, misconceptions perpetuated by willful ignorance have allowed unethical adoptions to abound--where mothers are lied to, their children stolen. Folks tell themselves these types of situations are anomalous. But they’re not. Ask Keren and Mark Riley, founders of Reunite if these kinds of situation are “anomalous.” Read up on China, Uganda, DRC, Guatemala, the list goes on.

It disturbs me that Christians will not face the misconceptions about adoption and get with the truth. That so many Christians turned a deaf ear to “The Child Catchers” still baffles and appalls me. The very ones who are supposed to help give voice to and defend the voiceless, the oppressed, the exploited instead are the ones propagating and supporting these practices. The blind arrogance and sanctimony. It’s this kind of behavior that makes me ashamed to call myself a “Christian.”

Christians need to realize that they are part of the problem. The willful ignorance is actively and directly enabling unethical adoptions.

I become so weary of all the miseducation, all the misunderstanding, all the mistruths, and particular all of it propagated by Christians. I want Christians to change, to take responsibility, and to stop hiding, justifying modern adoption practices behind the guise of religion and the Bible. I want Christians to realize that they are hurting families for the sake of their own. That they are destroying families to build up their own. That they are stifling families to grow their own.

And of course, I must add the following disclaimer, because folks always want to label me as “anti-adoption.” For the record, I am not anti-adoption. I realize adoption will be necessary in some cases (just a lot fewer than most Christians are willing to acknowledge--they always think their story, their family is the one exception). I am pro-ethical adoption. I am pro-family preservation. But in order for family preservation and ethical adoptions to thrive, Christians have got to get their heads out of the sand and deal with reality.

I’m not trying to be a jerk. But this is real, people. I’m done trying to dance around the issue to make it pretty, so people will want to see it. There’s nothing pretty about unethical adoptions. There’s nothing pretty about kids ending up in orphanages that don’t actually need to be there. There’s nothing pretty about mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles being ignored and neglected because money rules.

Part of the reason I think I speak so strongly and with such conviction about all of this is because I used to drink the adoption kool-aid, too. And I’ll admit that it’s hard to resist--it’s so much more palatable, so much sweeter, so much easier to swallow than the complex, bittersweet, sour, intense truth. Believe me, my life hasn’t gotten any easier by acknowledging the truth. But nothing will change if Christians don’t open their eyes (and hearts).

Anyway, sorry, got up on the soap box. Let me stop there.

Deanna: What have the greatest challenges been for you as a transracial, international adoptee?

Mila: Ha. Again, where do I start?! In short, one of the greatest challenges was growing up Asian in a Sea of White. It was incredibly challenging growing up as the token minority within my White family in a predominantly White community. [I capitalize “White” to emphasize that White Americans indeed have a race--and a culture that comes with that race.]

The lack of understanding from my White family about the difficulties of growing up as a transracial international adoptee continue to be a point of contention between my family and me.

Another challenge has been experiencing all the racism but having no one in my family to whom I can turn for guidance, understanding, counsel--or just someone to be able to look at and say, “hey, I look like her, so I must be okay.” My White parents were and still are incapable of helping me learn to cope with and understand racism. Having to learn to figure out all the racism and identity issues on my own without a family and community that I could find understanding, comfort and empowerment within feels very lonely and frustrating.

Within my White family and the White community I am often made to feel as though I’m just imagining it all--that I’m making a big deal out of nothing. If only. But racism is real. And as a transracial adoptee I think our experience of racism can be complicated by the fact that we do not have any family members or community members to mirror or look to when we face racism. I’m not saying that we have it harder. Just saying it can get complicated in a different way. This disconnect between my family and the community in which I was raised continues to elicit feelings of profound isolation, alienation, and limbo, even as an adult approaching 40. And now that I have children of my own, who are mixed race, well, it can all be a bit overwhelming. Being a transracial, international adoptee affects my children in complicated, profound ways that I never could have anticipated. (I’m so grateful for the community of adult TRAs for our support of one another.)

I think it can be so easy for White people, and in this context White adoptive parents to dismiss racism and to minimize its impact on a person’s life. Racism is very real, and it has profound effects.

Also, as an international adoptee in reunion, the loss of language and culture has been heartbreaking at times. As one can imagine, this presents huge, complicated challenges regarding family, identity, and just daily living. 
I’m not trying to whine or play the violin or elicit pity or say that these hardships are somehow unique, but often adoptees are treated as though any problems we may experience as a result of being adopted are negligible because we could have had it so much worse. This type of reasoning is demeaning and dismissive as well as completely void of compassion and love--again, qualities for which Christians are supposed to be known. It’s like telling an adult who lost her parents in a car accident when she was a child to get over it, because it was a long time ago and hey, at least she is alive. We would never respond in such a way. And yet when it comes to adoptees, we think it’s okay to respond to them with such dismissive and hurtful statements and sentiments.

Deanna: I agree, that is so not cool. Wow, so much to unpack with all this that you've just shared. Thank you, Mila. Can't wait for part 3!