Through Her Body

Born, Never Asked.

Zoë Klien

CounterPulse.org

San Francisco, CA

August 11th-13th, 18th-20th

These last few years I have been manifesting new relationships with transracial adoptees. There is something that is quite strong between my fellow adoptees and myself. This feeling of validation and solidarity.

At Pact Camp this year, I was assigned to share a room with Zoë Klien. I got to know  Zoë throughout the week and learned that she is a performer traveling around the world. It was her first time at camp and my third. I was able to see how my first time experiences overlapped and aligned with hers. I wanted to learn more about her truth as a transracial adoptee.

The desire to know more and support a fellow adoptee took me to San Francisco.

Born, Never Asked. sheds light on the complexity of international adoption through scrobatics, dance, spoken word, and visual imagery. Born in Colombia, raised in NY, choreographer Zoë Klien embarks on this personal journey in order to question the importance of bloodline and how to achieve wholeness in the face of conflicting loyalties between lands, language, families, and cultures.”

With a heart full of gratitude and love, the lights dimmed. I took a deep breath and I teleported into the aircraft where she was being relocated from one country to another. From Colombia to New York, NY . The story of her birth.

Her limbs and toes stretched as if her mother was feeling her foot push through her belly. Her mother prepared for birth. Moments before the plane landed.

I saw her body suspended and stretched far in the air. She and the other performers told the story of detachment, attachment, loss, trust, all that is so common with other adoptees.

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A deep tone of red covers the stage allowing the audience to interpret their feelings, without knowing that their shared interpretations are very quite similar.

Her words resonated and caused vibration throughout my body once I heard her soft voice. If I remember correctly, she spoke, “World traveler at 30 days old,” and “who is saving who?”

With very few words verbalized, I understood her story. As shared during the Talk Back, Zoë noticed that there are not too many, if any performers sharing their story with only a few words spoken. That was the space she wanted to create and fill.

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The awareness of this space parallels Nancy Verrier book, “Primal Wound.” She confirmed my feelings and experiences around the severed bond and relationship between my mother and I after 40+ weeks in utero.

Once again, these experiences are aligned for me and I recognized the Universe was present with me. Or I with she.

As an artist, Zoë uses multiple media to share her life. Not only does she dance, choreograph, run the show, but she also writes, paints, photographs, and digs deep to her truth. Her soul was celebrated with paintings and photos of her journey back to Colombia.

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Zoë is an artist to follow. She is story teller to follow. The one thing that I can truly appreciate is that her show will change as she changes. She will reflect the stages of her relationships, growth, awareness, and mourning. The stages of adoption. I am honored to witness a visual performance that mimics my truth.

Attend, support, and follow the art work and story telling of Zoë Klien
CounterPulse.org

American Adoption Congress Conference

Like I previously mentioned, I was asked to attend the AAC conference and share the film, YOU FOLLOW. I was ecstatic because I had heard nothing but great things about the conference and not so great things about the conference. Attending has been something that I have been wanting to do for the last few years, but due to finances and the dates, I never really made it possible.

To be asked to attend to screen my film was something truly special. I felt that I was really making an impact on the adoption community and given the space to not only make my mark on adoption reform through my experiences and film, but to also connect and be seen. I am so thankful for the experience and to connect with so many other adoptees and professionals that were not only supportive, but also role models. I came out with a sense of pride to be among so many talented writers, creators, performers, filmmakers, poets, actors, screenwriters, and activists that share the same common threads, Adoption Reform and solidarity.

So now the real experiences come forth. What I knew going in was that the conference was challenging, emotional, and educational. Some of my friends couldn’t attend the whole conference and had to leave the second day due to intense triggers. Some respondents mentioned that the conference was predominately older white folks, although that is currently changing.

Along with their opinions, I was going  in knowing how I felt from the last adoption conference that I attended, PACT An Adoption Alliance. Talk about emotionally triggered at every moment you are in contact with the other attendees, and adoptive parents.

I packed my bags, the DVD’s, my oil diffuser and I was off. I arrived only a few mins after my dear friend Reshma, began her presentation on grief in adoption. She is a fellow Indian adoptee and is currently editing and producing her documentary, Calcutta is My Mother. She gave her audience a shout out about my film screening the next evening as I was trying to walk in discretely with a huge travel backpack and side bags. So sweet and embarrassing. I loved it!

I finally got to hear her story and actually get to know her since we first “met” on Facebook. Gotta love FB. The one thing that I appreciated about her story is that she proved the “your mother was probably poor and a child prostitute ”  dialogue that some Indian adoptees hear. Well, believe it or not, that is not always the case for female Indian adoptees!

Anyways, the next morning I said hello to all the familiar faces I could find and met new adoptees, birth/ first mothers, professionals, search angels,  and adoptive parents. I jumped in as presentations as possible. All the topics that were presented interest me. I learned about how we, adoptees are four more times likely to commit suicide and/or be admitted for mental health/addiction issues. I learned more birth/first mother’s stories and how to identify micro/ macroaggressions.

The evening arrived and it was time for me to meet my dad, stepmother, and brother. I invited them to attend the screening and by my surprise, they were able to attend. It was important for me to have my father see me share the film to an audience and listen in on the Q and A. They enjoyed the final cut of the film, my brother handled the merchandise table, and my stepmother shared what she has learned about adoptee’s perspective. They were proud of me. There was so much that I learned at the conference, so I highly recommended that they attend another adoption conference because as my parents, they would learn so much! There didn’t seem to be much interest when I mentioned it so I can only hope at this point.

I was relaxed and calm the whole time. My essential oils helped but I did notice that as I was sitting in the presentations, I would find myself rocking back and forth. I seemed to have slipped back to the moments when I rocked and soothed myself. I think my surroundings also contributed. To my surprise, I was not all tense and on edge like I was when attending PACT. The reason was that most of the attendees were adoptees and open professionals. I was surprised because most of them could be prejudged as adoptive parents. Ha, I got fooled. The demographics were different and it made a difference. Not a huge difference, but a difference.

Going back to how I mentioned that the presenters are becoming more diverse, I could actually see it. In the previous year at the conference, some writers from The Lost Daughters presented as well as a few other POC. More POC presenters was an intentional choice and the board member’s level of awareness made it possible. I felt very welcomed and emotionally safe. I was proud to be part of other adult adoptees of color contributing to the adoption movement, not only via #flipthescript, but also in the educational realm of adoption.

Although I did enjoy myself, I left with suggestions of course. I mentioned in the survey I was asked to fill out that POV’s from adult adoptees that are experiencing an open adoption would greatly be appreciated. For me, there is a lot of support and advocacy for open adoptions, but I personally don’t know of a group of adoptees in an open adoption advocating that it worked. Also POV’s from non-adoptive siblings would also be beneficial because within the research and blogs, there seems to lack a space for them to share how adoptions has affected their life. They are an equal part of the family where adoption influences their family role and relationships. I would like to know what my sister may be feeling before I ask. Seems weird, but I think it would help.

Reflections and suggestions aside, would I attend again? Yes, I would love to attend again!

 

YOU FOLLOW film review by Adoption Today

       Soon after I returned from the American Adoption Congress Conference (more about that experience later), I was contacted by Adoption Today‘s editor, Kim Phagan-Hansel. She asked to watch and review the film for their monthly magazine. She attended the conference but was unable to  attend my screening. I passed along our film and by my surprise, we were published in their May 2016 issue. I was only given the PDF of the article, so here is the article copied below. Please visit our website for more information about the documentary!

YOU FOLLOW: a search for one’s past

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Gazillion Strong
Saywhatfoo Films, 2016, 91 minutes, www.youfollowthefilm.com, $20 DVD, $10 Digital 

Eager to connect with her birth country, Nisha Grayson and several

of her friends set off on a journey to India, which they chronicle in the film,“You Follow.”In order to make the trip more meaningful,the friends decided the focus of their trip should be on helping Nisha locate her birth mother. When they arrive, they begin their mission. Along the way they run into many roadblocks and challenges, however the group continues to push forward on their mission to find Nisha’s birth mother. 

A chance encounter with a local street vendor named Tony changes everything as he decides he will take it upon himself to find Nisha’s birth mother. For more than two years, Nisha searches for her birth mother with Tony’s help, culminating with Nisha returning to India to meet her birth mother. Unfortunately, the meeting is not what Nisha had hoped for.

 “You Follow” is a glimpse into a portion of one adoptee’s mission to find the missing link, her birth family. The film shows the raw emotions of excitement, frustration, sadness and so much more as Nisha lives through the search process. The film is definitely an eye-opening opportunity to understand the mixed emotions that adoptees feel and the difficulties in living between two worlds. Woven throughout the film are interviews with various adoption professionals, adoptive parents and others involved in the adoption system. These interviews allow for a broader perspective of the adoption experience overall. The film was an official selection of the 2015 India International Film Festival and the official selection of the 2014 La Femme International Film Festival. “You Follow” is an insightful film that provides a valuable glance into the real experiences of adoptees and others touched by adoption. It’s definitely a must-see.

 — Reviewed by Kim Phagan-Hansel

 

#UnfairAndLovely

I was first introduced to the #UnfairAndLovely hashtag, movement, and social campaign by a dear friend of mine on Facebook. As soon as I read the title, I was thrilled to have my skin tone represented in a beautiful way that is spreading worldwide.  I didn’t read the article right away because I was beginning to have flashbacks of how I have experienced backlash for my dark skin from friends, strangers, and white men. But before I share those stories, I must acknowledge the women that have brought this conversation and recognition to the forefront.

If you haven’t traveled to India or any other South Asian country, then you might not be familiar with the beauty supplies that are advertised and sold in every beauty store and drug store. These products are created to perpetuate the shaming and the ideal view of beauty that lighter is better, more desirable, and can create a better life with more privileges and opportunities. The bleaching creams are made to lighten women’s skin tone, body hair, nipples, and even vaginas. Not to mention, dark skin men are also targeted with their own beauty line of bleaching products. One of the main companies that sell their products in India is called Fair and Lovely.

The woman in charge of bringing awareness and dark skin back to the global definition of beauty is Pax Jones. She wanted to ‘”combat colourism and the under-representation of people of colour in the media. We were trying to challenge the way colourism permeates our lives,’ Ms Jones told the BBC over the phone from Austin.” Jones created a photo series of her South Asian classmates, sisters Mirusha and Yanusha Yogarajah (seen below) back in December. Since then, women have contributed their stories of how they experienced colourism, felt ashamed, have been humiliated and dehumanized as a result of their dark skin not being seen as beautiful.

Unfair and Lovely

I have always noticed that dark skinned Indian women were rarely in movies, on magazines covers, or in the media light. If they were, then photo shop was part of their makeup. I even see it here with African America/ Black actresses being lightened up with special effects before going to print.

I have read some stories of my South Asian sisters and how they have been constantly reminded that their dark skin is not beautiful. I am sad to say that I can relate. Although I grew up within a white family, I wasn’t told to stay out of the sun or that I would have a hard time finding a husband, but I have experienced many jokes from my dear friends while growing up. Did I ever go to my parents to talk about it. No, I didn’t. I felt that they wouldn’t understand nor know what to tell me that could help bring back my self esteem. As a result of the mocking I would receive at school, I chose to stay out of the sun, I chose to lift my head up a little bit higher in pictures, and at times I chose to join in on the laughs.

Those jokes are not what really hurt the most. I remember crushing on a white classmate in high school and admitting to him how I felt. His exact words are something I will never forget, “we could never date because you are too dark.” I was heartbroken. A guy that I just got done making out with just told me that my skin tone was the reason that we could not be together. Something so little, yet such a big part of my life’s experiences that cannot be changed stood in the way of someone wanting me. That’s when I knew that I would experience this world in a completely different way.

My shame and practices subsided a few years later. I began to find pride in my dark skin due to getting compliments and just saying, “fuck it!” I began laying out in the sun more often in hopes that I would get darker. Let me tell you though, even me minding my own business, soaking up the sunlight and enjoying the heat on my body still doesn’t keep me from hearing hurtful comments. I remember just last summer, I took a day trip to the beach and as I was sitting there reading a book in the sun, a white old man had the courage to come up to me and ask me why I’m laying out in the sun because I’m already dark enough. Really? Now I have a limit on how dark I can be. I was shocked to hear such a comment from a complete stranger. He followed his insult with a compliment, but the damage had been done already.

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What’s done is done but the scars are still present. I wanted to share my experiences and the fact that being part of a white family doesn’t necessarily give me a safe place to express these experiences or provide a reflection that states that dark skin is beautiful, therefore I have looked for acceptance out in the world.

On the flip side, it was brought to my attention that an old photo of me was shared on a Facebook page, Not Fair, Very Lovely. I’m glad that I have been part of this worldwide recognition and social campaign. This is not the first campaign to recognize dark skin as also being beautiful, and I hope it’s not the last.

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I stand with all my South Asian sisters that have been dehumanized for their beautiful, dark and lovely skin!

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-35783348

http://www.buzzfeed.com/niralishah/unfair-and-lovely#.btl1p8jKN5

http://mashable.com/2016/03/11/unfair-and-lovely-campaign/#41B59XM35SqZ

 

 

 

UC Merced FREE Film Screening of YOU FOLLOW: a search for one’s past

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Thanks to the South Asian Student Association, the Global Asia Working Group, and the Center for Humanities at UC Merced for hosting a free screening of my film, YOU FOLLOW: a search for one’s past. Food and refreshments will be available on a first come, first serve basis. No tickets needed.

I will be attending and available to answer any questions after the film.

I hope to see you there!

Throwback Thursday to 2014

I contributed these words to a dear friend, writer, a role model.  Submitted 9/27/2014

  • How old ere you when you first began getting together with other adopted people, and discussing what it felt like or meant to be adopted?

When I first got the idea to seek out other adoptees and support, I had just returned from my first trip back to my country of origin, India in 2009. I had spent two months in India searching for my birth mother and when I came back, I had a lot of emotions, thoughts, fears, insecurities, uncertainties that I needed to process. I was in search for people who I could have a conversation with that could give. I was already surrounded by people who listened, but had nothing to contribute, and that was what I was in desperate need for at that time.

  • Had you been wanting to have this experience before it actually happened? (ie., did you seek it out and how?)

 

Yes, I wanted to always know other adult adoptees. The desire to know other adoptees felt like just another fantasy. I was never really motivated to search out others or support prior to 2009. I always felt I was fine and that I would get over it soon. Ha, well that didn’t last long at all.

  • Did you know other adopted children when you were growing up? Did you ever discuss adoption with them?

I have four cousins that are also adopted, but I would rarely see them because they are all older and we don’t live close to each other at all. We would only see each other at major family events and those would only last a short period of time so our conversations never went to that level.

  • What was it like to be adopted BEFORE you had this experience of meeting other adopted people?

Being adopted was confusing growing up. What I mean is that all I heard were the great things about adoption, “you are so lucky,”” this is your only family,” “love is all that matters,” and “your life is so much better now.” While hearing all this shit, I was feeling just the opposite. I felt lonely, sad, disconnected, empty, broken, isolated, and hurt. Something just didn’t add up for me. I remember crying to my best friend in college about how I hated being adopted. She had nothing to say, and that’s when it clicked for me… she doesn’t get it. Nobody gets it.

  • Describe your relationships and interactions with other adopted people. Are these relationships part of an organized community, or individual? 

Oh my goodness, I love my adopted peeps! I feel such relief that it’s literally indescribable. A few words explain a lifetime of experiences. A few words validate a lifetime of feelings. A few words provide a safety net for personal expression. A few words create healing dialogue. A few words spark a commonality that doesn’t need words. My relationships with other adoptees have been made possible by adoption organizations like PACER and Pact an Adoption Alliance. Through the sharing of my film, I have also created some friendships with other adoptees via social media, but there is nothing like meeting and talking in person.

  • Is there any specific “sub-group” of adoptees that you are involved with, either formally or informally (international or transracial adoptees, parent adoptees, domestic, foster alumni, etc)

I am a part of the transracial adult adoptee subgroup. My relationships with other transracial adult adoptees stem from Pact an Adoption Alliance.

  • How often are you in contact with other adoptees, in your everyday life? How often do you speak with other adoptees about adoption issues that come up for you?

I am not in physical contact with other adult adoptees on an everyday basis. There are PACER meeting that I enjoy attending when I am not in school. I connect with my transracial “tribe” via social media, emails, text messages whenever possible and I reach out whenever I am in their neighborhood. I mostly send out an email or text message to friends that I think about in the moment. I am interested and trying to plan an adult adoptee dinner/gathering every couple of months or so just to stay in contact and develop friendships/bonds.

  • What is it like to discuss your adoption experience with non-adopted friends or family?

Discussing my experience is quite difficult. Growing up, my parents, family, or friends never really brought it up and if they did then it wasn’t really an authentic conversation. I never felt safe to discuss my adoption with my family because for some reason, my feelings would be mistaken as an attack which would cause family members to get defensive; I would immediately withdrawal. At this point, now that I have my adult adoptee tribes, I don’t really feel compelled to share too much with those that are non-adoptive, unless they ask of course, then I will be more than willing to share how I feel about my story.

  • Can you remember the first time that you were first in the presence of a group of other adoptees? What was that like for you?

The first time I was with a group of adoptees was when I attended a PACER meeting back in 2009. It was a triad group and it felt great to not only be around other adoptees, but also birth mothers. The women that I met made my birth mother real for me. Their presence pulled my birth mother out of my fantasies and made her real, with a story, with feelings, with heartache, with grief, sadness, shame, pain, and anger. The truth that those women spoke helped me realize that I was never abandoned or given up.

My first raw experience of being with other adoptees was when I first pulled up to the Pact Family Camp in July 2014. The first thing that I saw were little black children running across the street to the pool with their white families following. That’s when my heart dropped and I started breathing heavy. I was in absolute awe to see a family built like my very own. I thought I was seriously the only one. After I spent some time alone, getting myself together and prepped for the week, I attended the welcoming presentation that introduced the camp, the facilitators, the counselors, and the weeklong programming. Again I was speechless when seeing all the families gathered together in one large room. When Beth Hall asked for all the adoptees to raise their hand, I began to cry because I was so overwhelmed to see that about 80% of the room raised their hands and they were all adoptees of color. Kids, counselors, staff members, foster care alumni, even parents raised their hands and I immediately felt like I was with my people. That moment was life changing for me, I realized after that week at camp that being connected with other adult adoptees has been the most important, validating, gratifying, peaceful experience that I have ever felt before. The men and women that I have met, and have yet to meet in the future has contributed to my own mental health, physical wellbeing, and emotional stability. I am forever grateful.

Her returned letter read:

Nisha, reading your answers made me cry. Thank you for your honesty. Such a powerful response. I’m overwhelmed myself now!

oxox
Susan