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!

 

#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!

The Casual, Not So Casual Meet and Greet Convo

Meeting new people is always so interesting, uncomfortable and invasive or me. Of course most strangers don’t know that I am adopted, but confusion seems to arise when I answer their basic questions about myself and my family. Over the years, I began to notice that I was disclosing my adoption within the first few minutes of meeting someone, only to relieve their confusion about my answers and not for my own personal desire to want to share. There have been times where I chose to leave the conversation when they get that blank stare on their face just to avoid having to tell them the missing link in my story line. In those moments, I have to decide if my adoption is going to be part of my identity or a part of me that is really no ones fucking business.

A brief conversation I had with a kind woman at my weekly mediation group proves my point. Note: personal thoughts are told in parenthesis

Her: Hello, how are you? You are awfully quiet.

Me: Yes (well, we did just get done with a 40 minute meditation session)

Her: Is this your first time here?

Me: No, I began coming last fall, but had to stop due to my school schedule. I am now able to return because my Thursday evenings are now open.

Her: Great, what are you studying?

The conversation was lead to discussing my masters program and blah, blah, blah. Then it begins.

Her: Are you from Fiji?

Me: No, I am from India.

Her: Do  you speak Indian?

Me: Do you mean Hindi? (For reals? You look to be at least 80 years old and you still think Indians speak Indian?)

Her: Oh yes, do you speak Hindi?

Me: No, I do not.

Her: Do your parents speak Hindi? (Oh shit, here we go)

Me: No, they only speak English

Her: Its amazing how families come over and lose their language, their culture, their heritage and everything that comes with being Indian. (Oh gawd, you’re right. It’s amazing and it kind of sucks)

This is when I tense up and get a reality check about my losses. I quickly analyze the situation before my next move. I seem to go through the same questions before responding. Do I feel safe? Do I want to disclose my adoption to this stranger?  Who the fuck is she? Is she on a need to know basis? Is this a learning opportunity for her? Why do I feel like this? How do I get out of this? Should I just avoid her and nod my head in agreement? What do I do?

With a sunken feeling of sadness and shame, I chose to answer with some honesty.

Me: Well, that comes with adoption. I experienced all of those losses with being a trans-racial adoptee. (There it goes, I dropped the most personal bomb)

Her: Oohh, a trans-racial adoptee?

Me: Yes, I was adopted by a white family.

Her: Oh, interesting.

She begins to tell about a family friend’s child (8 years old) and his recent awareness that his skin is darker than his mothers due to his estranged father being black. I think this is something that is not very common in her social groups, but I respect her for trying to relate. I followed her story about the importance of having dialogue around racial identity during a child’s development and that its usually due to white privilege that white parents are not having these conversations with their children of color. I blatantly said that its doing a disservice to children and during their early years of development.

So, going back to my original point… this was the first time I met this woman and I felt obligated, pressured, and stuck to go deeper with a stranger than I ever intended to just to straighten out her assumptions. Yes, I didn’t have to, and yes, I could of politely excused myself from the conversation, which I have done before. My point is that this is not the first “casual” meet and greet conversation I have had that lead to me telling more than I want. Some other triggers that take the conversation to a deeper level of intimacy is when I get asked if my parents cook Indian food, if I have family/relatives in India, or if they are surprised that I don’t have an Indian accent. I can usually avoid saying too much and I have figured a way to dodge my adoption story, but it’s rare.

I guess this shit is what comes with being adopted. I’m just glad she didn’t mention how lucky I am because then I probably would have lost my shit which is not ideal after meditating. 🙂

New York Screening of YOU FOLLOW: a search for one’s past

NYIf you are in the New York area on July 14th, then please join me in watching my film about my search for my birth mother in Goa, India. After the screening, I will be available to answer any questions about from the audience.

To watch the trailer and learn more about YOU FOLLOW: a search for one’s past, please visit youfollowthefilm.com

To purchase tickets to the New York screening, please visit wearegazillionstrong.org

Gazillion Trailer from sharmila ray on Vimeo.

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