Nothing Has Changed

A ride through my mother’s village.

The purpose of my last visit to Goa was simply to live everyday in the present moment. I planned nothing except my flights and AirBnB rooms. The rest I left up to my natural instinct… I chose to travel alone, for the opportunity to practice my natural instinct, my internal navigation system.

I tasted new beers and food, shared my dinner table with strangers, made new friends, talked politics, meditated, made love, took risks, explored, all while getting acquainted with new feelings. I was genuinely happy being home in those moments.

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 It was during the latter part of my time in northern Goa that made me quickly think of my mother’s village. Again, not having any desire to search or look for clues; the brief images of driving through her village came and went.

I arrived to Agonda Beach and settled into my little bamboo framed beach hut. The days passed with sights of the Arabian Sea, sounds of traveling musicians, and the taste of fresh sweet coconut water.

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The bare beach was a place to feel alone, yet still have just the right amount of people to watch from afar. Thats when I notice him, perched up on a rock in the middle of the seashore. I was to later find out thats when he noticed me.

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Time passed and he approached me with a gift, sweet coconut water. New experiences and new feelings with him for the next few days.

One afternoon, we changed our plans and he offered a trip to a neighboring beach town up north to pick up his clothes from the cleaners. With no hesitation, I accepted and jumped on his bike. The thought of my mother’s village came back to me. I noticed that we would be passing through, so I asked if we could drive through on our way back to Agonda. Without hesitation, he replied yes.

With the sun setting and his phone battery dying, we found our way back to the place I left a piece of my heart, just a few years ago.

He drove slowly, taking sharp turns with ease so I could observe the streets she used to walk, the people she probably knew, and the shop that she probably visited. We followed the flags that lined the roads from a festival that had just passed.

I was still.

He reached his hand back around and touched me.

How are you feeling?

I am angry.

I didn’t resist and I began to cry. He pulled over and wrapped his arms around me. The anger grows, and the tears flow.

At that moment, I realized my anger was towards the village, the people, the customs, the traditions, the detachment to the human experience of motherhood. It is their fault that my mother had to choose to…

 We hear a voice from down the road.

“You can’t do that here. You need to leave. There are children out here.”

Our explanation of our relations and my tears did not convince him that I was simply crying while being gently hugged by a man.

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If we were not welcomed to hug on the public street corner, I am sure single, pregnant women are still not welcomed back home.

Nothing has changed.

 

Indian Citizenship: Cancelled

Prior to graduating, I made a promise to myself to travel back to Goa, India. After many trips abroad, I have decided that the most meaningful and most useful education comes from leaving the comforts of our everyday surroundings and exploring new languages, foods, conversations, social norms, friendships and even transportiation. I have set aside some of my student loans to make this trip possible. I mean, I am putting it towards my education, right?! More than that, I want to make Goa a place where I am comfortable traveling to, a place where I can call home not only for myself, but for my future children.

First step, acquire a travel passport visa. Yes, everyone who plans to enter India needs a visa. There are many different types of visas so depending on the purpose of your visit and the duration of your stay, choose wisely. Also, make sure that your current US passport is valid for at least six months. Since I am traveling for leisure, I am applying for a “Travel Visa.”

I started to search the Internet for the Embassy and how to obtain a travel visa. The links that I came across all directed me to the Cox and Kings Global Services (CKGS). “CKGS is the only authorized Services Provider for the embassy of India and its Consulates across the USA for Visa, OCI Renunciation of Indian Citizenship services as follows with effect from May 21, 2014.”

As much as I tried to find a simple way around it, there was none to find and I had to begin the process. The site is a bit tricky to navigate and move around so please take notes of your “Temporary ID/ Web Reference Number” You are allowed to log in and out at different times which is important to keep your Web Reference Number handy in order to log in and continue where you left off. There are lots of documents to print so having access to a printer is necessary.

I begin to answer the questions with ease until I get to where I am asked if I hold an Indian passport. Well, yes I do. The next question asked if I still had my Indian Passport and well, yes I do. So now I am required to submit my Renunciation of Indian Citizenship form of proof. What!?! I began to stress out. Another application, another few weeks, another fee, and another hoop to jump through. I love surprises, but not this kind of surprise.

Confused like me, well here is the breakdown from their website. Renunciation is defined as “Surrender and Renunciation of Indian Citizenship applies only to applications of Indian Origin. Under The Indian Citizenship Act, 1955, Persons of Indian Origin is NOT allowed DUAL Citizenship. If a person has ever held an Indian Passport and has obtained the passport of another country, they will be required to surrender their Indian Passport immediately after gaining another Country’s nationality.”

Why I was able to obtain two other travel visas without going through this process, I am not sure so don’t ask. 🙂

Luckily, CKGS directed me to the appropriate link to begin the Renunciation process. There is a way to submit for your Renunciation of Indian Citizenship and a travel visa at the same time, but I didn’t want to take the chance. I decided to submit one at a time.

I began the Renunciation application online and to my surprise they ask for my Permanent Indian address. For real? Well, in my case my last address was my orphanage that no longer exist today. I copied the address that is in my Indian passport. The address is not complete so I had to google the zip code (known as the pin code) and typed in what I found and prayed that it would work.

I completed the application, printed out the documents, signed where I needed to, made copies of my passport and naturalization certificat scheduled my appointment (drop off app. in person), and reviewed the checklist over and over.

I had everything. I was ready. I traveled to San Francisco and showed up on time to my appointment. Everything went smoothly, until the CKGS employee asked me for my marriage license. Huh? I’m not married. But, my name changed from what is printed on my Indian passport to what is printed on my current proof of ID. When I was adopted, I never went through a formal name change process. My parents just added my father’s last name to my name given at birth.

A rush of anxiety traveled through my body quickly. I didn’t know what other way to explain it to the CKGS employee. Then I remembered! My adoptive father’s full name is on my Indian passport so that is how I got his last name on my current proof of ID. The CKGS employee highlighted it and again, I prayed that I didn’t get any emails stating that I was denied. He wasn’t sure it was going to be enough but it was the best we could do.

He accepted all my paperwork on his end, but it still needed to get approved. Then it was time to start the waiting game. I left the appointment and jumped on a bus back to Sacramento.

I checked my email on a regular basis and there were no red flags. About two weeks later I received an email stating that my certificate and Indian passport was in transit back to me! Thank you, Universe! Let me tell you, I was not excited about sending off my Indian passport in the mail. As an adoptee I value that passport soooooo much. It’s a very special piece of my story and the beginning of my life in the US.

I opened my envelops and there it was, a red printed “PASSPORT CANCELLED AS ACQUIRED U.S NATIONALITY” stamp. As of September 1, 2016, I was legally no longer an Indian Citizen. Not that I really was one, but now it’s official I guess.

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I sat with my passport for a few minutes. In all honesty, it didn’t really bother me too much that my Indian passport was cancelled. It does suck that adoptees cannot hold dual citizenship. The closest I can get is to apply for an Overseas Citizen of India. Nonetheless, I am glad that the process was approved without an issues and now I can move on to get my India Travel Visa. Stay tuned.

A Taste of Jealousy

For ten years, I have been reading about other adoption journeys, the common struggles and joys we experience, and of course stories of reunion. I find myself reading non stop about how mothers find their children, adults finding their parents, families falling apart after reunion, and how closed files keep identities sealed.

Before throwing myself in books, I just didn’t think that it was possible for me let alone anybody else to find any details about their first family, their first life.

Being that I am an adoptee from India and having my adoption take place thirty three years ago, the idea and hope of reunion was probably never considered by the facilitators. The lack of possibility became my narrative. My narrative that was passed down to me were based on assumptions, books, fear, and uncertainty.

It was the stories of domestic reunions that began to change my narrative about my own reunion from impossible to maybe, just maybe.

Years went by and the opportunity to search came and I began to act. I followed my instincts and shared my friends belief that it was going to happen. Www.youfollowthefilm.com

Since the release of the film, I have become friends with many other international and domestic adoptees. We all have shared our stories through either film, books, solo performances, poems, and blogs. Their vulnerability to open the doors to their most private and personal history is admirable.

Reunions are the goal. Pictures are valuable. Files are requested. Acknowledgment is crucial. Reattaching the psychological, physiological, and spiritual bond that we share with our mother is a biological necessity.

Understanding these desires, I can’t help but want the fantasies and dreams of reunion to come true for my dear friends. For some, they have. It usually never goes the way that they anticipate, but nonetheless, they know, and knowing is all I want.

All I want to know is who she is. All I want is a picture. All I want is my file. All I want is a conversation. All I want is the TRUTH.

The once possible is slowly becoming the impossible again and it’s not fair.

I continue to hear about my dear friends and their stories of reunion or gathering any pieces from their first family.

It’s all so bittersweet.

I will admit that jealousy is my immediate response. I can be looked at and judged in many ways, but I’m going to be quite honest here. I am not only happy for reunions that my dear fellow adoptees experience, but I am also very jealous. I am jealous of the pictures, the acknowledgement, the open files, and the relationships. I am even jealous of the pain, the tears, heartaches that sometimes come with reunion.

I understand that knowing all or some may not be the best for everyone that has access to their history, but I want it all.

I want to find my family on Facebook, or by putting a letter in a file, or joining a website, or hiring an investigator. I want it to be easy where cultural barriers don’t exist, where female babies are honored, where we share the same language, where I don’t need to hide and lie in order to meet my family and where my mother has no fear or shame in saying yes, I am your mother.

I want it to be simple. It should be simple. It needs to be simple for all of us.

Birthday Blues, Episode 2

My 33rd birthday passed last weekend. As usual, I didn’t think much of it and casually started talking about how to celebrate it with friends.

When brainstorming, I consider what I haven’t done before and what I could do on short notice. The idea to camp in Yosemite was explored and became my birthday destination!

I invited a few friends,  but since all of my dear friends traveled long distances to my graduation two weeks prior, they all gracefully declined.

It was all good because I was going to go anyways, which turned out to be the best outcome.

I packed by bags, picked up camping gear from my sister, set my GPS and hit the road.

I arrived on Friday, set up camp, hiked a bit and meditated. Being that I am from a country where there is at least a 12 hour time distance, I find myself thinking of my first mother the day before my birthday. I thought about her all day in fact. Its not uncommon for adoptees to some how include our first families in our thoughts at this time of year.

This year seemed the same as last. I was not really in a celebratory mood or really desired a lot of attention.

Saturday morning arrived and it was officially my birthday. My mother and stepdad came to my camp for the day. As soon as they showed up, they wanted to rest and take a nap. I took off and began to explore northern Yosemite on my own. It was a magical moment to be out in the wilderness on my own. I breathed, cried, stared at the waterfalls, prayed, and sat in silence.

Throughout the whole day, I thought about my first mother and what she could possibly be thinking about, feeling, and if she was imagining me as a 33 year old young woman. I missed her. I mourned because it is truly unlikely that I will ever meet her again and have a relationship with her.

Last year on my birthday, I was in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The city was full of Catholic churches. It was nice to have a piece of Goa with me on my birthday. https://theadopteediary.com/2015/07/02/birthday-blues/

This year was similar. I wasn’t surrounded by Catholic churches, but I was surrounded by beautiful Indian families. It was nice to have a visual reminder of my first home on my birthday. indians in yosemite

It was nice to be alone, on my own, and free to not celebrate my birthday in the traditional sense.

 

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.

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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!