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.

 

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

 

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!

Date of Departure

As an adoptee, there are some privileges that I don’t have. One of them is truth. As I become more involved with my history, my story, my narrative, there is still a little part of me that doubts what I have been told or what I have discovered. There has, and I am sure there will always be gaps and holes in my personal story. I am hoping these gaps are not created intentionally by those that have determined my destiny and path up until now. Although, even as a 30 something adult, I have had to accept the fact there will be truths to my story that I will never be able to uncover due to secrets and reputations held by key players in my adoption. I am not alone here.

Since the release of my film, YOU FOLLOW: a search for one’s past, I have connected with other trans-racial adoptees via Facebook. Aspects of their adoptions come up every now and then on my feed. Over the last couple of years, there have been a common trend of other adoptees celebrating the date of arrival into their family. This date is the day that their adoption became final, when they got picked up from the airport, when they met their adoptive parents for the first, etc. However their first meeting played out, that is the day that is usually acknowledged and sometimes publicly celebrated.

For me, my date of arrival was never really important to me. I always knew that it was sometime in December. Within my family, there was no acknowledgment or celebration. I never felt the need or desire to mark that date as an anniversary or a special day. At least not until recently.

It was the acknowledgment by my fellow adoptees that got me curious one afternoon in mid December of last year. I got the intense urge to find out because I did want to honor that day of the year.

The first thing I did was call my mother. No answer. Then I called my father. No answer, so I left a message. He took a couple of days to call me back. He stated that he looked through all the paperwork that he had but my day of arrival was not mentioned anywhere. He casually suggested that I look at my Indian passport.

At that moment, a loud DUH! went through my thoughts. I happened to be sitting at my desk and my handy plastic container with all my important documents was conveniently placed next to my chair by surprise. With my dad still on the phone, I lifted the lid off and my Indian passport was on top of everything else. I opened up the pages and found the stamp from the Bombay Airport Immigration dated December 29, 1983. I flipped the page and the same date appeared on the US Immigration stamp. There it was, the date that I left my first home and arrived to my next one.

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I told my dad that today is my anniversary of when I first arrived to the US. He sounded pleased and happy of course, but I on the other hand felt the opposite. I felt sad, very sad. For me to find out my original date of arrival exactly 32 years later on the very same date was already unreal. These feelings of grief came over me. I acted like I was okay and said my goodbyes.

I sat and rode the waves of emotions for awhile. I stopped what I was currently working on at the time. I didn’t answer calls. I just sat with myself.

I cried.

I missed my first home. I missed India. I missed by birth mother. I missed a life that I could of easily had. I missed not having a choice.

Its odd, but I felt I was taken away. Almost against my will.

To think that my life could of unfolded any other way because of someone else’s decision. This someone that I will never meet and who refuses to answer any of my emails. This someone that holds so many secrets to my life so she can protect her own reputation.

Since there are so many uncertain pieces and secrets to the first six months of my life, I must hold on to the pieces that I know to be true. I can now add my date of arrival to my story.

 

 

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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Birthday Blues

This year for my 32nd birthday, I wanted to be in a place that was unfamiliar. The joy of traveling to somewhere new was pulling at me for some time, but due to my work and school schedule I could not get away. I waited patiently and developed a plan.

I decided to pack up my whole studio apartment and stuff it all into a storage unit so I could become a nomad and to celebrate and visit family and friends all summer long. I am not sure if it was the best and most responsible choice, but I needed to take a risk and live.

My best friend, Marissa also has a birthday in June and so we decided to head to San Juan, Puerto Rico and the Republica Dominicana to celebrate for two weeks.

MarNisha

On June 11th, we set out to explore Old San Juan. We walked, talked and drank the whole afternoon. As we walked around with no agenda in mind, I noticed a large white church in the middle of the bustling city streets. We walked up the stairs and I sat in the back on a brown bench. I proceeded to give thanks for the opportunity to travel as well as many others gifts.

As I do every year, I say a little prayer for my birth mother. I send out so much love to her that in the back of my mind, I imagine her feeling the same energy and love pulsing through her core at the same time. I never missed her so much until that day. She stayed on my mind and in my heart the whole day. Even though I will probably never see her again, I just hope that she feels me and my love for her.

birthday selfie

Throughout the day, many feelings of loss rolled through me. Being that I was in a dominate Spanish speaking country, I couldn’t help but think about language. It wasn’t until that moment, that I really understood the loss of language through adoption. That feeling took me back to the time that I got to meet my birth mother, but was unable to converse with her privately because she did not speak English and nor did I speak Konkani. To just have a few minutes alone her was all I have ever wanted.

Those feelings of language drifted into feelings about reunion. Although, I was able to meet a woman whom I believe is my mother, I will never be reunited and actually have a relationship with her like so many of my fellow adoptees in reunion. Although, I am happy for my friends, I am also very jealous since international adoption creates a larger barrier for me to know my birth family.

Once these thoughts subsided, I stepped outside and sat on the steps to watch everybody explore. I quickly realized that the architecture in Old San Juan was very similar to Panjim, Goa. Not only the color of the buildings, but the palm trees, tropical feeling, moist humid air, the city’s ordor, the small roads, and the view of the ocean took me back to my trip to my first home. It was a special feeling to be in a place that is so similar to where I came from. It almost felt like I was suppose to be there on my birthday; to have a piece of Goa with me for the day.

PR

After a few days in Puerto Rico, we jumped on a tiny plane and headed towards Republica Dominicana. Our last stop on the island was Punta Cana and as soon as we arrived by bus to our Airbnb apartment, I was reminded that Goa wasn’t too far away.

punta cana

It felt good to be reminded of my first home during this birthday adventure.

I missed India and the possible life that I had no choice in leaving behind