Sometime around 1933, when my father was about ten years old, a well-to-do Anglo (i.e. white) family from a state far from Texas wanted to take him home. He was a skinny, dark-skinned kid working at a gasoline station in Laredo, Texas. He had been born into privilege; his maternal grandfather being a millionaire educated his grandchildren at home with a bilingual tutor. Yet everything changed when the Depression ended their life of extravagance.
My father made 5 cents per day working at the station. The couple, who had no children, were driving through Laredo on their way to Mexico. They struck up a conversation - then asked him if he would accompany them on their trip. His mother let him go with them. When they returned the couple asked if he could go live with them. My grandmother said no.
Imagining in the best of circumstances, they would have offered him an education, a comfortable living environment, and a "real" childhood, where he would have time to play as any ten year old should. Yet this was not to happen.
Instead, he stayed, working at the station for a few more years. He was able to complete high school with a few years in the Army in-between. He grew up to be a successful businessman who offered me the life the unknown "white" family would have offered him.
I am glad my grandmother didn't let him go.
On April 24, 1993, I legally adopted my daughter in Asuncion, Paraguay. I will never forget that day. I was a complete nervous wreck. Our adoption was being expedited because the first free elections in decades were to be held that spring, following the 35-year rule of the dictator Alfredo Stroessner, who was ousted in a military coup in 1989. There was much uncertainty as to whether the election would even take place, and concern that another military coup might prevent it. Tanks were in the street, and there was a sense that the country might well fall in to a civil war.
The Stone is a forum for contemporary philosophers on issues both timely and timeless.
It is not only adopted children who lack the traditional family narrative....
...There is a voluminous literature arguing that the act of child adoption itself constitutes a trauma. For example, the writer Betty Jean Lifton argued that no matter what adoptive parents do, an adopted child has undergone a foundational trauma. I have argued against that position because for Lifton, biological connection is the only way for a family to constitute itself through a foundational narrative of belonging. On that view, an adopted child will necessarily be robbed of such a narrative, and will be without answers to basic questions like “When did mommy meet daddy?” and “What happened on the day I was born?”
But of course it is not only adopted, children who lack such narratives. Those who do not live in conventional heterosexual families are also cut off from them. The normalization of the heterosexual family — mommy and daddy and baby makes three — does not describe the majority of families. If one narrative of family belonging — in this case traditional heterosexual — is treated as the only valid one, it cuts off other possibilities for other stories of how one becomes a family and belongs to a family. Thus, the very argument that adoption is foundationally traumatic shuts down possibilities that would allow adopted children to tell different family stories and be part of different kinds of families. The argument itself becomes exclusionary.
In my own writing on adoption, I have emphasized the importance of what I call the “imaginary domain,” both within the United States and in the context of international adoption. The imaginary domain is an aesthetic idea that represents the psychic and moral space individuals need in order to come to terms with the complex identifications all of us face in our relationships with our family, our sexuality, and our national and linguistic identities.
One way of trying to facilitate the protection of an adopted child’s imaginary domain is through open adoption, in which the biological mother or parents and the adoptive family know each other. However, open international adoption is very difficult; some of the countries that still allow international adoption either do not have records of the birth parents or have laws and practices that prevent access to the birth parents. There is also a deeper problem. Many of the countries that allow adoption are at times unable to control the privatization of adoption, with the result that some orphanages end up in the hands of mafias. This raises the specter of children who, if they have not been outright stolen, have in some way or another been coercively removed from their family of origin. MORE