Chelan Gill remembers always knowing she was adopted. It would have been difficult for her parents to hide it because, although Chelan’s mother is South Asian like her, her father is Caucasian. Adopted at birth, Chelan was raised within western culture and influences – even having the last name of Fletcher. However, at 26, she married a South Asian man who taught her about Indian culture and customs, and at 27, Chelan decided to search out information about her birth parents and medical history before having children.
One-year-old covergirl Maddy Devitt appeared on the cover of Focus on Adoption magazine in 1994. She is now a gorgeous 18-year-old working as an au pair in London, England. What has her life been like in between? “Like a Skittles box!”
Madeline Devitt was born Alcinia Dore in Dessalines, Haiti on March 8, 1993, in a typical cinderblock home with a dirt floor. Her family already had four children, and her birth mother died soon after due to complications from the birth. Her birth father tried very hard to find a wet nurse for Maddy but couldn’t.
My partner and I adopted a child two years ago. We are Caucasian and our daughter is African-American. I want to adopt again so she has a sibling. My partner refuses. What should I do?
This is a conversation that should have taken place before you adopted a child. However, there are a couple of things you could do. First, try to clearly understand why your partner doesn’t want to add to your family. Once you discover the reason, there may be room for compromise.
Ola Zuri, a transracial adoptee, has written a children’s book Why Can’t You Look Like Me? Siobhan Rowe interviewed Ola about her experience growing up and what she’d like parents who adopt a child of a different ethnicity to know.
Why did you write the book?
Andrew Martindale, an adoptive parent, and assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, explains that the concept of race is man-made and, though it holds enormous power, has no biological basis.
The history of race relations makes transracial adoptions deeply personal, and, at times, very public statements of reconciliation. What do we say to our children, ourselves and others about the nature and significance of racial difference within our families?
In his landmark book “Shades of Black”, William Cross describes the following stages in the development of Black identity, stages believed to be similar for most Asians, Latinos and Aboriginals living in white-dominated society. There is no particular age range attached to each stage, and no expectation that all individuals will move through all stages, though the process typically spans the period from pre-adolescence to middle adulthood. Building racial identity is an on-going process that continues over each person’s life span.
Over the years, psychologist Dr Peter Hotz has worked with scores of adoptive families. He tells me that he has seen adoption from every angle. I’m at his Vancouver office to talk about international, cross-cultural adoptions. Dr Hotz has worked with several AFABC families. I can tell immediately that he has synthesized all that experience into some fundamental messages for parents considering adopting a child cross-culturally.
Susan Waugh adopted two baby girls, now aged nine and 11, from China. Focus magazine recently asked her what tips she’d pass onto prospective intercountry parents.
Loving our children has been easy. As transracial adoptive parents, however, it has been much more difficult to develop strategies for dealing with individual and institutional racism.
In our experience, the best lessons we can offer are those that teach our children to externalize racism and assure them we will always be there for them.