`An outsider, always'
Several stories of successful Inter-Country Adoption (ICA) have been published. The adopted children are portrayed as well-to-do, well-adjusted individuals. But how do they actually feel? GITA RAMASWAMY talks to an Indian adoptee in the U.S.
Bittu at the Missionaries of Charity, New Delhi.
Bittu, supposedly born on October 23, 1972, is the son of white Americans, an engineer, living and working in the U.S. This would be the typical American, one would think. Not so.
This is a child, sent away for Inter Country Adoption (ICA) in 1978 when he was five years old from the Missionaries of Charity, Delhi. Curious about the anger that many adoptees are openly expressing, I asked Bittu to fill us in with on these areas.
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TELL us of your experiences with racism in the U.S.
I grew up in a small town, roughly 5,000 people and little to no diversity. I was one of the few coloured people and by far the darkest. My earliest recollection of racism began in early school. I was teased by other kids, bullied, and generally not accepted. The adults were not as overt. Many would give me dirty looks.
In college, I found that fitting in required less work and people were generally more accepting. One thing that has not changed to this day, however, is that most white people won't even consider dating a dark-skinned person. That is the way I grew up, in a hostile environment. It is difficult for white parents to identify with racism or the struggles associated with it. From the time I arrived here, as a five-year-old, until I left that town at 18 I felt alone and constantly frightened. I had almost no friends, few who would associate with me or defend me in a group.
What about your experiences with NRIs?
It began in college my first chance to interact with Indians. Things were fine for a while and I felt like I belonged. That was challenged as soon as I wanted to date an Indian woman. I attended Indian functions and celebrated Indian holidays and dances put on by the Indian groups. Each time I went, the whispering of Indian parents and kids would surround me. I was never welcome and was shunned. They knew I was adopted. I was also told that I could never date an Indian woman living in the U.S. That if I wanted to marry an Indian woman, may be someone in India trying to get to the United States would consider me.
My mother told me recently about some Indians in our town while I was growing up. My parents invited them over, but they would not eat at the same table as I. No matter how much I tried, I was an outsider and not welcome in their inner circles or their homes. I was even called `nigger' by some of them and it hurt more than when white people did. Caste is very important to the Indians in the West. So it's one of the first things I heard about (even though I was trying to be as white as possible). Here, I am an untouchable for immigrant Indians. Perhaps due to this, I believe that Indians are the most racist.
Your experiences with African Americans?
It has been almost non-existent. Many in the town I grew up in used to call me names like `nigger' and other derogatory names associated with Afro-Americans. In college, I met some that I liked and others that I didn't. Still, I am jealous of their self-confidence and the support from their community to stand up for themselves and make their voices heard. I never had this.
Adopted children, especially those who go abroad have to deal with many losses: of a birth parent, of identity, of home country, of ethnicity.
Do you meet other adoptees?
Yes. The problems I speak of are common to all the adoptees I have met. The majority from India in my age group have not done well educationally and live liminal lives. The younger generation seem to be doing better. They have a larger pool to draw strength from, though I can still see the pain in their eyes, no matter how well adjusted they may seem. How would you feel? Being kicked out of your family, home and country through no fault of your own and being told it was for your own good?
Do you feel you would have been better off in India?
When I came to India, I felt like I belonged. As an adoptee in the U.S., I have always felt out of place, an outsider. In India I felt I could melt in, disappear and be happy. I do realise the poverty is staggering. I saw it all around the shacks, hovels, families collecting cow dung in the fields or breaking rocks for a new road. But I still believe I would have been better off in a place where I belong, regardless of the poverty. I felt more at peace and less out of place.
There is much that ICA adoptees hold inside that others don't see. To this day I am searching for a place where I belong. It is so frustrating and at times the tears flow for a while, then I collect myself and move on. Even professionally, I don't belong. I don't have a support infrastructure like NRI's do. I am not really "Indian" to them. In the workplace, I have met many bigots and have often been treated very poorly despite being a professional engineer.
ICA adoptees have a more difficult time banding together, we are spread out across the country and a lot are in denial of who and what they are. Many are struggling to survive emotionally and working to fit into "white America" any way they can. After all, what options do they have, what options were they given?
Very few ICA adoptees manage to get a good education. Yes, some go to college but I am surprised at the numbers that drop out or just don't go. So would it have been better in India? I can't answer that. I have not lived in poverty since five.
What are your views on ICA? Many in India support it, because children have a better life abroad. "One less child begging on the roads of India," said a prominent official.
Well, that probably means, "Let the kid be someone else's problem". Inter-country adoption should be the last resort. The child (who has already been stripped of family) is then stripped of his/her culture, country, and place in the world. Adoption is difficult enough with just losing your family, why would sending the child to another country be a good thing?
Life is better abroad? What does life mean? Just money? Then life is better abroad in a monetary sense. But, there is more to life than money. Money did not solve my problems.
Where do I fit? I don't fit in the U.S. since I am not white or black. I don't fit with the Indians since I do not meet their standards. I feel alone and disconnected from humanity at times. My life has been pretty painful and lonely.
I have seen therapists and went through an intensive two-week therapy on attachment disorders. I came out feeling better about myself and changed my outlook. I was reading an article my mother sent me and I came across this statement that I think accurately reflects most adoptees. "In some ways, adoption makes us the ultimate survivors. We have to cope with many losses: of a birth parent, of identity, of our home country, of our ethnicity. We carry it in our hearts, every day."
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His mother's voice
MY son went to an SOS Children's Home in Delhi and said, "This would have been a very nice alternative for a child like me". For that moment in time, he was doing "India think" He wouldn't have lost his country, would be living with those "like him", retained his language, got an education, married and had children, wouldn't have to forever be on the outside looking in no matter where he was in life
For what it is worth to any of you, our son is a loving and productive person who also happens to have some pretty big holes in his heart and psyche as the result of being plucked out of his birth country and raised by white parents. He lives a rather "multi-cultural" life these days, as it is difficult for him (and many other adult ICA's) to find exactly where they fit and feel comfortable. He is no loser, by anyone's standards, and I suspect any of you would be very fortunate to have a son like him. I, for one, pray that India (and any other country including the U.S.) find loving homes for their children in same race/ethnic families because I have watched my son's (and other adult ICA's) struggles.
If I thought, at any time during the process of adopting my son so many years ago, that we were somehow keeping him from a loving Indian family, we would have immediately withdrawn our efforts. In fact, we would have helped that Indian family adopt him. I believe that it is in the child's best interest to be adopted or cared for in a loving and competent manner INSIDE the child's own birth country.
I also abhor buying and selling of children and the illegal means used by many to take babies and children from their birth mothers and families by agencies and orphanages. The corruption in both the receiving and sending countries has got to stop.
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