Spr2010_Spotlight: Haiti

AFAAD Responds to Haiti Crisis

We deeply mourn the recent Haitian crisis. As Black /African Diasporic adoptees and foster care alumni ourselves, we understand the trauma of separation from our families of origin and the compounded trauma of transracial/international adoption.  The transracial/international adoptees in our membership understand very well the isolation of growing up in all white communities or in communities that may be diverse, but are isolated culturally. We also understand the painful challenge of being one of a few or at times the only person of color for miles or without concrete connections to any people of color and as adults many of us still struggle with the healing of these wounds.

We assert that this “baby lift” removal of Haitian children must be placed in a larger context of African Diasporic history that recognizes the continued movement of Black children across the globe by colonial desire, as desire that renders invisible the needs, wants and what is best for the country and community that is being colonized, militarized or ‘saved’. Additionally, AFAAD places the rushed removal of children in the context of other international and historical Baby Lifts (Vietnam, Korea) that have had disastrous emotional and spiritual impacts on the children removed who are now adults and the communities from which they were removed. We urge those considering adoption to exercise restraint and not assume that speedy international adoptions represent the only option that is in the “best interest of the child”, the family or community as a solution for Haiti´s rebuilding and recovery efforts.

We challenge individuals, organizations and adoption agencies rushing to find ways to extract children out of Haiti to adhere to Haitian law and acknowledge that the Haitian president has called a halt to all adoption of children out of Haiti. Along with the Haitian government, and multiple other organizations (UNICEF, ISS, SOS,) we express our serious concerns that child trafficking, fraudulent documentation, sexual exploitation, and emotional distress pose serious threats to the safety and stability of Haitian children and families. We support agencies and organizations that are vocally and publicly focused on the reunification of children with family members and supporting families to be able to care for children during this crisis.

AFAAD aligns themselves with organizations such as the Adoptee of Color Roundtable who argue:

“As adoptees of color many of us have inherited a history of dubious adoptions. We are dismayed to hear that Haitian adoptions may be “fast-tracked” due to the massive destruction of buildings in Haiti that hold important records and documents. We oppose this plan and argue that the loss of records requires slowing down of the processes of adoption while important information is gathered and re-documented for these children. Removing children from Haiti without proper documentation and without proper reunification efforts is a violation of their basic human rights and leaves any family members who may be searching for them with no recourse. We insist on the absolute necessity of taking the time required to conduct a thorough search, and we support an expanded set of methods for creating these records, including recording oral histories.”

We challenge those who deny Haitian children the right to heal, grieve and rebuild and grown in their own communities. We want to make clear that our opposition to the removal of children from Haiti to outside countries is not simply about transracial adoption. It is about the fundamental right of every child to have access to their roots, culture and community, and anyone, regardless of race, should consider how deeply the discourse around adoption and ‘saving’ children is a discourse created from a western, white orientation and that transcultural adoption has just as many challenges as transracial adoption.

AFAAD urges organizations currently focused on adoption to shift their priorities to providing resources directly to the Haitian people and using their resources to bring in needed medical supplies, treatment, and food in order for Haiti’s children to be able to stay in country while family reunification tracing process is happening. We also urge supporting organizations, such as Save the Children, that are currently on the ground providing emergency care for unaccompanied children, locating family members, and identifying and registering missing children.

Finally, AFAAD challenges those parents and agencies (both European and African descent) that have brought children their homes to attend to the psychological trauma their children have experienced, to focus on the very real complicated experience of international adoption itself, and insist they seek out lifelong resources, support and education for themselves and their children. For those who have adopted transracially, we assert you must recognize that, knowingly or not, in your adoption of a black child, you have committed yourself to the African Diasporic community and you are responsible for becoming an anti-racist ally to your child for your lifetime. You are responsible the overall health and well being of your child and this includes educating yourself on the politics and cultures of the Black communities that exist in the United States and additionally preparing your child for the very real ways that racism still exists and will impact them and your family as a whole.

Reflections from AFAAD Members

Michelle’s Reflections on Haiti

Since January 11th, my personal and professional life have been largely shaped by the earthquake. My initial concern was for my nieces Berlandie and Berlanda, precious four year olds who have been in our hearts since 2007 when my sister first shared their pictures with the family. Without the earthquake, they’d most likely still be waiting to come the U.S., even though they were promised last summer, than last Christmas, and in January, “Maybe in March…” As a social worker I have always been outraged about the time lag for adoptions in this country. I am well aware of how race, country, color and being at the bottom end of the international fee structure have all come together for these children to be under-valued. Therefore their paperwork ends up continually pushed to the bottom at the U.S. embassy for processing.

As a transcultural adoptee I have always had mixed feelings about my Swedish Americans adopting internationally (or even children of color from private agencies). I continually remind them there are foster children in this country who need homes, and I, as a former foster child continue to work to place our children, and plan to adopt soon myself. Their arguments that their children from Korea and Haiti are in more dire straights than US children has some validity. Yet for those of us who know about the dismal outcomes for children who age out of foster care without a family, it seems to be the lesser of two evils. How I have dealt with the decisions of my siblings is to love all children in the family equally, embracing and rejoicing in each child. Additionally, I have been in that sometimes difficult role of the culture police. I am the constant reminder that more must be done for these children; that racism is alive and well, complacency is not an option in parenting and ultimately their decisions brought a level of complexity to family life they often forget. White privilege and busy lives often shove cultural needs, uncomfortable conversations and cultural competency assessments into the “We’ll get to it when we can” closet, unearthed only when there is a crisis that cannot be avoided.

The earthquake brought many difficult discussions to our family; many moments of hurt and pain. Issues of loss of birth names, language, culture and country bring differing views of reality and what is right. There have been thankfully brief moments when I wonder how much anybody has really learned after having me and my brother in this family for almost 40 years. As my parents have always encouraged open and honest discussions about race and adoption, I speak my truths, people become upset, and eventually things settle down into agreeing to disagree, concessions, and ultimately forgiveness as love trumps anger and fear, but it is a pattern which will repeat itself soon over some other issue, especially as my siblings begin to parent teenagers trying to develop high self esteem and ethnic identities in predominately white communities.

Professionally, as a former president of the Minnesota chapter of the National Association of Black Social workers, I was stunned to hear their initial plans to immediately ship children from Haiti to the US to languish until Black foster and adoptive families could be studied. As the only adoptee on the Black Family Summit calls, I had to remind them that these would be transracial adoptions- the very thing they continue to oppose. I challenged them to “walk their talk” and admit African Americans know very little of Haiti, do not speak Creole or even French, and other than myself, only one other person on the call had been to Haiti and he was not a child welfare professional. I reminded them of our AFAAD statement, as well as the Adoptees of Color Roundtable, as well as many other groups cautioning against such action. Thankfully, they soon saw the light, but the discussions in the mean time were difficult, and I was at times made to feel like the problem child throwing a wrench in their plan.

Both personally and professionally this has been a growth opportunity. I am pleased to be leading a work group and hope we will come up with a plan that works for Haitian children, and families, and avoid other agendas. As an aunt, I am pleased that my nieces have weathered early traumas of seeing caregivers and others in the rubble, and for them, terror in using car seats after being strapped to the sides of cargo planes for hours. I anticipate as they learn English, they will tell their stories of all they saw, smelled, heard and felt in those difficult days right after the earthquake. I pray that their parents and the rest of the family do all that is necessary to mitigate the effects of these early experiences. I am also poised for the next cultural battle, as I continue my commitment to make the lives of my nieces and nephews better than mine growing up!

More Resources

Below are a few blogs, news articles, and statements we think provide good background and perspective on Haiti issues.

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