Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Troy Polamalu's Hair

Troy Polamalu has the best hair in the NFL, hands down. I'm not even sure exactly how he crams it all under his football helmet. He has said publicly that he embraces his hair as an expression of his Samoan heritage, and he hasn't cut it since a coach forced him to back in 2000. What I wonder is, exactly which products does he use? It looks so healthy!

The latest new about his hair came last month, when Proctor and Gamble insured it for a million dollars. I mean, look at those could they not?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Writing for Liberty and Justice: Jordan Miles

Strangely, although I've mentioned the Jordan Miles case several times on the blog, I haven't dedicated an entire post to the trajectory of the case. Here goes.

Jordan Miles is the Pittsburgh kid who was so brutally beaten by 3 White officers that his face looked like this:

He was unarmed, walking from his house to his grandmother's down the street, when the officers in plainclothes attacked him. Later the police claimed they had thought he might be armed and on drugs. He was neither.

It seems his only crime was being Black and outside at night.

This case has garnered much local and national press, because Jordan Miles happens to be a straight-laced honors student at one of Pittsburgh's most prestigious arts academies. There are no ambiguities here: police were the criminals that night.

The city has largely ignored the issue. The policemen involved are on a temporary suspension during which they are being paid more than they make on duty. (Nice punishment, huh?) The Feds have stepped in, but still nothing has happened.

Sadly, this kind of thing isn't all that rare. Most people know this. As a recovering country bumpkin, I am still baffled when I hear of it, especially when it happens less than 5 miles from my house. So this weekend I attended a rally/march to demand justice for Jordan. And I've chosen "writing against injustice" as a central theme for the two writing classes I'm teaching this term. My students will read about the case (in a media packet I've put together--you may read/download below) and write about it.

These are but small things. Tiny steps to conquer an issue that seems too big. But together with others fighting for peace, may we scale the mountain.

May a better day come.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lorrie Moore's novel A Gate at the Stairs

Lorrie Moore's most recent novel has an adoption theme. It's not necessarily the main theme but rather is presented as a synecdoche of the whole story. The main character is Tassie Keltjin, a Midwestern country girl newly arrived at college, who embraces learning, literature, and intellectual snobbery while navigating that push-and-pull relationship with her roots and shifting identity typical of her age. When she takes a job as a nanny for a 40-something white couple who are adopting a biracial baby girl, she's given a new identity to try on as well as an outsider-yet-insider vantage point on the adoption.

Tassie accompanies the adoptive mom to meetings with social workers, a foster family, and a birth mother (note: this would never happen in real life!), observing the complex gains and losses of the situation. She seems to be the only one who sees the birth mother's pain. Tessie cares for the baby every day, takes her shopping and on walks in the park, gets the questioning looks from strangers wondering what a white chick is doing toting around a brown baby. She feels wounded when someone yells "nigger!" at the child. She babysits while eavesdropping on the a-mom's discussions with the few people of color in town about raising brown children in a white world.

A lot of things in this story rang true for me. A car keeps driving by the house. Tessie notices the a-mom's fear about it is not fear of the racists she thinks herself so vehemently opposed to but rather "the gone-missing birth father...she imagined it might be he who was driving past, having somehow found out Mary-Emma's new address." Fear of the birth parent returning, and in this case an even scarier prospect: the black male birth parent. Moore brilliantly describes that sort of silent, bubbling prejudice against difference (an adopted kid, a biracial kid) that can exist in the rural Midwest. It's the kind that everybody knows about but nobody talks about. The kind that, "like mold, grows in secret, dark places."

Overall, I think Moore deals with the adoption in a nuanced way, creating believable characters that are all deeply flawed but doing their best. That is often the conclusion I come to in adoption stories--it's full of fathers and mothers and children who are flawed and hurting but doing their best in a situation of loss.

The little adopted girl grieves her losses and bonds with the new people around her, though it is not without complications. Her life is shifting and changing constantly, much like the life of her country bumpkin nanny whose world is expanding at lightening speed.

From a literary standpoint, there are, of course, shortcomings--some events were device-y and had a tagged-on feeling, and the ending seemed rushed--but Moore gained so many points with the adoption stuff and her beautiful language that I still give it a thumbs-up, especially for people interested in adoption or Midwest culture.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Program to Keep Ethiopian Adoptees in their Home Country Instead of Overseas

Ethiopia is becoming the nation of choice for international adoptions. Part of the reason is that they've had fairly lenient rules about the adoption process, and therefore adopters can get kids quicker. Another reason is that they have an overwhelming number of orphans (something like 5 million).

Well, here's some good news: The Ethiopian government, faith-based U.S. charity the Buckner Foundation, and Ethiopia's Bright Hope Church are teaming up on an experimental project to help orphans thrive in their home countries rather than be put up for adoption overseas. It's a program that provides two meals per day + education to hundreds of Bantu orphans. Read about it here. (Thanks to Lisa Marie for the link.)

I'm a bit surprised about the Buckner Foundation, as they seem to support international adoption and provide transnational adoption services. Perhaps this is a new experiment for them--we need to let them know it's a good thing!

It's encouraging to see the growth of a program like this that recognizes the importance of a child staying close to his/her home culture and family if at all possible, making international adoption a last resort. (The usual disclaimer: That's not to say international adoption is always "bad," or that many kids have benefited from it, but we know that cross-culture/cross-race adoptions must be treated with care. We have to consider what will be most beneficial and least traumatic for the kid.) A program like this will have a lasting positive impact on Ethiopia and its economy and its working population, moreso than a temporary fix of permanently sending the kids abroad.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

POV Adoption Documentaries on PBS

Check out PBS's Point of View series on adoption, part of a national public awareness campaign to examine issues facing adoptees and families who choose to adopt. The next one, In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee, will air Sept. 14. You can also watch them online. (See link to trailer below.)

Spread the word!

Also, they are featuring the film Off and Running, which I posted about here back in February.

Watch the full episode. See more POV.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Pittsburgh Consortium for Adoption Studies Events

Elizabeth Samuels, law professor at the University of Baltimore, is speaking on the history of closed records in the U.S. (Get the attention of legislators for this one!)
When: Thursday, September 30, 12:30 pm
Location: University of Pittsburgh Law School 

Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, Korean TRA and activist/poet/professor, "Toward Truth and Reconciliation: Overseas Korean Adoptee and Unwed Mother Advocacy," with
Eleana Kim, from University of Rochester, "The Dry Eye of Adoption Politics: Testimony, Social Justice, and Representation Among Transnational Korean Adoptees"
When: Friday, October 15, noon
Location: University of Pittsburgh Posvar Hall

Poetry Reading
Jennifer Kwon Dobbs
When: Friday, October 15, 4 pm
Location: University of Pittsburgh, Cathedral of Learning 2nd floor

Film Showing
First Person Plural, A documentary by and about a Korean-American adoptee
(NYTimes review
When: Thursday, October 14, 7:30 pm
Location: University of Pittsburgh Posvar Hall

Thursday, September 9, 2010

You Only Have One Mother!

I'm writing this from Lincoln Memorial hospital in Springfield, Il., where Mom is recovering from post-radiation surgery to remove cancerous tumors. Thankfully, the director of the writing center was very understanding about my leaving town and my teaching duties mid-week even though the semester just started. As I spoke with her on the phone, trying to figure out how I could rearrange appointments and/or get someone to cover for me, she said, "Go. Just go."
Her next words threw me for a loop:

"You only have one mother! Right?"

Um...well, not exactly.

"Y-yes," I cringed and said, to keep things simple and move it along. Her question kept creeping into my thoughts during the 9-hour drive to Illinois. I do have two mothers--my birth mother, who gave me life and relinquished me into foster care/adoption, and my adoptive mom, who raised me. I wondered whether my birth mother has ever had major surgery, and I was sad that I didn't even know the answer. I wondered whether I would jump in my car and drive 9 hours if my b-mom were having surgery. I think I probably would, if I knew she wanted me there--but sadly, it would take more consideration. I'm just not as close to her, and sometimes I feel that our relationship is strained. I always try to recognize and validate her role in my life, but truthfully I am much closer to my a-mom. We've had many more years to work on getting along and growing a lasting connection.

I wish it didn't have to be this way. I think the relationship is difficult for my birth mother. How could it not be? At its root is heartbreak, loss, a relationship established and terminated almost immediately post-birth and restarted 25 years later. This is the nature of adoption.

As I watch Mom's painful recovery from a surgery not unlike a Cesarean birth, I think of the pain my birth mother must've experienced when she gave me up. Someday my birth mother and I may be closer, I hope. I have always thought of her and loved her from afar, and she has said it was the same for her. Perhaps all that thinking and loving an absence can make it hard to bring a relationship to the "reality" realm, the in-touch/in-person world. It may take a few more years before both of us are ready to drop everything and meet the other in the hospital.

So, the answer is "no," a simple "no." I don't only have one mother. They are different, they have occupied different spaces in my life. But in the end, my love for them is the same.

Quran Burning

Why is it that extremists get the most attention?

Take this Petacostal minister in Florida who wants to institute an annual Quran-burning event to mark the anniversary of 9/11. I'm not sure what his goal is: to scare people away? To incite hate? To get attention from President Obama? Because it sure won't display the love of Jesus. And why is it that the media insists on giving this guy so much attention? I agree with Hillary Clinton's remarks:
It is regrettable that a pastor in Gainesville, Florida, with a church of no more than 50 people can make this outrageous and distrustful, disgraceful plan and get the world's attention, but that's the world we live in right now.
This in the midst of the whole debate about the mosque-building on Ground Zero, which is a ridiculous debate to begin with in a country that allows freedom of religion.

Meanwhile on 9/11 this year, East Liberty Presby in Pittsburgh will be hosting an interfaith prayer for peace. People from various faiths (Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Baha'i) plan to gather to walk the labyrinth together and contemplate how to live in peace. Will that get the attention of any news outlets? Doubt it.

Fear and divisiveness are loud. Hope and peace are much quieter.