I’ve sat and written this piece several times over the last few weeks. It’s hard to know what to say when the subject is so layered for me, when my feelings and understandings continue to change. But I write this because I want to share an important voice that has impacted my own art in many ways – Rhonda Roorda.
Six years ago I was working on a solo performance piece. A piece I had started working on in graduate school. It was a piece about my family and adoption. I am not adopted myself, and it wasn’t my goal to be the voice of adoptees. But I wanted to share threads of the stories I have witnessed and walked alongside as a sibling of adoptees.
Working on the piece was difficult, complicated, and brought up so many questions of my own understanding of what adoption is and is not.
As I was researching and preparing I wrote a blog piece on Rhonda Roorda’s three co-authored books. In Their Own Voices, In Their Parents' Voices, and In Their Siblings' Voices, a three part series containing interviews of African American Adoptees, their white parents, and their non-adopted siblings.
In a response to my blog, Rhonda reached out to me and asked if we could talk. It was a gift I shall never forget. It was the first time I had the chance to talk to someone who, like my siblings, was adopted by a family that was a different race. In the midst of our conversation, she said something I will never forget. She said, “It’s complicated”. “Yes”, I said. And felt relief. For the first time someone had used a word that helped define what I felt. Adoption is complicated. It’s not all cute and sparkly and wonderful – it can often be heart wrenching and dark. Rhonda gave me the freedom to say that there was more than one story to the adoption narrative. Rhonda graciously came to the opening of my show and helped facilitate a talk back session afterwards. Her willingness to share her story, has been a powerful example of vulnerability and generosity that has helped shape the kind of work I hope my art can continue to be a part of - art that is vulnerable and generous.
November is a month that focuses on adoption. It is a month where many of the voices discussing adoption are adoptive parents or agencies who help facilitate adoptions. These voices are part of the story. They are part of the adoption process. But they are only a part. There are also the voices of the adoptees, of birth families, of siblings and communities. Adoption is complicated. Adoption stirs many intense and deep feelings. And adoption starts with a child’s loss. And we each deal with loss in different ways.
Working on my solo show, six years ago, stretched me and provided conversations with audiences that helped me explore and grow in my own understanding of adoption. I’m still learning. I’m still reminded that I have much to learn – about adoption, about race in the US, about loss, about listening.
As a sibling of adoptees I often feel overwhelmed. I feel the loss. The aches. The wounds. Not because they are mine, but because I watch and witness them unfolding near me.
Rhonda’s work has taught me that though I may not be able to change or fight all that is broken, that I can and should take the first step of learning to be a good listener. To practice bearing witness to the stories and lives of those who entrust me with their stories. Her books are a reminder to me, as an artist, as a human being, that there is great power in listening to one another. That it takes practice and intention to allow someone to share their story without my agenda becoming the most important part of the conversation.
For over twenties years I have walked in the midst of adoption. Like many I have strong ideas and opinions. I have learned how deeply racism has twisted our relationships and connections as people and as a country. I have been deeply changed by my siblings and their stories.
I wish I had a list of quick fixes to end with. Instead I leave you with a few thoughts and resources.
1. I encourage you to read Rhonda’s work. She has just published a new book entitled, In Their Voices, Black Americans on Transracial Adoption. Her writing has helped me understand in deeper ways the power of listening. The power of providing safe places for people to share their stories, without interruption or interjections or silencing. Regardless of what you know or think about adoption her work is a powerful look at race and ways we can all learn to be more generous fellow citizens. And in the midst of so much racial tension in our country her work is a powerful example of one woman's willingness to do the hard work of listening and providing space for people's voices to be heard.
2. As a White American, I am sorry for the ways I have and others have silenced the stories of minorities. I am sorry for the ignorance or pain my words, actions, or behavior have caused. I will, I’m sure, make mistakes again, but I hope that I can move forward with more grace and generosity to honor the stories I have been given the privilege to bear witness to, as a sibling and fellow human being.
And finally in the midst of a month that focuses on adoption, I encourage us all to listen to the voices of adoptees – to hear their stories. To be willing to hear the layers and complexities of adoption and be reminded that none of us fits into a box - but that the layers of our stories shape us - and their is value in the specifics of each story.
Below are just a few adoptees whose work has been helpful for me in thinking through the complexities of adoption:
Rhonda Roorda - Author and Expert on Transracial Adoption Web Site - RhondaMRoorda.Com
Carissa Woodwyk - Counselor and Adoptee - Web Site - https://carissawoodwyk.wordpress.com
Tara VanderWoude - Social Worker and Adoptee - Facebook https://www.facebook.com/TaraVanderWoude/
Angela Tucker - Adoptee whose story was shared in a documentary film called Closure. Her most recent project is on Kickstarter. To learn more about this project and how you can help be a part of the process of young adoptees sharing their stories visit - https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1885614069/the-adopted-life-episodes
GOWE - Song about his adoption story - I Wonder - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXcblBDTAoQ
My work as an artist has been deeply impacted by adoption and the work of Rhonda Roorda and others who have courageously shared the layers and complexities of their stories. I am thankful for Rhonda, for her work that has pushed me to listen, to grow, and to deepen my understanding of what it means to be a human and artist. And to the many other adoptees, whose stories have helped me understand my own story, thank you.