Reading for diversity

Now that I have defended my dissertation and accepted a job offer, I am thrilled that I will have a little bit more time to enjoy reading, and while I won’t be able to keep up the pace I used to before graduate school, I do plan to prioritize some non-required reading in my life.

Over the past several months, I have come across a couple of articles online about reading only diverse authors – some going as far as only reading books by women of color – for a year. Unfortunately, I can’t set this challenge for me at work, however, it IS something that I am going to implement for my non-required reading. I will be keeping track of my books here.

First one: Ghost of Sangju: A memoir of reconciliation by Soojung Jo. My review is here.

Happy reading everyone! Suggestions? Let me know in the comments!

[Edited to add: I am using this list as my inspiration.]

Others who have taken on this challenge:


Interview with author Deborah Jiang Stein about adoption themes in literature

Happy New Years to everyone!

Here in the upper Midwest we are experiencing the Coldpocalypse. -21 degrees as I type, with -40 windchills throughout much of my state. I am feeling incredibly fortunate to have a warm house with heat, food in my fridge and an employer who told me to work from home today.

I am also fortunate to have friends and fellow adoptee professionals such as Deborah Jiang Stein, author of two incredible books (Even Tough Girls Wear Tutus and the upcoming Prison Baby) with whom I can have invigorating conversations.

Deborah invited me to have one such conversation about adoption themes in literature. Please read it at her blog here.

While I don’t believe in making “resolutions” I DO hope that 2014 sees more blogging here. I really miss it. And despite what is likely my most busy semester in the last decade coming up here, there are a lot of exciting things happening in my world that I hope to have time to share.

So Happy New Years to all!

Teaching my children how to talk about race and racism

I’m very excited to announce that I have a chapter in this new anthology, “Parenting as Adoptees”  edited by Adam Chau and Kevin Ost-Vollmers. This book is now available through Amazon as an electronic book and will be printed in book form in the next few months.

The fifteen authors include fourteen parents who were adopted as children, and one chapter was co-written by an adoptee and her daughter. The editors are also both adoptees who are parents, and the illustrator, Kelly J. Brownlee, is an adoptee.

My chapter is titled : Breaking the Silence: Teaching My Children to Talk About Race and Racism.

From the website:

Through fourteen chapters, the authors of Parenting As Adoptees give readers a glimpse into a pivotal phase in life that touches the experiences of many domestic and international adoptees – that of parenting. The authors, who are all adoptees from various walks of life, intertwine their personal narratives and professional experiences, and the results of their efforts are insightful, emotive, and powerful. As Melanie Chung-Sherman, LCSW, LCPAA, PLLC, notes:

“Rarely has the experience of parenting as an adopted person been laid to bear so candidly and vividly. The authors provide a provocative, touching and, at times visceral and unyielding, invitation into their lives as they unearth and piece together the magnitude of parenting when it is interwoven with their adoption narrative. It is a prolific piece that encapsulates the rawness that adoption can bring from unknown histories, abandonment, grief, and identity reconciliation which ultimately reveals the power of resiliency and self-determination as a universal hallmark in parenting.”

Moreover, despite its topical focus, the book will interest individuals within and outside of the adoption community who are not parents. “Parenting As Adoptees,” writes Dr. Indigo Willing, “contributes and sits strongly alongside books by non-adoptees that look at issues to do with ‘the family’, race, ethnicity and migration. As such, this book should appeal to a broad audience interested in these various fields of inquiry.”

More reviews are available here.

You can read an excerpt of my chapter (and two others) on the Parenting as Adoptees website.

Whose voice is telling the story?

Last week I finished reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. I first heard about the book when I saw Skloot on the Colbert Report and what intrigued me most was not the science behind the story but that the cells that had gone on to impact medical science in such immeasurable ways had been taken without Lack’s knowledge and the development of ethical standards for conducting research.
Without giving away too much of the story (although most of it is now widely known) here are my thoughts. For the most part, the story is told in a compelling way, starting with the author’s imagined scenario of Henrietta’s visit to Johns Hopkins to have a”knot” checked out. Skloot tells the story of Henrietta and the impact of her cells on medical science while alternating between her history, her children’s stories, and those who played a key role in how her cells were used in medical research.

Several pages into the section of the story where author Skloot delves into Lacks’ history, I began to feel uncomfortable. Skloot discusses her methodology for creating imagined scenes based on interviews with those who knew Henrietta and extensive research but I was still uneasy about how Lacks was characterized. While I imagine that Skloot was attempting to bring Henrietta out of the shadows, so to speak, and humanize the person whose cells had been unacknowledged for so long, it seemed contrived and – exactly what Skloot didn’t want to do – exploitative.

To me, the real gem of this book is that Skloot makes public the way research involving humans has often been unethical. I took a fascinating course about moral and ethical dilemmas in family decision making a few years ago, and many of the issues Skloot brings to the surface in her book we discussed in this class; questions about who owns human tissue once it’s no longer attached to the person? When does an individual’s concerns about biomedical ethics supersede the greater good for all? Should important decisions be made by others if a person is deemed not competent or knowledgeable enough to make that decision when it comes to their health and medical procedures? Continue reading “Whose voice is telling the story?”

Inside the mind and heart of an internationally adopted child

This afternoon, a children’s novel I ordered online arrived in my mailbox and a few short hours later I had devoured the book. Betti on the High Wire is the story of a young girl, Babo, living in an unnamed country devastated by war. Babo finds herself unexpectedly adopted by Americans (or “melons” as Babo refers to them because of their round, pink faces) and soon she is living in an unnamed town in the U.S. with a new name, new sister, new parents – and she vows to never “adapt” or forget where she came from.

Author Lisa Railsback was inspired to write the story from her work volunteering in a refugee camp. As a Korean adoptee, I am often skeptical about how international adoption is portrayed in novels, particularly the feelings and thoughts of the internationally adopted child themselves. Often I find children’s books about international adoption to be largely about making adoptive parents feel better as much as they may be outwardly intended to reassure the internationally adopted child. Babo/Betti is a complex child and I found Railsback’s conception of what Babo/Betti thinks and feels about her experience being adopted by Americans, and having to leave everything she has known and loved in her country – especially her chosen family there – to be the most realistic and complex portrayal that I have read.

Adoption books for children being what they are – that is typically all nicely resolved in the end, this book doesn’t exactly challenge the dominant narrative about adoption. The unnamed country is, after all, portrayed in pretty stark terms, providing exactly the American-style justification for taking Babo away. Babo and the other children of course must be dirty, mostly illiterate, scavenging for food, etc., yet remain likable (i.e. not prone towards Reactive Attachment Disorder). And while Railsback does critique the consumerist, materialist and consumptive patterns of Americans to some extent, as well as portray how mean white American children can be towards children who are different, it is unlikely that a real internationally adopted child of this age would adapt as quickly as Betti does in the book. While the choice to make Babo able to speak some English helps the reader, it is pretty unrealistic in my opinion and serves more as a device to move the character through the story plot more quickly than it is realistic for most older, internationally adopted children (such as the little girl adopted in the movie Wo Ai  Ni Mommy, who would have been close to Babo’s age in the story).

Even so, I recommend this book for its most nuanced portrayal of an internationally adopted child’s inner thoughts and feelings that I’ve read so far. If I were an adoption agency, I would require all prospective adoptive parents to read this book before any child adopted internationally was placed in their home.

Re/view: Choosing ethnicity, negotiating race

When you are part of a small and specific population, you tend to be hyper-aware of representations of “your group.” So when I heard about Mia Tuan and Jiannbin Lee Shiao’s book, Choosing Ethnicity, Negotiating Race: Korean Adoptees in America, I immediately put out a query to my Korean American friends to see if anyone had heard of the authors or this book.

Since 2006, I have been keeping track of the “call for participants” for research on Korean adoptees that I’ve come across through different venues (most often list-serves and organization newsletters). Since I’ve started counting, there have been 23 calls specifically involving Korean adoptees and another five for transracial adoptees (ETA: that have put out widespread calls for participants- there have been several others I have been aware of that did not advertise or use the internet to find their sample).

Of those, 11 studies specifically involved looking at racial identity; 9 studies sought to understand the Korean adoptee “experience” and 4 were what I call “well-being” or “adjustment” studies. While I get that racial identity is a huge part of understanding the transracial/international/Korean-adoptee experience, I’m waiting for research that stops pathologizing us and am hopeful that more research like Eleana Kim’s work will come out that centers the adoptee as the agent of change and action, not merely a passive subject of study.

There are many aspects of the Korean adoptee experience that are not being studied or researched. I swing between feeling that “my community” is saturated with research while at the same time acknowledging that there is so much more to be learned and understood.  Continue reading “Re/view: Choosing ethnicity, negotiating race”

What I’m Reading

Here are the books I’m currently reading (not including all the articles I’m reading for my current literature review!)

Surviving your dissertation: A Comprehensive Guide to Content and Process, by Kjell Erik Rudestam & Rae R. Newton






Choosing ethnicity, negotiating race: Korean adoptees in America, by Mia Tuan and Jiannbin Lee Shiao






Feminism for real: Deconstructing the academic industrial complex of feminism, edited by Jessica Yee







Developmental Disabilities and child welfare, by Ronald C. Hughes & Judith S. Rycus






Formed families: Adoption of children with handicaps, edited by Laraine Masters Glidden






Kornel Esti: A novel, by Dezso Kosztolanyi

Reading radical social work history

Well, it’s that time of year. Finished with my course work for the year and now looming ahead is the mammoth project that is studying for my preliminary exams next fall. So for anyone else out there who has completed this phase of graduate school and is willing to share some tips, I’m all ears!

The first thing I’m doing is looking at my long reading bibliography and trying to figure out which readings will be the most important to tackle. I’m kind of on a history binge right now, perhaps because I finished an interesting social welfare history course last semester, and these two books were not covered in our class. I wish they had been, because these two books cover the voices of a different group of people, people mentioned briefly but not in depth in the other social work and social welfare history texts.

I finished “The Road Not Taken: A History of Radical Social Work in the United States” by Reisch and Andrews and just started “Poor People’s Movements: Why the Succeed, How they Fail” by Piven and Cloward.


22 reasons I won’t be blogging much this semester

  • Hines, Keaton & Small (2009). Black Europe and the African Diaspora.
  • Oyeronke Oyewumi (1997). The Invention of Women
  • Dorothy Roberts (1998). Killing the Black Body
  • Karla Slocum (2006). Free Trade and Freedom: Neoliberalism, Place and Nation in the Caribbean
  • Jacqui Alexander (20060. Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory, and the Sacred
  • Anne McClintock (1995). Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest
  • Oyeronke Oyewumi (2005). African Gender Studies: A Reader
  • Patricia Collins (1991) Black Feminist Thought
  • Gunning, Hunter & Mitchell (2004). Dialogues of Dispersal: Gender, Sexuality, and African Diasporas
  • Harriford & Thompson (2008). When the Center Is on Fire: Passionate Social Theory for Our Times
  • Mimi Abramovitz (1996). Regulating the Lives of Women: Social Welfare Policy from Colonial Times to the Present
  • Elizabeth Danto (2008). Historical Research
  • Linda Gordon (1994). Pitied But Not Entitled: Single Mothers and the History of Welfare
  • Grob (1994). The Mad Among Us: A History of the Care of America’s Mentally Ill.
  • Michael Katz (1996). In the Shadow of teh Poorhouse: A Social History of Welfare in America
  • Regina Kunzel (1993). Fallen Women Problem Girls: Unmarried mothers and the Professionalization of Social Work 1890-1945
  • Molly Ladd-Taylor (1994). Mother-work: Women, child welfare, and the state, 1890-1930
  • Lasch-Quinn (1993). Black neighbors: Race and the Limits of Reform in the American Settlement House Movement
  • Theda Skocpol (1992). Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in the United States
  • Trattner (1999)From Poor Law to Welfare State: A History of Social Welfare in America
  • Wencour & Reisch (2001). From Charity to Enterprise: The Development of American Social Work in a Market Economy
  • Ginwright, Noguera & Cammarota (2006). Beyond Resistance: Youth Activism and Community Change – New Democratic Possibilities for Practice and Policy for America’s Youth