There are several reasons international adoption numbers continue to drop. Key among these is the ever-more-restrictive legislation from other nations, making it much harder for American would-be parents to bring internationally adopted children back home.
But, the struggle of international adoption doesn’t end there. In addition to the challenges every adoptee faces, those who come to the U.S. feel a unique sense of “otherness” as international adoptees. Despite their naturalization and the fact that they have grown up in this country, many international adoptees never feel like they fit in, due to their appearance, first language or religion.
A recent New York Times piece highlights this. After President Trump told four U.S. Congresswomen to “go back” to where they came from, the Times gathered more than 16,000 stories of similar occurrences among everyday citizens. Several of them came from international adoptees.
It’s no secret that these kinds of racist comments affect every victim, but they can be uniquely hurtful to adoptive parents and internationally adopted children. As mentioned, international adoption is not easy; adoptive parents have to go through a lot to bring home a child from another country. Their children must pass certain visa requirements before becoming U.S. citizens upon their adoption finalization.
For international adoptees to “go back where they came from,” they would need to leave the only family they’ve ever known. They would return back to a country where they don’t speak the language and don’t share the culture — it was simply the place they were born. And the comments are more striking when we take into account that several international adoptees have been deported over the last few years, at absolutely no fault of their own. Threats of “going back” to their native countries are more than just racist remarks to international adoptees; they are very valid fears.
At ConsideringAdoption.com, we are dedicated to standing up for equality and adoptees’ rights, which is why we’re sharing those stories with you below. To read all 67 stories from the Times, check out the full article here.
Their “Go-Back” Stories
“I am the U.S.-born white parent of a child adopted from Vietnam. He is a naturalized U.S. citizen.
In early February 2017, just a few weeks after the ‘Muslim ban’ went into effect, someone put a sign on our front lawn. It was a Trump/Pence sign from the 2016 election. The side facing our front door had been papered over with “Ban Them All” written on it.
It was devastating. It took my breath away to see such hatred directed at a child, to know the intent was for my sixth grader to see that message when he opened the door to go to school.
We called our town’s police, but we had to make follow-up calls to try to convince them to classify it as a hate crime. I posted a picture of the sign on a local Facebook page, and this spurred an outpouring of support.
Two days later, our lawn was decorated with dozens of signs saying things like ‘You belong here’ and ‘We’re glad you’re here.’ I believe love will always trump hate, but two years later, my family is still reeling from this hateful act.
— Bonnie Gardner, Vienna, Va.”
“I was adopted from Quito, Ecuador, when I was 4 months old. I became a citizen along with my adoption and am now 26 years old.
I was once vacationing in Maine with my Irish-American family and we were in a rural area, helping a family friend move. As we were leaving dinner and I was walking to the car ahead of my parents, a man shouted out of a car window, ‘Go back to where you came from you stupid [expletive]!’
I was only 13 and it was my first experience with the uncomfortable realization that although we live in a country known for being a melting pot, I was different. I was in a state of shock and it made me feel embarrassed, naked, attacked.
What is so crazy about the statement ‘Go back to where you came from’ is that I identify with being from the United States and Boston. This is my home. If I were to ‘go back’ to Ecuador, I have absolutely no knowledge of the language or culture.
— Isabel Flynn, Boston”
“I am an American citizen. My parents are white, and they adopted me from South Korea. As a child, I was often told to ‘go back to [random, incorrect Asian country].’
As an international adoptee, I did not choose to come here, and with my family being white, I already felt like the odd duck.
The schoolyard taunts still haunt me. What’s worse is that most of my family played it down to ‘misunderstanding,’ and that all the bullies needed was education. My bullies didn’t care about the truth. They wanted me ostracized and saw me as an outsider because of my race.
— Rachel Jones, Montgomery, Ala.”
“I was adopted from Russia at a young age. Once, I took the Greyhound bus and Border Patrol came through.
They asked me where I was born.
I said Russia.
They asked me to get off the bus.
Everything was taken care of and I was able to go back on, and then I had someone comfort me. But I also had someone tell me to go back to my ‘communist land.’
I get this a lot since I’m more left leaning. I get told that I’m just trying to bring the Soviet Union here. When people talk about immigration, they think because I’m white passing (I’m actually Eastern European and Middle Eastern) that I empathize with them.
I feel hurt all the time. I want to love America, but it continually makes me sad that we are so willing to attack those who come for better lives. I feel like a stranger in this country. I feel trapped here.
— Allison Smith, Walla Walla, Wash.”
We’ve also gathered a few more stories from the comments section of the published article:
“My first distinct ‘Go Back’ experience came at age 29, and it was from my parents. I’m a Korean adoptee, and my parents were Trump supporters/apologists in 2016. I was 29, visiting my parents’ house in suburban Michigan for the first time after the election. We were discussing current events, and my mom made a comment about me getting deported and the rest of my family laughed along. I was shocked, but they didn’t seem to notice. I explained that it wasn’t a joke, that families were being separated in my town, Ann Arbor. My parents shrugged it off, saying it wouldn’t happen to me because ‘you have papers.’ It wasn’t a blatant attack from a stranger, but coming from my family, in our home, it felt like an uprooting.
— Noa Kim, Ann Arbor, Mi.”
“The adoption stories ring so true for me. Shortly after our son joined our family through international adoption, a neighbor boy spotted him in the front yard and screamed, ‘Go back where you came from!’ The kicker: The boy’s dad is a lawyer who specializes in immigration. Our son really didn’t understand the words, being new to the United States, but he certainly understood the tone of voice. The neighbor boy, now grown, has long since moved away. The dad, however, still lives there, and we step very carefully when in his presence.
-B., Southeast United States”
How to Respond to Racist Comments Like These
Whether you are an international adoptee, an adoptive parent, or a person of color in the United States, knowing how to respond to these comments is half the battle.
That said, if you ever feel as if your physical safety is at risk, do not engage with the commenter. It can be hard to ignore these kinds of comments and it can feel like you’re giving up by not responding, but your personal well-being must always come first. Do not be afraid to call the police if you believe you are in physical danger.
That said, if you feel comfortable doing so, you might want to respond to these comments in a calm and confident way. While your response will likely not change the attacker’s mind, it can help you feel better about yourself — or, if you are an adoptive parent, show your child that you are proud to stand up for them and that racism won’t be tolerated. Parents only want the best for their children, and growing up in a racist society certainly isn’t part of that.
There are a few ways you can respond:
1. React Calmly.
When people say racist things, they want to get a rise out of their victim. This tends to reinforce whatever beliefs they have about that ethnicity or race. They want to make a victim feel embarrassed and vulnerable.
The best thing you can do is respond calmly. Don’t show them that their comment has gotten to you. Express your disapproval clearly — “That’s a racist remark, and I don’t appreciate it” — and refuse to engage. Research has found that speaking up in the wake of a racist comment is more beneficial than staying quiet; it gives the victim a sense of confidence and challenges the attacker’s belief that their view is the norm.
2. Question Their Beliefs.
A racist is emboldened by the belief that they are right in their views and that others share the same thoughts. By openly questioning those views, bystanders and victims can create doubt.
Sometimes, something as simple as, “Why did you say that?” or “Why did you do that?” is enough to confront a racist. People who make these comments expect them to be supported by those around them; when you question them or pressure them to explain themselves, they may rethink their position or stop their attack entirely.
You can also challenge their beliefs with the truth. If you or a family member is told to “go back” to their place of origin, explain they are American citizens, and have just as much right to be in this country as the attacker. If a person of color born in the U.S. is a victim of this comment, it may be enough to state exactly where they were born — for example, “Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.”
By confidently challenging what an attacker believes, you put them on the spot to explain their actions. And that’s not what they expected when they began their tirade.
3. Be an Active Bystander.
In the United States, racist attacks are almost solely directed at people of color. If you are a white person — whether as an unrelated bystander or a parent of an international adoptee — it is your responsibility to step in.
Your white privilege is often more arresting to a racist than a response from the victim themselves. When a racist sees someone who looks like them defending a person of color, they may be more taken aback than if they were approached by a person of color.
It’s not enough to watch a racist encounter and keep an eye on it “just in case”; as a white person, you should intervene, place yourself between the attacker and the victim, and do what you can to de-normalize the attack.
If the situation continues to escalate, it’s up to you to decide what to do next. However, most experts recommend disengaging, if possible. Confidently walk away and refuse to show the commenter that they have gotten to you. You might even laugh as you. Whatever you do, don’t let your emotions get the best of you.
It takes a little bit of action from everyone to combat racism. Remember how much of an impact your actions can make, and embrace your neighbors — whatever the color of their skin.