Friday, October 10, 2008

Racial Identity Formation for Adoptees

Over the past 4 weeks Salinda has been so wonderful. She has not told us a single lie that we know about, her behavior has been pleasant and cooperative, and I've been trying to focus on positive interactions with her which is easy when she is doing what she is supposed to do.

But last night one little mistake led to me discovering some other mistakes and now I'm going to have to confront her. This will be the true test. If she can work through conflict with me better than she used to, that will be a huge victory.

Last weekend at the MNASAP Regional Conference where we spoke, we heard Jae Ran Kim present information about Transcracia Adoption. You can read a little about her here. Her presentation included an explanation of the Cultural-Racial Identity Model which I am assuming came from this research though she did not cite it.

When she was presenting it, i was amazed. It was as though she was telling the story of Salinda's life.

The first stage is naivete. This is the stage where the transracial adoptee does not realize they are different than their parents or the stage where they have no contact with people of their race on a personal level. For Salinda this is when we lived in a smaller town, until 2006, and she spent nearly all of her time with white people.

Then comes contact. This is when the child/teen/adult comes into direct contact with several people from his/her own race for the first time. For Salinda this is when she started school in our much larger town and was confronted with a bunch of people of color.

Stage three is disintegration. This is where nothing makes sense and there is panic because the adoptee does not know where they fit in. They are scrambling and their minds and emotions are churning.... and it's almost like they are internally freaking out because they don't know where their space is in this world. This was Salinda's 8th grade year. Her initial friends were of her own race, but they were not role models and she ended up in some very bad situations..... She then was best friends with a girl who was white for several months and that became her peer group. Then the summer after that she was hanging with a crowd of people of many races, but all of them with dilinquent behaviors. Looking back I can see how she just flitted from place to place trying to decide where to land.

Then towards the end of 9th grade, it appears she hit the Immersion stage. This stage involves surrounding oneself with only people of their same race and seeing them as perfect -- the only ones who understand. Things that are seen by the adoptee as "white" are rejected -- and their culture is embraced completely. For Salinda, she was completely into this stage from last March until recently. She spent almost the entire summer with her Hispanic best friend and she told me many times that that woman was more of a mother to her than I was. At least I was smart enough to step back and realize that, though I had not heard of this racial identity model, she was exploring herself and needed to come to her own conclusions. I let things flow instead of stepping in to stop them even when I wasn't sure I was doing the right thing.

Emersion is the next to the last stage where the adoptee steps backs and begins to see that possibly there are negative things about their own culture as well. They sense differences and all the sudden aren't completely embracing their own culture just for the sake of race or culture alone. They begin to process the whole situation and start to come to their own conclusions. I have had many conversations with her over the past few months about many of the things that other Hispanic parents she knows are not doing well, according to her. And once and a while she even hints that she thinks we're better parents and that are family has better value than some she has met. I think Salinda is currently in these stage -- sorting out what about her culture/race she wants to embrace and what she'd like to incorporate from white culture into her own identity

Autonomy is the last stage where the adoptee discovers where they fit. This will continue to be a journey for Salinda. And I hope that eventually she'll allow me to walk with her... just a little bit... which was impossible during the first several stages.

And now I'm off to pick her up. And you'll have to stay tuned to find out if it was the historically typical blow up freak out nasty conversation, or if we have truly made some progress, both of us.

1 comment:

Kathy's Korner said...

Thank you for posting this.

I'm am Mom to 4 and we are a multiraced oldest is 10 so we haven't yet hit the stages that are more difficult to navigate....but I know they are coming.

I appreciate the references!