By Lina Vanegas
I am a transracial and transnational displaced person. I was separated from my country, language, and culture and taken to Michigan, which has no connection to me or my ancestors. I was taken there to create a family for strangers who had the privilege and resources to buy me. I had family in Colombia and I was far from being a true orphan. I was bought in Bogota, Colombia and sold to a white couple living in the Midwest in 1976.
I use the word “displaced” intentionally, because the word “adopted” does not define my lived experience in an accurate way. The word “adopted” is language that was created by the child welfare-industrial complex, also known as the adoption industry. I do not subscribe to any of the constraints or barriers that they attempt to put onto my life with their language choices. Using the word “displaced” defines the intentional separation from my family by the child welfare-industrial complex.
My lived experience has informed who I am and has inspired and motivated the work that I do online and in the world. It is very rare that adopted and displaced people’s lived experiences are seen, heard, validated, centered, and believed, so my mission is to do that online, on my podcast, Rescripting The Narrative, and in the work that I do as a social worker and with the organization Adoptees for Choice.
Currently, the voices on adoption that are centered, listened to, and amplified come from adoptive parents and the child welfare-industrial complex. The message that they proclaim is that we are lucky and chosen and should therefore be grateful for being given a better life. This is a very well-crafted marketing campaign; it is propaganda. This adoption propaganda narrative ignores our reality, which is that our lives began in trauma, grief, and loss when we were separated from our mothers and families. Adoption must be recognized as an adverse childhood experience (ACE), as it puts us at risk for addiction, homelessness, suicidal despair, suicide attempts, death by suicide, eating disorders, self harm, anxiety, depression, identity issues, and more. Adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide than non-adopted people.
Adopted and displaced people deserve to control the narrative around an experience we have lived. We do not need anyone speaking for us. Through activism and advocacy, adopted and displaced people can connect, speak for ourselves, create awareness, collaborate, dispel propaganda, and also begin to create change in the world with groups such as the Adoptees for Choice and Adoptee Voices Rising.
In the fall of 2020, I created an online adopted- and displaced-person centric space for activism and advocacy. The space that I have created focuses on discussing misinformation around adoption and pushing back on it. It is a safe and courageous place, meaning that adopted and displaced people are encouraged to share their lived experiences, and, most importantly, their voices are centered, elevated, amplified, and honored.
My online platform has led me to connect with adopted and displaced people from all over the world whom I would not have connected with if not for Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. It’s important that adopted and displaced people connect, as many of us feel alone and have never been validated regarding our lived experiences, feelings, and struggles. Connection is key to recovery and healing. Adopted and displaced people are often isolated from each other. This especially holds true for transracial adopted and displaced people, who often grow up in all-white communities and have zero racial mirrors.
My online work connected me with several other adopted and displaced people, and we created Adoptees For Choice as a platform to combat the messaging stating that adoption is the solution to abortion. Our goal is to center the voices of adopted and displaced people around reproductive choice and reproductive rights. Amy Coney Barrett has been using adopted and displaced people as political pawns to fuel her anti-abortion and pro-adoption agenda. This is harmful and lacks knowledge, understanding, and compassion towards adopted and displaced people and the institution of adoption. Adoption is often touted as being for children, yet she provides another clear example of the practice centering the adult involved. She is an adoptive parent who is ignoring the voices of adopted and displaced people. As an adoptive parent, it would be in her best interest to listen to the voices of adopted and displaced people so she could begin to understand the children in her care, understand their trauma, grief, and loss, and begin the work needed to support them.
It is unethical to promote an institution such as adoption as the only viable alternative to abortion because it is manufacturing and perpetuating trauma, grief, and loss in families, which will have generational impacts. Adopted and displaced people should not be used for a political agenda or as pawns. Our trauma, grief and loss should never be used as a platform to attempt to stop abortion or force unwanted pregnancies. It is inappropriate to use us and center an anti-abortion and pro-adoption agenda when it is our lived experience.
It is important that adopted and displaced people speak out on reproductive choice so that society can begin to understand adoption for the reality that it truly is, which is preventable trauma, grief, loss, an adverse childhood experience, a risk factor for many adverse outcomes. It is inhumane to perpetuate and promote trauma in service of an anti-abortion agenda. This approach and agenda is using pregnant people’s bodies to create a supply for the child welfare industry so that they can profit and commodify human lives. It is also an attempt to control pregnant people, and is manufacturing and perpetuating the trauma of family separation.
Lina Vanegas, MSW is a transracial and transnational displaced person. She is a presenter, consultant, writer, an adoptee rights advocate and a mental health and suicide prevention advocate and a trauma expert.