Tuesday, June 1, 2010

In our own words

I just finished re-reading Digging to America by Anne Taylor. It follows the lives of two American families who first meet at the airport where both are picking up their adopted baby girls from Korea. One of the families is Iranian and the book often focuses on the varying degrees of challenge they face assimilating to America, particularly the grandmother, Maryam, who immigrated from Iran as a young bride. I feel as though the story had a lot of potential, but I was ultimately disappointed and even more so on this second read when I am a little more self-aware and critical.

Where to begin.. I cannot help but wonder what motivated Tyler to write this story. She writes about Maryam’s long buried, personal feelings of being an outsider. She writes about adoption. However, she herself is an outsider to these experiences. She is a white woman, born and raised in America. She never adopted children. Why this story? Why these characters? What made her feel she could write genuine portrayals? To be fair, I feel that all writers write outside their experience. And some of them are damn good at it. Tyler is a prolific, Pulitzer prize-winning author, but after reading other reviews of Digging to America, it seems that this book was received as one of her weaker publications. Perhaps I would have liked this story better if it were written by someone else.

One reason why I started this blog was to simply get my voice out there, even if it only reaches a handful of people. The words of adoptees are important and underrepresented. I still have a collection of childhood books about Korea and adoption on my shelf which I rifled through recently. As it turns out, the authors of over half of these books are neither Korean nor adopted. They are primarily teachers, parents of adoptees and missionaries. I could be sweet about things. I could offer my thanks and praise to these individuals and to Anne Tyler for bringing light to a population so infrequently in the spotlight. But the truth is that I’m a bit irritated. It is my opinion that the best way adoptees can be supported is through empowerment. Don’t write our stories for us. Instead, encourage us to speak. Who else can tell our stories better?


  1. Yeah, it's always weirded me out a bit when people attempt to write/teach about adoption as though they totally understand it when they haven't experienced it at all. I don't understand what they're trying to do, nor do I understand what they're trying to prove.

  2. I don't get it, either. I speculate that they want to feel like they're bridging some sort of cultural gap and doing adoptees a favor. Unfortunately, at least to me, these actions come off as presumptuous.