Adopted the Movie
April 19, 2012
This semester, I’ve been studying the psychological effects of adoption, and specifically, the psychological challenges faced by transracial adoptees. In keeping with my course of study, I got this movie, expecting it to be a way of “relaxing” from reading studies and academic books. Did I ever miscalculate!
The documentary, filmed in 2009 by Barb Lee, was heart-wrenching - it made me cry at points both from sadness and from joy. It chronicles two families at two separate points on the same adoptive “journey”. The first, the Fero family, has an adult adopted daughter, Jennifer, from Korea. The second, the Trainer family, is preparing to adopt a little girl. In the Fero family, Jennifer has been raised as a “white”, with little attention paid to her Korean heritage. In the film, she begins to open discussion in her adoptive family about her feelings related to her adoption and upbringing. This push for understanding is partly due to the fact that Jennifer’s mother has been diagnosed with brain cancer and has only a few months to live. Jennifer offers the adult adoptees perspective in the film, providing contrast to Trainers’ adopted daughter from China, who is still a little girl.
The film opens with an idyllic scene from Jennifer Fero’s American life in Washington – she digs for clams with her family a cloudy beach. We learn, however, that her life has not been so idyllic. Jennifer was abandoned at a police station in Korea, and was then “claimed” by her adoptive family. Unlike the Trainers, who actively try to bring Chinese culture into their home, even at their little girl’s young age, Jennifer grew up with parents who wanted to integrate her into their world and help her fit in with the white society around her, and the only non-white in her town. This approach was following the dominant ideology at the time, that if adoptive parents integrated their minority children into the parents’ own cultural group, the children would not feel bad about being different. As a grown woman, Jennifer still faces difficulties that result from the way her parents handled her birth culture. She was raised in a society where everyone around her, her friends, and her family were all Caucasian and couldn’t understand her difficulties related to race and stereotypes. Feeling so alone, Jennifer felt empty - so she turned to substance abuse.
I could not help but be moved by Jennifer’s story. The journey she embarked on herself to try and understand and accept her adoption was inspiring. Even as an adult, she was trying to make sense of her status as an Aisian in her society, and in her very family! It makes me realize that, like Jennifer, I am on a journey. This path that all adoptees must travel is enexoraly intertwined with our birth cultures.
The film requires a mature audience capable of considering sensitive issues, and the tough questions that the film raises. Parents should probably watch it before they show it to younger children – It may not be appropriate until later. For parents, I think the main lesson this film teaches is that adoptees’ issues, if unacknowledged, will fester and develop in adulthood. Problems don’t just go disappear when you sweep them under the doormat.