Untitled Thoughts by Joy Lieberthal Rho, Co-Founder of IAMAdoptee

How do we feed ourselves when we were raised on pasta and pizza?

It’s a facetious question, because I have nothing against pasta or pizza, but I distinctly remember that pizza was an acquired taste and I never crave pasta the way I crave rice.  I still hold my memory of pizza for the first time as a six year old coming to America.  I did not enjoy it.  Honestly, it is not my “go-to” meal of choice even now.  But it brings up a larger question of how we as intercountry adoptees feed ourselves, our bodies and how we have taught our guts to accommodate that which we can’t or shouldn’t always tolerate or digest?

Our country is going through a reckoning, at least that’s what I am hoping is happening.  Our gut is turning and churning and it’s not pretty.  The only way I have figured out how to be a contributing member of the movement is to do the individual work of checking in with and holding space for my fellow POC therapists, many of whom are also adoptees; my fellow adoptees in counseling and in advocacy and weekly wellness checks with my sister friends and those I love.  I feel fortunate that the 25 years of being in community with other intercountry adoptees has allowed for this moment to not feel utterly alone, just sad and mad. 

What have we adoptees been fed?  Growing up with white parents who have not done the work of nourishing their palate for racism, micro-aggressions, prejudice and hate crimes, what have we been feeding ourselves to make our churning guts feel soothed so that we can tolerate the racism, the micro-aggressions of our families, those who say they love us unconditionally and without prejudice? How do we make sense of that quivering feeling when at the grocery store, in a conference room, just walking down the street?  How have we overrode the wavering gut that knows something is wrong and it’s not so much that we are wrong, but the situation feels off and we are slightly nauseous?

Often in therapy, when I recognize this nausea, I wonder aloud, “This doesn’t feel new – when were other times you felt this way?  And how did you cope?”  Often times in therapy with intercountry transracial adoptees, the response is coping with a fair amount of pasta and pizza waiting for the gut to churn and digest or reject, only to feel like crap afterwards knowing that we are neither satiated nor satisfied.  We tolerate so that we may not be rejected.  To be abandoned is to be left with an empty stomach, aching to be fed.  

I’ve been thinking of conversations about racial identity and racial injustice in terms of food, it’s that primal.  Too many times we have accepted what was served us, ignoring our instincts, knowing that it is better to be with family and fed than be hungry and without. We learn to stop listening to our gut, stop paying attention to our instincts until we feel and hear nothing.  Our minds are powerful, and we can justify that third piece, that off-color remark, that sour smell, that sideways glare.  Still, we all know what the wrong diet does to our bodies.  

I’ve been thinking about the word “proximal” and how we adoptees are fed that our proximity to whiteness is a privileged space.  I am not and never have been aware that my white parents could protect me from anything.  I was fed the notion that being adopted was my saving grace and it made me keep my pasta and pizza down with a lot of emotional labor, denial, effort, rationalization and gratitude. I was being fed, that was all that mattered. 

Not anymore. 

It feels like a lot more intercountry adoptees are emerging wondering if they are alone in the nausea, wondering if anyone else has felt this way.  They are attempting to lead the charge again, nourishing their minds and souls with the tastes of what adopteeland can give them and spoon-feeding their adoptive parents in hopes to have a common meal.  Virtual conversations again and again exercising and digesting the language and culture of the marginalized and finding community, only to go home and have to bring out the teaspoons.  This reminds me of a friend I made freshman year of college.  She grew up in a Polish American home and never even knew what Chinese takeout was.  Once she tried it, she never stopped and went home so excited to share her new palate with her parents.  They were having none of it.  I think about this friend as her mouth is permanently altered and her parents will never get it. Get it?  

The stakes never felt higher.  25-year-old me just wanted to talk about how well I adjusted to pizza and pasta and all the labor that went into it.  50-year-old me wonders if I missed the point.  We adoptees have been doing all the labor, cooking from scratch.  I am devastated that we are still in the kitchen trying to figure out the best dish to entice, seduce, cajole and invite our parents to try to join us and eat.