Looking out from my balcony; Ras En-Nebaa. (Photo by Mayda Freije Makdessi)
Seest thou one who denies the Reckoning? Then such is he who harshly repulses the orphan…. —The Small Kindnesses, 107:1–3
We remain the repulsed, splinters, expelled from the body; the corpus surrounds us, englobes us, drives us out; it then returns to a state of “as if” we had never existed. Should we attempt return, we do not notice that the immune response starts yet again, only at this point we are incapable of understanding its reasonings and explanations. Ô Lebanon! Shall I be sorry that I wished not to return as an “American”? Had I done so, I know I would have been embraced with open arms, as the colonized greet their oppressors. There is no comfort here. No, I sought something more from you: an origin, a sense of source, an acknowledgement of belonging, a claim to place—a wish shared by many also discounted as not being “of” this place, none of which you deemed worthy of offering. In this regard, I was naive to an extreme, no doubt. Things have changed as they are wont, though it took much of a lifetime: After a decade of search, a DNA test, and reunion with extended family, a great unblocking took place as word got round, as the who and the what and the why made the rounds; and an elderly man plagued by his memories of a child absconded with half a century ago came forward, and revealed a secret to the only man he trusts with such information, my cousin Jamal’s father. And with that the Sisyphean task, twelve long years later, is accomplished.
The problem for adoptees arguing about their position in society is similar to what has been experienced previously by other marginalized groups looking to make a space within the hegemonic culture. Namely, how to expand out from what is considered simply a personal issue; an individual hang-up; a “selfish” focus on one’s condition. The individualistic and solipsistic dominant culture ironically turns around and tells its absconded-with children to not be so “selfish” as to complain. In other terms, this was used against other groups as well—”don’t be ‘uppity'”; “know your role”. We should literally be seen and not heard. Those days are over.
I have uploaded my expanded presentation from the CAA Conference in New York City last month. I presented on decolonization in the classroom (in the original liberation sense of the term, not the current vapid buzzword sense). The buzzword aspect of it was everywhere at the conference. I had high hopes and attended all the panels that referred to it. I walked out of each and every one of those presentations. Quoting from my presentation a few days after one such panel:
As always, in the face of such resistance, a backlash awaits. For example: During this conference, an art historian criticized protests against markers of colonialism and imperialism. These were defined, without irony, as “public art” and “statuary”. The protesters—marginalized populations raising their voices on a subject they are excluded from as both definers as well as audience—were qualified as “presentist” in mindset. The accusation of historical ignorance contradicts their hyper-awareness of the ravages of—as well as their exclusion from—dominant histories and canons.
Add Tania Bruguera to the mix, and you realize how much CAA needs to be decolonized in and of itself.
The document, with slides, can be found at the following link:
You can use a Facebook or Google ID to download it.
Letterpress memorial card
It was two years ago at my sister’s house, and my mom came down the stairs with a junky old tape recorder and a cassette. “I got to hankering for Brother John’s voice”, she explained matter-of-factly, speaking of my Uncle John who had passed away a few years back. He taught choir at the local schools, and would sing in church and for recitals. Mom’s life revolved around choir as well, and hymns were always at her lips. We listened in silence, but at the same time, I was trying to figure out what was behind all of this. Mom grew wistful at one particular song, and I asked her what was playing. She piped up: “Now, this hymn is called, ‘His Eye Is on the Sparrow’*; it was played at the memorial service for both your Nonnie and Papaw; also your Aunt Barbie and Uncle John….” She trailed off, and I knew the rest of the sentence. And this time, I knew better than to jokingly chastise her concerning not wanting to talk about such things.
This interview was conducted in 2012 for American Indian Adoptees [link to web site] via email exchange with Trace Hentz [link to blog]. I’ve been going back to this web site a lot this past year, now that I’m living and working on unceded territories of the Musqueam, Skxwú7mesh, Tsleil-Waututh, and Kwantlen bands. “Unceded” means that the land was never surrendered, it was usurped. I add to this land acknowledgment my vow to actively work toward restitution and repossession, not reconciliation nor any other deception from within the structures and systems of occupation and oppression that dominate in North America.
I’ve uploaded papers, conference presentations, articles, etc. to Academia.edu [link to Academia.edu]; I hope this will serve as a more central repository of output than various blogs/web sites.
Thanks for reading.
This is the full text of the presentation I delivered at the ASAC/AI Conference that took place in Oakland in October, 2018.
The Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture (ASAC) Conference this year will feature sessions of The Adoption Initiative, which is usually a separate conference. I’ve been to both conferences in the past, have worked on the planning committee for the latter, and am greatly looking forward to this combined effort. The conference will take place in Oakland, October 18–20.
My proposal, “Resisting Extirpation: Revolutionary Adoption Activism” has been accepted as a paper presentation. The proposal follows:
Research Paper Proposal • Current adoption activism accedes to dominant liberal conceptions of economic and political value as ascribed to human life. By extension it concedes culturally specific concepts of family creation, kinship, identity, and citizenship. Adopters and adoptees, identifying with the class responsible for displacement and dispossession along a grand spectrum, construct adoption as separate from similar societal disinheritances. When examined through a lens of “social death”, adoption regains its role as a quite successful tool of social cleansing. It is only in admitting adoption’s agency in such practices that an effective resistance concerning survival and healing can be put into place.
Mary Jo Keiper Drennan: 1933–2017
There’s a story we tell in the family about our mom. One time, when she was living in Magdalena, hours away by car from the nearest cellular tower much less town or city, they were obliged to use a helicopter to take her to Albuquerque’s heart hospital. It was a tense situation, to be sure. The EMTs who were taking her to the airport, in an attempt at levity, told her they were Marines just back from a tour of duty, so they didn’t want any trouble from her. The two of them together easily weighed four times our mom’s weight.
Over the years I’ve been contacted by various journalists interested in writing about adoption and trafficking in Lebanon, and their usual starting point is a personal one: How has adoption affected the adoptee personally, and what might reunion mean for him or her? What follows is often intense discussion, focusing on the economic and political reality of such trafficking. Then, the compromise with editors as writers face the reality that they are simply providing a narrative—or a turn on a narrative—of the dominant mode of society. It’s rare to see full-on investigative journalistic endeavors that name names and reveal the reality most of us are aware of. This, however, should be the main goal, if you ask me.
The following is an excerpt from the painful yet quite compelling and necessary read, Lose Your Mother [link] by Saidiya Hartman.