What do you think of expatriate adoptions?

This is the 22nd question in the series: “Anti-adoption month: 30 answers to 30 questions on adoption” [link].

The following question was posted to Transracial Eyes:

How do you feel about white Europeans and Americans living in countries abroad (like in Southeast Asia/China/Africa/Haiti) and adopting children there “domestically”?

Answer: The question is problematic from the outset, making the common but patently false assumption as it does that adoption is culturally universal. The question is attempting to bypass one of the complaints of adoptees, that a child’s culture is taken away from them. The person asking is taking a geographic view of culture, and not a political/economic one, and this is invalid.

To explain: I have returned to Lebanon and have been living here for almost ten years. The first two years I was here were uncomfortably spent among those who made an easy transition for me from New York–class-wise, this was the expatriate community. I wasn’t happy with this at all; this wasn’t the reason I came back, to hang out with people I could just as easily hang out with back in New York (but wouldn’t have)—especially when they decided to refer to me as “Li’l Orphan Danny”.

After those first years, I moved to a more marginal community far enough away from the university that I could not get away with speaking English or French. To learn the local language, I started hanging out every night on the corner, as is the practice in my neighborhood. This is how things work where I live now: doors are open, and one’s life merges with the neighborhood, public and private, inside and outside. This challenged fundamentally every aspect of my acculturation as a “First Worlder”. It echoed the discomfort I felt living in France when I didn’t know how to make such a transition. This wasn’t easy, by any stretch of the imagination.

My trip to university each day was thus like traveling between two worlds. It reminds me of when I was teaching both at NYU and City College: worlds apart, though physically not that far away. And whereas someone who goes to NYU can say “I am a New Yorker” and someone up in Harlem can say “I am a New Yorker” (geographically speaking), these worlds are still very different, and still removed one from the other (politically and economically speaking).

Expats excel in keeping such distances intact, while invading the geographic space. They maintain their world, their language, their ways, and like every colonized space historically speaking, the city morphs and changes to make room for them. It is an imposed and imposing life they lead. It changes the local culture for the worse by creating dependence on the invading group. Their children go to private schools, and they live a private life away from the “local culture” if you will, which still must cater to them. This is a microcosm of “First World” living, which does the same thing on the global scale.

So for me, should one of them “adopt” a child here and stay here or if one of them should “adopt” a child here and return to the States or Europe, it is exactly the same thing. It is the same colonial/comprador class, and the child will still be reared away from the majority of the population, will be educated with peers of his or her class, and will work within the peculiar trades of the foreign contingents here: business, NGOs, academia—all markers of continuing colonization.

This is where definitions of space on a purely geographical level fail us. In an article I wrote for Culture Critique concerning these margins entitled “Traversing Meanings: Remapping East and West”, I define this space thus:

I will therefore define my use of the concepts West and Western to mean the dominant powers to whom belong the hegemonic or dominant discourses of maintenance of power structures, and including the globalized (or globalizing) East following in these footsteps, as well as their compradors and class representatives found in every country of the so-called developing world.

This is opposed to the use of the term East, which will be employed to describe economically dominated populations, often referred to in the past as the Global South, the Third (and Fourth) Worlds, and the periphery of the centers or core of Capital, and including their class representatives working (not living) within the First World, or in the West.

The point is to differentiate between geographic and economic space(s), to reflect the mixing of these populations, as well as their potential for action across politically defined entities such as national, confederated, or economic borders as well as ethnic, religious, or other identifying lines; also to render a bit vaguer what has often been a binary distinction used predominantly in a pejorative way.

What this means is that someone physically in the “East”, shall we say, can still be culturally, politically, economically, etc., “Western”. Their children will be “Westernized”, will “slum it” in terms of the locale’s culture just like the expats do; will grow up with concepts of family structure, individual identity, community, and faith very different than if they had grown up within their actual place and among their true family and community.

And so the answer is an emphatic no: A “Westerner” in the “East”, or a “First Worlder” in the “Third World” does not make adoption any more palatable, or justifiable. It is, in fact, representative of everything that makes adoption execrable, heinous, and unjust; it maps for us adoption as yet another arm of exploitation and colonialism; it reveals those who have the luxury and privilege to “displace” themselves as well as those unwillingly displaced by them; and the attempt to make it more culturally “legit” fails on all counts.


The Winona LaDuke Reader, by Winona LaDuke.

The Karma of Brown Folk, by Vijay Prashad.

Racist America, by Joe R. Feagin.

The Colonizer’s Model of the World, by J. M. Blaut.

Debate Tactic: The larger point to make here is that this question is an attempt to find a “chink in the armor” and exploit it; it is not truly looking for an answer, but is designed to undermine the idea that we are “removed” from our culture. Answering it requires us to redefine the “distances” that separate us from our family, our place, and our forebears.


About Daniel Drennan ElAwar

Adoptee, rematriated.
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