Adoption “activists” are lauding an adoptee, Julia Marino, for representing her “birth country” of Paraguay in the Olympics. I find myself at a loss to describe the extent of the inversion of such support, given the birth of the Olympics in neo-liberal fascism, and their use historically speaking to displace marginal and lower-class populations, their representation of the individual above the community, their criminal nationalism.
It is disturbing that all of the social and economic inequality that led to our very adoptions might be celebrated by adoptees, in this, its formalized and super-mediated form. To further note is that our “birth countries” love our “return” only when it fits into their own comprador espousing of such economic and political policies. Adoptees are “welcomed back”, but only as long as we are investors; [conservative] voters in local elections; teachers within elitist educational systems; “claims to fame” used to jingoistic or nationalistic purpose. Should this not give us pause?
In the book Olympic Industry Resistance, Helen Jefferson Lenskyj spells out this link between the Olympics and the ability of nations/cities to “recreate” themselves at the expense of the residential poor, marginalized populations, and the working class. She lists the results of studies done in Olympics host cities, and the trends she cites include:
Eviction of tenants from low-rent housing, particularly in Olympic precincts and downtown areas, to make way for Olympic tourists; evictions resulting from gentrification and beautification of low-income areas; significant decrease in boarding house stock; artificially inflated real estate prices; unchanged or weakened tenant protection legislation, resulting in rent increases and evictions without cause, a problem for low-income tenants in particular; the criminalization of poverty and homelessness through legislation; increasing police powers over homeless and under-housed people in public spaces; temporary or permanent privatization of public space; temporary or permanent suppression of human rights, particularly freedom of expression.
Paul Gottinger, in his article “A Critical History of the Olympics” [link], spells it out this way:
According to the Center on Human Rights and Evictions the Olympic games alone have displaced more than two million people in the last 20 years, mostly the homeless, the poor, and minorities such as Roma and African-Americans.
Authors and activists Todd Gordon and Jeffery R. Webber in an article for The Bullet in Canada, define Paraguay, the role of neo-liberal economics in its impoverishment, and in doing so give us a hint as to the adoptee’s origins [link]:
Drugs, gun running and money laundering coexist and overlap with soya and meat exporting as the bases of the Paraguayan economy. A mixed landed elite, of native Paraguayan latifundistas, Brasiguayos (sons of Brazilians born in Paraguay) and, most importantly, absentee Brazilian soya capitalists, control large tracts of the lawless countryside with private armies that have repressed, coerced and murdered the ranks of an expanding landless peasantry with impunity for decades. The 1990s and 2000s have been especially intense, however, with a massive turn to soya production and, to a lesser extent, large-scale cattle ranching—both capital-intensive agro-industries driven by China’s boom that have displaced small peasant landholdings en masse, creating an expanding sea of landless rural laborers, and new layers of urban informal proletarians.
Given the status of adoptees as equally displaced for economic and political reasons, how might we ignore this reality? Call this what you will, and advocate for the Olympics all you want, but don’t claim “activism” on behalf of adoptees while doing so, or insinuate that adoptees should simply fall into supportive line. This is despairingly Orwellian; a substitute Kool-Aid of a different flavor.
[Edit: February 9] Here’s an aside. Some good friends of mine moved to Aspen from New York City. Every year I would visit them, eventually I got good enough at snowboarding that I outfitted myself with board and gear. Of course I enjoyed the sport and the beauty of the natural realm there. At the same time, I could not ignore the entire economy of the place, based on the labor of those displaced from South America, all forced to live in neighboring towns, “out of sight”. To continue going to Aspen required me to ignore all of this; dismiss these other people. Eventually I couldn’t do it anymore. I no longer snowboard.
An other aside. In 2005, Lebanon experienced a “color” revolution, similar to other bogus revolutions in other countries (such as Ukraine), puppet-mastered by the United States, funded by USAID and local NGOs collaborating with them, designed by Saatch&Saatchi [link]. Those were heady times, and the feeling of being downtown with a quarter of the population of the country was amazing. But something was quite off; not everyone was represented. The country eventually split along class lines, belying the sectarian politics of the place. By this I mean to say a focus on “identity” is a mask for what is truly a discussion of class. I regret every minute I spent lending my voice to this bogus classist “revolution”.
And so here is this woman from Paraguay (itself recently suffering a similar coup [link]), attempting to impose something culturally speaking alien to that country upon that country, in the name of her fellow countrypeople whom she has been estranged from her entire life [link]. That this was accomplished using a variety of artifices and deceits—familiar to everyone in “Third World” and referred to as “corruption”—mirrors her trafficking and adoption. Nonetheless, she is championed by other adoptees who see in her adoptee status somehow something to celebrate; they ignore wholesale all of this “inconvenient truth”. This is as unfathomable as it is untenable. In focusing on her identity in this way, and ignoring the class nature of what is actually occurring, and how it mimics and mirrors the displacement and dispossession of her original adoption, a great dishonor is done to those who do not have the same Voice ascribed to her, due to their absence of similar luxury and privilege.
To say to me that this is “her narrative”—basically accusing me of paternalistically deciding what her narrative is and imposing it on her—is to ignore everything I’ve ever written on the subject [link] [link]. It is also interesting that such accusations might equally be applied to someone who wishes to represent the Winter Olympics in a country that has no snow.
The derivations and manifestations of her narrative are not “contained” by her will or her “control” of her story. She is entitled to do and think as she wishes; I simply want to open up to the bigger picture; expand on her narrative to those who do not have her class position to speak as she does, or “support” her, whatever that might mean, given that the dominant discourse revels in this kind of Horatio Alger-esque narrative. Why? Because I’ve been there; I’ve been down this road. And it doesn’t lead to return; it leads to a great and abysmally deep chasm between an adoptee and his or her origins. I’m not saying my experience is hers; but the common experience of “Third-World” countries in terms of adoption cannot be disavowed so easily. I would like to save her a “bad fall”, and I would only point out that those identifying with her class-wise—which is their prerogative—do returning/returned adoptees no favor by maintaining such mythologies. This is to eclipse such narratives of return with the full force of the dominant discourse, again, mimicking the initial displacement of adoption.
A final aside: Two adoptees are standing at the North Pole; one of them says: “It sure is cold here.” The other says: “We don’t share the same definition of ‘cold'”. How does this work? It reveals a mindset that belies a shared reality; that sees things individually before communally. In and of itself, it is an affectation of the same individualistic acculturation that I attempt to critique. Which in no small way explains the discomfort in hearing it. But so be it. To call this a discussion of “identity” is to willfully mask the needed discussion of class that lies “hidden in plain sight”. I’m old enough to remember when po-mo identity politics supplanted former liberation ideologies; it’s time at long last to call these into question. They are of the dominant discourse, they impose the dominant mode, recreate it, inscribe it, and there is no longer any way to pretend otherwise [link]. [End edit]
A design studio I taught explored this displacement and shutting down of voice in a class entitled “Mediating the Real World”, I wrote an article about it for the web site Design Altruism Project [link]. We tried to turn around a typical project for Lebanese students of design which was “imagine the Olympics come to Beirut” as in, design the corporate identity, the icons, the signage, etc. Lebanon is nothing if not a post-colonial mistake, and the students are rather aware of this, and so my co-instructor and I decided to turn the project around. We analyzed the output of mediation on the games, from the Committee, to the city/location, to the design firm, and then most importantly, those who protested. The protesters in London were particularly active, yet you would never know it from the popular media. The link between the displacement of those games and the later riots there is not to be discounted.
The “human rights” focus on the current games is political, and is also laughable when compared to the millions (!!!) who are erased by these games, as well as other types of protests that got athletes banned (I’m thinking the Black Power protest of 1968) or worse. Being adopted does not remove our class privilege; being oppressed for particular identity markers does not remove our class privilege; if anything it heightens it in particularly dangerous ways. I’m not saying this to berate this woman; I’m saying this to berate this institution, as well as that of adoption. The two are peas in a pod. I wish I had known such facts about my birth country when I was 20 years old. It would have made for a much different and much sooner return.
Further links to anti-Olympics activism can be found at Mediarama [link]. As always, I invite discussion. Because I think we can do much better than be mere puppets in the theater of our own dispossession, displacement, silencing, and destruction.