This is an addendum of sorts to a previous post: On DNA testing for adoptees. As our research expands locally, our first assumptions of “being Lebanese” need give way to the logical conclusions of how constructed, affected, and false a notion this is.
I put this out there for some food for thought, especially given the way many of the organizations we create in our countries of adoption and acculturation make symbolic and cultural reference back to our source. I confess that I have been guilty of the same thing, going back to “Roots” day in high school, when I saw fit to wear the red, white, and green of the Lebanese flag; or in 2005 when I participated in the bogus “Cedar” Revolution. In retrospect, I cringe thinking about them. I have also been thinking of late that, with the passing of time, such false referencing is going to create more friction among and between adoptees, not less. I say that now because I feel it now. I would like to suggest that we actively start thinking about this sooner rather than later.
Many of us, via DNA and other determining factors, are realizing that in fact we are not so much “Lebanese” as much as we are from what we might politically refer to as Greater Syria: Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, or else migratory populations within that realm. Some of us are just barely younger than the Lebanese republic itself, and thus our parents’ and grandparents’ conceptions of themselves and us might be very different from our thinking process and resulting determinations. In this light, and given how nationalistic ideas of valid societal membership resulted in many of our adoptions, Lebanon becomes merely a point of conduit more than an originating identity of any kind; an exit chute and not a place of source.
As I often recount, I remember being told at the orphanage that “darker babies” such as myself went to America, while “white” children went to Europe. I now see this as a kind of local code for a racially and sect-based profiling that was not arbitrary. To understand is that France (as a kind of colonial ideal) was reserved for children of a particular sect which itself identified with that country’s colonization of Syria (and Lebanon). Others, especially those perceived as marginal or enemy, were destined for Scandinavia, the United States, etc. I’ve said it often, but it bears repeating: Every day I think I’ve reached the bottom of the abyss in terms of what adoption represents; every day that abyss opens up, and I find myself in freefall yet again.
I would hate therefore to think that such racism, sectarianism, and community division might catch up with us now as we make our return trips to the region. Given what such sectarianism has wrought locally, this would be unbearable. To this end, I think it is important for all of us to really question our use of symbols and language, such as the flag and the cedar; to be cautious in terms of how we interact with diaspora populations and their mythologies of place; to understand our position within the conception of the nation-state that we know today as Lebanon; to view it as it is situated within the region and the world at large historically speaking. Our realities deserve more than the romantic notions to which we often fall prey.
In an old atlas I salvaged from when I worked at the Strand Bookstore in New York, there are maps dating to 1947 that show the region right after World War II. I am struck by the obviously arbitrary nature of the foreign-based and politically assigned borders; the colonial economy denoted by railroad lines (mostly for pilgrimages and archaeologists, and to a large degree no longer existent); the growing encroachment of colonial outcroppings and divisions; the closeness of Ethiopia whose children were also exported, and whose mothers work as slave laborers in Lebanon. The “Lebanon” we come back to today still bears the physical and psychological scars of this continuous attack upon the region going back a very long time.
And so for adoptees to find out that they are Palestinian or have roots in Palestine; or to find out that they grew up acculturated Syrian but were originally placed in a Lebanese orphanage and trucked to Damascus for adoption; or that they come from the Armenian, Kurdish, or more currently Sri Lanki, Bangladeshi, or Filipino communities; or that they are from a community (such as a religious minority) that used to easily co-mingle with similar communities outside of Lebanon but which is now closed off from them—radically changes our own self-ascribed notion of identity, but more importantly, how those who most readily identify locally as Lebanese see us as well. We cannot forget that this “outsider” status was a functional reason of our extirpation in the first place.
Personally, I have for a long time refused categorically to identify as Lebanese, or to take on the symbols, trappings, slogans, or mentality of such a one. I didn’t feel that this was valid, given my complicated understanding of local cultures now that I’ve returned. Of course, this alienated me from much of the bourgeoisie, quite stuck on their mythologies of place, but so be it. Our DNA, along with pure reason and logic, points in a direction antipodal to that of “nation-state” and “national identity”. If we think about it for two seconds, we can readily admit the offense of identifying with those who wanted to be rid of us. This is the flip side of the racism we might be fleeing from in terms of our places of acculturation; but it is no more valid for seeming to validate us, or for its false comforting. As hard as this might be for us to do, it seems now vital to me that we shed the very thing we might hold most dear as we consider return and reunion.