I Love You, I Hate You: “Girl, Adopted”

After writing about some documentaries on adoption that used to be, but are no longer, available for online viewing, I finally went to the PBS site and found one that is still up—but not for long. If you want to see Girl, Adopted, you’ll have to watch it before the end of this month.

girl_adopted-01-thumb-large
Weynsht with her adoptive parents before their flight to the States

Documentaries are at their best when the filmmakers step out of the way and just let the subjects of the films speak for themselves. That seems to be what happens in Girl, Adopted. It presents the story of Weynsht (pronounced win-shet), who, at the age of 13, is adopted from an orphanage in Ethiopia by a family from Pyatt, Arkansas. The ups and downs don’t come in the adoption process itself—with the finalization providing the climax. Instead, the adoption is the beginning of the story, with the relationship between Weynsht and her new parents supplying the joys and frustrations.

Near the beginning of the film, Melanie, the adoptive mother, says, “We feel like everything happens for a reason and in perfect timing, and I think that we were meant for her and she was meant for us.”

After living in Arkansas for some time, Weynsht shares her own view. “Things happen for a reason sometimes,” she says, “and I still just waiting for a reason.”

Throughout the film, covering five years, Weynsht voices competing emotions concerning America, her parents, and her own identity. And, as young people often do, she talks a lot about love and hate.

Soon after her arrival in the States, she voices her love for Usher, her mother, a Barbie doll, and Wal-Mart.

Later, she says to her white girl friends, “I love you hair.” And when she talks about her desire to find another family, she tells her parents, “I never say, ‘I love you, too,’ because I hate you.”

After more time has passed, Weynsht says, “I really like being Ethiopian person, but I hate being black,” and, “I hate my hair.”

girl_adopted-02-thumb-large
Weynsht on her visit back to Ethiopia

When her father takes Weynsht and her sisters to Ethiopia to visit her orphanage, she finds out that she has an older brother, and her confusion deepens: “I don’t care. I do care, actually, but . . . ,” she says. “I’m just . . . so many things in my head.”

Her mixed emotions turn to anger when she thinks that her father is forcing her to meet her brother. And then she’s afraid: “If I met my brother, why would I want you guys? What makes you think I need somebody else? If I have a brother, I’m wanna stay with my brother.” Then she adds, “And I don’t want that ’cause I love you guys, and just stop.”

Girl, Adopted is certainly not a simple advocacy piece for adoption. In fact, while Weynsht’s father, Chris, concludes that adoption is “worth it, even if it’s hard,” he also says,

At one point, I thought that everyone should adopt a child. It’s something that everybody can do. All they’d have to do is just open up their homes and their hearts and let a kid in, but I don’t really hold those same views today. I don’t think that everybody should do it. You have an idealistic view of adoption, and then as you go along, the details of that view are filled in.

Chris, Melanie, and Weynsht are brave to have let the cameras follow their lives for five years. I’m glad they did, because the result is a compelling work that helps the rest of us fill in a multitude of powerful details.

Produced and directed by Melanie Judd and Susan Motamed, Girl, Adopted (2013) is part of the Global Voices series from Independent Television Service (ITVS) and the WORLD channel. The 78-minute video is available for online viewing until October 30. It can also be purchased on DVD.

[photos courtesy of ITVS]

In Someone Else’s Shoes: Two Adoptees Search for Who They Were and Who They Could Have Been

Deann Borshay Liem shows the shoes that she wore that were meant for someone else.
Deann Borshay Liem shows the shoes—from her adoptive parents—that were meant for another girl in her orphanage.

These are the stories of two Asian girls, adopted by families in North America.

One of the girls is now a teenager. One is in her 50s. Both are the subjects of documentaries.

Both look back and wonder “What if?”

The Invisible Red Thread

Li Bao was born in 1995 and abandoned on the steps of a hospital, a victim of China’s one-child policy. Six months later, she was adopted by a Canadian couple, who renamed her Vivian.

As a fifteen-year-old, Vivian traveled back to China. She wanted to see what her life would have been like if she had been adopted by a Chinese family, instead of one in Canada.

Chronicled in the one-hour documentary, The Invisible Red Thread (2012), her visit includes a trip to the orphanage where she once lived and her time spent with Shumin Zhu, a fourteen-year-old who was also adopted as an infant, but by a family in rural China. The two learn about each other’s lives and see in each other a life that she could have lived.

The Invisible Red Threadis available on DVD from Picture This Productions.

The Matter of Cha Jung Hee

Cha Jung Hee was 8 years old when she came to the US, adopted by Arnold and Alveen Borshay in California. But 40 years later, she found out that she wasn’t really Cha Jung Hee. Instead, the actual Cha Jung Hee was a girl whom the Borshays had supported through a charity and then decided to adopt. But when her father appeared at the orphanage and took her away, the social worker there gave her identity to another girl—who came to America and became Deann Borshay. In time, she forgot that the name on her birth certificate and passport wasn’t hers, and then, in time, she remembered.

Now a filmmaker, Deann Borshay Liem has completed two documentaries on her life. The first is First Person Plural (2000), in which Borshay Liem and her adoptive parents travel to Korea to meet her family there—a family that the Borshays had been told didn’t exist.

The second is The Matter of Cha Jung Hee, (2010, available at New Day Films) which focuses on another trip back to Korea in search of the real Cha Jung Hee, the woman who, as a girl, had written letters to the Borshays and whom the Borshays had planned to adopt.

In an interview with PBS’s POV, Borshay Liem talks about the too-large shoes that she wore when she arrived in the US. They were bought by her new family to fit the traced footprints of Cha Jung Hee:

[The shoes] represent how any of us might have had a different life. What are the possibilities of living someone else’s life or walking in someone else’s shoes?

Borshay Liem is now working on a new documentary, Geographies of Kinship, telling the stories of Korean adoptees around the world—in Sweden, France and the US, including a woman whose father was an African-American fighting in the Korean War.

(“Interview: In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee,” POV, PBS)

[photo courtesy of MU Films]

I Like “I Like Giving”

6510934443_8bd2942b79_qGeorge was born in Romania to an impoverished family who couldn’t care for him. When he was fourteen months old, he weighed only 9 pounds. Fredericksburg.com reports that his medical report  already included a space for the time and date of his death.

When Mike and Sharon Dennehy, of Ashland, Virginia, saw his picture, they decided to adopt him, and in 1995, he joined their three biological children as part of their family. That was 18 years ago, and since then, the Dennehy’s have adopted eight more children. Including those from Romania and the US, their family now has representatives of six countries.

The Dennehy’s story, I Like Adoption, is one of many collected by Brad Formsma on the website I Like Giving, because “generosity inspires generosity.” It all started when Formsma heard about a Sudanese family whose bicycles had been stolen. He and his wife and children went out, bought some bikes, found the family, and gave the bikes to them. The father from Sudan kept saying, “I like bike. I like bike.”

A couple other “I like” stories with cross-cultural aspects (and videos) are I Like Soccer Balls, telling about a ten-year-old boy who travels to Mozambique and decides to make return trips to Africa, giving soccer balls to kids wherever he goes, and I Like Bug Shells, about two little girls who collect money and soda cans door to door to help children in Africa without clean water.

I Like Giving invites you to share your story to inspire others. Your generosity doesn’t have to be huge. You don’t have to have a video. And, of course, your efforts don’t have to cross cultures. Crossing the street is just fine.

“I like ____________.®” You fill in the blank.

(Last year, George Dennehy became something of an internet celebrity. As part of the Dennehy family, George learned how to play the piano, drums, guitar, and cello—with his feet. After playing a Goo Goo Dolls’ song on his guitar at a fair, a friend posted a video of his performance on YouTube. When Mike Malinin, the band’s drummer saw the video, he invited George to play with them at a concert. “It was amazing to see this boy who once was almost dead up there onstage with the Goo Goo Dolls,” Mike told Fredericksburg.com. “The whole place exploded with excitement.”)

(Amy Flowers Umble, “Couple Found Time to Adopt Nine Children,” Fredericksburg.com, November 7, 2012)

[photo: “Gift,” by asenat29, used under a Creative Commons license]

At Eight Years Old, New Family, New Country, New . . . Everything

I missed Wo Ai Ni Mommy when it aired on PBS in 2010. Neither did I see it while it was still being streamed on the internet. But there are plenty of pieces online that give insight into this documentary of an adoption story.

Wo ai ni is Mandarin for “I love you,” and the film is about the adoption of an eight-year-old Chinese girl by Jeff and Donna Sadowsky, from Long Island. While comments about the film show that many have been inspired by the story, others are troubled by seeing the process of how Fang Sui Yong quickly became “Faith” and lost her Chinese heritage. If for nothing else, Wo Ai Ni Mommy is a thought-provoking look at adopting an older child internationally and shows the difficult transition, warts and all.

The DVD for the full film is available here, as well as a downloadable discussion guide and a lesson plan for grades 9-12, “Assimilation or Acculturation?” In introducing the lesson plan, PBS calls the documentary

an honest and intimate portrait of loss and gain. As an outreach tool it raises important questions about cultural preservation, transracial and international adoption, parenting, family and what it means to be an American, what it means to be Chinese and what it means to be white.

The lesson plan includes links to several short clips from the film:

Other clips available at PBS are

There are also two interviews with Amanda Baden, the counselor from the last clip, “Being Foreign Forever” and “Choosing between International and Domestic Adoption“; a Q & A session at the New York City Asia Society with Donna, Faith, and Stephanie Wang-Breal, the film’s director; and an update with the Sadowsky’s following the making of the documentary.

And finally, here are two more interviews, one with Donna Sadowsky and one with Stephanie Wang-Breal: