Tell Me Your Story: Of Letting Go

Marlyse and her husband’s adoption story began when Marlyse faced the fact that she would not be able to carry a child due to her heart defect. When it came time to choose where they were going to adopt from, they started by looking into domestic infant adoption, but they were surprised at the astronomical fees. They then considered adopting from Haiti, and it made sense.  Marlyse is Haitian born, she still has family members who live there, and Haiti has always been close to her heart.

In Haiti, children are relinquished to orphanages although one or both parents may be living. Orphanages are often used as a type of foster home until parents can get back on their feet. But in the interim of parents trying to get stable, the children often suffer. They may be deprived of individual attention and miss the family bonds they need to flourish. Marlyse didn’t like the idea of group homes or orphanages, and she is an advocate for keeping families together when possible. But she also acknowledges there are some unhealthy family situations where children cannot thrive and adoption becomes a viable option.

So Marlyse and Monty started the process of adopting their two children in September of 2012.  Throughout the process, the couple was frustrated with several things, including the hidden costs involved with the adoption. To Marlyse, it seemed like someone was always trying to make a profit. She explained that the very people who should be protecting children were the same ones hurting them in the long run. But even with all those frustrations, the couple was determined to keep going.

As a first time mother, Marlyse was also dedicated to learning about the adoptee experience. As she waited for the adoptions to finalize, she stocked up on reading material. She read blogs, books, and articles, trying to understand the adoptee perspective. The adoption process “taught her things about a world she knew nothing about.”  Marlyse initially worried if her children would see her as their “real” mother. She was also concerned with how much contact her young children should have with their Haitian families, not wanting to confuse them.  But Marlyse is willing to do what is best for her children, no matter the inconvenience. She plans to raise her children knowing that they have two families and bring the children back to Haiti every three to four years. She also plans to speak Creole to them at home, so they don’t lose their language. They will also reap the benefits of a mother who will cook them Haitian cuisine. Marlyse is intent on having her children stay in touch with their relatives so they don’t have to do through the pain and heartache of not knowing who they are or where they come from.

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Marlyse and Monty with their two children in Haiti

Marlyse and Monty started the adoption process in 2012, and just finalized the adoptions of their now 3 year old daughter and 2 year old son in October of 2014. They spent more than four times the amount of money they had originally planned to spend. Marlyse recalls the day she walked through the airport in Port-au-Prince. It was a bittersweet moment not just because her children were now out of the orphanage, but because there was a time when she didn’t think the day would come. A long await dream finally became a reality. When the plane finally landed in Miami, Marlyse choked up, the tears a symbol of two years of struggle.

Marlyse invited me to meet her family in Miami, and I had the pleasure of meeting her and Monty, and her two beautiful children. I held her daughter, who was so quiet, taking in her brand new world. At one point, her son curled up in my arms and almost fell asleep. They reminded me so much of myself, so many years ago, beginning a new life with a new family. I later watched Marlyse lay the children on the hotel bed to take a nap. Their little bodies were exhausted, and both were asleep within minutes. The afternoon sun streamed into the  windows, carrying them into a sweet slumber. It seems like an odd thought, but as Marlyse begins her life with her children, she must learn to let them go. They may someday want to have their own relationship with their Haitian families, and the best thing for Marlyse to do as a mother is let them. Her children need the freedom to explore a relationship with both families, a safe place to discuss their feelings, and a mother who strong enough to let them go. And for that, they will one day be grateful.

 

 

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American Seoul

Zeke Anders is a self described storyteller, filmmaker, director, and photographer. Zeke grew up in Detroit; his mother was a school teacher, his father owned his own casket distribution company. Growing up during the MTV music video era, Zeke was drawn to the high energy videos, and turned his attention to  filmmaking. While still in highschool, he  was recruited by Detroit Public Television to direct and produce segments and became “the youngest creative producer for the largest independent ad agency in the world.” Zeke later moved to LA and focused on writing and directing, winning numerous awards for his work, including top honors at Houston Worldfest, New York Festival, and the Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition.

Zeke’s story sounds like the American dream: a boy with humble beginnings works hard, moves to LA ,and becomes pretty successful. But Zeke’s journey to success is even more remarkable when you find out he was found in an alleyway in Korea and spent the first three years of his life in an orphanage. With all of his filmmaking and directing experience, Zeke finally decided to turn the camera on himself and tell his story. He started a vlog series on Youtube titled American Seoul in which he shares his personal experience growing up as a Korean American adoptee in Detroit. Zeke’s story is fascinating, and his vlogs are thoughtful and powerful. Watch the first episode of Zeke’s vlog below and read on for our interview!

You mentioned in your first vlog that you were found on the street with no name or no identifying information like a birth certificate. What is your official birthday and who chose it?

Tracing my lineage is next to impossible making my personal history unknown. I was found on the streets, an alley, by the local authorities and taken to a Catholic orphanage. Where and when exactly is unknown. It may have actually been in the city of Busan… but have no evidence to support that idea – just a hunch because as a child, I remember hearing my parents mentioning that name.  Assuming that the orphanage had a doctor, it was that person who gave me my “official” birthdate of December 4th.  It’s probably an accurate estimation… although feasibly a few weeks off.

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What is the story of your name? Were you named in the orphanage or did parents name you when you were adopted?

I came into the orphanage without a name and so they assigned me a name temporary name (just for paperwork, etc.). My Korean name was Soo Kim Chang. However, once adopted, my parents renamed me.

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Left to right: Zeke’s aunt, mother, grandfather and father

You revealed in one of your early vlogs that you grew up an only child and your parents have passed away. What is your family unit? Are you close with relatives?

I don’t know why my parents did not have any biological children… perhaps they were unable or maybe it was by choice. As a result, I really enjoyed growing up as an only child. For me, it taught me independence, assertiveness and creativity among other things. My extended family is small. Growing up I spent 99% of holidays, summer vacations, etc. with my mother’s side of the family… mostly her sister and their father. I would visit cousins and extended relatives on occasion but not very often.

My mother passed away when I was in High School and my father passed away six years ago. He and I had become close since it was just the two of us and am tremendously grateful that I had the time I had with him. I’ve really only stayed connected to my aunt who continues to live in Michigan.

Funny enough, I am married to an ‘only-child’ who also has a very small family. We have two adopted black shelter cats and we pretty much just keep to ourselves! lol

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Have you ever gone back to South Korea? If not, do you have plans to?

I have never been back to South Korea and would like to very much. One day for sure. I remember as a child, my parents talking about taking a trip to Korea after my high school graduation – it was going to be this big event. During my teen years I was fortunate enough to have started traveling to different countries like, Mexico, Sweden, Estonia, etc.

My mother battled cancer through the majority of my childhood (Elementary through Jr. High) and finally passed away during the summer of entering my senior year. Obviously life took a different course. I absolutely love to travel and experiencing different cultures. S. Korea would definitely be a “homecoming” of sorts and I look forward to the day when that happens.

Do you think it’s easier to share details of your family life now that your parents are gone?

I don’t think sharing my story is any easier now that my parents are gone… in fact, it’s probably harder only because with my early history they would’ve been helpful filling in the details making the vlogs a little more complete.

I’m proud to share my story and family to you. They were wonderful, loving parents and honorable people who always put others before themselves. They always supported my interests… it was in High School where I got the bug to become a filmmaker and they were behind me 100%. Even after my mother passed, my father continued to support my career path and I know they would both be pleased with the vlog series and its success.

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Zeke and his mother

What was your motivation for sharing your adoption story and starting your vlog? What do you hope to accomplish?

I don’t even really remember giving this idea much thought, I just remember doing it. As a freelance director I was in-between jobs and never like sitting still so I thought what type of project can I do that is quick and simple? A vlog!

Throughout the years whenever people would discover I’m adopted, they were always amazed by my circumstances. So much so I would often joke about it. The idea for the vlog series just clicked. I set out to make the vlogs intimate and straightforward – no frills, no fancy editing. Black & White seemed like a great visual style while leaving all the archival photos/footage in color.

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Hard at work

What’s next for you? You are clearly a talented and accomplished filmmaker. Do you have any other adoption related projects in the works?

This is just the beginning! I’m developing a longer format television/doc series, of the same name [American Seoul] where I interview fellow Korean/American adoptees, their family/friends across the country and have them share their stories and experiences. I’ve realized by sharing mine and having so many people reach out to me that a lot of our stories are very similar and yet so different. It’s an interesting ‘character’ study on the effects of adoption and just how each of us have grown to become integrated in American society and yet, for some feel quite disconnected. Some feel they’re not Korean enough to be accepted as their own and yet, they’re not “American” because of their physical appearance. Another issue is the self-identity crisis every adoptee goes through… not only as a teen but even in adult life.

I’m currently writing a feature-length screenplay about a young Korean/American adoptee who travels back to Seoul to find his biological parents. While there, he befriends an older American tourist on a very different journey. Each discovers they need each other to find what they’re looking for.

I also just completed a TEDTalk-type lecture+curation for the Detroit Institute of Arts on the art of the vlog, truly the first of its kind.  My show, “Vlogzilla”, delves into defining a vlog, why people vlog and can it truly be an art form?  I curate more than 100 vlogs from around the world and finished the evening by screening “American Seoul”.  The presentation was a success!

I continue to freelance as a director/filmmaker working for ad agencies and corporations directing their branded content videos/commercials and ads.

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To see more of Zeke’s work, visit www.zekeanders.com

Tell Me Your Story: Of a Weight Lifted

Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 7.43.46 AMLynne didn’t know her life story until she was 53. And when she finally found out, the details were unbelievable.

Born in St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1943, Lynn’s birth parents were not together. In fact, they were both married to someone else. It was during World War II, and while her husband was off in the war, Lynne’s mother, Minnie, had a one time affair  that resulted in a pregnancy. Minnie was scared. Her husband would eventually return, and she had two other children at home. In addition, the father of her growing baby also had his own two children to raise. In a different time, a much different outcome might be possible, but this was the 1940s.

In another small Canadian city, a woman struggled with her infertility. Anges received a call from a friend about a woman who was having a baby, but couldn’t keep it. Would she be interested? Agnes said yes, and Lynne was adopted. She was picked up from the hospital at a week old. The terms of the adoption were set, and the adoptive family could not be within 100 miles of Minnie and her family. Records were changed, and Lynne received a new last name. Adoption papers were sealed, and for most of her life, Lynne would be kept in the dark about her family history.

Lynne grew up thinking that  her adoptive parents were the only ones she had. After Lynne was adopted, Agnes had been able to have three more children, making Lynne the oldest of four. Growing up, her siblings didn’t find out that Lynne was adopted until much later on, but Lynne found out at the age of eight. Getting into an argument with neighborhood kids resulted with one of offenders yelling,“You don’t even count, anyway. You’re adopted.” Lynne was stunned, but hid her shock. Later, she worked up the nerve to ask her mother. Her mother quietly explained that yes, she was adopted and was told to say, if ever asked, that she was chosen.

But that’s where the conversation ended. There was no further explanation of Lynne’s background before the adoption. After that, Lynne felt she didn’t have the right to know her past.  She wondered who her mother was. Why was she relinquished? Who was her father? Every woman she passed in the grocery store or on the street could be her mother. But Lynne didn’t want to upset her parents, so she wondered in silence.

When Lynne looks back on those years, it’s with hurt and confusion. She says she sometimes felt like an outsider in her family, although she admits she does have fond memories of her childhood. She describes her childhood overall as “happy, and loving, but disjointed.”  For over fifty years, Lynne was kept in the dark about her past. Too scared to rock the boat, she accepted that her life before adoption would remain a mystery.

Until her mother’s passing in 1996. Before Agnes passed away at the age of 80,  she told Lynne who her birth mother was. Lynne was given her birthmother’s name, a key that would unlock so many secrets. Lynne wrote a letter to Minnie explaining who she was, and asked if they could talk. Shortly after, Minnie phoned, and mother and daughter had a long conversation. Lynne found out that Minnie’s husband had passed and had never found out about his wife’s secret daughter. Lynne was unable to make contact with her birth father, who also passed away.

But looking back on the events of her life, Lynne says she knew God had a hand in it all. Minnie’s husband returned from the war a hard man, and life would have been very difficult for Lynne had her mother tried to keep her. Today Lynne is in contact with some of her half siblings, but has since said goodbye to her birth mother who passed in 2003. For a long time, she didn’t discuss her adoption story, still concerned that she would upset her family. At 71 years old, the telling of this story is a turning point for Lynne and proof that she is not defined by her circumstances.

It took a lot for Lynne to get to this place of self acceptance, and she only has one piece of advice for adoptive parents: “Please tell your children they are adopted, and explain way. Be very open and truthful.”  She is no longer carrying the burden of family secrets, but embracing the freedom that comes with knowing and speaking the truth. With the telling of this story, Lynne says she feels a weight that has been on her shoulders for years has been lifted, and she is finally free.