Updated: Jun 2, 2020
by Billy Struble, Andrea Manolov, and Heather Hauck
Attending a KAAN conference for the first time can be transformative. For Billy Struble, Andrea Manolov, and Heather Hauck, the experience was particularly monumental because they were recipients of the 2019 KAAN Registration Scholarship. Since XXXX, KAAN has provided a select number of scholarships for conference attendees who are adoptees. Particular consideration is given to first time attendees as a way to encourage growth within the KAAN community. After attending the 2019 KAAN conference in Minneapolis, Billy, Andrea, and Heather shared the following thoughts:
First off, I want to say that I had an amazing time at the conference and I’m extremely appreciative to have received a partial scholarship. The conference really kicked off for me when I attended the Transracial Adoptees and Interracial Relationships session led by Aeriel and Kyle Ashlee. It was interesting to hear some of their stories as well as other attendees’ experiences of being the victim of racism or perceived racism. I often wonder if the way that people treat me sometimes is really from a place of cruelty or am I making it out to be more than what it is.
The next big topic that was a surprise to me was Examining Anti-Blackness in TRA – and Asian-American Communities. I was aware of the anti-black sentiment in Asian communities, but I was completely in the dark as to that same sentiment existing amongst adoptees. I guess it’s because of how I grew up with friends and family of all races which gave me a different perspective than other adoptees. My takeaway from the session is that most, if not all, of the anti-black sentiment is subconscious; playing up to the stereotypes without being aware of it.
Lastly, the session on Navigating Issues with Aging Adoptive Parents was cathartic because my dad is dealing with a slew of health issues. That time also opened my eyes to other adoptees that had a falling out with their parents but have had to overcome those issues because of their parents’ needs and the limited time remaining they had together. I think I’m better equipped to deal with my own family issues.
The intentionality in KAAN Conference spaces (panels, workshops, etc.), as created for and by a multigenerational organization of mostly Korean internationally adopted people set the tone of this conference. Along with a couple of other conference attendees, I was adopted from China. My goal in attending KAAN 2019 was to seek community among fellow transnationally adopted people. As an East Asian American raised by white parents in the Midwest, many aspects of my lived experience felt understood and welcomed at KAAN.
I attended two standout workshops. The first was “Queering Adoption” which served as a general discussion space for LGBT+ folks led by three excellent facilitators. The second was “Navigating Issues with Aging Adoptive Parents.” The conversation in this room was emotionally taxing and validating in a way I never before experienced. Because parents adopting from China in the late 20th century tend to be at least a decade older than the median age of new parents, it was actually in this space that I met the few other people adopted from China at this conference. Transnational and interracial family relationships complicate grief and loss in ways difficult to explain even to (much needed) POC therapists. This workshop was the first time in my life I was in a room of people with so many shared experiences, and shared questions about the future our families.
Without going into details on conversations that took place in either room, I want to explicate that the safety and sense of mutual understanding in these spaces was possible only because they were held with the same care for intersectionality that went into the KAAN Conference as a whole. To feel pride in being Asian, to look with honest criticism at adoption industries, to recognize that white supremacy infiltrates all parts of society, including the most intimate parent-child relationships - these intentions are now at the basis of my personal practice but took me years of soul searching to even begin. Providing rooms to talk about intersectional issues, such as queerness and parent care, among people that share the lived experience of transnational adoption - this is what I found to be the incredible value of KAAN as a gathering space for transnationally adopted people.
I am greatly appreciative of the KAAN Conference organizers and Advisory Council. Looking forward to participating again in future!
This year’s KAAN conference was positive, insightful, and a reflective learning experience for me. As a first time attendee, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it greatly exceeded my expectations. I’m happy that I was able to attend and I look forward to next year’s conference in Denver, Colorado.
Primarily, I thought the presentations offered a comprehensive look at relevant adoptee issues and topics that the adoption community is currently encountering. I was pleasantly surprised to see an adoptee only track of session offerings. I appreciated that there was a safe place for us to discuss honestly with how we felt with topics surrounding race, privilege, grief, and trauma. These sessions opened me up and allowed me to feel a connection with fellow adoptees that maybe I wouldn’t have been able to experience otherwise. I thought the presenters were excellent in that they allowed for dialogue and reflection. The panels were insightful and brought a diverse set of lived experiences. I made wonderful connections with other adoptees that I hope to continue to build relationships in the near future.
Overall, I thought the volunteers and council did a wonderful job organizing and planning. The phone app for the conference was wonderful. The gender neutral bathrooms and gender identifiers on the name badges was a nice way to be inclusive to all attendees.
In summary, KAAN 2019 was a positive learning experience. It gave me a safe space to connect with other KADs. I was able to process and reflect where I normally wouldn’t take the time to do so. Please continue to keep the scholarship open for new attendees.
Thank you for the opportunity to attend my first KAAN conference.