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Adoption Blog: My Paperwork Pregnancies

Where Is He from? Does He Speak Spanish? Surprising Adoption Questions

When my husband, Paul, and I decided to adopt transracially, we knew we were going to stand out as a visible family formed by adoption and wanted to be ready to respond to any comments or questions that might come up as a result, so we researched common questions people ask multicultural adoptive families.  When we were fortunate enough to welcome a newborn Hispanic boy into our family, we were proud to show off our son, Keith, to everyone who would look at him. And we thought we were prepped and ready to answer whatever inevitable adoption-related questions would come our way (whether about which agency we used, or if we knew anything about his birth parents), but none of our research helped us answer the two questions we got asked the most:  “Where is he from?” and “Does he speak Spanish?”

In the first scenario, I’d often start off by answering, “Here, in the U.S.” But that generally led to more questions. Sometimes I’d say “Here in town,” if I wasn’t sure if people thought we were visiting from somewhere else.  If I said, “Texas,” which is where he was born, I’d get the response, “No, where is he from?”  So I’d say, “Austin,” the specific city of his origin, and wonder to myself why strangers really needed such details. 

From there, a typical conversation would progress like this:

Stranger:  “No.  Where did you get him from?”
Us: “Texas.”
Stranger: “No. Is he from Guatemala or Mexico?”
Us: “No. He’s American.”
Stranger: “No. Where did you travel to get him?” 
Us: “We traveled to Texas because he was born there.”
Stranger:  “Really?  Texas?  Wow!”

After a few of these more involved conversations, we figured out that people assumed we must have adopted internationally, simply because our child was Hispanic.  I didn’t expect people to know that you rarely adopt newborns overseas.  But I did expect people to know that there are Hispanic people in the United States that give birth. 

That baby’s neither a Caucasian nor African-American baby—the only two “kinds” of infants you can adopt domestically—so he must have been adopted internationally.  After all, there are no fertile women of any other race in the United States.  And, if these other “kinds” of women somehow do get pregnant, they are required to leave our country to give birth, or automatically want, or have the means and support system, to parent their children.  Because people were absolutely amazed each time we said we adopted a Hispanic child domestically, Paul and I felt like everyone around us might as well be thinking these kinds of things.

While we were surprised that people were surprised that we only traveled as far as Texas to adopt our child, the most shocking—and quite common—question we got, about our newborn baby, mind you, was, “Does he speak Spanish?” 

In our research, we read about adoptive parents who adopted internationally being asked this kind of question, but usually when they had adopted a toddler or an older child, not a three-week-old baby.

Carefully, in order not to offend the intelligence of the person questioning us, Paul and I would respond with, “We adopted him as a newborn,” “I was in the room with him when he was born,” or “We took him out of the hospital when he was three-days-old.”  We didn’t want to come off as smarty-pantses by saying, “Um…all he does is cry,” “He only speaks baby,” or “He didn’t come programmed with any language.”

Did it offend me that I was asked if we adopted internationally?  Absolutely not.  I was more offended that people assume only Caucasians or African Americans babies are available for adoption in the United States.

Did it bother me that I was asked if my son spoke Spanish?  I must admit I was taken aback by this question when I was holding a newborn in my arms.  Paul and I certainly weren’t prepared for that question! 

It would be nice if these two questions would be included in the books when I was originally researching being a transracial family.  Had we known we would have been better prepared with answers.  These particular questions apply not just to international adoptions, but for domestic adoptions, too.  Who knew?  Obviously not us!

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Both of my daughters were born in Korea.  Of course, they are now grown and married, and I have seven gorgeous, wonderful grandchildren- some of whom look somewhat Asian and some not.  When anyone asked intrusive questions about them- and there have been many…, my response was and is to give a one-word answer- “yes’” “no,” “Korea,” etc.  I was not rude, but one time, when a man was really aggressive, I asked him where he was born, his age, what HIS mother looked like, how much he earned per year, and his address and social security number.  He finally got the picture.  Another response which I sometimes use, even today, is to ask, “Why?  Are you interested in adopting?  If so, I can refer you to a helpful organization and several Adoption Agencies.”  I have found, however, that when people actually are interested in adoption, they ask if I might be able to help them in their efforts, not directly about the children.  My “bottom line” was, if it would be intrusive to ask about a family not made by adoption- a “birth” family- then it is intrusive to ask anyone, including us.  My younger daughter, when she was about 4, was approached by a man who told her, “I wish I could have a little girl just like you.”  She proceeded to tell him that he could go to Korea on the airplane like her Mommy did and then he could adopt a little girl almost “just like her.”  Out of the mouths of babes!!!





By yehudis on Friday, March 18, 2011 at 7:07 pm.

I would have to agree with many of the points made by a previous commenter LA ex-pat.  The questions are definitely uninformed, but they give you a window into the types of questions your child will likely encounter, with some degree of frequency, as he grows up.  Perhaps strangers feel freer to ask these questions when they see a visibly transracial family.  But my guess is that your child will get permutations of these types of questions from strangers throughout his life, and it would not even be because of any inkling that he is adopted.  I am an American of Asian descent.  I am not an adoptee.  I am, however, an adoptive mom to an American girl of Asian descent.  To this day, I get ‘innocent’ curious questions about where my ‘homeland’ is and if I ever go back to my ‘homeland’.  Interestingly, they never mean California either.  Sometimes people have even been openly amazed at how I speak English “without an accent”.  I have no doubt my daughter, like your son, will also have these types of inquisitive encounters in stereotyping.

By tlmom on Saturday, April 02, 2011 at 5:05 am.

Thanks for a good laugh. That question about speaking Spanish really just goes to show how people’s minds start turning to stereotypes and their own wishes to package up the situation into what they believe it should be, rather than dealing with the reality in front of them. It’s for this reason I have stopped answering most questions regarding my transracial family. I am happy to be informative, I’m not going to provide fodder for those who just want enough information to fortfiy their biases.

By JejiMom on Wednesday, July 06, 2011 at 9:49 pm.

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Danielle Pennel

Danielle Pennel


I have recently adopted or am adopting from...
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