What’s in a Title?

Carol A. Hand

What deeper messages do titles convey? That’s a question that arises as I contemplate a powerful poignant book I just finished reading, Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity by Marijane Huang. I read this work from a unique perspective as an Ojibwe scholar who has studied the history of Indian child welfare, as a descendant of a culture that has survived despite centuries of Native American child removal policies. I reflected on Huang’s experiences as a daughter who witnessed the deep emotional scars my Ojibwe mother carried as a result of the joyless, demeaning years she spent in a Catholic Indian boarding school far from her family and home. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that the topic of child removal, particularly adoption, triggers so many thoughts and memories for me. Often, I need to turn to critical scholarly reflection for balance to consider the underlying questions.

Together the myriad of cultures makes up an intellectual and spiritual web of life that envelops the planet and is every bit as important to the well being of the planet as is the biological web of life that we know as the biosphere. You might think of this social web of life as an “ethnosphere,” a term perhaps best defined as the sum total of all thoughts and intuitions, myths and beliefs, ideas and aspirations brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness. The ethnosphere is humanity’s greatest legacy. (Wade Davis, 2009, p. 2)

Huang speaks of the “primal wound” adoptees suffer due to “multiple losses, the most significant being the loss of the adoptee’s birth mother, but also that of culture, language, and original family” (p. xvi). Removing children from their families, communities, and nations causes harm on many levels and can be viewed as a powerful form of ethnocide. Huang’s account hints at the life-long suffering of her birth mother and family of origin because her father made choices he felt necessary in a context that wasn’t supportive of children and families. It reminded me of some of the stories I heard during my research about Ojibwe child welfare, aggregated into a poem I later wrote.

…All the child welfare system could do
was take a mother’s children away.
No one ever asked why she always had tears in her eyes.
Although her daughter cried for her beautiful mother every day,
no one ever asked what her mother needed to heal.
So the young girl spent her childhood with strangers,
a grieving mother mourned, and the White strangers felt virtuous.
The Ojibwe community lost yet another child to county removal
and the child welfare system closed the case, its job complete…

Huang’s courage to confront her fear of the unknown and her tenacity to keep moving forward despite so many obstacles are deeply inspiring. It wasn’t too late for her to reconnect to her original cultural legacy and some of the family that she lost as an infant. Her honest, gracious, and moving narrative brought me inside her experiences. She brought me inside her feelings as she discovered her adoption papers when she was in her 40s and learned of her heritage for the first time. And I felt as though I stood with her in the Taipei airport in Taiwan anxiously awaiting her first meeting with her two older sisters who had last seen Huang as an infant.

Huang’s healing journey brings joy and tears. I’m grateful for the chance I had to travel along with her. Her first book ends with a powerful realization.

Without a doubt, the reunion with my birth family has been one of the most significant, life-altering events of my life. (p. 159).

Learning to see the world through different cultural lenses is always s gift, and Huang does such a powerful job taking us beyond two profoundly different cultural worlds to see both the importance of being in touch with our cultural roots and the human bonds that connect us across cultures.

To acknowledge the wonder of other cultures is not to denigrate our way of life but rather to recognize with some humility that other peoples, flawed as they too may be, nevertheless contribute to our collective heritage, the human repertoire of ideas, beliefs, and adaptations that have historically allowed us as a species to thrive. To appreciate this truth is to sense viscerally the tragedy inherent in the loss of a language or the assimilation of a people. To lose a culture is to lose something of ourselves. (Davis, pp. 201-202)

I hope Huang will have an opportunity to return to Taiwan and I eagerly await her next book.

Information about how to purchase a copy of Huang’s book, published on May 8, 2017, is available on her website, Beyond Two Worlds.

Works Cited:

Wade Davis (2009). The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World. Toronto, ON, Canada: House of Anansi Press, Inc.

Marijane Huang (2017). Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity. Bloomington, IN: Author House.


About Carol A. Hand

What matters are not the titles I’ve held or university degrees I earned or the size of a house or bank account. It’s really what I’ve learned from ordinary people like me whom I’ve met along the way. They taught me to live with gratitude and give thanks for each new day.
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18 Responses to What’s in a Title?

  1. sojourner says:

    I agree, cultures are key to life and the unity of all of humanity. And I struggle to sense what this really means, even though I no somewhere deep inside it is true.

    My mother was second generation American. She was German all the way, and because she had contact with her father, mother and their parents, all German, she had an understanding of who she was, based on the German culture she not only learned about but experienced as a child and young adult.

    But I, like many of us of European descent, have no sense of having a culture whatsoever. What my generation has here, is not culture; we are a mutt generation, we don’t know who we are, or where we came from, at least not deep down inside, where it truly matters.

    And this is why it is hard for me, and others like me, to completely understand all you have written here. I am a mutt, and I am clueless in many ways. But at least I know it. Maybe, if there be something coming after this life, maybe then I will learn who I truly am, and who I belong to in a specific way, other than humanity, of course.

    This quote really registers with me somewhere deep inside:

    “Together the myriad of cultures makes up an intellectual and spiritual web of life that envelops the planet and is every bit as important to the well being of the planet as is the biological web of life that we know as the biosphere. You might think of this social web of life as an “ethnosphere,” a term perhaps best defined as the sum total of all thoughts and intuitions, myths and beliefs, ideas and aspirations brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness. The ethnosphere is humanity’s greatest legacy. (Wade Davis, 2009, p. 2)”

    We think we know it all today, but we don’t! Modern Science has turned us into cold, calculating know-it-alls, and so we ignorantly and callously continue to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water, and in so many different ways.

    There is more to life than the physical, material realm, so much more. And if we can’t get back to understanding this, I fear for the future of humanity and the planet.

    I know I went off subject here, but what you wrote here has much to do with what burns in my mind and on my heart, almost continually!

    Thanks, Carol!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Dear Dave, I am honored that you shared such important and profound insights with depth and honesty. The legacy of historical trauma touches us all, although perhaps not in the same ways. Losing a sense of connection to our “place” and our “people” or culture or tribe leaves us adrift and searching for meaning and belonging. It leaves us vulnerable to those who promise to fill that void with fictive connections, illusions, and distractions. You might enjoy Wade Davis’ book. It’s a fascinating collection of the many fascinating parts of the picture different cultures contribute to our understanding of life and our world. Thank you for taking the time to respond so thoughtfully, dear friend, and for your patience waiting for a reply. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Carol, it’s hard for me to find words. We feel such collective grief and often have no idea from what or how far back. Perhaps this is what I feel when I read this. Our wounds are deep and are of multiple experiences for which words are often difficult to find. I appreciate the feelings that have been aroused, even if I cannot readily identity their origins. For that is the healing journey. Thank you. 💕

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you for your deep, compassionate comments, Carrie. I’ve come to believe that we all carry the legacy of historical trauma, or soul wounds as it’s called by some. The causes are many. Often the trauma remains beneath the surface affecting us in ways we don’t see and hence, can’t address. I send my best wishes. ❤


      • You are so very right, dear Carol. I feel I am working on past traumas of one kind or another all of the time. Yes, we also carry historical trauma – or as Francis Weller calls it, Ancestral Grief. There is so much that is not right about the way people have been and continue to be treated in this country and around the world. This is always hard to see, read about and accept. I appreciate your thoughtful posts so very much. ❤️​

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Your mother’s story and in part yours and Huang’s raise questions most, including me, never think of in the case of adoptions. And the hurt and grief and suffering of adoptees has to run deep in the heart of any mother. As you know my two grandsons are adopted Guatemalan children. For their mothers it was a matter of letting them starve because of the profound abject poverty they were being born into or letting them be adopted by parents who could provide for their needs. And it’s not for me to judge their decisions to do so. And I know that both of my grandsons have had to come to terms with the fact that they were “given” away. No child wants to feel unwanted. However, I also know that these two boys were blessed with extremely loving adoptive parents and grandparents and that they have never known the kind of poverty they were to be born into. Whether that’s good or bad is not for me to say, but I do believe that in some way it is part of God’s plan for these two boys, and that both of them in some way and at some point in time will be worthy of the sacrifice their biological parents made. I wish that they had not had to be given up for adoption, but that was not my call. All I can do now is love them like a mother and grandmother should, and let them know how cherished and beloved they are by me and my family. I love both of them as if they had been born unto my daughter, and I know that they could not have asked for better parents than she and her husband. But I am not naive enough to not know that a price emotionally has been paid through and by the adoption. Love and hugs, Natalie 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dear Natalie, thank you so much for sharing such deep, compassionate, and thoughtful insights about your first hand knowledge of, and experiences with, international adoption. It’s not an easy topic to raise. I have no doubt that your grandchildren have been raised surrounded by love. I send my love and best wishes to you and your beautiful family. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Annika Perry says:

    A beautiful heartfelt review interweaving your personal story with that of Huang. My heart goes out to you, Carol…Thank you for sharing and for the recommendation of this book, one I hope to read during the summer. Warmest wishes xx

    Liked by 1 person

  5. desilef says:

    And thank you for sharing the Wade Davis quote about the ethnosphere.

    Liked by 1 person

    • desilef says:

      Also, if you can find it, there’s a documentary called First Person Plural about a Korean adoptee and the psychic turmoil that overcomes her until she learns the truth about her family of origin.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you so much for your comments, Diane, and for the suggested documentary. Sadly, it’s no longer available at PBS, but I did request access through the library of the college where I teach…


  6. Jeff Nguyen says:

    Huang speaks of the “primal wound” adoptees suffer due to “multiple losses, the most significant being the loss of the adoptee’s birth mother, but also that of culture, language, and original family…’ I think the primal wound sums up well the void that is left when a child is deprived of his birth parents, homeland, native tongue, and culture. In essence, one’s very identity or core. For the adoptee, there is pain, confusion, and sorrow on so many levels. For myself, there was coming to terms with being “left for adoption,” and wondering why my birth parents didn’t want me or abandoned me. Many international adoptees are given the familiar narrative that the birth mother did it to give their doomed child a better life, along with constant reminders that there life is so much better in America. How they were “rescued” from a life of misery and poverty, i.e., second or third world status. The lack of honesty starts to feel like gaslighting .

    Then, there is the issue of growing up a stranger in a strange land. Whether it’s a Vietnamese boy growing up in a German-American family, or a Ojibwe child growing up in a boarding school, I would imagine the sense of disorientation and alienation is similar, although different contexts. One either conforms to the mold they’ve been placed in, or one finds oneself uncomfortable in one’s own skin. All of this is compounded by the fact that many children who are part of international or mixed raced adoptions and placements are never really told the whole story, or given access to their birth records or family history.

    “Removing children from their families, communities, and nations causes harm on many levels and can be viewed as a powerful form of ethnocide…” From my experiences studying and reading about the Christian evangelical adoption industry, e.g., Holt International, there seems to be an “ends justify the means” mentality that shows a complete disregard and even contempt for the homelands that many international adoptees originate from. Again, similar to the contempt for indigenous cultures by the North American boarders. There is just no way to qualitatively know or grasp the sheer loss that is endured by all participants in international adoptions, at least the unsophisticated ones. JaeRan Kim is a fellow teacher, social worker, and writer who touches on many of the issues brought up here: https://harlows-monkey.com

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chi Miigwetch for your powerful and astute comments, Jeff, and for sharing some of your poignant personal experiences and insights. It’s always a gift to hear from you, dear friend, and I appreciate the link to Jae Ran Kim’s important work.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. dawnwairimu says:

    I actually went to boarding school for most of my childhood and adolescent years (grade 3-12). I just wrote a post about my experience in boarding school so that part jumped out at me 😀 loved your post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your kind words and comments, Dawn.

      I feel a need to be honest in return. Judging from you comments and recent post, I suspect your experiences in boarding school had little in common with Indigenous children in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and I’m grateful to know that. After European colonizers established dominance in the nations mentioned above, Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and communities, sometimes at gun point. The intention was to eradicate Indigenous languages, cultures, and communal land ownership and to train Indigenous children to be servants and manual laborers. Among other things, children suffered from diseases due to overcrowding, malnutrition, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. Fortunately, my grandmother and mother were among the survivors.

      I didn’t share this information to make you feel bad. Many people even here don’t know this part of their own colonial history. I felt you deserved to know that “boarding school” experiences are not all the same for everyone. For some Indigenous peoples they have left a legacy of profound cultural trauma that continues to impact their descendants centuries later in many ways.


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