November is National Adoption Month. ATG is proud to highlight Bert Ballard, a Vietnamese adoptee and adoptive parent. He was a film advisor and his family’s compelling story was featured in Operation Babylift: The Lost Children of Vietnam. He is an assistant professor in speech communication at the University of Waterloo (Ontario) where he researches, speaks, and writes about international and transracial adoption, and he also co-founded an online humor blog for adoptees called Adopted the Comic. He is married with three children – Adria (8), Kyla (6), and most recently, Jayden (1).
Robert “Bert” Ballard
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
What does it mean to you to “Go Against The Grain?”
To “go against the grain” to me means to carve a path that is different than others. Sometimes this is radical, sometimes it is subtle yet enough to make a difference or provocative enough to cause people to think. As an adoptee, in a lot of ways I think my life is a series of going against the grain – born in one country, raised in another; Asian on the outside, Caucasian on the inside; an only child with seven parents (2 birth parents, 2 adoptive parents, 2 stepmothers, 1 stepfather); in an interracial marriage and family; an adoptee who has adopted internationally; an academic who works to translate research and knowledge directly applicable to families and adoptees.
What made you decide to pursue a career in adoption?
At the 25 year reunion of Operation Babylift adoptees in 2000, it was the first time in my life that I felt like I fit, like I didn’t have to explain who I was to others. It was a wonderful feeling and it was one that I wanted other international and transracial adoptees to feel and experience. Originally my work took root in helping to create spaces and communities where adoptees could feel secure and safe in expressing and sharing their feelings. That moved to conducting research on adoptive families and adoption identity and writing and editing articles and books for scholarly, professional, and non-professional audiences. Recently, I organized the inaugural Intercountry Adoption Summit (http://adoptionsummit.uwaterloo.ca) that brought together representatives from influential countries and scholars around the world to dialogue about the current state of international adoption and its future. Through this evolution in activities and involvement, I try to remain grounded in my experience of finding fit and hope that my work can help families, adoptees, professionals, and researchers consider ways to reduce corruption in the adoption process and offer more support and awareness of what it means to adopt or be adopted.
What have been some of the challenges you faced/lessons you learned as an Asian American in Academia?
I suppose my “industry” is academics right now, but I’ve definitely worked in the adoption world too. I think the biggest challenges for me personally being an Asian American who is adopted run along two lines. The first is credibility. As an Asian American, I’m most often viewed as young and therefore lacking in knowledge or experience (and am often mistaken as a student by many of my academic colleagues). As such, I often have to “prove” that I belong, am knowledgeable, and have the appropriate credentials to be in academics (in fact, many at the Summit came to tell me how surprised they were that I was not a 50-year old white male named Bob!). The second is always being seen as a kid. Working with adoption professionals, who are often older, I find they still see me as a “kid.” Even though I am asked to be a trainer or speaker, many still position me as a “child” with much to learn. On my good days, this provides me opportunities to educate others; on my not so good days, it is frustrating and I wonder if I will ever be judged on my education, knowledge, and character over how I look.
What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment, and why?
Without a doubt, being married for 11 plus years and so far raising 3 children is my greatest accomplishment! There are few things in life as challenging or as rewarding as committing to one person for the rest of your life. It hasn’t always been easy for either of us, especially for myself coming from a family with so many divorces and remarriages and having married into a family with so many brothers and sisters! But it has been an amazing journey where I have learned so much about myself, most importantly that I am worthy of being loved by someone. As for being a parent, there is nothing more challenging and vulnerable than helping a human being come into her or his own; I’ve learned more from my children (two biological, one adopted; two daughters, one son) than I think they have from me. The hugs and cries of “Daddy!” when I come home from a long day makes it worth it and reminds me how important these relationships are in my life.
What’s up next?
Right now I’m working on two volumes coming out of the Intercountry Adoption Summit, which I hope will foster interdisciplinary research on international adoption while becoming important research contributions to international adoption as a whole. I am working on publishing work around my idea of “narrative burden,” and considering ideas for research on international and transracial adoptive families in Canada. I’m working on planning a screening of Operation Babylift: The Lost Children of Vietnam in Waterloo, Ontario, where I live. And I am also trying to get some sleep (and help my wife get some too) with our new 1 year-old son who we recently adopted from Vietnam in June 2010!
Visit Bert’s Adopted the Comic web page.