From Haiti to Hayward: The Myth of the Orphan Locally and Globally

POOR correspondent - Posted on 23 June 2010

Tiny aka Lisa Gray-Garcia/ Daughter of Dee
Friday, February 12, 2010;

Orphan-(def:) a child deprived by death of one or usually both parents- one deprived of some protection or advantage

"In corners of streets and rooms,
on curbs, alleys, broken beds,
in someone’s ambivalent arms,
always in danger of harm
never invited,
belonging to no-one,
language, culture, people stolen
cared for by default,
a price on my head.
I am the orphan,
used, pimped, dis-mantled,
in the shackles of un-love,
left for dead.
emotionally deconstructed-
always unprotected"

An unwanted child- unprotected, un-cared for, and most terrifying, unloved- this was my poor broke-down mama of mixed race, Taina/Boricua, Roma and Irish descent. To the pedophiles, social workers, teachers and foster parents, she was only one thing , a colored child, without a parent that loved her, framed as a
“burden to the state” foster industry code used to solicit funding for her care.. I reflected on my mama’s tragic story which eventually led to her break-down as an adult when I was 11 years old as I was reading the crazy story of the “well-intentioned” US missionaries facing charges in Haiti for child trafficking.
The herstory of repression of children and youth locally and globally begins with the racist, classist herstory of the orphan For hundreds of years from the Americas to Australia, missionaries targeted native children as a key element of their assault on indigenous cultures, race and language. Stealing native children who had parents to learn the white man’s way and ultimately de-indigenize them at missionary and/or government run boarding schools became the template for the local and global orphanages that exist today in Nicaragua, Zimbabwe, India, Haiti and beyond.
The blurred lines between koliziner/killer, caregiver, and educator has always been present in the child-stealing/fostering/adoption industry. In the days of the trans-atlantic slave trade, a portion of the money made from that murderous project was used to build and fund the early orphanages in Liverpool, England. These homes were filled with impoverished children of Irish descent, whose parents were sold on a chance at hegemony, through formal education meted out to them as a form of charity and benefit.
Between 1854 and 1929 in the US an estimated 200,000 children were “out-placed” during, what is known today as, the Orphan Train Movement. The orphan trains were filled with both abandoned children and children of poor families whose families had been “sold” on the idea that their children would attain a better life by being shipped out of the big cities back east to supposedly “healthy “ conditions which would be “in the best interests of the child” , a sentence that continues today to rationalize the seizure of poor children and children of color from their birth families and into the ever-hungry jaws of our modern day foster care system.
The Children’s Aid Society who ran the orphan trains contracted with several private “handlers” who shipped the children to homes in the Mid-west. Prospective families were required to go through a single interview with aid workers to qualify as a host home. After that original interview, the families and the children were never checked on again. There were countless stories of physical and sexual abuse, neglect, over-work and in some cases brutality of the “orphan” children reported later from those out-placements
If there are no orphans- create them
Missionaries and philanthro-pimps of old almost always followed a certain pattern, which is consistent with most of today’s international orphanages , they spend countless resources to build the schools/boarding schools or orphanages with the intention of filling them with orphans, even if there are no orphans in the community. If there aren’t enough actual orphaned children, the churches, social workers and/or organizations will create them through a campaign of dis-information, based on an overall western-held belief that people in poverty are inherently pathological and broken and therefore can’t care for their own children.
Historically, people from western cultures swallow that cool-aid a little easier, albeit being left with a knawing feeling that something went horribly wrong. Countless women in poverty and former teen mothers will tell you many years later how devastated they still feel about, “giving up their children” but that everyone told them at the time that it was in the best interests of their children.

The Best Interests of the Child
Institutionally racist and classist US adoption and foster care agencies along with county-run child protective services agencies are all established with a core mission that includes the goal to “protect” children in need, which is a good goal, but where it becomes problematized is that the concept of “in need” is judged from a western, euro-centric lens of what sanity, family and health is, thereby perpetuating what Black Psychology calls “a transubstantive error” i.e., that your culture and world-view informs what you believe to be right and sane and healthy. So if your culture has taught you that a two parent headed household both living under one roof is the model of stability and family health, you will view other family structures outside of that norm to be unhealthy and perhaps even aberrant and pathological. In tandem with euro-centric cultural belief systems, a euro-centric psychiatric, and social work industry was established which promotes euro-centric psychiatric models of sanity and pathology and provide the ammunition for CPS referrals, parental terminations, and the criminalization of poor parents.In addition to parenting, that lens inform US models of education, elder care-giving, housing, funding, service provision and policing.
So if you have a missionary, aid-worker or social worker viewing a child being raised in a multi-generational community of care-givers, who have their children help the family to survive by working in different forms of labor, as well as learning through project based elder-driven models of indigenous learning, that missionary might truly believe that that child is suffering or even being abused.
Imbued with this belief the missionary or aid worker may actually believe they are “saving” the working child care-gived by multiple community members in a village in Malawi, Nicaragua or Haiti. And like their Western counterparts in this process of seizure the aid-worker and missionary all use and abuse the sentence, “ in the best interests of the child.”
In a US Child Protective Services(CPS) model this sentence gets used to seize children from homes or from houseless parents just because the parents are poor or houseless or not following the Great White Way. In my families case, had I been “discovered” as not going to school, helping my disabled mama and working in underground economic economies, I would have been “out-placed” from our home by CPS. This “referral” also has a monetary incentive for the county and would have triggered a $12,500 pay-out to CPS.
Granted, there are serious cases of abuse of children by birth parents that warrant checking, temporary placement, support and community care-giving in worse cases the termination of parental rights, but the entire structure is rooted in a western notion of proper parenting. Beliefs that fuel the seizure of children from not only good parents in poverty, but families rich in culture, generations, community, eldership and beauty.
Seizing children and sending them to homes where they are essentially un-protected and their care is a crap-shoot, if they are lucky they are cared for and loved and if unlucky, like my mama, subjected to torture, both sexually, physically and emotionally by over 22 foster homes before she was placed in an orphanage that funded itself through the labor of the children in residence.
Monetary Incentive to Seizure
The abuse of parents and families of color in poverty is so rampant by Child Protective Services agencies across the US that it caused my Mama Dee to launch one of our most revolutionary, and to date, un-funded and un-supported media advocacy projects, called Courtwatch. As well as challenging the racist and classist biases of CPS and the Foster Care industry Courtwatch promotes restoration not separation, and has challenged all of these notions of “best interests” and even further we ask why cant the very poor family be offered the $12,500 paid in increments or with support to help them raise their own children.
People contact Courtwatch by the minions daily in serious trauma because their children have been seized by CPS agencies across the nation for the mere act of living in a shelter, not agreeing to a psychiatric evaluation and/or answering a social worker with an attitude. There are revolutionary organizations and native peoples across the US who have shown the correlations between CPS seizures and the enslavement of African peoples due to the unequal amount of African and Native children seized for reasons related to poverty and racism and missionary beliefs of proper parenting.
Local to Global
Within the context of the global orphan mythology, imperialism plays a large role in wide-scale theft of children as it fits nicely with the kolinization of peoples lands and resources, such as the seizure of mixed race children in the 1970’s by Operation Baby-lift in Vietnam, which led by “well-intentioned” social workers working for US adoption agencies, convinced, cajoled, demanded and ultimately lied to, mothers in Vietnam to give up their mixed race babies so they could be shipped back to the US where they would be “safe” from the horror of being a mixed race baby in Vietnam. Horrific images depicted in the documentary Daughter of Danang, showed countless Vietnamese mothers screaming, crying , holding their hearts and their babies as “nice” female social workers led their children to holding camps and off to the arms of waiting white parents in the US.
Which brings us back to the theft of the Haitian children. The trafficking of children for non-profit profit is common in the 21st Century. If you have children in your program it increases your chances of garnering donations and almost every tale of “child-saving” begins with a “school”. Many of the international orphanages and homes led by people from the region where they are based, or led by grassroots revolutionary folks and/or religious groups who practice forms of liberation theology are beautiful, revolutionary places that work to help families and children, but unfortunately, many are run by closet pedophiles seeking to abuse and/or use unprotected children, NGO’s or US based Missionaries using children to garner profit. I was recently told the tale of a missionary group who set up shop in a small village in Nicaragua. This group spent several thousands dollars and a huge amount of local resources building a state of the art school. After the group built it and tried to get students to enroll – no-one in the community could afford the tuition, so with the with the mystical gift of institutional education as their carrot and rationale, the missionaries offered free tuition to the local families if they would send their children to come and live at the school. The local families agreed, seeing this as a good deal. Suddenly, this town had hundreds of “orphans” which to the outside world this group billed as “orphans” and they were seen as providing benevolent care, board and education for.
Finally, a proper investigation
More groups of NGO’s and aid organizations in Zimbabwe, Haiti and beyond have been snagged in the last ten years with egregious money-making schemes, sexual and physical abuse scandals and on and on. Which is why I was quietly cheering as the aid-workers were charged and arrested and properly investigated on the international stage. With both the government and the community stopping these people from stealing the children of Haiti, many of whom had living parents, to fill their “school” in the Dominican Republic. How swift they moved, like thieves in the night, to seize these children. But the global attention Haiti received because of the earhtquake actually worked against them, causing peoples from across the globe to think twice about their countries “orphans”.
Finally, many indigenous cultures across the globe have different ways of loving and caring for their children, and elders which western aid-workers rarely understand, ways which are not rooted in Western psychology or Christian morality, but rather, rooted in eldership, respect, humility and interdependence. Beliefs like the Malawi people practice which say that all people are related to each other, and if I know you I am responsible for your care. Notions and beliefs and values and dreams and poetry and love that Western/US peoples can learn a lot from, beliefs that are, in the best interests of ALL peoples.


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