Grace Poe and the social stigma of Philippine adoptions

Newly elected Senator Grace Poe

Newly elected Senator Grace Poe

By Cristina DC Pastor

Along with assuming the role of legislator, newly-minted Senator Grace Poe appears to have one other abiding obligation: to change Filipinos’ attitude towards adopted children.

At least that’s what I’d like to see.

Grace is the adopted daughter of screen royalty Fernando Poe Jr. and Susan Roces. This novice politician won overwhelmingly in the recent midterm elections, topping the slate of 12 senators and sprinting far ahead of the more experienced legislators. Whatever she says now people are likely to pay attention to.

Philippine political pundits are saying she won on the strength of her celebrity name; others think she came across as likeable, down-to-earth and “not spoiled” even though she was American-educated and raised by famous parents.

Her stunning victory has captivated the country, and details about her narrative as an adopted child, are slowly coming out both as corroborated fact and as tawdry gossip. In her interviews, she would answer questions about her backstory with candor but there is nothing from conversations as yet where she tells her audience to treat adopted children with love, respect and normalcy by using thoughtful language when speaking to and about them. The conversation needs to go beyond her history.

The official story is that Grace was left outside a church, and the woman who found her and took her home was a diehard Susan Roces fan. The woman offered the infant to the movie couple before she left for the U.S., and Grace became legally adopted by the Poes. From all indications, she’s lived a happy and normal childhood.

Screen legends Fernando Poe Jr. and Susan Roces

Screen legends Fernando Poe Jr. and Susan Roces

The underground version is that Grace is the rumored offspring of an infamous politician with a movie actress with relations to the Poes. Some bloggers and regular folks are now engaged in unnecessary face reading to determine whether Grace got her rumored father’s intellect or his forehead.

The ‘ampon’ (adopted child) is some kind of an elephant in the room in some Filipino families. Some relatives exhibit a melodramatic sense of affection, and then whisper behind their backs about how they ‘don’t look like their parents’ or how they are lucky to have parents who take good care of them.

Some superstitious families lay on the ‘ampon’ the burden of what the future holds the family. If the family’s fortunes turn sour after an adoption, the adopted child is often viewed as bad luck, just as the adopted child brings good fortune as the family’s wealth grows.

“Domestic adoption in the Philippines has had a very negative stigma,” said Lorial Crowder in sharing her insights as founder of the Filipino Adoptees Network, a New York-based organization for Filipinos adopted by American families. She was adopted from Olongapo by a family from Connecticut and her experience has been “very positive with a lot of heartaches along the way, but also with a lot of understanding.”

This is not an argument for adoption by American parents but a call for a more thoughtful and less condescending regard for adopted children wherever they are placed. Crowder said she has known of some folks adopted domestically, and “their experiences range from heartwarming to heart wrenching.”

In the Philippines, some adopted children are marginalized in terms of education, access to material goods and inheritance. I know of a family with three biological sons and an adopted daughter who slept with the maids. The word ‘adopted’ is often used to distinguish between which child is biological (superior) and which child is not (inferior), as in “She’s my adopted sister, but we love her.”

As a new senator, Grace has a lot of things on her plate and ladling on an awareness campaign for a thoughtful treatment of adopted children may not be her idea of what’s urgent.

But now is a good time as any. She has the attention of the country and the media and she enjoys enormous credibility. The message is simple: Adopted children are no different. Drop the A word, don’t talk about them in whispers and don’t stare.

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