“All of us respond to the idea of rescuing helpless children from the dragon of deprivation[...]but problems in adoption are infinitely harder to resolve in an adoption which spans the ocean.”—U.S. Children’s Bureau Chief Katherine Oettinger.
CAPTION: The photo on the left shows Bertha Holt, co-founder of Holt International, smiling and carrying a Korean adoptee of around one or two years old off of a plane after landing in the U.S. The baby is about to be handed off to their new family. Photo via Holt International.
An image from Mother Road, courtesy of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Martín, Mo, William, and chorus members sit in the "car," all looking forward. Route 66 signage is projected behind them, the light is blue, and the car's "headlights" shine a bright yellow. They aren't physically holding each other, but it still seems like they're closely connected somehow. They're in it together.
Bertha Holt sits, surrounded by children, at the Holt Annual Picnic. Every year Holt adoptee families are invited to a picnic together in cities across America. Photo courtesy of Holt International.
When Amelia says “A lot of grievances left untended,” she is referring to Martín running away from his problems by not having a conversation with her after leaving her at the alter. But untended grievances can apply to many other parts of the play as well. Martín’s struggles, as well as his cousin Mo’s, are a result of generational grievances left to fester. Martín has to deal with the effects of his mother dying of cancer caused by working in the fields, being profiled and beaten by white people at a gas station, being hunted by the police. Mo deals with similar struggles, plus being kicked out as a teenager for being gay. Ultimately these issues all stem from colonialism. The same can be said of the effects of international adoption, another case of generational grievances left untended. Organizations like the Holts believe that the act of adopting is tending to the grievance, but it’s more of a band-aid solution to a much deeper wound. The trauma continues to go unresolved.
CAPTION: The photo on the right shows a scene from Mother Road. William stands above Martín, who is sitting on a bed looking upset. William is pointing at Martín, yelling at him. Photo courtesy of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Diner waitress Ivy then adds to Amelia’s sentence, saying “objections in mirror are closer than they appear,” a reference to the warning written on side mirror’s of cars which read “objects in mirror are closer than they appear.” The mirrors show distorted images of what’s behind you, just as the traumatic pasts of children are distorted when American families adopt them and the children begin to forget their pasts, told that they’ve been saved and that they are simply “American” now. But what does “American” even mean? Especially in mixed-race families, as most families created through international adoption are, assimilation is very common. Kids often see their older, white siblings and want to be just like them, just as any younger sibling looks up to their big brother or sister. And it’s not just within their family; all kids of color in the United States grow up feeling pressured to assimilate to white culture if they want to succeed, surrounded by negative stereotypes of people that look like them, as well as images of successful cis, straight, able-bodied, wealthy white people.
My family tells a funny story about my Auntie Karin, who was adopted from Korea as a baby. She was the first one to be adopted, joining a family that was previously three white kids and two white parents. A couple years later, my Aunt Meghan was adopted from Korea as well. One time, when my Auntie Karin was around six or seven, she saw a commercial with a little Asian girl in it (which was relatively rare to see on TV at the time) and said "Hey, that looks like Meghan!" She was so disconnected from any kind of Korean identity that it didn't occur to her that the little girl on TV probably looked like her, too. She saw herself as white, because that's what she was always surrounded by. But the thing about assimilation is that it isn’t sustainable—the past will catch up, and it’s closer than it appears.
The final line in this series, delivered by motel clerk Abelardo, is “Hasta que al fin, no se puede (until at last you can’t.)” The line is delivered in Spanish, and then translated into English in the script. After running away from the past, the past catches up, and Abelardo in this line refuses to assimilate by speaking only English. This evolution in the series of lines is representative of the past finally catching up—you can’t run away from it, because you destroy yourself in the running away. Then the whole cast says “Mile. Mile. Mile.” marking not just the distance travelled on the journey back to Oklahoma, but the bond being made in the journey.