A few months ago, I met Jared at a friend’s wedding. As I lugged my suitcases to my room, he swooped in to give me a hand and introduced himself to me along the way. He oozed a warmth and familiarity I couldn’t quite place until I learned later that day that we shared a connection to adoption. I’ve always wondered about how I can give back to the adoption community and found out that Jared has managed to do just that.
1. Tell me a bit about your connection to adoption.
I was adopted from Vietnam in 1975. I was under the care of Madame Vu Ngai and Betty Tisdale at the An Lac orphanage until I was about 9 months old. We flew into Fort Benning, GA, and then were sent on a bus to York, PA, where I was adopted on May 7, 1975. I have been back to Vietnam twice, once in 2002 and then again in 2005. I would love to bring my family someday.
2. I see you are involved in so many adoption-centric projects from your music, to writing for the magazine, Land of Gazillion Adoptees, to appearing in Operation Babylift—a documentary covered highly by the press—and are also a co-director of a heritage camp. How do you find the time along with working full-time and supporting your family?
I’m proud of my work in the international adoption community. After my first adoptee reunion in Baltimore in 2000, I was inspired to give back. My interest in folk music and songwriting arrived at the right time. I began writing songs sharing my journey as an adoptee. After a few years, I began recording my songs and performing at adoption and Asian American events. In 2008, I was very fortunate to meet Tammy Nguyen Lee from Against the Grain Productions, and I was invited to be an Associate Producer and featured adoptee for her documentary film Operation Babylift. After volunteering since 2006 and being a co-director for seven years, I’m excited to pass the torch to the next generation. I love reading books, watching films, and hearing songs by adoptees sharing their journey.
3. How did you first get involved with the heritage camp and in what capacity?
In 2005, I was invited to Vietnamese Heritage Camp as a guest performer by Heritage Camps for Adoptive Families (HCAF) staff member, Karen Melusky. I was blown away by how receptive these kids and parents were to my songs about adoption. As the years went by, I became a coordinator and then a co-director.
4. Who goes to these camps and what do they do there?
“Heritage Camps for Adoptive Families, Inc. (HCAF) serves as a post-adoption resource and advocate for children, adults, and families with diverse heritages. We accomplish our mission by facilitating events which provide culturally relevant and family-centered experiences for every member of the family. These events provide individuals and families with both a deeper sense of community and an individual identity. It is our goal that all adoptees will develop a knowledge of themselves and their culture of origin and that families will have a better awareness of, and sense of pride in, their adopted family member’s birth heritage. HCAF assists children, adults, and families in becoming a part of a larger community “just like themselves,” with shared experiences, challenges, and opportunities.”
We hold culturally specific camps for those of African Caribbean, Cambodian, Chinese, Chinese II, Domestic Adoption Camp, Indian Nepalese, Korean, Latin American, REECA (Russian Eastern European), and SEAPI (Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander) descent.
5. What’s been the most rewarding part of involvement with the heritage camp?
It is so nice to see the young adoptees playing together and bonding. Growing up, I didn’t have many connections to other adoptees, and in hindsight, I believe it would have helped me in a positive way. I love getting to know the adoptees and their families. Even as an older adoptee, I enjoy learning about my heritage. I feel really old but extremely proud to see our kids grow at camp and then graduate high school. I’m lucky to have a few kids to keep in touch with as they work through college. What began for me as a chance to perform my songs and sell CDs turned into my life’s work.
6. As a co-director of the camp, what changes have you made to the itinerary, speakers, activities, etc.?
As a co-director, I’m proud of building a bridge between the older generation and younger generation. Our adult adoptee panel helps connect our similarities and share our differences. As a person of color, I’m proud to share my view of the world and offer my experiences as a child and now as an adult. As the years go by, we continue to touch on white privilege, bullying, racism, birth family searches, etc. We also talk about adoption and loss.
7. Do you think you would have liked to go to one of these camps growing up and would your parents have supported your attendance and gone with you?
I’m not sure. I may have not wanted to go when I was a kid. If they had existed, as an adult looking back, I hope my parents would have forced me to go to one.
8. Why is it so important to have this sort of resource and who does it benefit more? Parents or kids?
There is just so much adoptive parents can offer their kids as far as culture and heritage goes. At camp, we invite members of the Vietnamese American, Thai, Filipino community to come to our camp to teach our kids about their heritage. I always hope the kids leave with a little pride.
9. What do parents or kids get from the camp that they can’t get anywhere else?
We have a special community of families that have been together for years. Each new family that joins us is welcomed with open arms. The children are in a safe environment for connecting, self-discovery, and learning. Southeast Asian/Pacific Islander Heritage Camp is held at YMCA Estes Park, CO. The YMCA activities are part of the programming.
Thanks so much, Jared, for taking the time to fill me in on all you do! It’s quite impressive and has opened my eyes to an adoption community I didn’t know existed.
Check out this link to get a glimpse of a camp performance of one of Jared’s songs, “Chasing Dragonflies” with a younger adoptee, Noelle Hemphill.