Ten years later.

We'll call this the requisite commentary-on-the-anniversary blog. Probably every American is reflecting on that Tuesday, September 11 ten years ago, in their own way, to many different degrees of emotion and disconnection, both and neither at once. It has been a decade, and what made it perhaps most poignant was a story posted on Public Radio International's website, on the difficulty of teaching 9/11 in high schools now that so many kids who are in high school recall the event only in vague and foggy ways--if at all.

The story tells of the teachers interviewed for the piece and their experience year by year: how in the years just afterwards, classroom discussions "were much more visceral." The 4- to 7- year olds mentioned in the story, who are in high school today, remember reactions of their parents and other very responses very near to them, but not the same way many who are older (adults, now, like me) remember the images on TV clearly--even if, as in my case, I didn't see them until I got home from school. (At the middle school where I was attending eighth grade at the time, someone higher up made the decision not to tell any of the students what was going on. By lunchtime, teachers around us were in tears and we all detected something was not right. I went home on the bus that day knowing only that "someone had bombed the Pentagon." For real)

Looks like it's history, now, really and truly. I remember in the wake of the tragedy, people saying this would be the moment for my generation that would long be recounted as a universal American experience. The endless and epic tale we each, we all, have. Where You Were When It Happened, much like President Kennedy's assassination in 1963. But really, here it is, a whole decade later, and it has become a part of history, and event that marks a clear delineation in this nation's history: a Before and an After. Strange to be at a stage, in adulthood, where things I experienced are "history." Guess this is what growing up feels like, right?

There was another truly interesting--and also disturbing and crazy and wholly logical given the world we live in today--report on the ten-year-later mark in this world: on the technology of facial recognition, and its birth in the government funding that allowed its remarkable development in the post-9/11 scared, reactionary, and technology and internet-savvy environment. NPR's Marketplace had a segment on the stunning course it has taken, as two enormous events dovetailed in history:

Fred Cate is a law professor and privacy guru at Indiana University. He says after 9/11, two independent trends dovetailed and reinforced each other. The federal government was investing hundreds of millions in surveillance technology and research to try and keep us safer. And companies like Google and Facebook were remaking the digital landscape. There was a data-collecting revolution.

FRED CATE: 9/11 and the sort of huge growth in social networking and in profiling and collecting Internet traffic -- those events are really parallel with each other.

And Cate says:

FRED CATE: We have gotten more used to more surveillance. And it's not clear that that's just attributable to the events of 9/11. But particularly when you think of the types of security we all go through now -- would have been pretty close to unthinkable a decade ago.

What we have created, as the story reports, is technology that fairly easily recognizes your face and identifies you based on photos it draws from the internet, and several other features both amazing and scary at once. The creepiest part: new technology can actually take a stab at what your social security number is, if it can determine from internet sources where you were born. Rest easy, though, because this stuff isn't on the market, and there are no intentions by its creators to put it there. As it stands, as I understood anyway, is that this is for governmental purposes. (You can decide if that makes you feel better about this.)

How interesting to think our post-9/11 perspective has provided the incubator for things like this, and our Facebook pages have fueled the flames, made it all the more possible. We are willing participants, at some degree, of the worlds we create. Ten years later, look at us now. To be honest, I have little memory of what adult life was like, even in a purely observational point of view as mine was, prior to 2001. And now it's a part of our past. Huh.

A betrayal of identity: the dramatic unveiling of baby-stealing in Spain, and the lives that have been forever scarred

I have been thinking a lot about adoption lately. It is a subject that really fascinates me. I like the idea of scrambling things we think we know--like biology and genetics and "family"--and giving them far greater parameters. Over Christmas break, I read a book about the diaspora of Chinese daughters over the past twenty to thirty years, and the kinds of stunning stories they will have to tell, as many of them will come of age in the next decade. (You can read my post about that book and my thoughts on a "fluid sense of family" here.) Since then, I have been doing some groundwork on dreaming up my own historical project on that very subject. I am preparing the proposal documents for what I hope will become my capstone project for my master's degree, which I will complete in the next thirteen months in order to graduate next May--in 2012. It will be a podcast series, historical in nature but founded in interviews and oral histories, on Adoption.

This has been especially tricky for me because the broad term encompasses several issues surrounding identity that are enormously complex and enigmatic. First, as I have said, the whole notion of a family based on things even deeper than biology is an enthralling break from the regular. When you are adopted into a family and those connections are lost--sometimes permanently, that can lead to even more interesting questions than the ones inherent in the searching for genealogical roots, and the holding on to ethnic or cultural traditions. None of my family is from the South; I have ancestors that died fighting for the Union in the Civil War, yet I am a southerner. How can this be? I identify with just as many cultural oddities from either side of the Mason-Dixon line. I have lived in the South for thirteen years (a majority), and consider it my home. But if you want to inquire about my roots, they are no where around here.

People certainly get worked up about the "roots," and their ancestry. They are significant factors in helping people understand themselves, their positions in the world. I am not dismissing that at all. Plenty of people who are adopted take to researching their own biological families in order to make sense of their own lives. But as a person whose place in between where my family is from and where I myself am "from" now, I think scrambling those ideas is truly intriguing, and plain fun to explore.

This leads me to the second component within the word "adoption"-- the embracing of a new place, or a new culture, or even a new language. Here you have moved, perhaps across international borders, to adopt a new position in this wide world. The adaptation that you go through to create your own, meshed identity is entirely distinct from the notion of digging into your roots to see how your ancestors lived. It does not mean relinquishing the value of your customs, your culture, your language or your foodways; it means creating a living combining all the best things from your roots and your family with the new space and communities you find yourself within.

So when it came to composing this into a specific topic, well, I am honestly still working that out. But the fact is, the whole fluidity of identity, of biology and adoption and roots, of "nationality"--that tricky word I have dissected many times on this blog--they have been on my mind constantly for the past few weeks. So when I heard a shocking story by The World's Gerry Hadden, about an entire industry of babies sold illegally into adoption in Spain--whole lives being changed and identities being scrambled--I had a dream about it.

In the dream, I was the one whose birth certificate came under question, when my brother investigated my birth and discovered that long ago my document had been flagged as invalid, for some undetermined reason. I shall spare you the details. But I woke up feeling betrayed, feeling lost in my own skin. I realized that if I was going to jump into this very sensitive and emotional topic, I needed to understand that I was not immune to feeling rejected, or confused, or lost in my own identity. People had lived their whole lives in Spain not knowing they were not biologically related to their parents. Sisters who had twins who had "died at birth" turned out to be living lives away from each other. Grieving mothers' lives were changed forever, as they grow older pining for their dead child, who in fact is still alive, and is connected to a different mother altogether. In a very philosophical way, it made me take one step back and consider, as I have many times before, the whole concept of your family, who you love, and who cares about you on the planet. It puts into even greater question the theory that your genetics matter in the large scheme. They don't.

The story about the stolen Spanish babies is stunning. Heart-breaking. Absolutely tragic and fascinating at once. Adults are confronting their parents, finding out they were in fact purchased. Investigators and public prosecutors have said that this has been going on from about the 1950s to as recently as 2000(!). It has been due in large part to a high level of trust of doctors and priests, and a targeting of young mothers who appeared poor or vulnerable. They would determine immediately after birth that the child had died, and that the hospital must take care of the funeral and body since the infant was under 24 hours old. That rule was made up. Mothers who protested were threatened to be put into a mental facility. Read the whole thing, or listen to the radio story, here. Estimates range from 3,000 to 300,000 cases of kidnapped and illegally sold babies over the years. Lawsuits are being filed now, after Antonio Barroso--himself a victim of this, who had to confront his parents as an adult--founded the organization ANADIR, so people whose lives were changed forever by this practice can find some restitution, or at least resolve in their own lives.

As I said, I was shocked into having identity-crisis dreams about this.

A database has been set up for children and mothers to find each other again. There have been many people who long-suspected they may have been adopted, so they are finally able to act on those suspicions. Even more, modern technologies like DNA testing has helped prove where there was and was not biological relation; this is something Spanish doctors had not predicted thirty years ago as being scientific proof that could be used against them. This is the lead story from the PRI broadcast:

Estefania Anguita was born in Barcelona in1986, along with a twin sister. But minutes after their birth, she says, doctors told her mother that Estefania’s sister had died.

“My parents weren’t allowed to see my sister’s body,” Anguita said. “The hospital staff wouldn’t let them. My grandmother wanted to bury my sister in the family plot but the hospital said that was impossible too. It was the hospital’s responsibility, they said, since the baby didn’t live more than 24 hours. They just made that rule up."

Anguita always knew about her deceased twin, but says she grew suspicious last year, when her parents admitted they didn’t actually know where her sister was buried. So she went to the hospital where they were born.

“There wasn’t even a record that my mother had given birth to us,” Anguita said. “There was no family file at all. I said it must be here, especially because there was a death involved. Death records are kept forever. And yet there was no trace at all.

Antonio Barroso, who founded the ANADIR organization mentioned above, has an amazing story of his own. Read it here, in Gerry Hadden's blog post on the topic. There's also a story about the uproar by Time magazine, here.

Needless to say, it only increases my own resolve in recording some stories on my own home front, in the unwieldy and curious story of human connections, biology, adoption, roots, and the effects they have on real people's lives. Here's hoping I can somehow make that into a compelling historical narrative. Jury's still out on that one.

Great listen: World in Words #114 on political language & Tucson

I've lost count how many times a story featured on the World in Words language podcast has shown up on my site, but it continues to be a thoughtfully produced weekly pod that clues me in to stories from the news that I might otherwise have missed. (It's produced by PRI and WGBH Boston, the people who produce The World, and hosted by Patrick Cox.) This week's podcast was on a story that is impossible to have missed, the shooting in Tucson, and political language surrounding it before and after the tragedy. But once again I learned a bit more, heard more debate on it, as the pod brought together some of the most interesting perspectives and soundbites that I've heard to date.

The whole controversy surrounding the use of the term "blood libel" in popular politics today--and especially since Sarah Palin's use of it in the aftermath of the shooting is discussed particularly well. Also stellar is the commentary on President Obama's remarks at the memorial service for the six victims of the Tucson shooting, and its comparison to President Clinton's similar position after the Oklahoma City bombing, and how their two approaches were distinctly different in their tone--Obama's lacking any politicized jabs at all.

Some of the most interesting stuff, the stuff I mentioned above, starts around 9:00, if you want to skip the first part (which is also interesting, on political language in a few European countries and how it differs!) and get to the best bits. Definitely worth a listen if you've got a few minutes. Patrick Cox pulled out some of the best discussion I've heard yet on the subject.

I land somewhat in the camp of supporting Palin's use of the term "blood libel," in that I see where she was trying to go with it. And some of the anti-Semetic backlash has been unnecessary. Even so, her entire video has some bizarre elements, which also confuse me. Making it, in my mind, all the more fascinating, given that I can see where the lines of contention fall between each side, and I understand both.

Anyway, listen.

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