“Ungrateful Daughter: One Black Girl’s Story of Being Adopted into a White Family… That Aren’t Celebrities,” a bleakly hilarious solo show written and performed by Lisa Marie Rollins, was performed at Pomona’s Seaver Theatre Sept. 25.
Rollins, 42, is juggling the show with her doctoral studies at UC Berkeley, her duties as Founder and Executive Director of Adopted and Fostered Adults of the African Diaspora (AFAAD) and a popular blog (birthproject.wordpress.com) that narrates her life and perspective on transracial adoption. Her story begins when she was a young, multiracial girl adopted by two conservative organic farmers.
“This is no typical, tragic mulatto story,” Rollins said again and again throughout her performance. She emphasized that adoption is not something that happens to you, but something that defines your whole life.
“Ungrateful Daughter” is a slightly fictionalized account of Rollins’s childhood and perspective as a transracial adoptee. The performance weaves together vignettes from different stages in her life, all intensely personal, from an infidelity with a married friend to sitting in her kitchen at age seven, listening to her mother’s botched explanation of her racial identity.
Dressed in a simple beige shirt and black pants, Rollins slipped in and out of roles with convincing ease. One second she was a TV host yelling at her producer, the next she was a slouched, joint-smoking, undergrad basketball player. No matter what character she personified, Rollins held the audience’s emotions with an iron grip. In perhaps the most vivid scene of the performance, she portrayed her mother, quivering with angst over her daughter’s frizzy curls.
“You know, those colored girls look so cute with their hair cut short,” Rollins suddenly snapped in her imitation of her mother, grabbing an imaginary pair of scissors and snipping them wildly.
“Stop crying,” she told her daughter. “Stop crying.” Throughout the audience, people gasped and groaned.
“Hearing the narrative of adoption from the child’s perspective…I’m just grateful to Ms. Rollins for giving us access to her life,” Dominique Exume PO ’13 said after the show.
In the Q&A session following the show, many people were curious about how Rollins can be so vulnerable onstage. She responded, “The wounds of adoption are lifelong, and I will always be a body that is adopted. But it is not the only thing that defines me and the key is that I can’t live inside anger or live in pain or live in trauma or depression.”
“I accept that I still and always will have moments where I feel intense grief for what I sometimes like to call this ‘shadow life’ that walks around with me, the life of the girl that I would have been if I would not have been adopted,” she added. “I still have those intense moments of longing and grief, but they pass, I don’t stay in them anymore because I know that they are partially healed, and even though there are scars, the skin is new and strong.”
According to a government-conducted survey from 2007, 40 percent of children adopted domestically and internationally by Americans are a different race than their adoptive parents. In Hollywood, transracial adoption is trendy. Rollins runs through the list in her performance: Angelina Jolie, Sandra Bullock, Madonna and many other celebrities are often photographed toting around their foreign-born adoptees. “Ungrateful Daughter” serves as an acerbic reminder that children should not be treated like the newest Fendi bag.
“Adopting a black child, whether you understand it or not when you adopt the child, automatically puts you in a completely different relationship with the black community,” Rollins said. “You actually have a responsibility to be connected and to ensure that your child is connected to the black community.”
Rollins has been writing and developing “Ungrateful Daughter” for five years. People of all ages and races have come up to her after shows in tears, grateful for validation of their experiences. She said she can pinpoint a moment when she stopped doing the show for herself and started doing it for the audience. Revisiting her childhood hurt, but “Ungrateful Daughter” highlights the importance of having a powerful voice for transracial adoptees across America.