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IDENTITY QUEST. Brooklyn teenager Avery Klein-Cloud’s (second from left) multiethnic adopted family includes older brother Rafi (far right), who is black and Puerto Rican; younger brother Zay-Zay (left), who is Korean American; and Jewish parents Tova and Travis (center). (Photo courtesy of the Klein-Cloud family)
From The Asian Reporter, V20, #24 (September 20, 2010), page 13.
Off and Running documents life of a transracially adopted teen
Off and Running: An American Coming of Age Story
Directed by Nicole Opper
By Julie Stegeman
Going through adolescence — struggling to find one’s own unique identity — is a difficult process for most American teens. Avery Klein-Cloud, an African-American adoptee whose journey into self-discovery is explored in the P.O.V. documentary Off and Running: An American Coming of Age Story, seems to have an especially tough time of it.
On the surface, Avery has a lot going for her. She has a loving and supportive family, many friends, and is a star athlete on her school’s track team. However, as she has grown older, she has felt something missing from her life: knowledge of her birth family and her African-American heritage.
Avery calls her family the "United Nations" due to its diversity. She has two white Jewish lesbian moms, Tova (from Israel) and Travis; an older brother, Rafi, who is mixed race; and a much younger brother, Zay-Zay, who is Korean American. The family lives together in Brooklyn, New York.
Avery — whose adoption was a closed one, giving her very little knowledge of and no contact with her birth family — agonizes about reaching out to her birth mom. "I just want to know who I am and where I come from," she says. Despite fear of being rejected by her birth mother, Avery sends her a letter in care of the agency where she was adopted, detailing her life, her family, and her desire to know about her birth family. She awaits an answer in nervous anticipation.
In addition to the letter, she begins to explore her African-American heritage, leading her to lean more on her boyfriend and African-American friends who help her understand this part of herself and focus less on her family.
"When you’re adopted by a white family, you see things so differently," she says in the documentary. "The whole world is completely different and I can’t say I’d want to see it any other way, but for many years I felt so out of place among black people."
Although parents Tova and Travis are supportive of Avery’s efforts to contact her birth family, Avery feels they are hurt and angered by it and a rift grows between them. The tension is exacerbated by the departure of Avery’s brother and close confident, Rafi, to college. A response from her birth mother followed by a period of no communication sends Avery further into an identity crisis, resulting in her pulling away from family and beginning to skip school.
An interesting contrast to Avery’s quest for her roots and identity is presented within the family by Rafi, who reminds us that everyone — adoptees included — is unique. A transracial adoptee himself, he does not share Avery’s drive to learn about his birth family. Instead he is angry with his birthmom and the choices she made that left his biological brother with major health issues.
"I feel guilty for being the lucky one, the one without any problems," Rafi says. His focus is earning a molecular biology degree from Princeton so he can help people like his brother.
Because Off and Running is a documentary and not a work of fiction, the film ends with many unanswered questions about Avery’s future and her relationships with her adopted and birth families. However, it offers an opportunity to begin a dialogue on race, identity, transracial adoption, and how adoptees can maintain their heritage and ethnic identity.
"I am the person that my parents raised me to be," says Avery toward the end of the film. "But I am also my own person, and I’m learning about that person every day."
Off and Running: An American Coming of Age Story airs September 25 from 1:00 to 2:30am on Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) Plus with a replay scheduled October 4 from 10:30pm to midnight on OPB. The documentary can also be viewed online through December 7, 2010 at <www.pbs.org/pov/offandrunning/full.php>.