By Rachael Stryker
In spring 2010, Tennessee adoptive mother, Torry Ann Hansen, sent her seven-year-old adopted son, Artyom (Justin) Savelyev, back to his native country of Russia with a note that effectively said “Return to Sender.” Her reasons? That the child was “not in his right mind,” “violent,” and “mentally unstable” (Batty 2010). In the weeks that followed, the world witnessed a twisted version of “he said/she said” as government officials in Russia and the U.S. attempted to determine exactly what went wrong with Savelyev’s placement. Even months later, the rhetoric would prioritize saving political face within economic and diplomatic relations, rather than addressing those factors associated with international adoption pathways that would drive a mother to send her adoptive son back to his sending country (Loiko 2013).
Photograph by Sara Thiam. Do not reproduce without permission
“This is really starting to get interesting, because I have lots of stories to tell!” exclaimed Bernice (pseudonym), a 95-year-old participant in the newly-launched Upper Peninsula Digital History Initiative (UPDHI) in Hancock, a small town in northern Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. The tension in the air was palpable as the four older adults and four youth participants introduced themselves around the table in the conference hall of the hosting organization, Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly. In fact, Bernice, who turned out to be the project’s most captivating storyteller, insisted that her limited education level and current vision and hearing troubles would prevent her from being able to produce a video, and she nearly dropped out of the program. But once the storytelling got started the mood eased and the elder participants filled the afternoon with moving tales and funny anecdotes covering topics ranging from war and activism to surviving the long, dark Hancock winters as children. They were energized – and even surprised – that others were so were interested in their stories. To my surprise, I left that conference room with a new perspective on the tiny town I grew up in – which I thought I knew inside out. Continue reading