Learning to Disclose

A Journey of Transracial Adoption

by Joni Schwartz (Author) Rebecca Schwartz (Author)
©2020 Textbook XIV, 166 Pages


Joni and Rebecca Schwartz in their collaborative autoethnography, Learning to Disclose: A Journey of Transracial Adoption, are doing soul work. This adult white mother and black daughter reflect and dialogue around the places and histories that shaped their relationship. Through three voices: the voice of critical history, the daughter and the mother, the co-authors excavate the past to see if and how it lives in their present. In an intriguing mix of critical history of places like Port-au-Prince, Haiti and Gulu, Uganda as well as lesser-known narratives of W.E.B. Dubois, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and Shirley Chisholm, the co-authors tell their own personal and moving stories of becoming mother and daughter engaging such topics as racial identity, disclosure, racial appropriation, colonialism, and the complex history of transracial adoption.
For anyone interested in racial identity in the complex world of blended families and adult mother and daughter relationships, this is a must read. This book is ideal for all humanities and social science courses across disciplines from sociology, education, qualitative research, and social work to race and communication studies. In this era of strained and confusing racial dialogue, this book is refreshing in its honesty, moving in its personal narratives, and instructive in its engagement in how the historical lives in the social imagination of our present lives and relationships.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Author
  • About the Book
  • Dedication
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1 Carrefour, Haiti
  • Chapter 2 Flatlands, Brooklyn
  • Chapter 3 Minnetonka, Minnesota
  • Chapter 4 Czech Republic
  • Chapter 5 Vienna, Austria
  • Chapter 6 Port-au-Prince, Haiti
  • Chapter 7 Gulu, Uganda
  • Chapter 8 Bunia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Chapter 9 Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn
  • Chapter 10 The Yellow Dress
  • Epilogue
  • Index

← viii | ix →


Figure 1.1Christian Haitian Outreach orphanage (CHO)

Figure 1.2Rebecca at CHO before adoption

Figure 1.3Eleanor “Mom” Workman –founder CHO

Figure 2.1Matthew, Rebecca, Nathan—siblings

Figure 4.1Rebecca and Grandma Hlavacek

Figure 6.1Return to Haiti-Samaritan’s Purse

Figure 7.1Rebecca and Joni writing in Uganda

Figure 9.1Graduation NYU—Mom and Dad

Figure 10.1First week home

Figure 10.2Growing up with brothers

← ix | x →

← x | xi →


Together, we want to acknowledge Rebecca’s father, Paul, her brothers and Joni’s sons, Nathan and Matthew as well as their wives Sarah and Sabrina. Although they may appear only sporadically in this book, their love, spirit, and soul are everywhere in who we are and who we have become.

To family members, who answered our queries about the Minnetonka chapter, Joni’s sister and Rebecca’s aunt, Elsie Machtemes and to Joni’s brother and Rebecca’s uncle, Denny Hlavacek who we asked to recall a few memories – thank you. To family members, Kathy Oliphant, Director of Teaching and Learning at Waconia Public Schools who provided background on education in Minnesota, and to Clark Machtemes, a Minnesota musician and artist, who gave us direction for research; you are both always willing to support and help; it means a lot. Thanks to the Excelsior Historical Society especially Steve Kobs who verified with archival materials W.E.B. Dubois’s summer on Lake Minnetonka and directed us to playwright Kim Hines who wrote, Summer in the Shadows, about Dubois in Minnesota. Kim, thank you for taking the time to talk, answer questions, pick your brain, and read your writing; it made a difference both personally and in the writing.

← xi | xii →

The Czech chapter was aided by the insights and conversation with Mark Bruner, a career missionary to Slovakia and the Czech Republic and a dear friend. To our friends in Uganda, thank you, Irene, for taking such good care of us in Gulu. Your food, attention, kindness, and work made space for thinking, feeling and writing. Kirunda Muzamiru the best safari guide in Uganda by far; your friendship and expertise mean the world to us. To Grace Amiya, your tailoring class at Gulu Women Prison is not only an act of love but a creative inspiration.

A special thanks to the original members of our Tuesday evening Restoration Writing Group in Bed Sty; John Proctor, Sylvester (Sonny) Jackson, Carolina Soto, Jackie Cangro, Marvin Wade, and Michael Colbert for giving us a community of writers to belong to. The 2018 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Global Cities August Seminar at LaGuardia Community College, City University of New York: Tuli Chatterji, Sorin Cucu, Rondee Gaines, Anita Baksh, Rebecca Tally, Sonia Rodriguez, Olga Aksakalova, Allia Abdullah-Matta, Laura Tanenbaum, Nichole Shippen, Karen Miller, and Chris Schmidt read and gave us specific feedback early on. Your suggested readings and keen criticism was invaluable.

Cathy Powell without your editing and organizing skills this book would not be. You keep us in order. Thank you, dear friend. The cover design is by Emily Gallagher and Robert Pollock who embraced our story as we embraced them.

To friends and mentors who journeyed with Rebecca during critical transitionary periods in Haiti, Congo and Uganda and continue to be strong moral and emotional support: Pierre and Carolyn Julien; Viviane Fils Aime; and Jiesha Perkins; Jen Silen, and Myonawai Artis, and Crystal Burrey.

Joni wants to thank Marvin Wade, Dario Pena, P. Harris and R. Watson who read chapters at the Queensboro Writing Group and made her believe that this story could have meaning across the human experience. Thanks to all the Queensboro Correctional Facility writing group members who carefully read drafts, gave encouragement, made suggestions, and embraced our stories.

To Joni’s lifelong friends Sara Jorgensen Levy and Avril (Birdie) DeJesus who read chapters in the Bremen, Maine cabin in the woods in front of the fireplace and with a bottle of wine. The more we drank the better the manuscript seemed. And to my dear friends, Damaris Miranda and Valerie Noel, who journeyed with us in the beginning; they know how to be a friend. To Andrea Emmanuel and Kurt Sealey for loving books and writing as I do and sharing this experience with me. Thank you, John Chaney, for your love, your support, your gentleness—for being there and being you—you are a great gift from God. And to our cat, History, who kept me company during copyediting.

← xii | xiii →


CHO Christian Haitian Outreach orphanage

NGO Non-governmental organization

CRTCritical Race Theory

← xiii | xiv →

← xiv | 1 →


This is soul work. A mother and daughter collaborative autoethnography engaging the social imagination and the emotional journey of learning to disclose. It is reflection on the places and histories that shaped us through transracial adoption.

If readers are looking for a memoir or a straightforward adoption story, this book is not it. Neither is it a research text on transracial adoption nor an autobiography. It is not a diary, a happy ever after story of how God worked in our lives, or a White savior story. And it is not the whole story.

Collaborative autoethnography analyzes personal experiences in the context of the surrounding culture. As collaborative autoethnography, Learning to Disclose is autobiographic, ethnographic, and interactive. Autoethnography is a critical research method with the “auto” meaning the self, “ethno” meaning culture, and “graphy” meaning writing; it uses personal experiences to critically examine sociohistorical grand narratives and discourses in which we find ourselves embedded. This is something that autobiography and memoir often does not do. We write dialogue using social imagination to understand our lives through the global, national, and local histories of the places and spaces we lived, worked, traveled, and called home. (Mills, 2000)


XIV, 166
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (December)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. XIV, 166 pp., 10 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Joni Schwartz (Author) Rebecca Schwartz (Author)

Joni Schwartz is Professor of Humanities at LaGuardia Community College, the City University of New York, a critical researcher, social activist scholar, mother, and grandmother. She is the co-editor of Race, Education, and Reintegrating Formerly Incarcerated Citizens: Counterstories & Counterspaces, author of twenty-four scholarly publications, and producer of two documentaries. Rebecca Schwartz holds a BS in communications and a MS in international affairs from New York University. Her work as a humanitarian encompassed implementing emergency response programs in developing countries. She is currently an adjunct lecturer at LaGuardia Community College.


Title: Learning to Disclose
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182 pages