Mark Watches ‘Deep Space Nine’: S02E05 – Cardassians

In the fifth episode of the second season of Deep Space Nine, Julian becomes embroiled in a complicated legal predicament involving the Cardassians and an abandoned child. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.

Trigger Warning: For extended talk of racism, transracial adoption / adoption, racial identity, and child abuse.

I think that science fiction has an incredible potential to use storytelling to make us reflect on the world as it is or as it was. By showing us what can be, we can engage with our reality. But often times, because of unspoken and unchallenged biases within people, the worlds constructed within sci-fi narratives are often just as flawed (or more so) than what a creator is reacting to. I hope that over the years, I’ve been able to point out how that’s the case with a number of books and television shows. Even more specifically, I have tried to use my space here to engage with Star Trek to show that sometimes, even the best attempt at commenting on injustice in our world can support the very thing a story is criticizing.

This is not something unique to Star Trek, for the record, and I would never claim it was. It’s been happening in this genre (and others!) for a long time, and as much as science fiction meant to me growing up, it was still a difficult thing to be a fan of. I wasn’t white and I wasn’t straight, and the genre often left people like me out of the narrative. And if I was included? Oh, boy, I don’t eve know where to start. But this review is not about those examples. I could give them, but I’m setting this all up this way to make a separate point. “Cardassians” explores transracial adoption in a way that’s rare…ever. I can’t even say it’s confined to science fiction because this encompasses all fiction. It’s a major reason my first book series deals with it: there is a dearth of fiction on the subject.

For some background on my feelings here, I’m a transracial adoptee. I’m Guatemalan, El Salvadorian, and an unknown mixture of indigenous North/Central American. (Funny thing about those genetic identity tests; they can tell you what half of a percent of some obscure European racial group you might be, but if you’ve got native/indigenous blood, you’re often just lumped into one giant general category. I WONDER WHY THAT IS.) I was taken as a ward of the state, along with my twin, not long after my birth. My biological mother was very, very young, and we were born under circumstances that required the state to intervene. (Spoiler alert: LOTS OF DRUGS.) We were in foster care for a while in Los Angeles before being adopted by my biological mother’s step-parents, which means my step-grandma is my mother now.

This is important information because I found an eerie similarity to Rugal’s upbringing within this episode, but the context was completely different. My mother – who is white, mostly Irish/Welsh – adopted two Latinx twins, and spent most of our childhood actively teaching us to despise non-white people and ourselves for our skin color and our connection to Latinx culture. This may come as a surprise to you, but I once had an accent. You can hear it in my brother’s voice these days far more than my own, but that’s because I did not resist my mother’s conditioning as much as my brother did. Suffice to say that some horrible things were done to me so that my mother could feel more comfortable with the fact that her children were not white.

I’m sure that you can understand why I developed identity issues fairly early into my life and why I’ve become so concerned with their manifestations in our world. It is an alarming thing to be told that you are white when your skin is brown. Now, I’m not saying that my situation is exactly as Rugal’s is; they’re certainly different! But there’s an experience here that I relate to regardless. Rugal’s adoptive parents raised him in a culture that, for better or worse, taught him to hate who he was, to shun his Cardassian side as something to be ashamed of. And until I got older and became more aware of the implications of what I’d been taught, I hated myself, too. (And lord, don’t even get me started on how my sexuality affected this as well.)

“Cardassians” asks a lot of difficult and awkward questions through this story, and at no point do we ever get an easy answer. When I do speak frankly about transracial adoption, one of the first questions that people ask me concerns why someone who was apparently so racist would adopt two kids who are clearly not white. How does that happen? Why wouldn’t she choose other kids? The circumstances of my adoption meant that I stayed within the family, so that’s one explanation. But adoption doesn’t often work the way people imagine it does. Namely, adopting a non-white child does not absolve the adoptive parents of their existing racism. Non-white adoptive children are not some sort of palate cleanser for prejudices. Ideally, we want situations like Rugal’s parents gave him. We want to be loved unconditionally. Of course, the matter is complicated because of the Cardassian occupation, so the metaphor doesn’t always match up, but I would direct anyone to examine Kotan’s relationship with Rugal as proof that parental love is not as universal or all-encompassing as people think it is. What does Kotan thank Sisko for after his long-lost son is returned to him?

The salvage of his political career.

Look, “Cardassians” is inherently complicated. As far as Rugal is concerned, his Bajoran parents are his parents, and he had every right to want to stay with them. That does not, however, erase the hopelessly difficult circumstances of his racial identity and his ethnic identity. That’s something he’ll always have to deal with. That’s what I want to thank this show for. I now have a basis to explain myself. Yes, it doesn’t match up perfectly, but in a conversation with someone who is a Deep Space Nine fan, I can point to “Cardassians” and say, “That’s how challenging my life has been.” I can reference it to give someone a framework for what my experience is like. I can say that it helps explain why racial and ethnic identities of transracial adoptees will be difficult to parse for every person who was adopted by people who are not their same racial make-up. That doesn’t mean a transracial adoption is inherently racist, nor does it mean that such an adoption will be automatically filled with love. Rather, it’s always going to be a bit of a mess. And if parents and outsiders understood that – if they accepted that they cannot ever truly comprehend how confusing that might be for us – then we begin to move forward in making such an experience easier for the children involved.

Ideally, such relationships should leave room for a person to explore their own cultural connections. If there is any flaw in what Rugal’s parents did, it is in the fact that they shut him out of a part of his life. And we understand why they did so! I don’t think it’s unreasonable to state that because…well, what are the Bajorans supposed to think? How can an abandoned child not feel hostility towards the people who deliberately left them behind and facilitated them feeling cut off from their own culture? How can Bajorans not fear the people who oppressed them violently and viciously for years upon years?

Again, there is no easy answer to be found here, but I’m okay with that. I feel it is much more honest about the experience than most stories I’ve seen on adoption, and I greatly appreciate it. I don’t want an easy summary to hand to others; I want something that can start a conversation instead.

The video for “Cardassians” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

Mark Links Stuff

– I will be at numerous conventions in 2016! Check the full list of events on my Tour Dates / Appearances page.
– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often. My next Double Features for Mark Watches will be Death Note and Neon Genesis Evangelion. On Mark Reads, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series will replace the Emelan books.
– Mark Does Stuff is on Facebook! I’ve got a community page up that I’m running. Guaranteed shenanigans!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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