What Tori Hope Petersen Wants You To Know About Being ‘Fostered’

What Tori Hope Petersen Wants You To Know About Being ‘Fostered’

The foster care system gets mentioned in discussions by people who have little to no knowledge of its reality. Tori Hope Petersen gives a firsthand account of the system and how it shaped her in her debut memoir, “Fostered.”

Petersen is a wife, a mother to three, and has also been a foster parent. She is also a former foster youth and foster care advocate. Over her years in the system and working with the system, her faith and passion have given her the strength necessary to serve these less-than-fortunate children.

Petersen took the time to talk with The Federalist during a short break from helping her younger sister move in. The sisters spent their early days together in foster care before being separated. This year, they were reunited and Petersen welcomed her sister into her home where they now live together. During a follow-up conversation, Petersen’s son hung out on the side while enjoying a bowl of spaghetti as the two sat in the summer sun. It was apparent her family is her everything.

Petersen talks about her upcoming book, “Fostered,” and how her journey through the foster care system and faith journey have shaped her.

Fostered” will be available for purchase on Aug. 30, 2022 on Amazon or at Barnes and Noble, Walmart, or Target.

Why did you initially decide to write “Fostered”?

I wanted to write the book because I wanted youth in foster care to understand that they weren’t victims, that they were victors, that they could overcome the hardest things that were set up against them through Christ. As I wrote the book, and as I began to write on social media, I realized that I was educating foster parents, child welfare workers, lawyers, people who worked in the child welfare space, and just people who have an interest in foster care. I didn’t intend for the audience to be what it is now. I just really wanted to write a book that was kind of like the book that I needed when I was in care. Now knowing my audience is broader than I anticipated, I now hope that the book encourages people to step into the hard parts of foster care and to love those around them in an unbridled, fearless kind of way. As people read, they will see that’s what was done for me by others.

What is your experience interacting with your audience who’s learning about your story and about the foster care system for the first time through your story?

It’s mostly just from my social media platform. When it comes to social media in general, the people who read and probably take the most from my posts are just the general population and people who have been interested in foster care, but I think have been scared. I get a lot of messages and I mean, it’s just like, so amazing, so many messages of people saying, “We’ve been interested in foster care for a long time. We’ve been scared or we haven’t done it because X, Y, and Z. Because of your post or your story, we’re getting involved.”

One of the themes that you taught and touched on in your book is just the importance of strong mother and father figures and a strong family. Could you talk a little bit more about that?

I don’t even know what to say about it. It seems so obvious that when we have those supports, the kind of unconditional love that parents give at home, that’s what a strong family is. Then, we don’t go searching for it in other places. When we don’t have to go searching for it in other places, it feels like there’s more stability around our self-worth and who we were created to be. And research shows there’s so much that supports this. I just think that a strong faith and family is really the foundation of a person, but that doesn’t mean a person can’t be strong if they don’t have a strong family either. That’s why it’s important that we have strong communities.

In your book, you recount when you met your father’s side of the family and you felt that sense of community even though you hadn’t really known them up until then. That, along with other things that you touched on in the book, was a very emotional and personal moment. What was it like revisiting those memories?

There were moments that it was hard, but honestly, it was so healing. When people say writing memoirs is cathartic, I didn’t really know what that meant. I always used to have this recurring dream that I was locked in someplace—in the post office or my house or jail—and I couldn’t get out and my mom was yelling at me like how she yelled at me when I was a kid. I’ve had that dream since I went into foster care, probably at least once a month. After I finished writing my book, I had that dream where I was locked somewhere and my mom was yelling at me, and I walked out. I’ve never had the recurring dream since, and I feel like that encompasses what this book has done for me. It’s just been healing. I think that’s kind of what counseling does for us. It helps us process things, and I think that’s what the book helped me do in a deeper way than I already had. It helped me process things all over again.

Unfortunately, not everyone can make that same peace with the past, and some people don’t even have the resources to rehabilitate their minds after traumatic experiences. This is especially true for children in the foster care system. What’s one of the biggest changes you would like to see in the foster care system going forward?

Every foster kid has a file, and that file follows them everywhere they go. It usually says the worst things that have ever happened to them and the worst things they’ve ever done. We know that first impressions are so important, right? Like when we go into a job interview and we have a bad first impression, we think, “Oh how do I fix that?” When a kid has a file, they can’t fix that. It’s just the same things that get brought up to the person that they want to form a deep relationship with. They never get a new start. They never truly get a new beginning. I think how we see children is so valuable for how they’re going to see themselves. I think that we need to do something with the file so that children don’t have that following them around in a way that plagues their identity, because healing really begins and ends with identity.

Poor conditions in the foster care system are a big part of the pro-abortion argument. What is your response to that?

My response is that any real social justice advocacy or any real social justice movement, it aims to end the suffering, not the potential suffering.

What do you hope your readers walk away with after reading through “Fostered”?

My greatest hope behind the book is that youth who read it, parents who read it, and people who read it understand the value that each individual has, that there’s a purpose and plan for their life, and that no matter what they’ve been through, God loves them. And knowing that, they love others. People and God loving me is my motivation to love others the best I can. I want that love to just continue. I think it goes back to that piece of identity that no matter where you come from, no matter what’s been done to you, no matter how you were conceived, you have value, you can be loved, you can love. There’s a plan and purpose for your life. I just want people to know who God is and who God has created us to be.

Elise McCue is an intern at The Federalist and student majoring in multimedia journalism and professional and technical writing. She also reports on the Southwest Virginia music scene for The Roanoke Times. You can follow her on twitter @elisemccue or contact her at mccueelise@gmail.com


Ai Weiwei’s Memoir Tries To Tell Chinese History Honestly

Ai Weiwei’s Memoir Tries To Tell Chinese History Honestly

The Chinese Community Party (CCP) never likes an honest account of history. It has spent tremendous amounts of time and resources revising Chinese history, hiding the atrocities the party committed while casting the party in the most favorable light.

For some Chinese, preserving their memories has become one of the most potent ways to hold the CCP accountable. Chinese artist and political activist Ai Weiwei adds his voice in such an effort by publishing a new memoir, A 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows

In the book’s foreword, Ai Weiwei wrote, “Ideological indoctrination exposed us to an intense, invasive light that made our memories vanish like shows.” Ai felt a sense of urgency to provide his teenage son Ai Lao with a written record of the lives of himself and his father. 

Ai Weiwei grew up in China and is the son of a famous Chinese poet, Ai Qing. The book’s first half is about Ai Qing’s life, especially his sufferings between 1957 to 1976.

Mao Zedong launched the Anti-Rightist Campaign in 1957 to purge intellectuals who criticized the CCP’s policies. As a well-known cultural figure in China, Ai Qing was forced to undergo a spiritual and ideological “reform through labor.”

The Chinese authorities first expelled Ai Qing and his family to the cold wilderness of China’s northeast region. Then they relocated the Ai family to Xinjiang, a far western region where the CCP is committing genocide against Uyghur Muslims and minorities today. 

The Ai family suffered the most during the cultural revolution, and they were sent to the Gurbantunggut Desert, known as “Little Siberia.” Some of the best writing of this book occurs when Ai Weiwei uses almost poetic language to describe the humiliating and inhuman punishment his father had to endure.

Sixty-year-old Ai Qing was ordered to clean 13 communal toilets, “whose facilities consisted mainly of a row of squatting stations above a cesspit.” The work was labor-intensive, especially during the winter months “when the feces would freeze into icy pillars.” But here’s how Ai Qing took it, “Before he began to apply himself to each latrine, Father would always light a cigarette and size up the work, as though admiring a Rodin sculpture.” Yet Ai Qing’s health, including his eyesight, quickly deteriorated due to overwork and poor nutrition.

As difficult as Ai Qing’s sufferings were, many of his contemporaries endured far worse and some never made it out alive. Ai Qing survived the Cultural Revolution, and he and his family returned to Beijing. Later the government restored his pay and status. Many people in Ai Qing’s generation, including Ai Qing himself, chose not to talk about their experiences because they didn’t want to risk provoking the Chinese authorities and bringing more harm to their families. 

Disgust as Inspiration

The CCP has also worked overtime to revise its country’s history between 1949 to 1979. The result is that generations of Chinese born after the 1980s have no knowledge of the real history from that period. Ai Weiwei wrote that even if today’s younger generation of Chinese knew the actual history, “They might not even care, for they learn submission before they have developed an ability to raise doubts and challenge assumptions.”

But Weiwei cares because he not only bore witness to his father’s suffering but also had the front-row seat of experiencing how an authoritarian regime worked. His early life experience planted the seed of a rebellious attitude toward authorities, especially the CCP. In the second half of the book, Ai Weiwei gives a detailed account of his journey to become an artist and political activist and how the state punished him, just like his father endured decades ago.

Ai Weiwei’s artistic output spans many genres, from photos to documentary films to large installments. Ai is known for being a provocateur, and Ai’s art and his political activism often go hand-in-hand.

One of his most famous photos was is of him giving a middle finger in front of the Heavenly Peace Gate in Tiananmen Square, a place that often serves as a symbol of Communist China. Another piece of Ai’s public art was the display of 9,000 backpacks, which he used to memorialize school children who were killed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, as a result of the CCP failing to enforce adequate building codes. 

Speaking of his art and activism, Ai Weiwei wrote, “My inspiration and boldness came from disgust and exasperation. My impatience with the timidity of my father’s generation… I openly declared my opposition to the status quo, reaffirming, through the act of non-cooperation, my responsibility to take a critical stance.”

While Ai earned international fame, his art and political activism eventually got him arrested. The Chinese authorities detained him for 81 days in 2011. After releasing him, the Chinese authorities accused him of tax invasion – Ai said it was a trumped-up charge – and demanded Ai to pay more than $2 million as a fine. His passport was confiscated, and he wasn’t allowed to travel abroad for several years. Today, Ai Weiwei lives in the United Kingdom as an exile. He has said many times that if he returns to China now, he would be arrested for sure.

The best quote in the book is when Ai Weiwei explains why he would remain outspoken despite the danger. He wrote, “People asked me, How do you dare say those things on your blog? If I don’t say them, it will put me in an even more dangerous situation. But if I say them, change might occur. To speak is better than not to speak; if everyone spoke, this society would have transformed itself long ago. Change happens when every citizen says what he or she wants to say; one person’s silence exposes another to danger.” 

Preserving Memories

This book is well-written but not without shortcomings. Ai is not a Trump supporter and has issued many public criticisms of Trump, especially on Trump’s border wall. In this book, Ai compared Trump’s “late-night tweets” during his presidency with Chairman Mao Zedong’s daily directives during the early days of the Cultural Revolution. Many people who dislike Trump point to this comparison as evidence that Trump is a dictator, just like Mao. 

But Ai’s comparison of Trump and Mao was wildly misplaced because there is little resemblance between Mao and Trump. During his presidency, the corporate media united with big tech and other institutions to collectively reject Trump and undermine his policies. Trump had no other outlets to get his messages out accurately than through social media. Also, there are always many competing voices on social media, and Trump never had the power to compel any American to listen to him and social media platforms eventually banned him.

In contrast, Mao wielded absolute power. He controlled all the media in China, and his messages were the only ones that appeared in Chinese media. His voice was the lone voice Chinese people were allowed and required to listen to daily during Mao’s rule, and no alternative voices or messages were allowed. The differences between Trump and Mao are so vast that insisting these two were similar undermines Ai Weiwei’s stated goal of recording history truthfully. 

Another shortcoming of the book is that Ai Weiwei avoids discussing fair criticism of his work. Some accuse him of “using contemporary political issues” only to make a name for himself, regardless of others’ feelings.

For example, in the afterword of the book, Ai mentioned several art pieces he had done to highlight the plight of the Mediterranean refugee crisis. Yet Ai omitted to mention one particular piece, in which he posed as the drowned three-year-old Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi in a photo for an Indian magazine. The image was widely criticized because many consider it ” Lazy, cheap, [and] crass.”

Ai Weiwei said he wrote the book to tell his son who he truly is. However, by omitting fair criticism and without self-reflection, it seems his son and readers don’t get a complete picture of Ai. 

The title of the book came from one of Ai Qing’s poem written after he visited the ruins of the ancient Silk Road. Ai Qing wrote:

Of a thousand years of joys and sorrows

Not a trace can be found

You who are living, living the best life you can

Don’t count on the earth to preserve memory.

Books such as Ai Weiwei’s certainly help preserve memories for someone who may care to know the truth in the future, including his own son.



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