It is so interesting to me that no matter who we are, where we live, what we do, we all want to feel a connection to others. We want to feel like we’re a part of something meaningful. It starts from the time we’re born, in utero actually, the need to connect to our mothers and later the desire to connect socially with our peers. Eventually, we want to connect with a boyfriend or girlfriend, a spouse or partner, some significant other. I spent my entire adolescence searching for that one significant connection! It’s only human to desire this connection to others. We search for it and when we can’t find it, devastating things often happen. I used to think that perhaps I was the only one that felt like I “didn’t fit in” growing up; however, I think the longing to be accepted by others is universal. I believe that international adoptees, or any minority for that matter, may have a more difficult go of it though.
In speaking with other adoptees here in Arizona, I’ve learned that “fitting in” to the mainstream dominant White culture has been a struggle at different points across their life time, but especially during the early elementary and adolescent years. I can certainly relate to that. Not all of the adoptees were raised here in Arizona, but in other parts of the country. Each adoptee I’ve talked with has experienced some sort of racial discrimination, stereotyping, or prejudice. I grew up in the south where racism is as common as Jiffy peanut butter, but hearing other adoptees share experiences of racism, discrimination, prejudice, or stereotyping from across the country has been surprising. It probably shouldn’t be.
For many, it began in the form of racial teasing, racial comments or slurs. This included other kids pulling up their eyelids, making comments about their eyes, or others making weird sounds – you know, the sing song-y making fun of the way a certain ethnicity speaks kind of thing, or clucking like a chicken. Seriously, is there really a language that sounds like the clucking of chickens? Let me say that the adoptees I’ve chatted with range in age from 24-53 years, so even the younger generations have experienced incidents of racism, not just we older folk. Then there’s the not really fitting in with our own ethnicity on top of the discrimination or prejudice received from those in the dominant culture. We don’t speak our native tongue or follow the same traditions, so when we’re with a group of people within our own ethnicity, often there’s feelings of awkwardness, certainly a disconnect. I’ve also learned that incidents of racism very often continue into adulthood for many adoptees, myself included. During a visit to California, I was in a Whole Foods market checking out when one White female said to another, “There are so many of those here,” or something to that effect. They marched off indignantly with their over stuffed grocery bags. I was not only mortified, but felt like I’d been slapped in the face. I really wanted to chase after those two women and give them a piece of my mind, but I didn’t. Maybe I should have.
I’ve received varying reports of how issues related to racism and discrimination were handled in adoptees’ families while growing up. Some adoptees’s parents never brought up the subject of race or how to handle racism, and other’s parents were very open about discussing such issues. In some cases, although parents were super open to discussions, the adoptees felt that their parents were limited in how much they could help and, therefore, didn’t know how to help in every situation. In any case, being on the receiving end of racism at any level was hurtful, confusing, and shocking for each adoptee. When situations like this were encountered, many of the adoptees talked of holding their feelings inside and not knowing how to respond or what to say to the perpetrator(s) in the moment. Many did not talk to others about the incidents, but some did talk to either a parent, a sibling, or a friend, which seemed to help. I was struck that these adoptees felt ill-equipped to know how to respond to such incidents, mostly because they were caught off-guard and in a state of disbelief. One adoptee expressed that racism will always be with us, unfortunately. The adoptees I’ve talked to have said that parental support and ongoing parental training in culture, not just learning interesting facts about their child’s country of birth, but socio-political history as well, is important to help adoptees prepare for racism and discrimination. And, having others in your life who understand and empathize doesn’t hurt either.
I was raised in an adoptive family that did not talk about diversity or anything related to racism and discrimination. My adolescent years were just plain crazy. I tried desperately to fit in socially with my peers, yet never felt like I did. There were so many times that I just wanted to fly up, up and away to escape the reality of being “different.” I also wanted to change the color of my hair and eyes so that I looked like everyone else around me. Yes, I had some great friends eventually, but the emotional scars had already left their mark by the time I graduated high school. It’s taken years to reach a point where I like who I am, warts and all. I can hold my head up high now and say, “Yea, I’m Taiwanese American.” You don’t like it, so sorry!”
People grow and change. We learn, we overcome, we become bolder as we mature. It sure would be amazing if we could rid the world of racism, discrimination, prejudice and stereotyping, but as one adoptee said, I think it’s here to stay. So my charge is to help adoptees cope with and manage racism and discrimination. Don’t you want to be a part of that, too? From one adoptee to another, let’s make a difference.