cross-cultural adoption

As I consider how things have progressed regarding my adoption search, I realize that for over half of my life I believed that I was of a certain race, but have come to discover that I am of another. I have felt all kinds of things as a result including surprise, confusion, frustration, and bewilderment all at once. Growing up as an Asian-American adoptee was often like stumbling through a maze blind-folded. I’m pretty sure that we all ask, “who am I?” at some point in our lives. For transracial adoptees, it is even more complicated as adoptees attempt to navigate two cultures and manage feeling “othered” by peers and sometimes, family members. My parents told me at a young age, I don’t remember when, that I was part Vietnamese and part Japanese. I wish that I could recall when they told me; nevertheless, I had no reason to doubt them. Through the discovery of my adoption papers, however, which were buried in a box in my parents’ attic, I learned something entirely different. Prior to having my papers properly translated, an adoption consultant who was guiding me through the process of my adoption search, led me to believe that my birthparents were Taiwanese. It made sense because I was born in Taiwan. Later, through the translation, I learned that both my birthparents were from China, an exact province notated in the document. It is difficult to argue with hard evidence, so naturally I now assume that I am Chinese. Imagine my surprise each time I learned some new fact about my culture of origin. Unfortunately, neither of my adoptive parents are alive to explain all of the discrepancies.

I say all of this because I have come to a conviction about transracial adoption. Those who plan to adopt a child or children from another country must be educated in how to help their child develop an appropriate sense of cultural and racial identity, which shapes an overall sense of self. It is not enough for a parent to just love their child or preach colorblindness. I am proof of that. My parents loved me without a doubt and provided for me physically and materially as any good and loving parent should. But, what they were not prepared for was coping with issues of color, race and ethnicity. They were not prepared to address the social and emotional needs of a daughter who looked different, not only from them, but from everyone else around her. This was doubly compounded by the fact that we lived in the deep South where prejudice and racism continue to exist. I am sure that they also never confronted whatever prejudices, or beliefs they personally held themselves. When my parents adopted me, I was automatically acculturated into a white society, shut off from my birth culture. My parents did not know how that would impact me growing up. Because the adoption took place in Taiwan, they did not have the opportunity to be made aware of the importance of educating themselves properly to address such issues as the development of ethnic and racial identity, or prejudice and racism. They did not talk about my birth heritage nor encourage me to investigate, but rather minimized my ethnicity due to this lack of awareness. The closest I came in contact with any Asian culture while growing up was eating out at the local Chinese food restaurant.

I think about how things could have been different had my parents been more prepared for issues of race and identity. Would I have been more willing to embrace my ethnicity? For many years, I downplayed it and tried to fit into the “whiteness” all around me never quite feeling like I was good enough, or fit into the social norm. It deeply affected my sense of self and led me to do things that I might not have done had I possessed a stronger sense of self. Would there have been less tension and strife in my family, especially during my teen years?

I strongly believe that those who intend to adopt children from abroad must be made aware of the unique challenges that surround raising a child of another culture, especially if the adoption originates in the U.S. Adoptive parents must consider the challenges that will confront their child regarding ethnicity and race, and considerations should be made regarding how to impart coping skills and how to facilitate open discussions with their child to address issues such as racism and racial discrimination. It is the adoptive parents’ responsibility to also ensure that their child is given opportunities to learn about his/her birth culture beginning at an early age. Otherwise, an injustice is imposed on the children of transracial adoption whether they are aware of it or not. I don’t fault my parents for what they did not know. I do hope to share from my own experiences what I’ve learned about cross-cultural adoption with others and hope that it can make a difference.

18 thoughts on “cross-cultural adoption

  1. Jessica W

    Hi,
    I am so so so glad that Google led me to this blog! I am a Taiwanese. I worked for an unwed-mother organization and processed many cross-cultural adoptions. I have been wanting to reach out to the cross-cultural adoptive parents and adoptees because I know how important it is to help the adoptees to build their identity and how hard it is for the parents to help their children explore both worlds without outside help! I totally agree with what you wrote that ” It is not enough for a parent to just love their child or preach colorblindness. ” My husband, who’s Caucasian-American, and I desire to to bridge the gap between Chinese and American cultures. We would love to open a Chinese center, and teach people language and culture. We want to help adopted Chinese children to learn Chinese. Adoption can be difficult, and growing up different can be hard on children. We want to help them identify with their roots, and connect with a culture to supplement their life, not replace their American life. We’ll be sharing with a group of adoptive families who adopted/ will be adopting children from China and Taiwan in May. May I have your permission to share your story with them?

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    1. Marijane Post author

      Hi Jessica, it’s wonderful to hear from you! Thanks so much for visiting beyond two worlds. It’s nice to connect with another person from Taiwan who is also interested in helping adoptees bridge the gap between Chinese and American cultures. I think starting a Chinese Center would be incredible. I only wish that I could speak Mandarin. One day, I hope to go back to taking classes. It’s so much more difficult to learn a new language as an adult! Identity is indeed such a complex issue, and adoptees and adoptive families would greatly benefit from any help that could be provided in raising their children with a strong identity that reflects their cultural roots. Please feel free to share whatever you feel would benefit the adoptive families and children from China and Taiwan that you’ll be sharing with next month. Please keep in touch and let me know how it goes! I will stop by your blog as well. Best regards, Marijane

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      1. Jessica W

        Hi Marijane,
        Thank you so much for your quick reply!
        We are still slowly building our blog but I am sure you can find some useful links on our blog to learn Mandarin:)
        I am sure the longer we live in PA(or where ever God wants us in the States) and the more families that we are able to connect with, the better we will be able to modify our blog for them!
        When you have time please send me a direct email. I will definitely keep in touch with you and let you know how the sharing goes!

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  2. Danielle :)

    SO very nice to have come across your blog! THIS particular post has me in tears! I am ‘Mama’ to my Taiwan-born daughter. This is something VERY near to my heart as I want, of course, to do whatever possible to help her feel ‘at home’ in her own skin. Skin that is different from her father & I. Thank you for your words. I’m so glad to have found you and am anxious to get more insight from you! Blessings!

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    1. Marijane Post author

      Danielle,
      Thank you for your kind words! I’m really glad that you stopped by, and please feel free to contact me. I wish you the best with your daughter and family! Please keep in touch.

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  3. Mei-Ling

    “… discussion of the long-term needs of children who are transracially, or cross-culturally adopted.”

    Does the label “cross-cultural” mean parents of one ethnic background residing in a different ethnic country having adopted a child of a different background? For example, Korean immigrants parents who are legally residing in America, but whom are raising a child from Vietnam.

    I’m a little confused on this.

    And hi, by the way! 🙂

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    1. Marijane Post author

      Hi Mei-Ling, thanks for stopping by! I’ve always associated cross-cultural and transracial as having similar meanings; cross-cultural referring to dealing with one or more cultures and transracial as extending across two or more races. Sorry for the confusion. So what I mean by cross-cultural adoption is adoption where the parents and adoptee are of different cultures and transracial adoption meaning the parents and adoptee are of different races. I hope that makes sense!

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      1. Judy K.

        Hi,

        I just discovered your blog and am happy I did!

        My husband, who’s Caucasian-American and I (American-born Taiwanese) adopted one of our sons from Taiwan 3 years ago. In some ways, we don’t (yet?) experience the same degree of cross-cultural dissonance that other transracial adoptive families do because my son and I share a common heritage. However, being Taiwanese-American and Taiwanese are not one and the same. I know that having a Taiwanese-American mom can’t replace all that he has lost culturally and certainly can’t replace all that his mother in Taiwan meant/will mean to him.

        I was wondering if you could shed any light into what race-related issues my son and others in his situation might face in the future. How might having a Taiwanese-American parent have affected your adoptive experience, if at all? (Mei-Ling – I’d welcome your input on this if you want to jump in.)

        – Judy K.

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      2. Marijane Post author

        Hi Judy,

        Thanks so much for your comments and for subscribing to my blog! How wonderful that you adopted a child from Taiwan! How old is your son now? I would really love to hear more about his adoption and your experiences growing up being Taiwanese-American.

        I think that every transracially adopted person experiences issues related to race differently. I think that I may have had an especially difficult time because my family and I lived in the South. There were very few Asian families, and the 2 Asian kids that I went to school with were very Americanized. The hardest thing for me was the need to feel accepted. I wanted to fit in with everyone else around me. There were a couple of incidents that made me feel very insecure and were pretty hurtful. One involved someone I thought was a friend shoving me off the bus seat on the way to school and another “friend” asking me to find another group of friends to hang out with. There was the occasional name calling as well, “slant eyes,” “chink,” that kind of thing. As a result of feeling so inferior, I did everything possible to try and fit in. In answer to your question, building self-esteem and talking openly about being adopted are things that I consider crucial for adoptive families. My parents and I never talked about the circumstances surrounding my adoption, or how to deal with prejudice. If your son wants to explore his cultural heritage, then any opportunities you can provide to make that happen will only help him appreciate who he is and what makes him unique even. I think exposing him early to his cultural heritage would also help him build a sense of identity. Please let me know if I can help in any other way or answer other questions!

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    1. jazzygirl29

      There are some books written by adoption advocates, some by parents who have adopted cross-culturally, and some adoptees who have written memoirs. Usually you can find books on transracial adoption under the same heading, or under the general heading of adoption. There are also many scholarly articles/studies written on transracial adoption. I did a paper on racial/ethnic identity in Asian-American adoptees last year for a class I took at ASU and found a lot of literature in various journals. Hope that helps.

      Also, I have 2 half sisters (from my adoptive family) and 3 biological sisters according to my adoption contract. One sister still lives in Louisiana, the other in CA.

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  4. Carole Ann Kaplan

    The sentence should read “the way your words flow…” And “not being adopted” should read “now being adopted.”

    Marijane, I apologize for the typos. I will triple proof before I post a comment again. And to think I taught writing. Rhon Barron has a funny “English teacher” story. I will ask him to share it with you.

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  5. Carole Ann Kaplan

    Marijane, this post is a chapter in your memoir. The your words flow are a gift to you and to your reader. Your experiences will offer so much to the famlies who adopt children from different cultures. I don’t know if there is such a book written so I want you to continue to dedicate special time to your memoirs so that your book will be among the first. I think of the children from Haiti, Asia, Central America and other countries who are not being adopted by Americans. Your experiences can only benefit the adopted child and family.

    Also, I think you have great abilities to teach writing so keep that in mind.

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    1. jazzygirl29

      Thank you for your comments, Carole. This post was in response to an article I read on Irene’s Daughters on cross-cultural adoption. Obviously, it’s a topic close to my heart. Actually, there are quite a few books out there on transracial adoption, but I don’t think that there is enough consideration and discussion of the long-term needs of children who are transracially, or cross-culturally adopted. Not all adoptees struggle to the extent I did with racial/ethnic identity, but it is an issue that will inevitably come up at some point. The more prepared parents are to address it, the more positive the outcome for the child and family as a whole.

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  6. Pingback: More on transcultural adoption « Irene's Daughters

  7. nikki

    Marijane, this is a great post. Would you consider allowing it to be cross-posted at Irene’s Daughters? If not I completely understand — I just wanted to ask. 🙂 Thanks!

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