the way i are

During the first half of my life, I never thought of myself as anything other than being American. What I mean is, I always thought of myself as being white. My outward appearance, however, has never really fit the image of  what most people typically think of as a white person. DUH. I was raised by white parents in a mostly white neighborhood. In every way, I grew up to think “white,” to be white. What does this mean? It means I learned to be like everyone else around me. I tried very hard to minimize looking Asian (people in the South call it “Oriental,” but to set the record straight, Asian is the culturally correct term). Being white meant being privileged. In my mind, it was synonymous with superiority, a thought that makes me cringe now. I wanted blonde hair with blue eyes, a skinny nose, and about five inches more in height. When you wish for something that you’re not, it leads to some serious insecurity, discontent, and general unhappiness.

When I was very young, I didn’t recognize the significance of how different I looked from my parents or my peers. My adoptive parents didn’t talk about race or culture. They didn’t know how to. Up until a certain age, kids tend to be colorblind and less attuned to differentness. Somewhere between kindergarten and elementary school, they take notice of others who stick out for whatever reason. For the longest time, I didn’t get why certain kids picked on me– the racial gestures, like pulling up on the corners of the eyes, or the slurs, like “chink,” seemed so weird to me. I just thought kids were plain old mean and had no idea they were acting prejudiced towards me.

I was extremely sociophobic, shy to the max, which made things even worse. Speaking up to defend myself was not in my nature at the time. I was afraid of my own shadow. I quietly ignored negative encounters with others and went about my business. Internally, I felt inferior, invisible, a complex that stayed with me for a very long time. To this day, I’m still an introvert, but I feel much more comfortable stating my opinion, although it sometimes feels unnatural. I’ve always admired those with loud, boisterous personalities who aren’t afraid to speak their minds.

What’s so ironic is that I was spoiled rotten growing up. My parents handed me things on a silver platter. That was their love language– giving gifts. You would think that this was a good thing. I was cared for physically and materially in a way I may never have been in my own birth country. Such is not the case. I didn’t learn to be truly responsible until much later in my life because I always had someone there to take care of me. It had a crippling effect. When I graduated college, I bolted in pursuit of independence from my parents. I moved to Florida, then L.A., but was still so naive. I’m amazed I didn’t get myself into more trouble than I did. Difficult times followed, but it was never like I was ever homeless, in harm’s way or hungry (although I did eat a lot of cereal for dinner-Corn Chex was my favorite).  It was the psychological and emotional areas that needed maturing. I needed a strong dose of character, too.

And now, how do I feel about things as I reach my 47th birthday (not until August) and see life through a different lens? You’ll be happy to know I’ve come to the realization that I’m not really white…DUH. A light went off when I found my adoption papers and learned that I was Taiwanese, not Japanese and Vietnamese as my adoptive parents always told me. My sister found the box where my adoption papers were hidden in my parent’s attic. I wanted to learn about my cultural heritage for the first time in my life. I was intrigued by the possibility that my birthfamily was out there still alive somewhere. Imagine yourself being re-born–that’s the only way I know how to describe what it felt like to learn that I was Taiwanese, that my identity was not what I’d always thought it to be. It’s been thrilling to grow into my cultural roots and even more so, to have met my birthfamily in Taiwan last year. Nothing could ever replace that reunion and the welcome I felt from my two sisters and family in Taipei. I often ask myself now, why am I so passionate about transracial adoption and identity? Who really cares? Then I remind myself that someone needs to speak up about adoption and identity. Someone has to help make it better and help others understand the special challenges of inter-country adoption. Someone has to help adoptees who are struggling emotionally and/or behaviorally due to adoption-related issues. I signed on to be a messenger and a helper.

If you’re wondering where I align myself ethnically now, I’m proud to say that I’m Taiwanese American. After years of identity confusion, it’s nice to finally be clear on that. It’s complicated though. I can’t change the core of who I am, the southern girl who will always be a bit country. I have a fondness for southern food and movies about the South (like Steel Magnolias). There are some things about the South that I appreciate. Louisiana will forever be like home away from home. But during the second half of my life, I will not ignore the fact that I’m also Taiwanese. I have a lot of catching up to do. One day I hope to meet other adult Taiwanese adoptees. We would have a lot to share with each other.

16 thoughts on “the way i are

  1. John

    I came across your blog looking for information for Taiwan adopted children gatherings in the US. I am Taiwanese American and my wife and I have a boy and girl who are both adopted from Taiwan. I absolutely agree with you that the racial identity and challenges that transracial adoptees face growing up in the US are rarely ever discussed or addressed in the adoption process by any of the parties involved and caucasian parents are rarely counseled or educated on these challenges. The fact that your adopted parents couldn’t tell or didn’t care enough to know the difference between Vietnamese, Japanese and Taiwanese really drives this point home. It’s difficult enough growing up Asian in this country with Asian parents dealing with the racism in this country. I can’t imagine the additional burden and difficulties that Asian adoptees face not having parents who can truly appreciate what they are experiencing, difficulties that are often compounded by living in an predominantly white community. I’m happy that you have learned the truth of your Taiwanese heritage and have embraced both of your cultural heritages. The Taiwanese people are among the most friendly and hospital people in the world and home to the most vibrant democracy in Asia. There is much to be proud of in being Taiwanese American.

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    1. Marijane Nguyen, MT-BC Post author

      John,
      Thank you so much for visiting my blog and for your comments. It’s always nice to hear from parents who have adopted from Taiwan. I agree that the Taiwanese are among the most friendly and hospitable people in the world. I look forward to the day that I can return to Taipei and visit my family there.

      It’s a big problem that so little is discussed with prospective adoptive parents regarding issues of race and how to address it with their adopted child(ren). Sometimes when it is addressed by those in adoption agencies, adoptive parents are so focused on the joy of having a child, they may “tune out” some of the advice, or educational info presented. Sadly, I think the former is more the case. Thank you for being so aware of this problem and speaking out about it. Perhaps the more that agencies and those who work in adoption hear this, the more likely they will change their practices. At least that is my hope and something that I will continue to advocate for.

      I wish you and your family all the best. I’m not sure if you know, but there is a group called Taiwan R.O.CK.s that meets annually. Families who have adopted from Taiwan reconnect and always welcome new families. Here is their website: http://adoptingfromtaiwanrocks.blogspot.com. I believe that the 2013 destination is Anaheim, CA, but new info has not yet been posted. Again, I’m so glad that you stopped by. Please keep in touch.

      Marijane

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      1. John

        Marijane,

        Thank you for the info on Taiwan R.O.CK.s. That was exactly what I was looking for yesterday. My parents told me they saw an article in the local Chinese papers here in LA covering the event this past weekend in Anaheim.

        We spoke with a number of international adoption agencies before we decided to adopt directly from Taiwan and they really are not equipped to counsel or educate parents on the racial challenges. It’s really up to the parents to make the effort and it is a major, long term undertaking for the parents to develop the awareness and sensitivities to racial discrimination, harassment that their children will face and be able to help them manage it. It’s just very hard because the parents themselves are often unfamiliar or uncomfortable with ethnic communities and cultures. Please do stay in touch and let me know if I can be of assistance with helping Taiwanese adopted children or their parents.

        John

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      2. Marijane Nguyen, MT-BC Post author

        John, you’re so right that it is primarily up to the adoptive parents to educate themselves on facing the issues you mentioned. It’s unfair that adoption agencies merely facilitate the adoption when there is so much at risk. Honestly, that’s one of the things about international adoption that is extremely disturbing to me. Surely, those who work in these agencies know what some of the risks are in international adoption, yet no one seems to address it. Rather the focus is on placing children. I don’t know what the answer is because it seems that international adoption will always exist at some level all over the world. I hope that those of us who see these challenges can make a difference and continue to be the voice of change at the social and political levels. Thanks again for stopping by.

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  2. Marijane Post author

    Danielle, thanks for reading my blog! I love hearing from adoptive parents. How great it is that you went to the Taiwanese American Heritage Festival with your daughter. I would have loved to have gone, and I bet it was a ton of fun! I think some folks that I met last year at the Taiwanese American Foundation Summer Conference also went to the festival. They’re a great bunch. Wishing you and your family all the best.

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  3. Danielle :)

    I often read your blog, but hardly ever comment. I just really loved this post today! Yesterday we took our daughter, also Taiwanese-American; to the Taiwanese American Heritage Festival in L.A. and she was surrounded by the beauty of her culture. I loved every minute of it. Being able to immerse her in her culture means the world to me, even if it means receiving the stares because of the non-Taiwanese-whiteness of her Daddy & me 🙂 Praying she’ll embrace her “Taiwanese-Dutch-American”. (the Dutch part comes from us! ha!) Thanks for sharing!

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  4. monk-monk

    I love this. I wish more people could understand the whole cultural identity confusion in transracial adoption. Even though I’m white, I found myself surprised at 26 to learn I was French/Czech on my dad’s side, since I was told I was 100% Scandinavian growing up. It’s not the same as being transracial, but when people ask me where my ancestor’s come from, I still hesitate because I don’t fully ‘feel’ connected to the French part since it’s so new…

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    1. Marijane Post author

      I share the same sentiment as you! Cultural identity is such a complex matter. Thanks very much for stopping by and sharing your comments. I’m also trying to connect to my cultural roots, which still seems so new, but want to keep growing!

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  5. Grace Chen

    I came across your blog after Google-ing “cross cultural adoptions” I am also Taiwanese American and I relate a lot to your experiences. I’m not adopted but I grew up in white culture and in a primarily white community. It’s really cool to see that other people have the same thoughts as me thanks for sharing 🙂

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    1. Marijane Post author

      Grace, I so appreciate you taking the time to read my blog and sharing your comments. I’m really happy to connect with someone else who’s Taiwanese American! Hope we can keep in touch.

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  6. Gillian

    I agree with Carole. I am always grateful for your generosity in sharing your story. I also learn a lot as an adoptive mum and store those things away for my kids. Thank you!

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  7. anewmoon123

    Thank you continuing to share your journey of discovery with your readers. I always learn something new, and, most of all, something very important reflecting your growth and thus mine.

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