Category Archives: Adoptive Family

Pre-Order Your Book

CoverHello out there! I’m very happy to announce that you can now pre-order your copy of my new book, Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity. Please spread the word and encourage your friends and family to purchase their book on the Beyond Two Worlds website. Just click on the “Shop” tab above, which will direct you to PayPal. All books purchased through my website will be signed and autographed.

About the Book:

What if your life story wasn’t what you thought? Experience a true story about two worlds and a woman’s search for truth, forgiveness, and love.

Born in Taipei, Taiwan, Marijane was adopted by an American military family at four months old. She grew up in a middle class neighborhood where hers was the only Asian face amongst a majority of white.

Raised to believe she was Vietnamese and Japanese, she never doubted what her adoptive parents told her, until one day, she found her lost adoption papers. This discovery unloosed secrets that had been buried for decades, causing her to question her own identity and origins. With brave determination, Marijane set out on a journey to reconstruct her past and resurrect a birth heritage that had long been forsaken. Her journey took her halfway across the world to eventually reunite with her birth family.

Beyond Two Worlds is a poignant telling of one woman’s quest for identity and belonging despite insurmountable odds, and will be of help to those seeking connection to their original families.

Coming Summer 2017!

Read an excerpt from the book here.

missing link

The day of my mother’s funeral just over 3 years ago was a day that changed my life. It was a day of saying good-bye, and yet it was also a day of new beginnings. On that day, I recovered a link to my past that had been missing for 41 years of my life. I had an inkling that such a link existed, but no hope or clue as to how to find it. It sat in a box in my parent’s attic preserved for many years until the day my sister dragged it out and presented it to me. This link has led me on a journey to try and find any living members of my birth family in Taiwan.

My mom hid these documents carefully from the time she and my dad brought me home from the orphanage in Taiwan. It moved with us each time we moved due to my dad’s military career in the Air Force. Sometimes I wonder if she ever wanted to give me my adoption contract and all the other things she saved. She never spoke of them. Around 1999, mom started to develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, and the last 10 years of her life were hell. I’m sure that she didn’t even remember that the adoption papers existed upstairs in the dank, dusty old attic. I find it surreptitious that while she was living, she didn’t tell me about those papers. However, the day of her funeral when we went back to the house and I opened up that box, it was as though she were saying, “Here, I want you to have these things now. They belong to you. I want you to know about your past, about your birth family.” Really, I imagined her saying those very things to me and believe she willed me to find that box. 

When I thought that I’d lost my adoption contract last week, I was heartbroken. We moved at the beginning of the year, and in all the frenzy, I guess I lost track of that box. I had no idea it was missing. After waiting 41 years to find something so important, was I to lose it now? I looked through the boxes in our garage to no avail. I looked through the boxes in my husband’s closet, but didn’t find anything. Luckily, my husband went through the boxes in his office one more time, and sure enough, the box was there! I couldn’t believe that I’d overlooked it, but was ecstatic.

You see, two weeks ago, I received an email from an old contact, Tien, who has been helping me search for my birth family in Taiwan for almost a year now. Her message came out of the blue, as I’ve tried contacting her for several months with no response. I was surprised, yet really happy to hear from her. She told me that she hadn’t forgotten about me and that she’d found one of my birth sisters in Taiwan through the Registration Office in Taipei while on visit there. She also told me that my birth parents had passed away long ago. The officials would not give Tien the name or address of the woman who could be my sister because she was not related. Tien therefore sent me a link to an agency in Taiwan that provides reunion services for adoptees and their birth families. I completed the reunion service request form and sent them a copy of my adoption contract, but apparently there was a page missing, the most important one. It became necessary for me to find the original contract because the missing document, the “household document” was most needed to begin the search. Thankfully, having found the original papers, I was able to scan and email what I believed to be the correct page.  I’ve never been so grateful for advanced technology!

So now, it’s time once again to wait. Wait and see if the person Tien discovered is really one of my birth sisters. I wish that I could fly to Taiwan and do all of this in person. It would just be so much easier. If it is my birth sister, I hope she’ll want to meet me. In that case, I’ll be on a flight to Taiwan somehow, someway. I know that if it’s meant to be, it’ll happen. I just have to wait, the hardest part of all.

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.

my adoptive mother

This Easter’s Eve, I spent the afternoon baking and dying Easter eggs with my daughter. I rummaged through my mom’s old recipe box and found the one for her pecan monkey bread, one of my favorites. My daughter, who loves to bake, volunteered to help me out. Mom typically made this coffee cake on the mornings of special occasions like Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Easter. We always looked forward to the holidays.

My mom was a registered nurse by profession, a wife, mother and grandmother. She worked full-time as the director of nurses at a skilled nursing facility and came home exhausted most evenings. No matter how tired she was from work, she always managed to get a home-cooked meal on the table, unless we decided to go out to Pancho’s or another local eatery. She was a fabulous cook and loved to sew as well as crochet. I remember that mom also wrote regularly in her diary. She would get a new one each year.

Mom married my dad on October 6, 1962 in Omaha, Nebraska where dad was stationed at Offut Air Force Base. On February 25, 1963, just 4 short months after their wedding, my dad suffered a subarachnoid brain hemorrhage which nearly took his life. Mom accompanied dad via air evacuation on a T-29 military aircraft to San Antonio, TX, I’m assuming to a more specialized military hospital, where he underwent surgery. I can only imagine how frantic she must have been. In the bottom of my dad’s dresser drawer, I found an original Western Union telegram that was wired to his mother in California from Offutt AFB. This is what it said:

1963 FEB 26 PM 7 01

I WISH TO OFFICIALLY INFORM YOU THAT YOUR SON MAJOR WENDELL R BUCK, 37033A, WAS PLACED ON THE SERIOUSLY ILL LIST AT THE 865 USAF HOSPITAL, OFFUTT, AFB, NEBRASKA, AT 1200 HOURS ON 26 FEBRUARY 1963, AS A RESULT OF A CEREBRAL HEMORRHAGE. HIS RECOVERY IS QUESTIONABLE. HE IS BEING EVACUATED BY AIRCRAFT TO THE USAF HOSPITAL LACKLAND AFB, SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS, IMMEDIATELY. THE ATTENDING PHYSICAN RECOMMENDS YOUR IMMEDIATE PRESENCE AT HIS BEDSIDE. IN THE EVENT YOU ARE UNABLE TO VISIT HIM AT LACKLAND AFB, THE HOSPITAL COMMANDER WILL FURNISH YOU A REPORT ON HIS CONDITION EVERY FIVE DAYS, UNLESS A SIGNIFICANT CHANGE OCCURS IN WHICH CASE THEY WILL ADVISE YOU IMMEDIATELY. PLEASE ACCEPT MY SINCERE SYMPATHY IN THIS TIME OF ANXIETY=

ELKINS READ JR COLONEL USAF COMMANDER==

After reading the telegram, I thought what a miracle it was that Dad survived. Mom wrote in one of the diaries I found:

“Wendy operated on. Subarachnoid brain hemorrhage. God spared his life. Thank you dear Lord.”

After the aneurysm, dad spent several long months in rehabilitation. I remember dad telling me that he had to learn to walk all over again. The aneurysm left him partially paralyzed on one side and caused extreme headaches. He told me that the sound of mom’s pantyhose as she walked into his hospital room was intolerable. Dad eventually regained his strength and was able to resume work, although paralysis permanently weakened his left side. I believe that this unfortunate event was a turning point in his life. At the height of Dad’s military career, he was discharged from ever flying a plane again due to “physical disability.” It must have been a crushing blow for him. He was then assigned to a new position as Personnel Director until his retirement in 1972.

Mom didn’t write about dad’s recovery in her diary. Maybe it was all just too much to write about. Two months after the aneurysm, she began practical nursing training. She graduated in April 1964 from the Omaha Public School, Vocational Education Dept. in Practical Nursing and went on to successfully pass her state boards. Mom went back to school much later to become a registered nurse (RN), around August 1972. By that time, she was 47 years old and had a full-time career in nursing. I remember mom taking me to class with her a couple of times at Louisiana State University. She probably couldn’t find a babysitter.

RN Graduation

For the next 2 years, mom struggled through nursing school and late nights studying while juggling a demanding job and taking care of the family. I don’t know how she did it. The funny thing is, I don’t ever recall seeing her study, but according to her diaries, she often studied for biology, anatomy, chemistry and psychology after my niece and I were in bed. She spoke of the biology labs nearly killing her and failing a few tests. She was so disappointed in herself when she failed a test. She finally graduated from Northwestern University in August 1974. I will always remember mom wearing her white nursing uniform, white stockings and shoes, and nursing cap.

Now that I’m a mom, I empathize with the stress mom felt as a nurse and raising two little ones at an age when some folks were already grandparents. Every evening after work, she and my dad relaxed with a couple of martinis before dinner. Dad used to put an olive speared with one of those little plastic cocktail picks at the bottom of their drinks. When we were little, my niece and I tried to sneak up and steal the olives right out of their glasses when they weren’t looking.

Mom didn’t ever seem to rest, not even during the holidays. She’d get up early and cook nearly all day. Christmas was always my favorite.  At the end of the day, I’m sure mom was completely exhausted.

I’m definitely not half the cook my mom was. This is the first time I’ve attempted to make her monkey bread recipe. I’ve included the recipe here in case you’re interested. We’re looking forward to eating a slice 🙂

Festival Coffee Cake

First put 3/4 cups nuts into greased bundt pan. Mix 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1 tsp. cinnamon. Melt 1 stick butter and 1/2 cup liquid brown sugar or 1 cup packed brown sugar. Boil for 1 minute. Cut 3 cans of biscuits into quarters, roll in sugar and cinnamon and place evenly on top of nuts. Pour butter and brown sugar on top. Any cinnamon and sugar left over, sprinkle on top of biscuits. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. Let set for 10-15 minutes after removal from oven. Turn upside down on plate. Enjoy! (Note: May need to extend oven time to ensure center of cake is baked through)

learning about my adoption

My mom and half sisters, Linda (L) and Lynn (R)

I peeked out of our office window to see who was at the door. UPS. My eyes settled in on a large brown box sitting next to the delivery man’s feet. Then I remembered. My sister had shipped a package from Louisiana with more stuff from home, including my mom’s diaries. Looking at the box, I noticed that the tape had come unglued around the edges leaving wide gaping holes. The UPS guy was concerned about possible damage to the contents and asked that I take a look inside. I hurried back into the house, and after grabbing a pair of scissors, knelt beside the box and began cutting away at the tape. Styrofoam peanuts began flying out as I reached inside. I lifted up one particularly large article bound tightly with bubble wrap and tape and heard the sound of clinking glass. After suggesting that I call UPS for an inspection of the damaged goods, the UPS guy zipped off. I dragged the heavy box inside and began tearing it open. By the looks of all the stuff inside, I wondered where I’d have room to put it all. There were large picture frames containing more of my dad’s military awards and a shoebox full of pictures, mom’s diaries, yearbooks, diplomas. One of the greatest finds was a small scrapbook evidently made by my dad’s mom, whom I don’t remember meeting. She had saved several newspaper clippings of stories about my dad from their hometown, as well as his early flight training graduation program and invitation to a grand graduation ball. I could tell that dad’s mom was very proud of him. I took out the broken item and, through the bubble wrap, saw that it was a certificate given to my dad in honor of his military retirement. The signatures of several officers were visible at the bottom in various shades of blue and black ink. Dad had served honorably as Director of the Personnel Actions Division for many years after an aneurysm in 1963 had physically disqualified him from ever flying again.

I dug in the box to find my mom’s diaries and was anxious to start reading. My sister found three, although I knew that there were more. They were all in pretty good shape and readable. The first one I perused through was dated 1943 – 1946, the years during World War II. Her entries were very brief, mostly just a few sentences, but there were a few longer ones. I discovered that my mom married her first husband, Jim Bell, on July 23, 1943 at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Everett Brines, Jim’s aunt and uncle. She was only eighteen years old. It appeared that she and Jim quarreled a lot, and one entry described a near split after Jim read a letter she received from another gentlemen. It was hard for me to imagine my mom at such a young age. My brother, Larry, recently told me that Jim, his dad, had an awful temper, and it made me wonder as I read mom’s diary what this man, my mom’s first husband, was like. Mom wrote about Jim flying often and being gone from home; obviously he was in the Army Air Corp. They listened to the radio and went to see shows together frequently. On May 8, 1944, she had her first son, my half-brother Larry. I skimmed through the rest of the diary anxious to see if one of the others covered the 60’s, the year my parents adopted me. I found one dated January 1, 1962 – December 31, 1966. Mom skipped around from year to year, which made it difficult to follow sometimes. I went right to 1966 looking for clues about my adoption. The first hint of my parents wanting to adopt occurred on January 21, 1966:

“Janie and I went to Machoriato to the Souls Episcopalian Church and Father Stough to talk about the baby. Not too much help but certainly believe he’ll help…”

I’m not sure where Machoriato is, but I did a Google search on the church mom referred to and found an All Souls Anglican Church and Mission on the Internet. From what I could tell, it fit the description of the church mom talked about in her diary. I sent an email hoping to find out and no more than half an hour later, received an email from Fr. Larry Kirchner stating that indeed it was the same church, and there was a Fr. Stough during that time period.

The next entry referring to “the baby” is dated February 1, 1966:

“Janie came up very early – Father Stough called that he had a little 3 yr. old boy, then it turned out to be a girl for me to see. Janie almost hit a kid on Kadena AFB.”

So glad they didn’t actually hit the kid. Janie is my godmother. I remember vividly one of her visits to us in Louisiana. She painted my fingernails and sewed a new dress for me, and I fell in love with her. I cried the day she had to leave. She and her husband, Nelson, once visited me when I lived in Orlando, Florida in the early 1990’s. I lost touch with Janie after that and am not sure if she’s still living. Janie was my mom’s confidante at Kadena and a dearly loved friend.

On February 3, 1966, Father Stough called mom about the baby, and they set a date the following Monday to meet with a little girl. Here’s the entry from Monday, February 7, 1966:

“We go to see the little girl. Went to Naha to see her – she was beautiful – absolutely as pretty a child as I ever saw in my life. We were so disappointed that the Grandma didn’t want to give her up. Janie and Nelson brought me home.”

I can only imagine the disappointment mom felt after that. I’m now starting to wonder where my dad was as Mom and Janie were off visiting orphanages. Probably at work. The next entry to mention any news of adoption doesn’t occur until 2 months later on April 28th. Mom heard about an Okinawan girl expecting a baby. Then on May 21st she makes the first mention of adopting from Taiwan:

“Rains so heavy. Heard about getting a baby in Taiwan…”

A month later, she wrote a letter about “getting a baby from Taiwan” followed soon after by another letter to Taiwan with power of attorney, so she and Dad could become legal guardians of a minor. I found the receipt for payment dated December 20, 1966 from the Dept. of State – United States of America. For the next month, they didn’t hear anything back from Taiwan. Finally on August 8th, word came back:

“…Got letter from Mr. Forbes in Taipei, Taiwan…”

For the next three months, my parents waited. Mom wrote on November 25th, 1966:

“…Maybe we’ll go to Taiwan soon…”

Around December 5th, things started to roll. I’ve tried piecing together the information I found, but it’s a bit confusing. It appears that they didn’t wait for or receive a referral for a child like adoptive parents do today, but could travel to Taiwan anytime they wanted to. How did they know which orphanage to go to, or did they visit several? I found 2 long lists of the names of orphanages mostly in the Taipei area with all of my adoption stuff and wonder if my mom visited all of those orphanages?

“Decided to go to Taiwan next week if possible…”

On Monday, December 12th, mom found out that they’d leave on the following Thursday for Taiwan, and the next day received some information on adoption in Taiwan. The big day arrived and Mom’s entry on December 15, 1966 said:

“Left Kadena AFB for Taipei, Taiwan. Went to Family Planning. Saw Chaling. Had interview with Mrs. Kan. Chaling was brought to us. Such a beautiful baby. Faulkenburgs with us. Went out to see and meet Miss Radley and Susie.”

On my adoption contract, “Chaling” is actually spelled out Hsiao-ling. I imagine that someone probably wrote out how to pronounce the name phonetically for my parents to remember and the translation stuck, which is how I ended up with Chaling as my middle name. On Friday, December 16th, my parents started the paperwork:

“Started the paperwork for Marijane Chaling Buck – raining. Finished at the Court House by 5 pm. Then we all went out to eat. Took the baby to 7th D. Adventist Hosp. She checked out OK.”

I found the original receipts from the Taiwan Sanitarium and Hospital mixed in with all the paperwork for my adoption. I wondered if the 7th Day Adventist Hospital and Taiwan Sanitarium were somehow connected? Sure enough, after another Google search, I found a web page for the Taiwan Adventist Hospital. It’s one of over 600 healthcare institutions operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in a worldwide mission system. The Hospital was relocated from Shanghai to Taipei in 1949. It was later re-established as the Taiwan Sanitorium Hospital by the founder. Afterwards, due to the hospital’s growth, it was renamed the Taiwan Sanitarium and Hospital. In 1971, it was again renamed the Taiwan Adventist Hospital after more community services were added. My visit there cost my parents $559.00 for vaccinations, meds, consultation, and the doctor’s visit.

Saturday, December 17th and Sunday were filled with getting all the necessary paperwork together and a little shopping. Mom wrote,

“Run – run – trying to get things done. Everything closes at noon in Taiwan. Took train to Yan Shui to St. Benedicts’. Beautiful. Enjoyed meeting the sisters.”

“Spent a little time shopping. Then stayed out at the Hosp. Visited with Susie. She’s a darling.”

Who were the sisters at St. Benedict’s? Was St. Benedict’s another orphanage, and who was Susie? I wonder if St. Benedict’s still exists? Hmmm….In the next entry dated Monday, December 19th, it looked like all the paperwork had finally been completed. Mom wrote:

“Wendy and Alice Lee run all day – got our papers finished. Baby vaccinated. Spent all day running with Esther and Susie to find baby clothes. Not too much luck. The Faulkenburgs left.”

“Shopped a bit. Met Col. Richmond – helped us get on S/A plane. Arrived at Kadena at 2 AM. Baby very good. Mickey and Barney here – Lee and Dan got up to see baby. Girls very pleased.”

Who are all the people my mom mentioned? I have no idea who Alice Lee was, or Col. Richmond, Mickey, Barney, Lee or Dan. So many unanswered questions! The girls were my two half sisters, Lynn and Linda, one from my mom’s previous marriage and one from my dad’s previous marriage. They were both teenagers in high school when my parents adopted me. I guess I’ll probably never know who the others were.

After getting the “new baby settled in,” the 4252nd wing gave mom a baby shower. She wrote, “I got everything for Marijane. It was so nice.” Mom saved all of the baby shower cards from that day. They were all carefully placed with my adoption papers, and I was amazed that she had kept them buried all this time. One of mom’s last entries for that year was:

“Our baby girl is with us. So precious. Went to the “Little Club” for Xmas Dinner. Marijane very good. Girls had a good Xmas. A very happy day for all.”

I wonder how I adjusted to my new family? I’m sure that English was foreign to my ears at the time of my adoption. Did I attach quickly to my adoptive parents? I’m not sure that I’ll ever find out.

who am I

I guess I felt the first inkling of being “different” around the age of pre-school when we lived in Westover, Massachusetts. Although I don’t remember very much about pre-school, I do remember at that early age feeling out-of-place, distant from the other kids. I was extremely shy and hid behind my peers. I was perfectly content to read a book alone in a quiet corner or spend time listening to music. When I look back at school pictures, my face stands out among all the others. Mine was typically the only Asian one. I was a minority once we moved to the states from Okinawa, but I never knew or understood that term until I became an adult.

The teasing began in kindergarten. By then we’d moved to Bossier City, Louisiana where my father completed his military career. There was very little diversity in this small town, and we lived in a predominantly white neighborhood full of military families. Typically, I tried to downplay any teasing and brushed it off as though nothing had happened. Mostly, people did the same tired stereotypical thing, like pulling up the corners of their eyes with their fingers or trying to talk sing-songy. Occasionally I’d hear the word, “chink,” as I passed by. Once, on the school bus, someone I thought was my friend intentionally shoved me off the bus seat. At first, I thought she was joking around, but then realized she meant it. I didn’t understand why she would treat me in such a way. It was embarrassing, but I tried my best to act like nothing happened. It was a long ride to school that morning.

As I got older, feeling accepted by my peers became increasingly more difficult. I’m sure some of that grew from my own insecurities and social awkwardness. Around junior high, I wanted desperately to be part of a particular group of girls who were considered very “popular.” I began hanging out with them, yet felt I had to fight for their acceptance. One day, one of the girls said to me, “Why don’t you find another group to hang out with?” Ouch. I was shocked, speechless, embarrassed. I didn’t understand what I’d done to cause such rejection, but I got the message as confusing as it was. It didn’t occur to me that perhaps these events took place because I looked different from them. I kept these incidents to myself and never talked to anyone about them, not even to my parents. Back then, I wasn’t sure what to think of it all, and it was very difficult for me to put my feelings into words. Mostly, as I mentioned before, I felt embarrassed and confused. I was ashamed that I looked different from everyone around me. My parents seemed oblivious. I don’t think they ever clued into the teasing. We never talked about how things were going in school or any difficulties I may have been experiencing, and we never talked about my birth heritage. Sometimes I wonder if they had been offered education or cultural training, would things have been different? They were of a generation where families did not talk about problems openly, but rather swept them under the rug. My parents were unaware of the pressures I felt to”fit in.” They did not know the sense of dread I felt going to school everyday during those elementary years and of the racial discrimination I experienced from both peers and teachers – mostly white male coaches.

As I got older I realized that being shy wasn’t cool. I longed to be liked and accepted by my peers just like any other pre-teen or teenager, and I went to extremes to try and fit in. I downplayed my Asian features and rejected any association with my birth culture. In 6th grade I wrote a biography report and lied about where I was born. In the report, I said that I was born in Hawaii and hid the fact that I was born in Taiwan. Many students questioned me afterwards, but I stuck to my story. I wrote another paper about a girl who was teased by others and read it in class. I don’t think it caught the attention of any of my peers; however, my teacher, who was a black male, asked me,”does that happen to you?” or something like that. The conversation never went beyond that though.

In 8th grade, I became friends with some girls who I felt I could be myself around. Still, I struggled with insecurity. I was obsessed with wanting to look like everyone else. I used eye makeup to make my eyes appear rounder. I curled my straight hair every morning before school with hot rollers. By the end of the day, the southern humidity caused every last curl to go flat, which was incredibly annoying. In high school, I used Sun-In to lighten my hair. I pursued hanging out with the “popular” crowd. At home, I became increasingly disrespectful towards my parents. They were very strict and old-fashioned. One Christmas, my dad gave me a special present. I was horrified when it turned out to be a license plate for my car with the words “Oriental Express” inscribed across it. I refused to put it on my car and was very upset with my dad. I know that in his small way, my dad was trying the only way he knew how to reach out to me. He and Mom were both unaware of the conflict I was experiencing and lacked the skills to help me through those difficult teen years. They were simply uneducated. I’m sure that Dad thought the gift was something special and was completely boggled by my reaction. The license plate sat on my dresser collecting dust. I didn’t want to get rid of it because I didn’t want to hurt my dad’s feelings any more than I already had. I’m not sure what happened to it over the years.

After college, I moved out of Louisiana. It was extremely difficult for my mom. Dad didn’t say much, but I know it was hard for him too. Mom wanted me to stay close to home, but I I had other plans and ideas. I ended up in Florida for a couple of years and took acting classes. I partied with friends and enjoyed living independently out from under the control of my mother. I purposely did not go home to see my parents that first year, but stayed in Florida and worked. Eventually, I moved to California to pursue acting, which was really a big joke. That’s another story.

When I moved to California, the first thing that struck me was the large population of Asians. It was shocking. I’d never seen anything like it. Naturally, I avoided associating with anyone Asian. As time went on, I developed some close relationships with a group of friends and began to overcome my old insecurities, although, I still rejected my cultural heritage.

Last year, I began a master’s degree in social work at Arizona State University. I enrolled in a class called Diversity, Oppression and Change. This class forced me to re-examine the issues I struggled with related to culture, identity, and race-relations. I chose to write a research paper on ethnic and racial identity in Asian-American adoptees, a topic obviously close to my heart. To my surprise, I found much literature written on cross-cultural and transracial adoption. These research studies focused primarily on issues such as racial and ethnic conflict and confusion, the role of parenting and nurturing cultural identity, and the development of ethnic identity across stages of life. I also interviewed two other Asian-American adoptees, which was the best part. The whole process of researching and writing was inspiring. I became increasingly interested in learning more about other Asian-American adoptees and discussing our stories together. A desire to connect to my birth heritage took root and has been growing ever since.

For many years, I struggled with my identity and a sense of belonging. It never occurred to me that other internationally adopted persons might have or do experience similar feelings. I feel certain now that I’m not the only one.

false identity

I don’t recall the exact moment when I realized I was adopted. My parents must have told me at a very young age because I just always knew. They often told me that I was “chosen,” and mom occasionally retold the story of how they found me. Usually she would end up in tears, and I would try my best not to cry in front of her. Like anyone else’s parents, my mom and dad were my mom and dad. We had the same kind of relationship that other kids had with their parents. It didn’t matter that I looked different from them. As I grew up, however, my adoptive parents were in no way prepared or equipped to manage the racial teasing that I encountered and the difficulties I experienced related to identity. In fact, they never knew, as I kept it to myself.

According to my mom’s story, I was the eleventh, give or take a few, child born to my birthparents; they gave all the girls up for adoption. How accurate this is, I’m not sure. My birthfather was supposedly Japanese and mother was Vietnamese. My parents attempted to find one of my biological sisters to adopt as well, but were unsuccessful in finding her. After my mom’s death in 2008, I found the original contract of my adoption, as well as many other documents, notes, receipts, etc. Everything had been preserved and hidden away in a storage box up in my parents’ attic. I found one note of a list of orphanages scribbled on pieces of tablet paper; the writing appeared to be in Mandarin, but had English translations. Were these the orphanages my parents visited to look for my sister, or maybe even for me? I’ve often wondered how they found the Family Planning Association of China, the orphanage where they found me. The orphanage no longer exists today.

When I first found my adoption contract, I thought I’d made the discovery of a lifetime. What has intrigued me since examining the contract is that some of my mom’s story is contrary to the content of the contract. Mom never alluded to this document, and once when I asked to see my adoption papers, she freaked out and became suspicious. I have no idea why, except that perhaps she was afraid I’d want to find my birthfamily, which I never had any desire to do. It was all very weird. The adoption contract revealed the names of my birthparents. My birthmother’s name was Shiow-Jean Lu and birthfather’s, Chan-Huai Huang. My birth name was Hsiao-ling Huang (pronounced Shou-ling, like cow). My parents kept my birth name as my middle name but changed the spelling to Chaling. I’m speculating that during the translation of the contract, someone wrote out phonetically how to pronounce my birth name, or maybe my parents did it, and that’s how “Chaling” came to be. What really puzzles me is the fact that my birthparents names’ are not Japanese or Vietnamese, but Chinese. Could I be Chinese, or Taiwanese (I was born in Taiwan)? It’s such a mystery…

As my mom’s story goes, they knew that I was “the one” they wanted when I looked up at my mom and smiled at her. Apparently, my parents did not get to choose the baby they wanted, they were just given a baby. The process of cross-cultural adoptions in the U.S. is nothing like what my parents experienced. Adoptive parents go through a very lengthy process of completing a complicated mass of paperwork, the dossier, which can take months. Each country’s government has its own set of eligibility criteria, requirements, fees, etc. and there are also U.S. state and federal adoption laws in place. Then, there’s interviews with adoptive parents, background checks, home visits… After all of that, adoptive parents begin to receive referrals based on their preferences. The whole process can take up to 2 or 3 years depending on which country the adoptive parents are seeking the adoption. My parents adopted me in a matter of days. Of course, they were actually there in Taiwan and able to go to the orphanage and see the children available for adoption. On December 16, 1966, I became Marijane Chaling Buck, the daughter of Lt. Col. Wendell and Gloria Buck. 

We traveled back to Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa where my dad was stationed after my adoption. It would take another seven months for the petition for my visa to be approved (through the Tokyo, Japan Immigration and Naturalization Service). When my parents attended their appointment at the American Embassy to file for the petition, they were disappointed to learn that additional documentation was required attesting to “the abandoned status of their adopted daughter,” meaning a letter from the adoption agency was needed. My parents contacted the Secretary General of the Family Planning Association, Mrs. Tze-kuan Shu Kan, to write the letter. In addition to this information, I found some interesting letters to my parents from a caseworker, Rose-Marie, reassuring them that the necessary paperwork was being properly notarized and that there would be “no further trouble.” I also found the letter that Mrs. Kan eventually wrote to confirm the status of my abandonment; however, only half of it is legible. Part of the document is damaged, to my great disappointment. This was frustrating, as I was hoping to learn more about my adoption and birthfamily. What I did make out basically stated that I was abandoned at the age of 1 month, 9 days and placed in their orphanage. I’m almost positive that there was more explaining why my birthparents gave me up for adoption though. On July 7, 1967, my parents finally received approval on their petition for the visa. This enabled them to file a formal visa application, which required even more paperwork. A small note with scribbled handwriting listed all the items mom needed for the visa application: 6 photographs, 4 copies of adoption paper, 6 copies of household registration of the child, passport, medical exam and vaccinations, etc.

After finally receiving the visa in 1968, my dad received a transfer to the States. We moved to Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts for a couple of years, then were transferred again to Barkdale AFB in Bossier City, Louisiana. It was in Shreveport on March 4, 1971 at the age of 4 years that I became a naturalized American citizen, along with 37 other people. I remember vaguely the naturalization ceremony, mostly feeling scared. The court room was filled with so many people, and when the judge picked me up to hold me for the news reporters, I started to cry.

We remained in Bossier City, LA throughout the rest of my childhood, and my parents continued to live there for the rest of their lives. They lived in the same house for 37 years. Obviously, finding my adoption contract has left me with a lot of questions. My parents are deceased, so it will be difficult to find the answers. After all of these years, I never thought that I’d be this curious about my past, but because my adoptive parents provided inaccurate information, I’m perplexed and would really like to find some answers. I’m not sure if they’re out there or how to go about finding them, but I’m going to try.

 

my mysterious adoption

journey to unravel my past

Imagine your whole life believing that you are one thing and then learning in mid-life that you are not what you have always believed you were. Let me explain. When I was four months old, I was adopted by a white American family from Taipei, Taiwan. My dad was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, and he and my mom were stationed in Okinawa when I was adopted. My parents provided some information about my adoption, but I knew very little about my birth family or birth culture. I always believed that I was Vietnamese and Japanese. That’s what they told me, that’s what I believed. I had no reason to question what I’d been told. After my mom passed away in 2008, however, I made a discovery about my adoption that changed everything.

My mom struggled with Alzheimer’s disease for several years. Before she passed away, my sister began rummaging through my parents’ attic in an attempt to get rid of junk. There were tons of boxes stored there, and none of us had a clue what was inside them. As it turned out, one of them contained some very surprising things. After mom’s funeral in 2008, I began to sort through each box. Some contained remnants of my dad’s military stuff from World War II, things that are very meaningful to me now, like old photos from his youth, flight records, clues to his military past which I knew so little of. Then in one box, I stumbled upon the original contract of my adoption plus other keepsakes that my mom had stowed away and never told me about. I knew something of my past had to exist somewhere, but never had any motivation to search up in the attic. The most curious thing of all was a picture of my mom holding me in her lap in what appeared to be the orphanage where I was placed for adoption, although I can’t be certain. A small baby bed, its railings rusted with peeling paint, is situated just behind us. I found safety pins that probably held together my cloth diapers and baby shower cards congratulating my mom on her new addition to the family. I was stunned and excited about these new finds and that I’d finally found some tangible link to my mysterious adoption. At the same time I felt a little sad that my parents never shared these things with me.

journey to unravel my past

At the beginning of this year I went back to Bossier City, Louisiana to salvage what I could from my parents’ home. It all seemed so surreal knowing that this would be my last visit to the house I grew up in before it sold. I shipped back home tons of old pictures, an antique grandfather clock that’s been in Mom’s family forever, LP’s of Glen Miller music, and several of Dad’s military awards, plaques, and old service records. So many memories came flooding back as I unpacked all the boxes and unwrapped each little item. It saddens me that neither of my adoptive parents are here anymore. We’ll never get the chance to clear things up about my adoption. It’s up to me now to figure it out.

journey to unravel my pastSince coming back home to Arizona, I’ve thought more and more about my adoption and decided to begin a search for my birthfamily. I sent my adoption contract to an adoption agency specializing in placing children from Taiwan with American families. Surprisingly, I learned from one of the caseworkers that my birth parents were not Vietnamese and Japanese, but very possibly from Taiwan. Could I be Taiwanese? For years I have explained to people that I was born in Taiwan, but am really Japanese and Vietnamese adopted by white parents. I had to further explain why I had a southern accent. The fact that I didn’t exactly look like either of my parents also raised a few questions and illicited some stares, especially having lived in a predominantly white area.  It will be so much easier now to just tell people that I’m Taiwanese and not give them the whole story of my background.

I’m not sure how the search for my birthfamily will go. Chances are that neither of my birth parents are still living. My birth mother was 39 and birth father, 55 when I was born. Still puzzling to me is why my mom told me that I was Japanese and Vietnamese. Did the translation get mixed up, or was it all fabricated? It’s hard for me to believe that my parents would purposely lie to me. Perhaps it will always remain a mystery.

Discovering things I never knew about my adoption and digging into my past has led to an awakening, a desire to understand my cultural heritage. I am more curious now than ever before about my birth family. Do I look like any of them, does anyone else in my birth family have an affinity for music, are there any health issues to be concerned about, was it difficult for my birth parents to relinquish me, did they ever want to see me? Questions that adoptees sometimes ask themselves. Although I may never find out anything other than what’s preserved on my adoption contract, I hope that won’t be the case.