May is winding down, and boy has it been a busy month. May is officially recognized as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Celebrations occur throughout California during the month including the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival and the Taiwanese American Cultural Festival, which is held annually in the Bay area. TACF is sponsored by Taiwanese American Professionals-San Francisco and Taiwanese American Foundation-No. California. This year, TACF featured a collection of nearly 50 works by authors, writers, poets, and creatives who are Taiwanese American or have ties to Taiwan, and guess what? My book, Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity was one of the works featured! For the entire list of books showcased and brief descriptions of each book, visit Taiwaneseamerican.org.
Thank you, Ho Chie Tsai, for gathering this wonderful collection of books highlighting Taiwanese American storytellers. I wish that I could have attended the festival and seen the display in person as well as all of the other festivities. I’ve put several of the books on my to-read list.
If you’d like to purchase an autographed copy of my book, just follow this link.
Here are some photographs from the Taiwanese American Cultural Festival 2018!
Photo credit: Anna Wu Photography
“Oriental Express.” The words leapt out at me in dark green letters as I tore away at the wrapping paper. There was some “oriental-like” design in the background in pink, yellow, and purple. I stared at the license plate in my hands in horror. It was Christmas morning, 1980. Across the way, my dad sat in his favorite recliner, a broad smile lit the corners of his whiskered face. He was clearly pleased with himself. I was a high school freshman. I don’t recall what exactly I said in response to the gift, but I distinctly remember the embarrassment and confusion of it all. The pained expression on my face, I’m sure made it just as confusing for my dad. He thought that the personalized license plate specially ordered just for me was something his adopted daughter would love and appreciate, but just the opposite occurred. It was like a punch to my gut, a painful reminder of my differentness. There was no way in hell I was putting that on my car. All I truly wanted was to be and look like everyone else around me. Neither my dad nor mom understood the internal struggle that tore me up inside – a conflicted self, confused, shamed by my appearance, but even further, a suffocating separateness that was like a heavy cloak. They had never heard of the terms, “adoption trauma,” “cultural identity,” or “birth heritage,” and really, back in the day, what adoptive parent had? Clearly, no one understood the implications of trauma and separation and loss on the development of an internationally adopted child. The license plate sat on my dresser collecting dust for a little while, but eventually I hid it. Who knows where it ended up or where it is now.
I am fifty-one years old, and yet this event is still so vividly etched in my mind. My struggle with identity has lessened dramatically since that time, yet at my core, I still struggle occasionally with those same misplaced feelings of inferiority. I’m just better at identifying them now and managing them in a healthier way. I tend to be an overachiever and perfectionist, which is exhausting. I think other adoptees have this same tendency to one degree or another. I feel and sense things more acutely than maybe the average person, say for example, rejection. As a result, I’m a people pleaser. I go out of my way to win people over, which is good and bad. I tend not to deal well with strong emotions like anger or conflict. It stirs up those same feelings of fear, insecurity, and distrust. In my work, I am constantly placed in those types of situations. Yet, I can pinpoint those uncomfortable feelings now and am not paralyzed by them. Though I still don’t like the presence of such strong emotions, I can sit with them when confronted. It’s not easy, and it takes me awhile to process them. It takes time to let any negative emotions go…I am not good at letting go…but I try, and I try to learn from the process so that I can grow.
Feeling grounded is super important to me. After dealing with conflict, I’m always off-balance and have to work at getting back into a more positive state of grounded-ness. Music, art journaling, and writing help tremendously as does yoga. The practice of yoga is so centering and helps me focus on connecting to my body. I highly recommend it. Perhaps I’m writing about this now because work over the last month has been especially challenging, and I am growing my clinical skills. Dealing with our line of work is “not for the faint of heart” as one of our directors shared.
I have grown to embrace my cultural heritage and identity, yet the struggle is never really over. I continue to work on accepting me just the way I am – making peace with myself, my appearance, my professional aspirations, right here in the moment. That’s probably why I love yoga so much. The practice promotes acceptance, which is truly not an easy task. I continue to struggle with perfectionism and overachieving in almost everything I do. I’m not great at self-care, or perhaps I just need more of it! Why can’t there be 3-day weekends?! And I’m constantly working on gratitude. My experiences have made me who I am, just like everybody else, and I accept that my parents were not able to help me with the things I struggled with the most. I have many regrets about our relationship and wish that I could have been more involved in their lives as they aged. Time is short. But I was still working on my own internal struggles. It was really selfish as I look back, but I didn’t know any better. My parents did the best they knew how. One thing they did do well was model generosity and care. And that is a tremendous gift. I can’t undo the past, yet in the future, I hope to get better at being okay with it. And I hope to get better at practicing generosity and care towards myself and others. It’s not for the faint of heart.
Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity is now live! If you have not yet purchased your copy, don’t delay. I have a few books left, and signed copies can be purchased right here on my website. Just click on Shop to order. Kindle and hardcover editions are available via my author page at Amazon, and you can also find the book at Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound.org.
If you enjoyed reading the book, please consider leaving a review on Amazon, or wherever you purchased your copy! Unfortunately, I am unable to ship internationally; however, those copies can be ordered through Amazon and Barnes & Noble online. To learn more about the book and to read an excerpt, click here, and to read reviews, click here. Thank you for supporting Beyond Two Worlds!
Hello 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.
When I was a very young girl, I didn’t think much about being adopted. I didn’t think about the physical differences between my white parents and I. Since my parents and almost everyone around me were white, I thought of myself in the same way – white. This became a problem when I entered kindergarten and realized that my physical appearance was different than the other kids around me. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I grew up in a predominantly white area, Bossier City, Louisiana. Our neighbours were mostly white, middle-class families. There were African American families, too, but I knew that I wasn’t black. There was prejudice and discrimination all around me. I was too young to understand the implications of such bias. In my family, we never talked about race, my race, my adoptive parents’ race, racism, prejudice, etc. But I perceived very early that whites were “superior” to other races. It makes me very sad that such racism existed (and still does) where I grew up and, furthermore, within my own family. I often wondered how my adoptive mother felt about me when I heard her make racist remarks toward others of a different race. It made me struggle and lose respect for my mom. I thought silently that she was a hypocrite.
At my current internship, I spend time with families who adopt children transracially through the child welfare system. These are typically white families who adopt African American, biracial, or Hispanic children. Maybe it’s me, but I am always surprised at how little time is spent discussing with adoptive parents issues of race, culture, and identity. Couples in the process of adopting seem to minimize the importance of these issues often thinking that because the child(ren) who will be placed with them permanently are so young, they have time to plan how to manage such issues. I would dare say that parents of internationally adopted children receive even less education on race, culture, and identity (less overall required training in general) than families who adopt through child welfare. Prospective foster and adoptive parents must complete a 10-week training at many Arizona adoption agencies called PS-MAPP (Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting). Arizona is a little more diverse than Louisiana, but still mostly White at 84.3% of the population (http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/04000.html). I would hope that White adoptive parents would want their adopted black or Hispanic children to grow up with a strong sense of identity and connection to their cultural heritage. I personally believe that, in the best interest of the child, children should be placed with families of the same ethnic/racial background. Unfortunately, there are few, if any, African American and Hispanic families who adopt children from the child welfare system, at least here in Arizona. I wish that we could recruit families of African American and Hispanic descent who are financially able, willing, and have the emotional/psychological capacity to adopt children through child welfare. I do believe it’s better for a child to be adopted into a family capable of providing the kind of love and care necessary regardless of race rather than languish in the system.
We would like to think that racism does not exist. We would like to believe that love is enough. Some would like to embrace the idea of being colorblind – that we are all human beings and that the color of one’s skin doesn’t matter. But in our society it does matter, and being colorblind does not really work. Racism is alive and well, granted that some areas of the country hold to racist views more than others. There are potential risks inherent in transracial adoption. Adoptive parents must develop cultural competence and the tools necessary to help their adopted child(ren) manage and integrate cultural differences. There are children’s books that discuss race at a level meant for very young children. Family discussions held regularly on issues of race and culture are another way to prepare children for racism and/or discrimination and to help children develop a sense of ethnic pride. Proactive is better than reactive. Studies show that adoptive parents who demonstrate a high regard toward their adopted child’s race foster within their child(ren) a greater sense of ethnic pride.
Transracially adopted persons will explore their ethnicity sooner or later. Familial support, especially during the adolescent years, will help transracially adopted children develop a greater sense of self and ethnic identity. It may seem insignificant, but how race, culture, and identity are negotiated in a transracially adopted child’s developmental years will undoubtedly affect his or her psychological and emotional adjustment across the lifetime.
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 pretty spoiled growing up. My parents handed me things – I think 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 very 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 Los Angeles., 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 favourite). 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.
You’ve probably heard it said that music has the power to reach across cultures.It’s the universal language. In fact, almost every culture that’s ever existed has a history of musical traditions or a body of folk songs that are passed down, often as children’s song. No matter what part of the world you live in, music brings joy, connects and touches lives significantly. I remember a special record of music from around the world that my adoptive mom gave me as a little girl. There was one song in particular, a Japanese folk song, called “Usagi” that I listened to over and over again. To this day, I remember every single word of that song! In fact, I could sing it for you. I loved the lilting pentatonic melody, so exotic and beautiful to my little ears.
Recently, I learned from NPR of a newly released collection of children’s folk songs that you can pass along to your kids. It’s called “Rabbit Days and Dumplings” and is a collection of songs from East Asia. The CD is a creation of Korean musician/violinist, Elena Moon Park, in collaboration with children’s music favorite, Dan Zanes. Park is a Korean-American who was born and raised in East Tennessee by immigrant parents from South Korea. She and Zanes, along with several other musician friends, have worked together musically for years as Dan Zanes and Friends, a popular children’s music band. For this project, Park also brought in several other musicians from around New York City.
Park says that “seeing a lack of music from this part of the world in the family music scene” is what prompted her to make the CD. There are 16 songs collected from China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Tibet. Highlights include, “Doraji,” a traditional Korean song about the doraji, a root that is used for medicinal purposes and “Diu Shou Juan,” a cheerful recording of a game song from China. One of the songs from Taiwan is called, “Diu Diu Deng,” a train song, featuring Wu Man on pipa, a Chinese stringed instrument. According to Park, “The lyrics of the song are basically describing a train as it enters a tunnel, and water drops on top of the train, makes that sound — ‘diu diu’ — which sounds like a coin that’s flipping onto a surface.” Then there is “Ti Oh Oh,” one of the sillier songs on the album. It’s also Taiwanese with lyrics that talk about a grandmother and grandfather having an argument over whether to season their eel spicy or bland. In addition to the wonderful music, the CD comes with beautiful artwork and liner notes illustrated by Kristiana Parn and Sonia de la Santos, as well as background information about each song. I think whether Asian or not, you will be delighted by the eclectic mix of cross-cultural songs on this CD.
To listen to “Diu Diu Deng” and to read more about Park and Rabbit Days and Dumplings, please click here. Happy listening!
Elena Moon Park and Dan Zanes talk about Rabbit Days and Dumplings
*Artwork above by Kristiana Parn graces CD cover of Rabbit Days and Dumplings