Category Archives: Identity

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.

transracial parenting

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.

 

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 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.

a whole new world

I have become intrigued by everything Asian, specifically things related to Chinese culture and to Taiwan. It surprises me how strongly I feel about this. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve become a little too obsessed. Am I going overboard? Is this a mid-life crisis? Have other transracially adopted adults gone through this kind of searching later in life? When I explain to friends and family that I’m taking Mandarin lessons, going to Taiwan soon, and really exploring my cultural roots, their reactions are often encouraging, but I don’t think they quite get it. Perhaps they believe that this is just a phase I’m going through similar to a kid going through adolescence. It has, after all, taken half of my lifetime to get to that point of wanting to learn more of my cultural heritage. Twenty years ago I would never have thought twice about pursuing a search for my biological sisters, planning a trip to Taiwan, or learning Mandarin. There was no hint of a desire whatsoever.

I am happy that this new chapter of my life has begun. I’m not sure where it will all lead, but it’s an adventure. Recently, I’ve been watching a Taiwanese TV drama called, “Meteor Garden.” I had a hard time getting into it at first because it’s targeted for a younger audience, but I must say I got sucked in. I’ve begun to pick up on a few Mandarin words and phrases here and there. I have a growing list of Taiwanese dramas that I want to watch! I’ve also been listening to K-Pop (Korean pop music) and Taiwanese pop music lately. I’ve been enjoying it and am getting acquainted with popular Taiwanese singers and bands, like Jay Chou and Jerry Yan. I’m sure there are a lot more great artists out there.

I still have many questions about my adoption. One thing that still mystifies me is why my adoptive parents told me that I was Japanese and Vietnamese. My birth parents were both from China and moved to Taiwan where I was born and adopted. When and whythey moved from China to Taiwan, I’m not exactly sure. I would like to know what happened to the adoption agency, The Family Planning Association of China, as it no longer exists. I’d like to know if Tze-kuan Shu Kan, the director of the agency, is still living. My adoptive mom also kept a list of orphanages in the Taipei area. I wonder if she visited all those orphanages before finding me? I would like to visit one of those orphanages in Taipei while I’m there in January. Of course, to find one of my biological sisters and meet would be beyond wonderful and would most likely lead to some of the answers to my questions. Maybe going to Taiwan is just the beginning. I hope that more doors open up. I don’t think that this is just a phase. I think it’s a growing appreciation for my birth culture, an opportunity to explore it and expand my identity. So, I may come off a little obsessed, but it really is a whole new world.

my childhood home

I got the call from the realtor this morning as I drove up I-17 to Phoenix. My parent’s home will finally be listed for sale this Saturday. The realtor and I exchanged a few words, shared a few laughs then hung up. Since 2008, the succession of my parents’ home has been caught up in complicated family issues. Part of me feels relieved that we’ve finally reached this point, and yet another part of me feels a great sense of loss. There’s just something about saying good-bye to the house you grew up in when there are so many memories attached. It was a small brown and white house in a subdivision called, Sun City. The streets were named after planets and most families in the neighborhood at that time were military ones. Everyone knew each other, and it felt like a real community.

I remember the first time we visited the home. My parents were so excited about purchasing a brand new house after having lived on the military base at Barksdale for some time. It must have been around 1971 – Brady Bunch era – and homes were still being constructed in the subdivision. I remember wiggling my toes through the lime green shag carpet and turning cartwheels in the wide-open space of the family room. Out back, there was a patio and yard large enough to fit a swimming pool and swing set. The family room walls were wood-paneled, and the marbled formica countertops in the kitchen matched the lime green carpet. Not real stylish by today’s standards. Down the long hallway were three bedrooms. It wasn’t a very big house, but big enough for a family of three and house pets.

After settling in, my parents had a swimming pool built in the backyard. The sound of drills and other motorized equipment woke me up in the mornings, and I’d stand on my bed to peer out the window inspecting the daily progress. It was like waiting for Christmas, and I eagerly anticipated the day that I could finally go swimming. When, at last, that day arrived, I got into the poo and fearfully clung to the edge for weeks. My mom immediately signed me up for swim lessons at the local YMCA, which fixed my fear of water pretty quick. Soon I was swimming like a little fish. My dad used to throw me up in the air like a cannonball while Mom lounged and watched us from a fold up lawn chair, the kind that left crisscrosses on the backs of your legs. In addition to swimming, I also spent a lot of evenings playing in the front yard with all the other kids from the neighborhood when it was still safe to do so. We’d play swing the statue, red rover, and red light/green light until the sun began to fade and our moms called us back in for the night. What good times those were!

My dad loved gardening and planted a large garden full of vegetables in the backyard behind the pool. We had fresh cucumbers, okra, tomatoes and zucchini. My mom liked to make homemade ice cream with fresh peaches. I’d watch her pour the rock salt into the ice cream machine and then peer through the plastic top as the mixing arm swirled the ice cream  around. In the mornings, I got used to waking up to the rumble of B-52’s revving up their engines at Barksdale Air Force Base. It grew to be a comfort. I walked to Sun City Elementary School every morning and back home every afternoon with my niece or a friend unless it was too rainy or cold outside.

My parents owned that house for 37 years. The next time I visit Louisiana, the house will belong to a new owner. For memory’s sake, I’ll take a spin down Pluto Drive just to check it out. I’ve heard that childhood homes don’t hold up to the memory once it passes on to new homeowners. Strangers remodel, the appearance changes, and the warm feelings you’d expect to emerge somehow don’t. Hmm…I wonder? In any case, I spent most of my childhood in that old house. I don’t think I could ever forget that.