Tag Archives: Adoption Stories

reunion in vietnam

Last September, I was contacted by a very thoughtful 17-year old adoptee from Vietnam. Her email stated that she’d found my blog and that it struck a deep chord with her. I was delighted to hear from her, so I reached out. She told me she was adopted at the age of 2 months from Vietnam and that she believed she’d found her birth mother via Facebook after years of searching. She explained that she’d been attempting to contact her birth mom through other bio relatives on Facebook, but was unsure if her mom wanted any contact with her. Naturally, she experienced a roller coaster of emotions and asked if I could share more of my own journey since I’d reunited with my birthfamily. She expressed she felt it hard for other non-adoptees to fully understand everything she was going through and was seeking support and “words of wisdom.” I understood, as I have also experienced very similar emotions. The tug of war when searching for one’s birthfamily is not easy to articulate and perhaps even more difficult for others to comprehend. There are multiple obstacles, and yet the desire for connection is so strong.

She continued to write to me and one day wrote that she’d finally connected with her birth mom via WhatsApp with the help of her relatives! Her parents were supportive yet urged her to be cautious. Of course they were concerned. I was ecstatic for her and hoped that the reunion would be a positive experience. This young adoptee then traveled a world away to Vietnam to meet her birth mom. The pictures she took of their reunion were some of the sweetest and most telling photographs I’ve ever seen. She captured a bond that erased years of separation and a love that was clearly undeniable. I’m certain the experience was just as profound for her birth mom.

When she returned she experienced a tumult of emotions and felt very torn between both worlds, the one here and the one in Vietnam. I offered support – it takes time to process such a momentous event. She wrote that finding her birth mom really filled a deep hole in her heart and, she felt lucky that it all went as well as possible. Her school newspaper caught wind of her story and asked if she’d write an article describing her journey. I asked her if I could share it with you in the hopes that it would help other adoptees who are searching and adoptive parents to understand why reunion is so important, no matter what age. Furthermore, adoptees need support from their families and friends, and in some cases, professional support to sort through all of the emotions – loss, grief, joy, disappointment, sadness – the whole gamut. This young woman’s story resonated deeply with me. No doubt, her journey is not over. But then again, I don’t think an adoptee’s journey is ever truly over. Here is the article she wrote:

This December, my life changed forever. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that I would one day find my Vietnamese birth mother—let alone meet her in person. It is a miracle. It all started this summer. Through Facebook.

I was adopted at two months. For the longest time I denied my adoption, but during my freshman year I tentatively came to terms with it, and began to explore my past. I discovered that my parents had a brief letter about my birth mother— name, age, city, and a line about her family—but probably fake. I scoured the internet numerous times, but to no avail.

That summer I returned to Vietnam for the first time, with my parents, eager to search for my mother. It was strange, to say the least. I visited my orphanage, only to leave with a torrent of tumultuous emotions. It was excruciating to be so close—yet so far. What if we walked past each other? I frantically scanned each woman I saw, but it was hopeless. I left discouraged and abandoned my search.

This July, we returned to Vietnam, and my thoughts flew to my mother. The same questions. What would my life have been had I stayed with her? Was she still alive? Out there somewhere? Did she remember me? Would I ever find her? It was agony.

Late one evening, I decided to search her name on Facebook. Nothing. I sat back in frustration. Then, it occurred to me to remove her middle name. One profile popped up. Ho Chi Minh City. My heart raced. I followed the link and almost had a heart attack. I had never seen anyone who looked so much like me. Those eyes. My eyes. The cheeks. Forehead. Smile. Could it be?

I went into a frenzy. I immediately asked a friend to translate a message and sent it to her. I checked all of my photos against hers. I grew more convinced by the second she was my mother. Friends cautioned me to slow down, be careful—we knew nothing about her. I might never hear back. She could be the wrong person. She might hate me. What would I do then?

I ignored them. I knew the risks, but there was nothing I wanted more than to find her. I waited a month, but no response came. I was not surprised; the account seemed outdated. After investigating the profiles of her six friends, I surmised that they were her aunt and cousins. Dare I ask them? I settled on the Aunt.

I added my Vietnamese name to my profile and sent her a friend request. To my surprise, she accepted it. I sent a quick message asking to contact her niece. The challenge was that I could not explain why; if she did not know about me it could ruin my mother’s life. I had to be persistent enough to catch her attention, but not enough to scare her, and I had to pretend I spoke Vietnamese, in case she got suspicious.

She wrote the next day. I waited with baited breath for the translation—polite, curious, but wary. We had the same last name, but who was I? Why did I ask for her niece? Maybe it was a mistake? I immediately sent the profile, but no response. For two weeks I hesitated, then messaged her again. She agreed to talk to her niece. Then nothing. I tentatively prompted her, terrified to lose touch. She said they did not recognize my photo. It continued in that manner all through August and into September; then she ignored me.

What next? I puzzled through eight weeks, tip-toeing on eggshells, and keeping a low profile. Finally, at the end of October, I plucked up the courage to try my mom’s cousin, who spoke English. I had to try twice before she replied. To my shock, she instantly agreed to help, without an explanation. She would meet her cousin the next day, to help us message each other.

Saturday, October 29th, 11pm. A message from the cousin; she was ready. I panicked. I had no one to help me type in Vietnamese. What if I lost my mother? Thankfully a Vietnamese friend was online to translate. I sent my mother the message from the summer. She read it and went offline. I paced anxiously. Ten minutes later she reappeared, How did you get this information? Could you let me know? It was late and she would talk to me later. Wait! I frantically told her, from the orphanage, when I was adopted!

Pause. Eight minutes later, I am [name]. When I was young I was afraid my family know so I ask to  orphan my child. After giving birth to her I had never see her again. The nanny had already took her…After read those information you gave me above, I believe that you are the child I gave birth to that year. I was stunned. Time stopped.

We talked for three hours. I am so glad to hear your life is good. I think of you always, but couldn’t find you after such a long time apart. Thank God blessed you to find me. I want to meet you again in the near future. I was in a daze. My mother sent me a photo on the beach, and all the tears spilled out. I am crying now! Tears of sorrow, and joy at finding you, I told her. I could picture her smile: I wish I were there to hold you in my hands, I am crying too. Thank God we found each other after all. Goodnight my lovely daughter.

All week we talked. I cried so much, she said. Thinking about leaving you forever felt like someone stabbed my heart into pieces…I’m so happy. You’re my little princess. I am so happy to see your message everyday after coming home from work. I’m so thankful to God and can’t ask more. Now I have you, my daughter. You’re the joy of my life. I love you so much.

On the third day, my mom asked about a video call the coming weekend. My aunts sent a flurry of messages. I was nervous, but desperately wanted to meet her, so I agreed. I will never forget the mix of astonishment, wonder, and bliss on her face when she first saw me, the raw love swimming in her eyes. We were speechless. We could only gaze at each other. Mesmerized. I met my aunts and grandmother, and they all cried and laughed. It felt like a dream.

I begged my parents let me to visit over winter break, and they agreed. We set off, on what was about to be one hell of an emotional roller coaster ride. The day we met, I was petrified. What if she was a horrible person? Or we could not communicate? Or disappointed each other? What if she was the wrong person? I wanted to hide in the car, but it was far too late to turn back.

My mother and aunt met us on the street. I tentatively stepped out of the car, and instantly found myself wrapped in her arms. I could not think, only smile. We walked to the house. I was met by a barrage of hugs and kisses, watery smiles. It was surreal. To gaze into my birthmother’s eyes. To feel the warmth of her embrace, her fingers stroking my hair. To listen to her soothing voice. To kiss her cheek. To claim each other as our own. After 17 years.

We spent nine days together, with the rest of the family. Leaving her was one of the most painful things I have ever done. Every adoption is different; there is no guarantee how it will turn out. But I am incredibly lucky. I found her, and everything turned out as perfectly as possible. Someone once told me that if you wish for something with all of your heart, somehow it will happen. Perhaps, but tenacity can go a long way.

a Korean adoptee’s search

Greetings from sunny Long Beach, California! Hope you’re enjoying the holiday season. This morning, I wanted to share a very touching video posted by adoptee, Brent Silkey, who was born in S. Korea and adopted by an American family. Brent is currently searching for his birth mother. I saw the video below posted on an adoptee-only Facebook group page, Adoptees from Asia, and knew I had to post it here. The video has received around 136,000 views worldwide so far and close to 3,500 shares.

Brent’s birth mom and dad met through mutual friends and started dating. They enjoyed things like camping together with their friends. After their relationship ended, Brent’s birth mom found out she was pregnant. She had no way of getting in contact with his birth father. She came from a family that didn’t have a lot of financial means and dropped out of school after her second year of middle school (the US equivalent of 8th grade). Brent believes his birth mom helped her family cleaning homes, and she was the eldest of three girls. She lived with her father and father’s parents.

When Brent was born, his birth mom was just a teenager (19 years old in Korea, which is equivalent to 18 in America). He was a full-term baby and was placed for adoption immediately.

Brent expressed: I don’t know exactly why, but I would imagine that she wanted to give me the gift of life, but knew she would have been unable to take care of me with the other demands of her life and family.

I am SO thankful for her. I love her. I want to tell her how thankful I am for giving me the opportunity to be taken care of by such a wonderful foster family and then to be adopted by my parents in America. I have had such a blessed life and I want to give my birth mom a hug and thank her for being courageous enough to have me and to give me a great opportunity to have a wonderful life.

It is my dream to meet her in person, to share with her my life’s journey, and to tell her how my life has been forever changed by the love of God through Jesus Christ.

I would be incredibly honored to introduce her to my beautiful wife and two daughters (her granddaughters!!). We would do whatever we needed to in order to have the opportunity to meet her and to have relationship with her if she would allow us to.

I have only feelings of love, respect, and gratitude toward her.

I hope she has not carried around a sense of guilt or shame for the last 30 years. That is why I want to give her a hug.

I’ve been working with my adoption agency, but we continue to hit road blocks regarding the search. Her name is a very common name and “they don’t have the man power” to search for her.

I hope you’ll join me in supporting Brent and passing this video along. I’m certain that his birth mom never forgot him.

a year and change

faulkenburgs

The Faulkenbergs on L, my sister, & mom holding me

2016 is quickly coming to a close, and what a year it has been! We arrived in southern California late Friday afternoon where we’ll take up residence indefinitely 🙂 It’s rainy and cool in Seal Beach, not so typical So Cal weather, but the rain is much needed considering the drought. Our daughter was born in Anaheim, the home of Disneyland, but was raised primarily in Chandler, AZ where we lived for just over thirteen years. As we departed Phoenix, I thought about what we were leaving behind- so many positive and significant milestones were achieved while we lived in Arizona. I’ll miss Chandler very much, our friends and my old stomping grounds- Tumbleweed Recreation Center where I worked out with a very friendly and lovely group of women and fitness instructors, Pomogranate Cafe, my favorite vegan restaurant, Peixoto Coffee where I enjoyed many a seasonal coffee special, Chandler Whole Foods because the employees were so darn friendly, and our church, Redemption Gilbert, which has the best worship team and ministry leaders we’ve ever encountered. I’ll miss the less jammed freeways for sure. Change is scary, too. Moving to a new city and finding the right job and home is certainly anxiety provoking. We’re looking at homes in a region of So Cal that we’ve never lived in before, but have close friends in nearby Los Alamitos. Home prices are outrageous. Nevertheless, the best part of our move is being closer to our daughter, who’s attending college here. As I’m writing this post, we’re eating cookie dough in bed and watching old episodes of Modern Family, one of our favorites!

mecarmenThe last few weeks prior to leaving AZ were hugely chaotic. I was writing quite a bit and trying to organize our house for the moving crew. I’ve hardly had time to process our departure. I spent a weekend in Louisville/Middletown Kentucky where I visited with Carmen Faulkenberg Seitz, another adoptee from Taiwan. Carmen and her husband, Courtney, were beyond hospitable, and Kentucky was absolutely beautiful! The fall weather was gorgeous and a welcome change from Arizona’s warmer temps. Carmen and I had so much to share. There’s a connection between adoptees, and maybe even more so adoptees from the same country, that’s undeniable. I learned from Carmen that she was abandoned as a baby. She was taken in by a group of nuns at a Catholic organization, St. Benedict’s Home for Children, in Taipei, now a Catholic monastery. Carmen returned to Taiwan with her husband in 2008 and reconnected with the same nun who signed her adoption contract and helped facilitate her adoption. She was able to take a tour through the old orphanage, currently headquarters to the monastery. We were adopted from different orphanages in Taipei, but in one of my mom’s diaries, she wrote about visiting St. Benedict’s. I wondered if she had hoped to adopt a baby there. My parents adopted me from The Family Planning Association of China. Carmen’s date of birth is unknown, but was presumed to be around 1962. She was adopted in 1965 by Clarence and Janice Marie “Mickey” Faulkenburg, just a year before my adoption. Carmen found out from her father before he passed away that he and my father were close friends in Okinawa and made a verbal agreement making my adoptive parents Carmen’s godparents. Both our fathers served in World War II and at Kadena AFB in Okinawa where my parents lived when I was adopted.

It was heartbreaking to learn about the difficulties Carmen experienced as a young girl. Her adoptive mother was physically and emotionally abusive often leaving her and her younger brother, a biological son, alone for long periods of time while her father was serving overseas in Korea. She and her brother grew up in Indiana and would leave the house frequently unaccompanied wandering off into the city and asking strangers to take them back home. Today, that would be incredibly dangerous for kids, placing them at great risk for kidnapping, child prostitution/human sex trafficking, or who knows what. Carmen said she protected her brother as best she could and assumed care and responsibility for him. It’s what we call “parentified” behavior. Such behaviors lead to a burden far too heavy for children. Carmen’s brother was never abused, and Carmen felt unwanted by her adoptive mother. She said she believed it was her father who wanted to adopt her. It’s remarkable that Carmen was able to cope with the abuse and eventually forgive her mother. Although she has overcome much of the trauma she experienced, the emotional scars still exist and continue to manifest in different ways. Despite her painful past, Carmen is one of the most uplifting and energetic people I’ve ever met.

fullsizerCarmen and I both have many questions about our adoptions and how our adoptive families crossed paths. We wondered how our dads originally met and what their relationship was like. Did they work together, were they drinking buddies, why didn’t they keep in touch? My dad never mentioned Carmen’s father or any other friends he may have had during his service in the Air Force. Neither of our parents are living, so our questions will probably never be answered. In any case, I’m thrilled to have connected with Carmen and Courtney. We talked about how cool it would be to form a gathering for Taiwanese adoptees one day to connect and share stories. That would really be something.

So, here we are in California. Who knows what the future will bring. We continue to house hunt, praying to find a home we like (and can afford!). I continue to send out new apps and resumes. We’ll be spending the holidays in temporary housing, but at least we’re here. I’ll finish writing my book, Beyond Two Worlds, by the end of the year. It’ll be submitted for publication by the end of January 2017 with a release date of Summer 2017. Lots of change on the horizon. It doesn’t feel quite real yet, that we’ve moved to California. It kinda feels like we’re vacationing as we’ve done so many times before in California. I’m sure in time, everything will fall into place as it should be. Until then, I’m gonna do my best to enjoy the ride.

memoir

Happy November! This is my absolute favorite time of the year. With the holidays fast approaching, things are amping up. Since my last post, we sold our house and are now in escrow. My husband and I will be moving to California on November 18th where our daughter is attending college. We’ll be renting for a while until we can buy a home somewhere in the Long Beach area.

Instead of packing and organizing for the move, I’ve spent the majority of my time writing. I mentioned in my last post that I’m working on a book, a memoir. I’m thrilled to announce that the title of my book is Beyond Two Worlds, so named after my website. My editor, Allyson, and I have explored a number of different titles for some weeks now, but decided on Beyond Two Worlds because of the special meaning behind the title. The title is symbolic of the difficulties and joys I’ve experienced in accepting who I am as a Taiwanese American adoptee and highlights the complexities of navigating through two cultures and identities, one of which I tried very hard to forget for many years. The story is of my adoption and search and reunion with my birthfamily in Taiwan, by far one of the most meaningful events of my life. Ironically, the reunion with my birthfamily occurred just around the Lunar New Year (or Chinese New Year) in 2012, and we’re shooting for submitting my manuscript to the publisher around the Lunar New Year next year (end of January 2017). The timing has great significance in more than one way. If everything goes as planned, we hope the book will be out by Summer 2017.

Writing this story has been very special. It began one morning when I was sitting at home, praying. Interestingly, I was feeling like a loser that morning- I had no job, I wasn’t doing anything of much importance,  our daughter was off to college, it seemed as though our house would never sell- and I asked God, “what should I be doing?” I was suddenly overtaken with an urgency to start writing, and I haven’t stopped since. The words sprang to life. I believe strongly that this book is inspired by God and by the ties I have with my two sisters in Taiwan. I feel a connection to them that goes deeper than DNA. My sisters have inspired me beyond words. I began writing about five months ago, and I’m currently working on the final chapters.

There is much to do between now and the end of the year. Packing, organizing, moving, and finishing my book. I’ll be posting updates along the way and cannot wait to share my book with you!

i am

It’s always interesting to me the words that people use to identify or describe themselves. I am this or that. Surely, we all identify ourselves in multiple ways. I get a kick out of reading how people describe themselves on their Twitter profile or blog tagline. Here are some words that I came across: Storyteller | Dreamer | Adoptee | Activist | Advocate | Feminist. Parallel Parker and Fully Qualified Batman Villain were a couple of the more interesting ones. And here is an intriguing tagline I found: “Blabbering, borderline, wannabe badass with a wicked case of wanderlust” at a blog entitled Big Mouth. That about sums it up.

When I was growing up, I used to say about myself, “I America girl,” or so my adoptive mom told me. No doubt, I  was very proud to be an American. As an adopted kid, to be American carried special meaning. I’m still proud to be an American, for the most part. As I watch the DNC, I’m filled with nostalgia. I remember my childhood growing up in a military family. I knew even as a youngster there was something significant about being in the military. My father was a lieutenant colonel, a staunch Republican by political orientation, and my mother, a Democrat. Their political views and opinions were as different as night and day. Honor and respect for America and the land of the free became inherent. In elementary school we stood up in class with our hand placed over our hearts and recited the pledge of allegiance every morning. When we drove back onto the military base, the dude in the funny get up gave an extra special salute to my dad. I went to the BX and commissary with my parents, and when my dad retired after 29 years of service in the U.S. Air Force, they gave him a very proper retirement ceremony full of pomp and circumstance that I still remember vividly. We were American. I have nothing but fond memories of being a military brat. I was American through and through. Funny thing is, I didn’t look American. Duh, my outward appearance suggested that I was an outsider, different. And you know what, that is how I came to view myself. Never quite fit in no matter how hard I tried. Subconsciously, I considered myself inferior, although I’m sure that most others did not view me in that way. It became hardwired nevertheless.

I have followed recently some blogs authored by transracial adoptees that I find inspiring. One, The Adopted Life, is authored by Angela Tucker, who began a film series on transracial adoption. Angela describes herself as an “advocate for adoptee rights.” I caught Episode #1 of her film series where she sits down with 6 different adoptees who discuss being transracially adopted. One adoptee, a 20-year old female from Vietnam, speaks of feeling “embarrassed” while growing up because she did not look like her white parents. She states that her eyes were different, her skin tone was different, people knew she was different. Another adoptee, a 15- year old from China, says that she wants to “know the truth” and what happened. She states “it’s annoying not knowing that part of you.” Another adoptee, age 19 from China, further describes the unknowns in the following way, “accepting the mystery is part of me.” I thought that was very well put. There is definitely mystery in our lives as adoptees. It’s a part of our identity.

I also came across a You Tube channel called The Here and Nao produced by Naomi, a Chinese/British adoptee living in the UK. She describes herself as a “UK based student and cat lover.” In one episode, Figuring Out My Identity: An Adoptee Talks, Naomi discusses her views on the topic of identity. She talks about having tea with her close friends and feeling very strongly British, and then visiting China and returning home feeling like, “yes, I’m Chinese.” She explains identity as being “fluid.” A lot of times she feels, and perhaps other adoptees can relate, that she has to be “one or the other” in regards to her English and Chinese identities. She expresses that this often leads adoptees to feel “like we can be neither.” Hmmm. I can relate to that. How’s that for a tag line? Naomi concludes with the idea that identity evolves and that multi-ethnic individuals can integrate both or all identities, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, and we go back and forth between our identities. I envision this like the ebb and flow of the ocean tide, or something like that.

I was touched by these videos because the adoptees are much younger than I am and yet also struggle with identity and being internationally/transracially adopted. Sometimes I think it’s just us older generation adoptees who struggle with identity and issues related to growing up in a family of a different race. It appears that transracial adoptees of all ages share the same struggles, young and old, raised in America or the UK or wherever. Apparently, I’m not the only one. I find this to be extremely validating.

Not too long ago, I updated the tagline on this blog from “musings of a Taiwanese-American adoptee” to “musings of a reunified Taiwanese adoptee.” It’s a better reflection of who I am now. The “American” part of me is a given I thought, as I’ve lived in America pretty much my whole life. The Taiwanese in me gets the spotlight. So what’s your tag line? You know, they really do speak volumes.

roots

It’s been almost two months since I began my new job as a child therapist. Man, has it been an adjustment. I can’t say that it’s what I expected…much more stressful than I anticipated. I’m often unsure of myself and how to help the client sitting in front of me. That being said, I guess all new therapists feel that to some degree.

Since I began my blog on international adoption, I’ve received emails from other adoptees, primarily adult adoptees from Taiwan, who are contemplating or in the process of searching for their birthfamilies. I’m thrilled to offer my own experiences, support, encouragement, and to connect with other adoptees. Some have found members of their birthfamilies in Taiwan with the help of the Child & Juvenile Adoption Information Center in Taipei. I received an email from an adoptee recently who found her biological brother, but also learned that she has a sister who was adopted to U.S. parents. She now wants to find her sister. I wish that I could make the process easier. It is difficult to conduct a search when there are very few leads. If only we had the information that we long for.

It is truly a journey to begin a search for your birthfamily. It is one that I do not regret. I talk to adoptees often about what it’s like for them to be adopted. Some do not have a desire to search for their birthfamilies. I didn’t for many, many years. A specific event in my life changed all of that, and I never went back. There is something deep inside many of us that longs to know, understand, connect to our roots. It may come much later in life, or it may start at a very young age (or as I mentioned before, it’s not as important to others). Call them spiritual roots, biological roots, whatever you want – we desire a connection to where it all began for us. The kids I work with in foster care no matter how much they suffered at the hand of their parents still want to be with their mother and/or father. Even if it’s explained to them why they are in foster care, in many cases, they still long to be with their biological families. There’s a story that I read to kids, “The Invisible String,” to help them understand that no matter who they are separated from, there’s an invisible string that connects them to those they love. It seems like such a very, very small thing to offer in comparison to the huge hole that’s been created in their hearts, but it is a way to help them feel connected in spirit. I understand that desire to search for your roots or to stay connected. I’ve said it before – I cannot imagine having never found my biological family. I wish that I could travel more often to see them in Taipei. And I wish that I had the time to learn Mandarin.

Lately, I’ve felt so disconnected to my own birth roots. Work, life, busyness complicates everything, and I miss being involved to a greater capacity in international adoption. I was happy to receive that email from the adoptee searching for her sister. It helps me to feel connected to my own roots, to appreciate the invisible string that connects me to my birthfamily in Taiwan and to other adoptees I wish my fellow adoptee all the best in her continued search.

searching for my birthfamily

Tien made a new suggestion to try and find my birthfamily in Taiwan. She suggests that I place an article in a local newspaper stating that I’m in search of my birthfamily. The best solution by far would be to travel to Taiwan in person and search for records. Tien has even invited me to accompany her on her next expedition there in the near future. I would be very interested in doing so, although it seems like pursuing this is such a distant dream. Now that I’ve started a new full-time job, it would be difficult to get the time off from work. Honestly, I’ve been so wrapped up in my new job, I’ve given my adoption search less thought. But tonight, I wonder a little if this search will ever lead me to someone from my birth amily. Will placing such an article in a newspaper draw any attention? It’s worth a chance.

I’m hoping to hear back from Tien soon to find out what information is needed to write such an article. What will I say? Woman in search of birth family who was adopted by Americans over 40 years ago? Who knows if anyone from my birth family is still living. I was the youngest, and I’m 44 years old. My birth parents may not be living – in fact, most likely are not. I know of other adoptees who have found their birth parents, or siblings, not all Asian American adoptees, but some white, who were adopted domestically. It seems that because my adoption took place so long ago, and both of my adoptive parents are no longer living, the little information that I’ve discovered is not enough to find out anything significant. It seems impossible. The obsession to find someone from my birthfamily has minimized a little. I think it has to do with working and having other distractions. In any case, I’ll have to continue to wait and see what unfolds. Who knows, maybe a trip to Taiwan will come to fruition in the not too distant future.

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.