Tag Archives: Adoptive Family

Book Release Date

CoverBeyond 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. Signed copies can be purchased right here on my website.  Just click on the Shop tab above to order. Ebook and hardcover editions are also available via Amazon and Barnes & Noble. 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. Thank you for supporting Beyond Two Worlds!

 

international adoptee research study

In my last post, I mentioned that adoptees in the U.S. adopted through international adoption are often subjected to racism and discrimination. It’s a subject that interests me greatly because I know how damaging the effects of racism and discrimination are. I chose to investigate this subject for my master’s thesis in social work.

Over the past two months, I’ve sent letters and announcements to numerous adoption agencies, primarily in Arizona, but also California and Oregon. I have contacted adult adoptee groups on social media platforms and reached out to friends who may know of families with adopted children. I continue to search for adoptees 18+ years of age who were adopted from another country to the U.S. by parents of a different race/ethnicity to participate in the study. Participation includes an in-person interview. In the interview, I talk with adoptees about their background, experiences with family, peers, and their community. We discuss incidents that the adoptee has experienced related to racism, racial discrimination, prejudice and stereotyping. My hope is to interview at least ten adoptees for my study. So far, I’ve conducted four five interviews. The interviews are about 1.5-2 hours in length and are conducted in a location that ensures privacy, i.e, a study room at a local library. Participants are informed that the interviews are confidential and no identifying information will be revealed in the study.

How international and transracial adoptees personally cope with racism and discrimination is not an area that is well understood in the literature. It is hoped that this research will produce data that will inform the development of interventions for international adoptees and their families that will provide tools to manage the effects of racism and discrimination. I hope that the study will also prompt further investigation into this particular area. If you know of an adoptee or are an adoptee who resides in Arizona and might be interested in participating in this study, please pass along the above information. I can be contacted privately at mcnguyen@asu.edu if you’d like to know more about the study or would like to schedule an interview. Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated!

I believe that this is such an important issue for adoptive families and adoptees. It’s my belief that adoptive families and adoptees who are better equipped to face racism and discrimination will be happier and healthier. Thank you.

 

book review: not only the things that have happened

“If it is real, you can remember not only the things that have happened, but also the things that are going to happen.”  —Annakutty Verghese

Harper Collins (India, 2012)

Mridula Koshy’s debut novel, Not Only the Things That Have Happened, is not a tale for the faint-hearted. It is a story that explores the impact of adoption, oppression, loss and identity. Koshy’s prose and storytelling is hauntingly beautiful and speaks directly to the heart. It is not a quick read, but one that invokes thought, and as such, is an important and compelling work.

At the center of the story is Annakutty Verghese, an aged, dying woman who desperately clings to life as thoughts of the son she relinquished 30 years ago linger within her memory. Annakutty was coerced into giving up her beloved son and regrets this decision the rest of her life. She constantly relives her brief time with him by telling stories to her niece, Nina. Annakutty’s greatest hope is that her Lost Boy, Madhu, will return to her, a hope that never diminishes even until her death.

Divided into two halves, the story takes place in Kerala, India and in the Midwestern U.S. and spans a period of 36-hours. The story of Annakutty is featured in the first half and that of Annakutty’s son, renamed Asa Gardner by his adoptive parents, in the second. We transition back and forth between the present and the past as the memories of various characters whose lives intersect are recollected. This can be a bit confusing, yet it is through this interweaving of past and present that Koshy so masterfully creates a multi-layered story of memories, loss and longing.

In Part 1, we travel back to Annakutty’s life as an adolescent. The sixteen-year old Annakutty falls in love with a young man from her stepmother’s village. Her family, particularly her stepmother, disapproves and Annakutty is sent away to a convent, but not without first suffering much degradation and scorn. At the convent, she has a child out of wedlock with a priest, which brings more shame upon the young Annakutty. Eventually, she is convinced to give up her son when he is four years old. She later takes in her niece, Nina, and even marries, which brings a certain happiness back into Annakutty’s life, though she never gives up hope of finding her Madhu.

In Part 2, we travel a world away to meet Asa Gardner, formerly Madhu, who is now a grown man. We learn that Asa’s life has been characterized by instability. After his relinquishment to a German couple visiting India, he becomes lost at the train station where he and his new family are to depart. We are led to believe, however, that this was not an accident. The young Asa soon joins a group of homeless boys, his “brothers,” who live on the railroad platform until he is rescued by agency workers. He is eventually adopted by an American couple. Asa’s struggles continue even after his adoption, and he has great difficulty assimilating to his new life. After a devastating family tragedy, Asa leaves home for good only to return to what is familiar- living on the streets and begging. Time passes and Asa marries, but becomes estranged from his wife and has a disconnected relationship with their young daughter. At the root of Asa’s turmoil is the lack of any tangible history, in essence, a lack of true identity. With only fragmented memories of his past, Asa wanders like a lost soul, searching for missing pieces and reinventing stories to fill in the gaps.

On a much deeper level, the story of Annakutty and Asa speaks to a larger issue, the social institution of adoption, and begs the question, is adoption really the best option for children from disadvantaged backgrounds? I have conflicted feelings on this issue. The point of contention for me begins with the separation of a mother and her child due to coercion, or because an unwed mother feels that she has no other options. Furthermore, that such exorbitant fees are required to adopt a child from another country is difficult for me to grasp. I cannot undo my own past and recognize that I had privileges growing up that I would not have had otherwise. On the flip side, I will never know my birth parents, nor ever feel fully integrated into my culture of origin. It is an emotional injury that rears its ugly head now and again. Although adopted children flourish in adoptive homes, the disparity between losses and gains is traumatic. Often the only picture one gets of adoption is a romanticized one. Some adoptees are Ok with this disconnect. For me, it is not that black and white.

In the end, my heart broke for Annakutty and Asa. They both lived on the hope that one day they would reconnect, and there is something to be said of Annakutty’s unwavering hope that her son would return, though this never occurs. I could relate to Asa in many way- his losses and struggle to put a narrative to his unknown past. An element of grief seeps heavily into much of the story, as most of the characters experience a great loss. I didn’t mind the sadness, quite the opposite. There was an underlying rawness that pulled me deeper into the story and gave it a true sense of realism. I encourage you to read Not Only the Things That Have Happened. It is a powerful read and one that will leave a lasting impression.

Not Only the Things That Have Happened may be purchased on Amazon.com.

Mridula Koshy is an Indian writer and lives in New Delhi, India and Portland, Oregon with her poet-school teacher partner and three children. She is also an adoptive mother. Please visit her website at http://mridulakoshy.blogspot.com/.

Koshy’s short-story collection, If It Is Sweet, won the 2009 Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize and was shortlisted for the 2009 Vodafone Crossword Book Award, an Indian literary award.

Next post, an interview with Mridula Koshy! 

a chance encounter

Carmen, her adoptive mom, Me, December 1967

Every once in awhile, I sift through the contents of the box that preserves my adoption papers. Recently, I came across something baffling: the papers of another little girl who was also adopted by a military family. Apparently, my parents knew the family in Okinawa. My father and the little girl’s father were both stationed at Kadena Air Force Base. The little girl’s name was Carmen. I vaguely remember hearing the name growing up, and in the recesses of my memory, recall an Asian girl who was older than me and very pretty. My mom put her school picture in a family photo album. I actually remember looking at her picture as a kid and wishing I looked more like her. Curiosity got the best of me, and soon, I found myself digging through the cramped quarters of our storage closet in search of that old photo album.

As I flipped through the pages of one particular album, two pictures caught my attention. I recognized myself – I couldn’t have been more than 2 years old – but who was the other little Asian girl and the white woman? There was no writing on the back of these photos, but something told me that the other little girl was Carmen and the woman in the picture was her adoptive mom. I speculated that my parents were Carmen’s godparents and that’s how her adoption papers ended up amidst my adoption stuff. Obviously, there was some connection.

Carmen, Scotty, Me. July, 1970.

I did more digging. I googled the name, “Carmen Marie Faulkenburg,” her “American” name. Her name appeared under mylife, which listed her location and age – 49, just a few years older than me. I was disappointed, however, that I couldn’t get any further information. I searched again and found a Scott Faulkenburg. I clicked on the Facebook link hoping to find info leading me to Carmen. What should I find as I scrolled through Scott’s Facebook friends but the name and picture of, “Carmen Faulkenburg Seitz,” Scott’s sister – an Asian woman! I knew it had to be her! I immediately emailed Scott explaining why I was contacting him in hopes he would respond and not think I was crazy. I’m happy to say that Scott contacted me four days ago letting me know that he passed my message on to Carmen!

That same evening, Carmen emailed me. Since then, we’ve talked on the phone twice trying to piece together the connection between our families and adoptions. Carmen has a southern drawl that reminds me so much of growing up in Louisiana. I laughed when Carmen told me that her brother  first announced, “I found your sister!” when initially forwarding my message to her. We may not be blood-relatives, but I certainly feel like I’ve found a long lost sister! I learned from Carmen that she was abandoned as a baby and left beside a set of railroad tracks in Taipei. She was taken in by a group of nuns at a Catholic organization, St. Benedict’s Home for Children, now a Catholic monastery. Carmen actually returned to Taiwan with her husband in 2008 and reconnected with the nun who signed her adoption contract. Carmen’s date of birth is unknown, but was presumed to be around 1962. She was adopted in 1965 by Clarence and Janice Marie Faulkenburg, just a year before my adoption. Carmen found out from her father that he and my father were close friends in Okinawa and made a verbal agreement stipulating my parents as Carmen’s godparents. My speculation was right! Carmen wrote, “from the stories that my dad told me about Colonel Buck, he was a very good man.”

The Faulkenburgs, July 1970

Later, I found an old letter addressed to the Faulkenburg’s from St. Benedict’s Home for Children. Why my parents had the letter, I’m not sure. Intrigued, I took the letter out and read it. It was written by a nun, Sister Glenore, O.S.B. (Order of St. Benedict). She was trying to confirm with the Faulkenburgs that my parents had finally adopted a child. My parents had evidently been on a waiting list of families hoping to adopt from St. Benedict’s, but found me first at The Family Planning Association of China. Sister Glenore thanked the Faulkenburgs, my parents and others who had contributed much needed necessities to the orphanage. After I found the letter, I remembered seeing other photos of an older Carmen in some of our family photo albums. Again, I started searching. Sure enough, I discovered pictures of Carmen, her younger brother, Scott, and her adoptive parents at our home on LaNell Street. Having matched faces with names, I now recognize the Faulkenburgs in an old black and white photo taken after my adoption. They are pictured with my sister, Lynn, my mom and I.

The Faulkenburgs on L, my sister, mom and me

It’s been exciting to connect with Carmen and to discover yet another little piece of my past. We are hoping to meet each other at the end of July when I’ll be traveling to Indiana, just across the border from Kentucky where Carmen lives. In the meantime, she is visiting her father in Indiana this weekend and, perhaps, will learn a little more about our adoptions. I’m thrilled that we have found each other and truly amazed that our paths have crossed once again, 40 something years later!

 

those shoes

My first pair of shoes. I found them in the box, the one my adoptive mom hid in the attic with the rest of my adoption stuff. They are so small. A few scuff marks are visible where creases have worn into the toes. Amazingly, the laces are still a pristine white. The shoes smell faintly of mustiness after all these years having been buried in an old attic for who knows how long. On the soles of each shoe, my mom wrote, “Mari, 1st Shoes, Taiwan.” My family and close friends back home in Louisiana called me Mari, except for my dad. He always called me by my full name.

I will never know for sure why my mom hid so many things about my adoption. I suspect that she was being protective. When she died, I truly believe that she felt she had unfinished business. I’ll tell you why. She appeared to me shortly after her death, during a music therapy workshop, of all places. I was in a training class, along with some of my classmates, for The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (GIM), which is a music-oriented exploration of consciousness intended to awaken a deeper understanding of self. Basically, it’s music-assisted psychotherapy.

During the training, we practiced facilitating sessions with each other, one student facilitating, the other playing the role of client. During my session, the imagery that emerged was of my adoptive mom and another unknown figure. I sensed that my adoptive mom wanted to tell me something important. I saw her face so clearly; it was how I remembered her before she got sick. Her eyes beamed radiantly at me the way they always did when she was happy. I felt such warmth and gentleness emanating from her presence and wanted so desperately to reach out to her. She was nudging me toward something, or someone. A figure appeared before me in the distance wearing a cloak similar to the one we all recognize from the fairy tale, Red Riding Hood, except, this cloak was dark. At first, I felt afraid. The figure was kind of creepy looking and ominous, and I wasn’t sure why it was there. It seemed to be waiting. As the music changed, the figure became less imposing, it took on the stature of a slender female figure. I noticed a pair of long gray gloves adorning her hands and forearms, like those long white gloves that women wore back in the 50’s. It slowly dawned on me that the figure was my birth mother. I’m not sure how I knew it was my birth mother, her face was hidden behind the hood of the cloak,  but I just knew it was her. What’s interesting to me is that before this experience, I had never consciously thought about my birth mother. Of course, I’d never met or seen her before either. At the time of the workshop, I didn’t know that she had passed away several years previous. My birth mother came closer and then embraced me. We stood like that for a long time. She was so elegant and lovely. She told me that she hadn’t wanted to give me up and that my musicality was a gift from her. She affirmed her love for me, not only through her words, but through an unspoken understanding. Much later when I reunited with my biological sisters in Taiwan, I learned that my birth mother loved and listened to classical music, which I also love and studied for many years, and that my biological father had placed me for adoption without telling her. So it was true, she hadn’t consented to relinquish me. She, nor my 2 biological sisters, had any idea what our father was up to.

The imagery was intensely vivid and powerful. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it before. It’s like you’re in a dream-like state, but are aware at all times of your surroundings and what’s going on around you. At the end of that session, I was sobbing and in quite a state of shock. That is the only contact I’ve ever had with my birth mother as an adult, in the subconscious recesses of my mind. We processed with the workshop facilitators afterwards, who assured me that many clients have reported similar spiritual experiences in which loved ones who have passed on appear during their sessions. Was it my way of working through my adoptive mother’s death and the loss of being separated from my birth mother, or was it somehow a real connection spiritually between me, both my adoptive and biological mothers? I struggled to believe the latter, that my two mothers had come back to visit me through some transcendent experience. But in the end, I came to accept it and believed it was true.

When I first found the shoes, I felt a deep pang of loss all over again. The loss of my mom, the loss of my dad, discussions I would never have about my adoption. A disparity between what I thought to be my true identity and the evidence that stated otherwise surfaced in a mere instant leaving me not only grief-stricken, but dumbfounded. Grieving leaves such a huge gaping hole in your heart, a heaviness that weighs down on you as though you’re suffocating. In addition to the grief, I struggled with feelings of guilt over my long absence from home as my mom became more and more demented from Alzheimer’s. Simultaneously, those moments of sifting through the items in that box were empowering. It was as though my mom was telling me it was OK for me to know about my past. I was in a daze for a long time after that discovery as the realization that I was not who I thought I was sunk in.

As I’ve gone back through all the photo albums my mom made, I’ve noticed those shoes in several pictures. My mom dressed me in them often. I found another pair of white shoes similar to my first pair, just a little bigger to accommodate my growing feet. Obviously, it was important for my mom to keep these items. She could have given them to Goodwill, or passed them on to my niece, but she didn’t. She had to have known that one day I’d find everything, my adoption contract, the shoes, the picture of her holding me in the orphanage, the diaper pins and baby shower cards. It pains me to imagine the relationship my mom and I could have had if she hadn’t gotten Alzheimer’s. Would we have been more open with each other? Would she have confessed that she’d hidden my adoption papers and eventually given them to me? Would I have become curious about my biological family on my own and questioned my adoption story without the discovery of  my adoption papers? Would I have had the desire to connect with my birth culture and search for my birth family, or would I have remained ignorant?

I’m glad my mom kept the shoes. I’ve had them setting out for a couple of weeks, wanting to write about them, but not really having the inspiration, or time. They bring back a flood of memories. They remind me of the shy little girl I once was and of a mostly happy childhood with my adoptive family before the turmoil of my teen years. They remind me of growing up in Louisiana. I’m not the least bit bitter or angry towards my deceased parents, adoptive nor biological. There are days when I still question, when I still want more answers, but mostly, I feel at peace knowing that I was loved by my adoptive parents and that they sacrificed in many ways to raise me as their own child. I realize that everything that’s occurred has made me who I am. I’m doing my best to accept what I cannot change about the past and striving to work through my sense of loss and the unknown answers to so many of my questions.

leap year

Leap years only come around every four years. When I was a kid, I didn’t quite understand the concept of leap year. It seemed like a special day though to hear all the adults talk about it. I never paid much attention to leap year until 2008. That’s the year my mom passed away- exactly on leap day, February 29th- after a horribly long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. The pictures above are how I like to remember my mom.

I found the two pictures on the left among hundreds of old black and whites stored in boxes at my parents’ house. It was just like my mom to keep everything, including every picture ever taken over the last two centuries. I noticed the Air Force pilot wings on her dress in the 2nd photo and thought that the picture must have been taken during the time of her first marriage. Her first husband was a pilot during WWII like my dad. Some of the pictures go all the way back to horse drawn carriages and turn of the century. I recognized my grandma and grandpa among many, and surprisingly, found pictures of my mom’s first husband and their two children, my half sister and brother. Mom was so young and beautiful. I gather that this was a difficult period in Mom’s life from reading some of her diary entries. She kept diaries for as long as I can remember. I was able to recover all of her diaries and started to read some of them, especially to find out what she’d written about my adoption – not a whole lot and not the kind of details I’d hoped for. After a while, it became too hard to read them, so I stopped.

When I remember mom, I recall her eyes and smile. Her eyes sparkled when she was happy. I loved when she was happy, when she was laughing and lighthearted. She was the life of the party when she was happy. When she was upset, it was like a storm unleashed in the house. She set the tone in our home, and I dreaded when her mood was stormy. When I went through those terrible teen years of mixed up identity and confusion, things were tense between us. As a mom now, I understand the kind of stress she was under. The loss of control and sense of helplessness she witnessed as her once shy and obedient daughter transformed into an overtly rebellious and selfish individual must have been more than she could bear.

When I got married, my husband and I were involved in a church group that did not encourage spending time with family unless they were members of the church. I know, really weird. It’s a long story, but as a result, I rarely made it back home to see my parents. My dad passed away shortly after I joined the church. I went back for the funeral, but ended up leaving sooner than I should have. In hindsight, I realize how insensitive and idiotic that was. I tried to call mom regularly after Dad’s death. My husband and I went back a couple of times to see her, but not nearly often enough.

Mom’s eyes always reminded me of the woman she was even towards the end. During the last stages when I’d go back home to visit, I’d sit by Mom’s bedside and look into her eyes intently, the only part of her still recognizable. There was nothing more than a vacant stare, the ability to recognize faces and even speak long past. It was the same woman’s eyes I’d looked into for years though. I had to believe that Mom was in there somewhere. I’ve heard it said over and over that Alzheimer’s is harder on the family members than the actual patient. Perhaps. It seems so cruel to witness the physical, mental, and emotional deterioration of someone who was once so vibrant. This year on February 29th marks the fourth year of Mom’s death. Another leap year. Although our relationship was difficult, I think had she lived longer, we would have become good friends. Deep down inside, my mom was a generous and loving woman who had her own demons to wrestle with. I never doubted her love for me.

good-bye dear sisters

Last picture together at Taoyuan Airport

Yesterday was a tough day. At the same time, I spent another wonderful afternoon with my sisters before departing Taiwan and heading back to Arizona. I really do hate good-byes, even though I know in this case it won’t be the last time I see my sisters. We’ve talked about future visits and the possibility of them coming to the U.S. in a couple of years. It was hard to say good-bye nevertheless to my dear sisters who embraced and truly took me under their wings as their little sister ( 小妹 ). There was one event in particular that stands out. I got very sick suddenly the morning that we were to visit the pagoda of our mother and father. My two sisters ended up having to take me to the emergency room at Mackay Memorial Hospital in Taipei. About 30 minutes into our trip, I started to feel very dizzy and ill and asked to return to the hotel – I knew I wouldn’t make the hour long drive up the mountain to the pagoda. By the time we arrived at the hotel, I was so sick that I couldn’t stand and felt very close to passing out. The hospital was not far from my hotel, thank goodness. I remember a paramedic lifting me out of the taxi and putting me onto a gurney. I was wheeled around to several different rooms for tests, and I just remember thinking, I wish they’d stop wheeling me around. It made the dizziness even worse. To make a long story short, it turned out that my potassium level was extremely low causing my electrolytes to be way off balance. I received a couple of injections and stayed in ER for a couple of hours. When I felt well enough, my two sisters went out of their way to make sure I was going to be OK. My 2nd sister went to a nearby store and bought porridge for all of us and fresh orange juice. I’m now a diehard porridge addict! My sisters would not let me pay for the emergency visit. I’m just so grateful that they took care of me. After that incident I was, unfortunately, slightly ill for the rest of the trip, and we ended up cancelling some of the sightseeing that I had on my list of must do’s. My sisters and I still spent time together, but I had to slow down some.

My 2nd sister made a home-made meal at her home

Yesterday afternoon, my sisters took me out to lunch at a restaurant where they make the best dumplings. I don’t know the name of it, but the dumplings were amazing. I ate so much the entire time I was in Taiwan! My sisters said that I “eat like a bird,” but on the contrary, I always left each meal feeling overstuffed. The restaurant we went to must be a popular one because shortly after arriving, the whole place was packed.

My beautiful sisters

The restaurant was close to my hotel, so we walked back and had afternoon tea. It was still too early to go to the airport, so my elder sister taught me a little Mandarin. She bought 3 little books on Mandarin symbols, made a CD pronouncing each symbol, and wrote out each symbol very neatly. We decided that we’d Skype each other daily at a certain time so that she could teach me one new Mandarin word, or phrase. That should increase my vocabulary within a year.

Now that I’m back in the States, my trip to Taiwan seems like a dream. Just yesterday I was having lunch with my sisters, and now here I am at home. So much happened in such a short period of time. What I value the most from my trip is getting to know my two older sisters. I know I’ve said this before, but their generosity truly amazed me, as did the generosity of the rest of my birthfamily. I left having mixed feelings about international adoption. I’m very grateful to my adoptive parents who will always be my parents. But, I also felt sadness and compassion for families who decide to give up a child due to poverty and the inability to provide for their child, especially for the birth mother. I learned from my sisters that my biological father relinquished me to adoption without the knowledge of my birth mother, who was not well physically or mentally at the time. My elder sister told me that they would play with me and hold me everyday after school at the babysitter’s who lived nearby until I was no longer there. Both sisters also told me that our mother had sadness in her heart the rest of her life, even though she never talked about me after I was gone.

First day in Taipei

From what my two sisters shared with me, my birthfamily’s situation was challenging when I was born for many reasons. They are happy for me that I was able to go to college and study music and be in a stable home environment. I’m so happy my search for my birthfamily ended in reunion. A lot of people wished for me that I’d find exactly what I was looking for before setting out for Taiwan. I thought that was somewhat odd, because what I was looking for was my sisters. Maybe they were worried that my birthfamily wouldn’t want to meet me; however, such was not the case. Maybe they thought it would bring some kind of closure. On the contrary, meeting my birthfamily is really a beginning. I can’t imagine now not ever knowing them. It just doesn’t make sense to me to have gone through life having never met them; they’re my biological family, maybe not the family I grew up with, but nonetheless, my family. I feel like I’m part of two worlds now, one here with my own family and one far away in Taiwan.

So, I will continue studying Mandarin and may one day apply for Taiwanese citizenship. I vowed to get better at speaking Mandarin, and my 2nd sister vowed to get better at speaking English. My sisters admonished me several times to take better care of my health and not work so hard. That I hope to do. Both my sisters and brother practice Qigong. Their lives are so much less stressed than our lives here in the U.S. I think Qigong contributes to their good health and well-being. I’m hoping to learn Qigong or T’ai Chi Ch’uan, whatever I can find here in Arizona. Maybe the next time we visit one another, we’ll all be able to practice Qigong together, as well as communicate in Mandarin.

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.