Tag Archives: Cross-Cultural Adoption

christmas miracle

It’s Christmas Eve. We have guests staying with us from out of town, and this evening we have a houseful of friends and kids over for dinner. The day has been full of catching up with old friends and running around here and there. Now, our kitchen is a buzz of conversation and laughter as everyone mingles together and loads their plates full of holiday fixings. In all honesty, I begin to feel a little overwhelmed by the houseful of people and noise and decide to steal upstairs for a few minutes of quiet. I log onto my computer to check my emails. Earlier today, I sent Tien an email to wish her a merry Christmas. Tien has been helping me with the search for my birth family. I’m happy to find an email from her in return. Her email begins, I have the greatest Christmas gift for you. As I continue reading, she tells me she has received an email from my oldest sister in Taiwan! I can hardly believe it! “You have two older sisters and one older brother,” Tien confirms. She has corresponded with my sister and has told her that we’ll be in Taipei in January. Tien includes my sister’s email response to her.  She tells Tien that she just received letters from the Household Registration Office today learning of my search for her and my other siblings. She writes,

“To my greatest pleasure that my youngest sister(黃筱玲) is now very well in USA. and she will visit Taiwan early next year.

Though we family members missed for almost half century, like a broken kite line. Thank God, we finally find each other in our life time. Isn’t it a miracle?”

I’m in tears and cannot believe that we have found my sister! She mentions that she will tell my brother and other sister about me and my trip to Taiwan. From her email, it appears that she speaks and writes in English, unless Tien translated her email, but I don’t think so. I run downstairs to share the news with our friends and my own family. I’m so happy that my sister wants to meet me! They remember me! I feel the same way she does, thank God that we have finally found each other in our life time. It is truly a miracle.

Without Tien’s help, none of this would be possible. She wasn’t kidding when she said she had a great Christmas gift. Tien has been a miracle worker, and God has truly answered my prayers. I thank all of you who have also sent up prayers!

I send my sister an email back directly, as she included her email and home and hand phone numbers. I wonder how I should begin, how to introduce myself. Finally I just begin by telling her, “I’m your youngest sister” and that Tien has sent word to me that she’s contacted her. I tell her a little bit about myself and family and how happy I am that she wants to reunite. I hope that my email sounds OK and appropriate.

My sister ends her email to Tien with this,

“…And I think we all are happy for the greatest gift of God, our reunion” and sent Christmas wishes to us all. It is the greatest gift of God to have the opportunity to finally reunite with my biological family. I’m still soaking in the news, full of anticipation. I will be able to meet them soon. I’m amazed at how everything is falling into place. Our goal to contact my sister before leaving for Taiwan has happened! Nothing short of a Christmas miracle.

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.

Embracing my cultural roots

Wow, it’s been nearly a month since my last post.  Life has seemed as though in slow motion as I continue to wait to hear news of the search for my biological sister in Taiwan. At the end of September, I received an email from Beatrice at The Child and Juvenile Information Center in Taipei City, the agency that’s leading the search for my sister. Beatrice is always very encouraging and sent word that the household system in Taipei has record of my sister’s address, my second sister to be exact. Wow, second sister! I’m assuming second born daughter to my birth parents; I was the fourth and the only one given up for adoption that I know of.  Just knowing that small fact makes this all seem a little bit more real. She’s alive, she’s living somewhere out there. Will we find her? Beatrice expresses that discovering this information is a big step, and they will try to contact her as soon as possible. More importantly, she also informs me that everyone needs to register in the household system, so everyone will have an address in the system; however, that does not guarantee that the individual registered will live at the address listed. I understand the message: we can’t be certain that my sister still currently lives at this address. My heart sinks a little. I want to be hopeful, but the possibility of finding my sister seems nearly impossible, far away, intangible, like looking for a needle in a haystack. I wish for things to be more certain, that perhaps after all this time, destiny will be on my side.

At the beginning of the month, I email Beatrice asking how the search is going. She expresses that although they sent letters to the address, there has been no reply from anyone. She suggests that it’s possible my sister no longer lives at that address, or that she has rented the house out. I become curious about the address, whether it is listed in Taiwan or in China. The reason behind this is my adoption contract lists my birth family’s address in the province of Guangxi, China. This is confusing to me and makes me wonder if I’m Chinese or Taiwanese? Furthermore, what led my birth family to move from China to Taiwan? Beatrice explains that the address on my adoption contract traces back to my ancestral descent, to my birth father’s family and that my sister’s address is in Taiwan. She assures me that I’m Taiwanese since my family lived in Taiwan.

Beatrice emails soon after noticing that it bothers me somewhat not knowing if I am Chinese or Taiwanese. I explain that my adoptive mom had always told me I was part Japanese and part Vietnamese – my mother was Vietnamese, and my father, Japanese. I have no idea how she got this information, and I certainly never questioned it growing up. When I found my adoption contract in 2010 (after my adoptive mother’s death), I discovered that my birth parents were both Chinese, at least their names were Chinese, not Vietnamese or Japanese. This was shocking to say the least. My whole life, I believed myself to be Vietnamese and Japanese. Finding my adoption contract opened up a whole new mystery about my true birth heritage. Both of my adoptive parents have passed on, and recently I learned that both of my birth parents have also passed on. I’m left to investigate my past on my own. I can only say that now, I’m more curious than ever to discover something of my roots.

Last week, we spent the weekend with some good friends of ours in California. My friend is Korean and her husband, Czechoslavokian. While there, she introduced me to a popular Korean TV series, “Boys Over Flowers“. I can’t say that I was very interested in watching it but to my surprise I got totally hooked, and when we returned home, continued to watch the entire 25 episodes! Watching this series was not only great entertainment, but on a much deeper level, it  helped me to appreciate my Asian roots in a way I’ve never experienced before. I know that may seem completely bizarre. I suddenly felt proud to be Asian. I’m sad to say that for the greater part of my life, I have downplayed any references to my Asian heritage, never fully embracing my cultural roots. I tried for many years to look more “Western,” Americanized. When I look in the mirror now, I’m beginning to appreciate more what I see, the shape of my eyes and nose, the color of my hair and skin. I have a burning desire, whether my sister is found or not, to go to Taiwan and immerse myself in the culture, to even learn Mandarin. I want to explore that part of my identity that I rejected for so long and feel compelled to do so. It’s been difficult to wrap my head around all of the emotions that have crept up on me in the last several weeks.

I know that Beatrice and the agency in Taiwan are doing everything they can to find my sister. It will take time. Whether or not I receive good or bad news, the good news to me is that I’m slowly discovering my cultural roots. I hope that in so doing, I will appreciate who I am and who I’m becoming in a greater way. I realize that my self-identity is still so full of complexities. But things are coming full circle, and in the end, I know that I won’t regret this journey.

from halfway across the world

I have searched for my birthfamily now for a little over a year. What instigated it all so late in my life was the discovery of my adoption papers 3 years ago after the death of my adoptive mom. My original adoption contract had been hidden away in my parent’s attic in Louisiana where it remained buried in a box nearly 40 years before I found it. When I started searching for my birthfamily, I knew it would be challenging. So many years had passed. I was adopted in December of 1966. Were there any records that had survived the years? Was anyone from my birthfamily still living? Where should I start to look for answers? Who do I try to contact first? Little by little, I’ve been able to piece together bits of my past, and yet so many questions remain unanswered. My mother’s diaries and an old letter I found helped fill in some gaps. The internet and social media have been invaluable resources during this journey. I’ve done search after search online for The Family Planning Association of China, the organization from where I was adopted. Unfortunately, the agency no longer exists. I have emailed countless numbers of people who have in turn provided other contacts and resources to assist me. Still so many unanswered questions. Recently I had given up hope of ever finding anything or anyone related to my adoption or birthfamily. I felt like my past would always be some obscure thing. Last week, however, I received a surprising, but most welcome comment on my blog:

“Do the words Family Planning Association of China, Taipei City mean anything to you? I was adopted at the age of 3 via that organisation, but unlike you got delivered to London, Heathrow in the summer of 1970. The thought of going back to recover the lost, forgotten roots of my beginnings has been with me for a very long time…”

I couldn’t believe my eyes. I never conceived the idea that someone who had also been adopted from The Family Planning Association might ever contact me. I followed the link to the commenter’s blog to see if I could find any pictures of her, then immediately emailed her. After hearing back from Ma-Li, we set up a time to connect via Skype. I learned that Ma-li lives in Germany between the cities of Weimer and Erfurt. There’s a 9 hour time difference, so catching up to each other was tricky. On Easter morning after my family and I had attended service, I discovered that Ma-li had left a voice message on my cell phone. I thought how cool it was that she had a British accent! We finally connected last week.

I was getting ready for work when I saw the incoming call from Skype. Knowing it was Ma-li, I rushed to log on so that I wouldn’t miss her call. It was awesome to actually see her face and hear her voice in real-time. She held up a business card to the computer screen with the name Tze-Kuan Shu Kan centered across it. I have googled that name in the past thousands of times in hopes of finding something about The Family Planning Association of China. Mrs. Kan was the director at the time of our adoptions. I have a similar card with the same name embossed on it which I found with my adoption papers. Ma-li and I talked as long as we could before I had to leave for work. I learned that she and I share many things in common. Ma-li was adopted by an older British couple in the summer of 1970 and was raised in the UK. I was adopted by an older American couple, but raised in the US. Ma-li’s father served in World War II in the Royal Air Force. He was a pilot and flew a Supermarine Spitfire, a fighter aircraft used by the British primarily during WW II. My father was also a pilot in the US Army Air Corp and flew a B-24 Liberator. I wonder if our fathers’ paths ever crossed somewhere up in the big blue. Ma-li said that her parents were terribly old-fashioned and strict, as were mine. Her father left the family when she was very young, so she was raised primarily by her adoptive mom as an only child. For the most part, I too, was raised as an only child. Ma-li’s parents are no longer living, just as both of my parents have passed on. We talked about the difficulties of growing up looking different from everyone else around us. She, too, struggled with identity issues, an Asian face that stood out among the crowd. Interestingly, Ma-li is just one year younger than me, however I was adopted at a younger age. My parents adopted me at the age of 4 months. Ma-li was adopted around the age of 3 years. She learned from her adoption contract that her birth father was not around the family much and that she was relinquished because her birth mother was unable to care for her. My birthfamily also relinquished me due to poor family conditions. I know that I was the youngest and 4th daughter born to my birthfamily. Ma-li feels strongly that she, too, has siblings somewhere out there.

I wish that we could have chatted longer. I’m amazed that she found me through my blog. What are the chances of that happening? Ma-li and I ended our conversation more motivated to, as she said, “recover the lost forgotten roots of our beginnings.” In Ma-li, I’ve found a kindred spirit, even if she is halfway across the world.

Pictures: Top – Ma-Li , Bottom – Me, 1 years old

international 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 international and 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. With the discovery of my original adoption contract, however, which was buried in a box in my parent’s attic, I learned something entirely different. Prior to having my papers properly translated, a Taiwanese adoption social worker, 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 Guangxi, 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, ethnicity, racism, and discrimination. 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 racial discrimination. They did not talk about my birth heritage nor encourage me to investigate, but rather minimized my race and 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 racial discrimination, racial teasing, and microaggressions. 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.

road block

Just before noon, my inbox alerted me to a new email. It was from Tien at Journeys of the Heart adoption services in Hillsboro, Oregon. She’s a caseworker at the agency who has volunteered to help me in the search for my birthfamily back in China. After three months, she finally returned my email in response to moving forward with the search. My neighbor, a month ago, offered to do what he could to help search for any information while he was visiting China. He returned last Thursday, but hasn’t contacted me at all. My husband suggested that perhaps this wasn’t of high priority to our neighbor and not to bug him. I’m at a loss and feel that finding my birthfamily is not going to be easy. I’m doubting that after such a long time there could be any possibility of finding them. Strangely, I’m not surprised that our neighbor did not come back with any news.

It turns out that Tien’s email was timely. We’ll pick up where we left off. I She wasn’t surprised either that my neighbor came back with no information because my adoption took place such a long time ago. She mentioned something about the civil war that took place in Mainland China making it even more difficult to gain information. I will now give my consent for power of attorney to give their contact person authority to dig for more information for me in Taiwan, i.e., search records, ask for information, etc. I have to send this form to the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) for legalization.

We may not be able to get any further than this. Tien seems to think that my birthfamily moved from China to Taiwan where I was placed for adoption at the Family Planning Association of China. Unfortunately, that orphanage no longer exists. I will continue to hope for the best and try to figure out other ways to find information about my birthfamily.

a mystery letter

Bits of styrofoam clung to my hands and arms as I dug down to the bottom of the box. What did my sister send? I lifted out a manilla folder which had settled among dozens of scattered pictures and styrofoam peanuts. In the folder lay a letter yellowed from age. I recognized the embellished handwriting immediately as that of my mom’s. Curiosity set in as I wondered who Dr. Woo was, the obvious recipient.

The letter was left undated and appeared to be a draft from all of the crossed out words. Apparently, Mom had written the letter as a followup to a conversation she’d previously had with Dr. Woo. After reading through the first paragraph, I soon realized that this letter described my parents’ initial visit to the Family Planning Association of China, the orphanage where I was adopted. I could not read the rest of the letter fast enough. This is what it said:

Dr. Woo –

Following our conversation adopted Chinese daughter’s visa physical, and our conversation as to what was where we obtained her, and the cash price we paid, I will attempt to explain the procedure and all the obstacles that confront an American who adopts a child from the Family Planning Association of China.

We arrived in Taipei at 10 AM – went directly to Family Planning. We were allowed to go immediately to the 4th floor to a huge room with open windows and no heat where we walked from crate to crate and from basket to basket looking at tiny babies. I chose two from the 26 that were adoptable that day.

At 4 o’ clock that evening we were ushered into a large office and were introduced to Mrs. Tze-Kuan Shee Kan. She stated she had just returned from a fundraising drive in the United States, and had acquired $30,000 to start building a new orphanage for her children. She stated that $250 was the minimum fee, which was $150 for prior care of the child (medical, food and lodging) and $100 was for the cost of all the paper work required to bring the po baby to Okinawa. This was to be pd. in American cash.

By 6 o’ clock – the necessary papers were signed and she asked if I had picked out a baby. I told her about the 2 I had chosen and which one they brought down was all right with us. In a few moments they brought our baby to us, a beautiful three month old, 7 lbs., 7 oz., and very listless baby girl. I could not stand to think she would stay another moment under their roof. I asked permission…

I couldn’t believe there wasn’t more to the letter! I went back to the box and rummaged around trying to find a second page but found nothing. Where was the rest of the letter? I was so intrigued and disappointed that there wasn’t more. I telephoned my sister back in Louisiana to ask if she knew about the letter and had any idea where the missing part might be. She knew nothing. I had to just accept the fact that the other half was gone.

I had so many questions. Did I go home with my parents that afternoon? What did Mom ask permission for? What were some of the “obstacles” mom mentioned in adopting from the Family Planning Association? Was Mom petitioning for Dr. Woo’s assistance and did he help in any way? From the description Mom gave in the letter, I envisioned the orphanage to be in poor condition with barely enough for all of the babies and children there due to little funding. That I was only 7 lbs and 7 oz. at the age of 3 months was proof enough. I went back to read one of mom’s diaries dated the same year I was born. There was nothing said about Dr. Woo, only how they brought me home to Okinawa.

I went back to the folder and found another clue about my adoption: a medical examination form signed by Dr. Woo. I pieced together that my parents needed to get a visa for me, and he must have given the exam required. The form is dated January, 31, 1968 and was officially stamped in San Francisco on June 28, 1968, six months later. I found some other information showing that one year previous, my parents had filed for a petition for visa in Okinawa, which was officially approved on July 7, 1967. The entire process to get an actual visa took over a year from start to finish. Eventually we moved to the states around 1968 or 1969. I’m pretty sure that my parents were in a hurry to get out of Okinawa in case my birthfamily changed their mind about the adoption. My dad was transferred from Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa to Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts.

The letter will probably always be a mystery, but it did give me some insight into the orphanage where I was adopted. Just yesterday, as I was out sweeping the driveway, our neighbor and his son, Alex, came outside. Alex and his sister-in-law had come over to help interpret my adoption contract just a week ago. We exchanged hellos and Alex’s father proceeded to ask me if I was Chinese. Three months ago, my response would have been no, but then I’ve learned so much since then. I launched into a brief explanation of my adoption and my current attempt to find my birthfamily in China. He told me that he’d be traveling to China soon and that his brother currently works for the government there. He offered to help do whatever he could in China to find out about my birthfamily with the help of his brother. Alex suggested that I give his father the address of my birthparents listed on the adoption contract. His father will be staying in Ghuangzhou which is very close to the province where my birthparents lived at the time of my adoption. I was touched that he wanted to help.

I’ll continue to try to piece together the mystery of my adoption from what I now have in my possession. I hope that my neighbor can bring back some kind of information about my birthfamily from China, but I’m not holding my breath. Only time will tell.