Tag Archives: Identity Development

fame

MjWhen I was a little girl, I dreamed of becoming a famous actress. I had this little silver crown that my mom brought home from a New Year’s Eve party, and I’d set that atop my head, put on my little white crocheted poncho and pretend that I was being interviewed. My mom would peer into my bedroom and ask who I was talking to. I was inspired by old musicals. My favorites were The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins and An American in Paris. There was also a young girl whom I idolized, the daughter of my second piano teacher. The girl was very pretty and participated in lots of beauty pageants. I mean, this kid had a display of trophies that filled half her bedroom. I remember seeing her perform in a play with my Brownie troop and thinking, “I could do that.” I was far too shy though to really pursue acting. In college, however, I auditioned for a small part in a play called Open Admissions by Shirley Lauro. It was during my sophomore year. The role was for a a character named Kitty Shim, an 18-year old Korean college student. I was a shoe in, as I was the only Asian, female or male, in my entire college. I learned an accent by going to a local Chinese restaurant and talking to a waitress. I even recorded our conversation on cassette tape. Isn’t that funny. The student who played Ginny, one of the leads in the play, was very kind and later told me  that she thought I  had talent. She was in a number of plays performed at Centenary College’s Marjorie Lyons Playhouse. I held onto that compliment, and it opened up a whole new fascination that I wanted to explore.

“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.” – Jim Carrey

Oaplaybillcover-originalWe took Open Admissions to Regionals that year, and I received a small, but positive review for my role. Later, I participated in a theater student’s class assignment, playing the role of Lady Roxane in a scene from Cyrano de Bergerac. It was just me and a guy in the scene. I was told that the theater department director gave me positive remarks. I remember feeling so nervous about that and relieved by the words of encouragement. I was bitten by the acting bug and eventually auditioned for other plays. Performing on stage was euphoric. Unlike a piano performance, I didn’t feel pressure to perform perfectly. Any mistakes or memory lapses at the keyboard meant failure. Perhaps that’s why to this day, I struggle with performance anxiety. I never landed any leading roles, just minor parts, I think primarily because I didn’t know anything about acting and probably wasn’t that skilled. Furthermore, I was terribly insecure, and did I mention shy? I wasn’t capable of showing very much emotion. Most of that came from deep-rooted identity issues that I was not even conscious of at the time. I hardly felt comfortable in my own skin.

After college, I taught piano for awhile in a couple of after-school programs at St. Mark’s Episcopal and a Baptist church in Shreveport. A year later, I moved to Florida where I began taking acting classes. It was such a fun, reckless period in my life. I had a college degree in music, yet was waiting tables at Friday’s. And, I was really the worst waitress ever. It’s almost embarrassing how bad I was. I auditioned for commercials, community theater and dancing roles at Disneyland. Eventually, I auditioned for a Studio Tour Guide position at Universal Studios Orlando, which was just being built at the time. There was a grand opening with lots of celebrities weeks later. I was so excited when I got the position. Then came memorizing a very large script. My peers and I spent hours performing, improvising and critiquing each other in preparation for giving studio tram tours. I was in a group of other “want-to-be” actors and became friends with many of them. We had such a blast working together. I was an idealistic, naive young woman with a lot of ambition, but not a lot of smarts. And it was a time of great freedom. I was landing roles in commercials and community theater, waiting for my “big break.” That arrived when I got a bit part in a made-for-television movie, which earned me my SAG card. No, I never saw the movie and am not sure that it ever aired. Shortly thereafter, I moved to Los Angeles to further pursue acting. I did not get very far. My priorities changed after getting involved in a church and meeting my husband. For someone Asian with little experience and few substantial acting credits, it was difficult to get a callback amidst all the competition.

Sometimes I regret spending so much time chasing a dream that was way beyond my reach. “I should have just continued to teach piano. I should have continued my music studies,” I tell myself. I’ve come to realize that the desire to act stemmed from a need to be seen and heard. On stage, people see and listen to you. You’re literally center stage. And, you get immediate feedback from the audience – that connection was like a high. To cause someone to laugh or to feel something was extremely gratifying. I also loved the camaraderie that came from being part of a cast, a not so dysfunctional family. Growing up adopted, I did not have a voice. I didn’t know how to find my voice nor did I have the ability to identify my feelings or the trauma that caused some of my insecurities. I did not know how to connect with others in a meaningful way. I believed that acting would somehow give me the voice I lacked. I craved adulation, but what I really needed was self-acceptance. It would take years to grow that and a voice.

Although I’m much more comfortable with who I am and what I’m about, I’m still haunted by my own insecurities. To this day, I struggle with anxiety, disordered thinking around food and body image and self doubt. I’m a perfectionist and an overachiever. What I’ve learned is that the very things I sought in the past – status, achievement, beauty, a bigger paycheck, are the things that bring me the least amount of joy. It’s just taken me a Very long time to figure that out, and sometimes, it’s difficult to strike a healthy balance. Like you, I’m a work in progress. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll go back and audition for some community theater 🙂

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

 

 

a crazy little story

jared-rice-388260-unsplash“Oriental Express.” The words leapt out at me in dark green letters as I tore away at the wrapping paper. There was some “oriental-like” design in the background in pink, yellow, and purple. I stared at the license plate in my hands in horror. It was Christmas morning, 1980. Across the way, my dad sat in his favorite recliner, a broad smile lit the corners of his whiskered face. He was clearly pleased with himself. I was a high school freshman. I don’t recall what exactly I said in response to the gift, but I distinctly remember the embarrassment and confusion of it all. The pained expression on my face, I’m sure made it just as confusing for my dad. He thought that the personalized license plate specially ordered just for me was something his adopted daughter would love and appreciate, but just the opposite occurred. It was like a punch to my gut, a painful reminder of my differentness. There was no way in hell I was putting that on my car. All I truly wanted was to be and look like everyone else around me. Neither my dad nor mom understood the internal struggle that tore me up inside – a conflicted self, confused, shamed by my appearance, but even further, a suffocating separateness that was like a heavy cloak. They had never heard of the terms, “adoption trauma,” “cultural identity,” or “birth heritage,” and really, back in the day, what adoptive parent had? Clearly, no one understood the implications of trauma and separation and loss on the development of an internationally adopted child. The license plate sat on my dresser collecting dust for a little while, but eventually I hid it. Who knows where it ended up or where it is now.

I am fifty-one years old, and yet this event is still so vividly etched in my mind. My struggle with identity has lessened dramatically since that time, yet at my core, I still struggle occasionally with those same misplaced feelings of inferiority. I’m just better at identifying them now and managing them in a healthier way. I tend to be an overachiever and perfectionist, which is exhausting. I think other adoptees have this same tendency to one degree or another. I feel and sense things more acutely than maybe the average person, say for example, rejection. As a result, I’m a people pleaser. I go out of my way to win people over, which is good and bad. I tend not to deal well with strong emotions like anger or conflict. It stirs up those same feelings of fear, insecurity, and distrust. In my work, I am constantly placed in those types of situations. Yet, I can pinpoint those uncomfortable feelings now and am not paralyzed by them. Though I still don’t like the presence of such strong emotions, I can sit with them when confronted. It’s not easy, and it takes me awhile to process them. It takes time to let any negative emotions go…I am not good at letting go…but I try, and I try to learn from the process so that I can grow.

Feeling grounded is super important to me. After dealing with conflict, I’m always off-balance and have to work at getting back into a more positive state of grounded-ness. Music, art journaling, and writing help tremendously as does yoga. The practice of yoga is so centering and helps me focus on connecting to my body. I highly recommend it. Perhaps I’m writing about this now because work over the last month has been especially challenging, and I am growing my clinical skills. Dealing with our line of work is “not for the faint of heart” as one of our directors shared.

I have grown to embrace my cultural heritage and identity, yet the struggle is never really over. I continue to work on accepting me just the way I am – making peace with myself, my appearance, my professional aspirations, right here in the moment. That’s probably why I love yoga so much. The practice promotes acceptance, which is truly not an easy task. I continue to struggle with perfectionism and overachieving in almost everything I do. I’m not great at self-care, or perhaps I just need more of it! Why can’t there be 3-day weekends?! And I’m constantly working on gratitude. My experiences have made me who I am, just like everybody else, and I accept that my parents were not able to help me with the things I struggled with the most. I have many regrets about our relationship and wish that I could have been more involved in their lives as they aged. Time is short. But I was still working on my own internal struggles. It was really selfish as I look back, but I didn’t know any better. My parents did the best they knew how. One thing they did do well was model generosity and care. And that is a tremendous gift. I can’t undo the past, yet in the future, I hope to get better at being okay with it. And I hope to get better at practicing generosity and care towards myself and others. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

 

 

honoring one’s cultural roots: the invisible red thread

TheInvisibleRedThreadSome 8,668 children were adopted into U.S. families from abroad in the 2012 fiscal year; 105 international adoptions took place right here in Arizona (U.S. Dept. of State, 2013). Although declining in number since 2004, intercountry adoption is still prevalent throughout the U.S. and is so often misconceived. One of the most complicated areas of transracial adoption is the development of identity. I read somewhere recently that identity is defined both by what one is and what one is not. Identity is affected by all members of the adoption triad. Adoptees who are born into one family, a family who will probably remain nameless to them, lose an identity then borrow one from the adopting family. Birthparents are parents and yet are not. Adoptive parents who were not parents suddenly become parents. Adoption, for some adoptees, precludes a complete or integrated sense of self. Adoptees may experience themselves as incomplete, deficient, or unfinished, or may lack feelings of well-being, integration, or solidity associated with a fully developed identity. We often lack medical, genetic, religious, and historical information and may be plagued by questions such as: Who am I? Was I merely a mistake, or an accident? Why was I relinquished? Do my birthparents ever think of me? This lack of identity may lead adoptees, particularly in adolescent years, to seek out ways to belong in more extreme ways than many of their non-adopted peers. Furthermore, adoptees may wish to search for their birthfamily or reconnect with their birth country.

To honor the cultural roots of an adoptee is a necessity. We must make every effort to help adoptees develop a strong sense of identity, to help them navigate through the process of identity development, to maintain the cultural connection to an adoptee’s birth country. This can be difficult, as we know that the tendency to assimilate to the predominant culture is strong (although having a parent of the same ethnic background or who speaks the language of the country from which the adoptee was born lessens the cultural disconnect).

In an attempt to address these needs, we are hosting an event, Honoring One’s Cultural Roots, on Saturday, June 1st. We will screen the film documentary, The Invisible Red Thread, written and directed by Maureen Marovitch of Picture This Productions in Montreal, which I’m very excited to see. Following the movie, Stephanie Withrow, M.S., LPC, will facilitate a discussion as we explore the intersection of adoption, culture and identity and what it means to honor one’s cultural roots. Stephanie and her husband have three adopted children from China. The event is for the whole family, although the film is recommended for children 10 and older. Admission is $10/person; children under 12 receive free admission. Reservations and pre-payment are also required. To make reservations, please contact Mj Nguyen at mjnguyen7@cox.net. For all the details, click on the The Invisible Red Thread- An AZ Premier link located above.

The Honoring One’s Cultural Roots event will be held at The Chandler Public Library, 22 S. Delaware Street, Chandler, AZ 85225, in the Copper Room (2nd level). Please join us for what I think will be a memorable and exciting event! I hope that many will leave feeling a greater sense of community and understanding the importance of honoring adoptees’ cultural roots. Please see the Honoring One’s Cultural Roots facebook page. Screening of The Invisible Red Thread is made possible through Picture This Productions of Montreal, QC (Canada).