Tag Archives: Race

new podcast

Hsiao_Ling_H-Logo-Final-3000x3000It’s rare that I write 2 posts in a row these days! I wanted to share with you a new podcast I’m launching soon called Global Adoptee Talk, a podcast featuring the diverse voices of international and transracial adoptees around the globe. The podcast will feature 1:1 interviews with other international/transracial adoptees, and we’ll discuss topics related to international adoption, race/culture/identity, search and reunion, and mental health. The website is up and mostly functional, although I’m still working out some kinks, and you can listen to a brief preview of what we’ll present in Season One of the show. I hope that you’ll give the website a visit and  listen in to the preview. Just go to GlobalAdopteeTalk.com.

And, please share the podcast with your adoption community! I’m off to work now…Thank you so much for visiting Global Adoptee Talk!

“don’t ____, or you’ll look puerto rican!” say what?

RLucasIt is with great pleasure that I introduce my dear friend and writer, Ruth Lucas, a long-time native of Long Island, New York. Ruth has accomplished something of great worth – she has completed her first novel, Don’t _______, or You’ll Look Puerto Rican! More about the title of the book in a moment. My husband and I have known Ruth and her husband, Eric, for nearly ten years. We met in church and quickly became friends. Ruth recently received her Master’s Degree in Psychology and is now in private practice as a Professional Consultant and Life Coach specializing in Relationships and Parenting (www.lucasseminars.com). The Lucas’ have been married almost 26 years and have a 21-year old son, Kyle, who currently resides in New York City. The family moved to Arizona from NY in 2001 just a few years before we did. It is Roo who got me hooked on Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings, two of my favorite series of books. I remember watching the first couple of Harry Potter movies, as well as The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers in her living room nearly nine years ago! Boy, had I been missing out. We blazed through the Harry Potter series together, and waited in line like two giddy teenagers to see the midnight showing of The Return of the King. Yes, Ruth and I both enjoy a good book and a good movie! With a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism/Communications and her expertise in family and relationships, it was only a matter of time before Ruth authored her first book.

puertoricancvr2Now back to that book title. You see, Ruth has an interesting background. She is biracial – African American and Puerto Rican. You might think, what’s the big deal, but Ruth was raised in such an environment that she grew up rejecting one-half of herself, that is, one-half of her race and ethnicity. In her own words, Ruth explains,

Many people are biracial. Not many people are biracial AND raised by one parent who is actually prejudiced against the race and ethnicity of the other parent with whom they (WILLINGLY) chose to have sex … so much so that they raise his/her own biracial child to believe that half of him/her is intrinsically BAD. This is the story of a girl raised in that paradox; essentially primed to be conflicted throughout the process of developing her self-concept without the necessary self-esteem to do so in a healthy way! 

Are you intrigued? I certainly am. Ruth’s book is a work of fiction; however, her story touches on some serious issues – race relations, diversity issues, identity, acceptance and self-determination.

In her work, it is Ruth’s hope to,

… enlist the reader on a journey with the protagonist (Elle) – to join the protagonist in her quest to become self-determined as she periodically delves into her and her mother’s past to better understand what obstacles she needs to overcome.  It is intentional that the reader feel as confused and frustrated at times as Elle, but that he/she also realize that the onus falls on Elle to not blame those who raised her or her past, but to rise above what she learned in her youth and re-parent herself so she can be a whole and healthy individual with mature and functional coping mechanisms.

Don’t _______, or You’ll Look Puerto Rican! is a story about a young woman coming to terms with who she is, who she was raised to be and who she longs to become and was written from the perspective of an eye-witness. Ruth sent me a portion of her book recently. In just the first 50 pages, I was hooked, and no, I’m not just saying that. As a personal friend, I know so much about Ruth, yet I had to separate that, somewhat, from who I know her to be and the storytelling. The beautiful simplicity of Ruth’s prose is engaging, yet beneath that simplicity is a rich interweaving of a much deeper theme – a coming of age, a struggle for self-acceptance. It is a story relatable to anyone who has, at some time or another, questioned his or her identity. The book also gives you a feel for what it was like in 1960’s New York against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement and the clashes that occurred (and still do) across clearly demarcated socioeconomic, cultural and racial lines, which is one of the things I love most about the book so far.

Ruth Lucas’ debut novel, Don’t _______, or You’ll Look Puerto Rican!, can be pre-ordered for a limited period through Inkwell Productions at this link. Copies that are pre-ordered will be signed by the author and are expected to be released this Fall. I hope that you will join me in ordering your copy and embarking on a great reading adventure. In the meantime, check out Ruth’s new book blog. Congrats, dear Ruth, on your wonderful achievement!

the way i are

During the first half of my life, I never thought of myself as anything other than being American. What I mean is, I always thought of myself as being white. My outward appearance, however, has never really fit the image of  what most people typically think of as a white person. DUH. I was raised by white parents in a mostly white neighborhood. In every way, I grew up to think “white,” to be white. What does this mean? It means I learned to be like everyone else around me. I tried very hard to minimize looking Asian (people in the South call it “Oriental,” but to set the record straight, Asian is the culturally correct term). Being white meant being privileged. In my mind, it was synonymous with superiority, a thought that makes me cringe now. I wanted blonde hair with blue eyes, a skinny nose, and about five inches more in height. When you wish for something that you’re not, it leads to some serious insecurity, discontent, and general unhappiness.

When I was very young, I didn’t recognize the significance of how different I looked from my parents or my peers. My adoptive parents didn’t talk about race or culture. They didn’t know how to. Up until a certain age, kids tend to be colorblind and less attuned to differentness. Somewhere between kindergarten and elementary school, they take notice of others who stick out for whatever reason. For the longest time, I didn’t get why certain kids picked on me– the racial gestures, like pulling up on the corners of the eyes, or the slurs, like “chink,” seemed so weird to me. I just thought kids were plain old mean and had no idea they were acting prejudiced towards me.

I was extremely sociophobic, shy to the max, which made things even worse. Speaking up to defend myself was not in my nature at the time. I was afraid of my own shadow. I quietly ignored negative encounters with others and went about my business. Internally, I felt inferior, invisible, a complex that stayed with me for a very long time. To this day, I’m still an introvert, but I feel much more comfortable stating my opinion, although it sometimes feels unnatural. I’ve always admired those with loud, boisterous personalities who aren’t afraid to speak their minds.

What’s so ironic is that I was spoiled rotten growing up. My parents handed me things on a silver platter. That was their love language– giving gifts. You would think that this was a good thing. I was cared for physically and materially in a way I may never have been in my own birth country. Such is not the case. I didn’t learn to be truly responsible until much later in my life because I always had someone there to take care of me. It had a crippling effect. When I graduated college, I bolted in pursuit of independence from my parents. I moved to Florida, then L.A., but was still so naive. I’m amazed I didn’t get myself into more trouble than I did. Difficult times followed, but it was never like I was ever homeless, in harm’s way or hungry (although I did eat a lot of cereal for dinner-Corn Chex was my favorite).  It was the psychological and emotional areas that needed maturing. I needed a strong dose of character, too.

And now, how do I feel about things as I reach my 47th birthday (not until August) and see life through a different lens? You’ll be happy to know I’ve come to the realization that I’m not really white…DUH. A light went off when I found my adoption papers and learned that I was Taiwanese, not Japanese and Vietnamese as my adoptive parents always told me. My sister found the box where my adoption papers were hidden in my parent’s attic. I wanted to learn about my cultural heritage for the first time in my life. I was intrigued by the possibility that my birthfamily was out there still alive somewhere. Imagine yourself being re-born–that’s the only way I know how to describe what it felt like to learn that I was Taiwanese, that my identity was not what I’d always thought it to be. It’s been thrilling to grow into my cultural roots and even more so, to have met my birthfamily in Taiwan last year. Nothing could ever replace that reunion and the welcome I felt from my two sisters and family in Taipei. I often ask myself now, why am I so passionate about transracial adoption and identity? Who really cares? Then I remind myself that someone needs to speak up about adoption and identity. Someone has to help make it better and help others understand the special challenges of inter-country adoption. Someone has to help adoptees who are struggling emotionally and/or behaviorally due to adoption-related issues. I signed on to be a messenger and a helper.

If you’re wondering where I align myself ethnically now, I’m proud to say that I’m Taiwanese American. After years of identity confusion, it’s nice to finally be clear on that. It’s complicated though. I can’t change the core of who I am, the southern girl who will always be a bit country. I have a fondness for southern food and movies about the South (like Steel Magnolias). There are some things about the South that I appreciate. Louisiana will forever be like home away from home. But during the second half of my life, I will not ignore the fact that I’m also Taiwanese. I have a lot of catching up to do. One day I hope to meet other adult Taiwanese adoptees. We would have a lot to share with each other.

what adoptive parents should know

I just returned recently from a trip to Orange Co. I stayed with one of my best friends who adopted a 15-month old little girl from China in 1997. Her daughter is now 15 years old, the same age as my own daughter. We had some interesting discussions on adoption. I realized during our conversations that my views on adoption have evolved since I first learned of my true ethnic identity, reunited with my birth family in Taiwan and dug into the psychology of adoption. I talked to my friend about the documentary, “Struggle for Identity,” which neither she, nor her husband, had heard of. In this post, I wanted to share some more insights from the film on an important topic discussed: what adoptive parents should know… I know you may have read articles and books pertaining to this very topic, but I think that the more it’s discussed, the more awareness will be brought to the importance of this matter.

This portion of the DVD was especially candid, which I totally appreciated. Michelle, an African-American adoptee adopted by white parents, addresses the the topic of “what adoptive parents should know” in this way:

“What parents have to understand is that this is a painful process, a very hurtful process. In many cases, there are going to be issues at every stage of this child’s life that are painful, and you’re going to have to be able to deal with that– a lot of rejection, not necessarily of you, but of your culture and the microcosm of a racist culture.”

Michelle does not mince words. She’s forthright, and I like that about her. What she shares comes from a place of honesty and experience. As difficult as it may be for some to hear her perspective, I agree with her. It’s not that adoption can’t be successful. The fact remains, however, that adoption can be a painful and hurtful process for all within the adoption triad: birth mother, adoptee and adoptive parents. I read somewhere that adoption is a process where all involved suffer loss, whether it’s due to infertility or separation trauma. Likewise, it’s important to understand that adopted kids do not develop in the same way biological kids do even if they are raised by the most loving, stable, well intentioned parents. Identity formation is one such area where development is complex. When I was studying to become a social worker, I wrote a research paper on “Racial and Ethnic Identity in Asian-American Adoptees.” There have been numerous studies conducted in the U.S. over the years. Researchers, Huh and Reid, studied 40 school-aged Korean adoptees (Intercountry, transracial adoption and ethnic identity: A Korean example, International Social Work, 2000). Based on their research, they devised a four-stage model related to age as a framework for understanding ethnic identity development. Although I think it’s hard to “fit every child into the same mold,” I thought their research was interesting and informative.  Click on this link to read the entire article: intercultural transracial adoption. Another researcher, Vonk, approached racial and ethnic identity formation in transracial adoptees by exploring and defining the concept of cultural competence as it applies to the role of parenting. She devised a three-part definition of cultural competence for adoptive parents: 1) racial awareness, 2) multicultural family planning, and 3) survival skills (Cultural Competence for transracial adoptive parents, Social Work, 2001). Click here to read the article. I don’t want to bore you with a bunch of research and statistics, but I think it’s evident that raising a transracially adopted child is different from raising a biological one in many ways.

From the perspective of an adoptive parent, Beth, a white adoptive mom of two domestically adopted children, one bi-racial and the other African-American, comments,“You have to look at your family and decide your family is not a Caucasian family…”  She also says:

I think that as the adult, you have to be willing to change. I don’t think it’s the children who have to change, it’s you. When you show the changes in the way you’re dealing with things, your kids will do the same thing that you do.”

I found her point that adoptive parents must adapt and be willing to change for their adopted child profound. After all, adopted kids have not only suffered the trauma of being separated from their birth mothers (which is far too frequently minimized), but cross-culturally adopted kids are also coming from a different  culture, often country, and rarely speak or understand English. It seems logical that just as transracial adoptees must adapt and assimilate into a new culture, so must adoptive parents adapt and adopt their child’s country of origin in a very deliberate and demonstrative way.

John, a bi-racial adoptee, poses this thought for adoptive parents:

“Before they adopt, parents need to think about why they want to adopt a child of another race. How will they answer that question at different stages of the child’s life?…when your kid totally rejects you and goes back to their culture of origin? What is your motivation, which is really significant?”

Perhaps not all tranracially adopted kids/adults will totally reject their adoptive parents and go back to their culture of origin, or at least not forever if it occurs. More to the point– are adoptive parents willing to think long and hard about these questions? Are they prepared to face the reality that their adopted children will struggle with identity and will they be equipped to help them?

Michelle’s sister, who is also an adoptive mom, comments on the role of parenting a transracially adopted child:

“One useful strategy is humility, which is to say, I’m not going to be able to do all of these things myself. Some of these things I’m going to have to provide the child with from other places that they can find coping strategies.”

In my opinion, adoptive parents do not receive enough education, support and counseling pre- and post-adoption. I have a good friend who has a son adopted from Korea and an older daughter adopted from China. She and her husband are both white. We’ve had a few discussions on adoption, and she agrees that after the child is adopted, there are not enough services or follow up provided to help adoptive parents, especially if the adoptee is experiencing difficulties (with anger, bonding and attachment, and grief, etc.). It’s crucial that adoptive parents recognize that their adopted child will have challenges at some point, and that’s ok. What’s important is identifying the problem and getting help through a support network or therapist who specializes in child development, or better yet, works with adoptive families. I believe that every adoptive family should seek out therapy for their adoptive child if possible– even at a young age (6 years+, give or take a few years), especially if the child is showing signs of developmental delay, behavioral and/or emotional issues, distress or grief. There may be financial obstacles, or the chance thought that your child doesn’t need therapy, but I think it’s extremely beneficial for all involved if you can get it.

By writing this post, I’m hoping to inform and not give the impression that I’m telling adoptive parents how to raise their children. On the contrary, as an adult transracial adoptee, I’m sharing my own views from what I’ve experienced and from what I’ve seen some of my friends who are adoptive parents experience. I welcome your thought and comments (as long as they are respectful).

For more information on the film documentary, or to purchase “Struggle for Identity” and “Struggle for Identity: A Conversation 10 Years Later,” follow this link.

stereotypes and labels

In between overindulging on Halloween chocolate and preoccuation with the holidays, I watched two brief film documentaries, Struggle for Identity: Issues in Transracial Adoption (released on VHS in 1998) and a follow up to Struggle: A Conversation 10 Years Later (released in 2007). In the first documentary, we meet six adult transracial adoptees of different ethnic and racial backgrounds: John, Michelle, Josh, Allison, Martin and Seujan, who each speak on various  issues related to transracial adoption. In addition, we hear from some of the adoptive parents and siblings. Both documentaries are short, 20 minutes each, yet pack a punch. As a transracial adoptee, I could relate fully to many of their insights, feelings and experiences and was literally moved to tears in some instances. As the month of November is “National Adoption Month,” I thought I’d share some of the highlights of the documentaries and things that resonated with me over the course of this month.

One of the most challenging issues transracial adoptees encounter is that of stereotypes and labels, the first topic of discussion in Struggle. John, a bi-racial adoptee adopted by white parents, stated,

There are so many societal expectations, and every time I walk into a room, people react to the way I look or dress, or the way my hair is, or the color of my skin, and that can make you crazy if you don’t have some sort of frame of reference, which is why identity or this label becomes so important.”

John continued to discuss how he “rejected” the idea of labels during his first couple of years in college. He expressed,” I thought of myself as brown for a semester or maybe yellow. I’m not white, I’m not black, I’m just going to be brown.”

The problem is, as John pointed out, society doesn’t work like that. Society wants you to make a choice. John continues, “It was never a choice to be white because it was clear, you’re not white, but what are you? Are you black?” John shared later that around the age of 22 or 23, he finally came to accept and say, “yes I am black” (John Raibles has become a nationally-known adoptee, speaker and author on transracial adoption).

I understood well this identity confusion. My adoptive parents were also white, and I lived in the South. Obviously I didn’t look like my parents and I didn’t talk as most people assumed I might. In fact, I had a southern American accent just like everyone else in Louisiana. One of my most vivid memories of stereotyping occurred when I lived in Florida. I was waitressing at TGI Fridays and one of the other servers expressed his initial surprise at my southern accent. He said, “I didn’t expect this little Asian girl to have a southern accent.” At the time, it was laughable to me. But I realize now that any kind of stereotyping can be hurtful and damaging.

Martin, an African-American adoptee adopted by white parents, discusses another  example of stereotyping. In this incident, he was listening to his Walkman when another black youth came up to him and asked what he was listening to. Martin replied, “Pearl Jam.” The black youth said, “that’s ‘white’ music… can’t be listening to that. You have to listen to rap, reggae, all this other stuff.” Martin’s response was, “it’s what I like.” In answer, he received this remark, “you’re double-crossing the black community.”

The expectation to embody a certain way of being according to your outward appearance is confusing for transracial adoptees because we have roots in two cultures, maybe even more. For a long, long time, I rejected any link to my cultural roots. Surrounded by mostly white and African-American peers, what I learned at an early age was that it was not cool to be Asian, to look the way that I did. As a result, I tried to change the way I looked via makeup, hair coloring, what I wore, my attitude, etc. When a friend advised me to take a look in the mirror one day, not maliciously, to point out that I was, indeed, Asian I was affronted. To say that I minimized my ethnicity is an understatement. Identity was a confusing matter to me growing up. I was not able to define myself with any confidence until much later in my life.

The other adoptees in the documentary also shared personal experiences of stereotyping and marginalization, as well as how they came to eventually define themselves culturally speaking. Suffice it to say that identity for anyone is a process, but frequently a process of struggle for transracial adoptees. To confront “societal expectations,” we must learn to define ourselves from the inside out.  As Michelle, an African-American adoptee, stated in the documentary the question of who we are, our identities, must eventually turn into a statement, “I am ____”. When that happens is different for each adoptee. For some of us, it can take half a life time. When I finally grasped a sense of identity and could say, I am Taiwanese-American (not just American), I did it with confidence, not based on anyone’s approval or disapproval, but it came after a lot of inner conflict, introspection, and searching.

You can purchase a special edition DVD of both documentaries at Photosynthesis Productions (a friendly fore-warning, the DVD is expensive. I was able to get mine on Amazon for half the price). Also, from November 12-16 as part of the Minnesota Transracial Film Festival, you will be able to stream the documentaries via Watch Adoptee Films for a very small fee.

Tune in next time as I continue to discus the two film documentaries.

Watch the trailor for Struggle for Identity: Issues in Transracial Adoption

on transcultural adoption

The following is a guest post by blogger, Nikki. Nikki is a transracial adoptee, born in the U.S. to Korean immigrant parents and adopted by white parents. She is a contributor to Somebody’s Child, a book of essays about adoption. This post was originally posted at A Small Song. Nikki also blogs at Irene’s Daughters. The article below is in response to an NPR review of the new film, “Somewhere Between,” a documentary following four teenaged girls adopted from China and now living in the United States. Many things in Nikki’s article deeply resonated with me, and I wanted to share it with all of you in hopes that it will provide some insight from the perspective of adoptees’.

Cross-posted at Irene’s Daughters and Are Women Human?

Sometimes I kind of find myself wishing that adoptive parents would stop writing about adoption. Particularly if the subject is transracial adoption.

I realize that probably sounds a bit harsh. It’s not that an adoptive parent cannot have plenty of good, worthwhile things to say about adoption. But there is SO MUCH of THIS out there. And this, an NPR review of a new documentary about adopted Chinese-born teens, Somewhere Between:

…all four girls are thoughtful, moving and imaginative on the subject of their split identities. Haley thinks of herself as a “banana,” yellow on the outside, white on the inside. Describing herself as “stuck between two countries,” Fang laments that she’s always trying to compensate for the fact that she was abandoned because she’s a girl.

Watching the tears roll down Fang’s otherwise cheerful face, I wondered whether she’d be this sad if she wasn’t facing a camera. On the plus side, Somewhere Between is refreshingly free of the cloying, one-size-fits-all dogma that sometimes bedevils the adoption community. (I parted company with my chosen adoption listserv when I got tired of hearing about “the holes in all our daughters’ hearts.”)

Inevitably, though, the film makes it seem that these girls’ lives are dominated by worry about who they are and whether they’ll be emotionally crippled by conflicting allegiances. Adopted or not, few of us develop our identities in the abstract — least of all today’s adolescents, who try out their ever-shifting multiple selves with their friends in every social medium, and are far more nonchalant about racial difference, let alone adoption, than we boomers can ever be.

Oh, yes, because being “nonchalant about racial difference” should be the gold standard to which we all aspire. And why is Fang so sad? It’s awfully telling that journalist/adoptive mom Emma Taylor confesses she can’t bring herself to stay on her adoption listserv because they talk too much about adoption loss and grief and all that downer stuff.

Notice how, in this “review” of a documentary featuring the voices of adopted teenaged women of color, Taylor just can’t help but make the whole thing about her own feelings and opinions? It’s not that I think every adoption-related story needs to be written by an adopted individual or birthparent. I know some wonderful adoptive parents, and their perspectives are important, too. But the traditional adoption narrative in this country is so completely dominated by adoptive parents as a group — THEIR experiences, THEIR emotions, what THEY believe to be “the truth” about their children’s adoptions. And that is especially problematic when you have white people clearly looking to take the easy way out and not think about race too hard. Could NPR not have found, oh, I don’t know, a Chinese adult adoptee to write about this film? There are a ton of them out there. I’m sure they’ve got opinions.

Emma Taylor, meanwhile, sees the film — and the young women featured in it — through the filter of her own form of white adoptive-parent magical thinking, and makes it all about her:

My Chinese teen was bat mitzvahed last year; she celebrates the Jewish, Chinese and any other New Year that comes with a party. On Facebook, she brands herself as “Jew Crew,” “Asian, so deal with it” and a Yankee Brit, among others. Accustomed to a polyglot world, she takes it mostly in stride.

Her only visible adoption crisis came when she was about 8, just after we’d watched the excellent movie Stuart Little, about a mouse adopted into a loving family who nonetheless has an “empty space” in his heart. A couple of hours later, my ordinarily sunny, unflappable child burst into tears and asked piteously why her mommy had let her go.

Caught off guard, I opted for honesty and told her it made absolutely no sense to me, and who wouldn’t want to be the mother of a great kid like her? After a moment, she asked for her drawing materials and drew three female figures with Chinese features (“You, me, and my other Mommy”), then said firmly, “Okay, let’s play something else.”

First of all, why was she “caught off guard” when her child brought this up? Why hadn’t they discussed it before? Why hadn’t they been discussing it all along?  I can’t even tell you how much it bothers me that Taylor is so obviously relieved and almost triumphant about the fact that she and her daughter have only had the one conversation about abandonment in her entire thirteen years. One conversation? ONE? Oh, good then, I guess you’re off the hook!

Often, adopted children talk about issues only if they feel safe doing so. Generally, adopted kids learn at a young age which adoption-related topics are “safe” in their adoptive families, and which are not. It is up to parents to create an environment in which everything is on the table. Adoptive parents can’t cringe and fluster or express zero empathy with placing birthparents or spout platitudes about how it all worked out great anyway, so there’s no reason to ever feel less than 100% positive about your adoption, honey. Adopted children need more than that. Because, at some time or another, and probably throughout their lives, they will feel more than that. Adoptive parents, like all parents, need to be able to admit when they aren’t enough.

I’m a parent, and I know how difficult it is to face the fact that you can’t meet your child’s every need every moment of the day. But I think it’s crucial to look ourselves squarely in the mirror, and really look at our children too, and see areas in which we may be ill-equipped or even totally helpless to fix a problem or answer a question or meet a deep-seated yearning. We can try, but it might not be enough. We can’t pretend to be their end-all and be-all, the answer to all their questions, the fulfillment of all their hopes, because their lives are not about us or filling some hole in our lives. At some point, they will need something we can’t provide. They might need to look elsewhere for it, and that doesn’t mean their bonds with us are any less important or strong.

I feel this point is often lost on adoptive parents, especially those who have waited a long time to become parents. They want so much to feel like the “real parents” and meet all comers, but there are things some adopted children face — such as not knowing anything about their family history; or being Asian but feeling/being treated as white — that adoptive parents cannot fix. And instead of facing that fact straight on and asking what they can do to walk alongside their children, even if they can’t take away a particular burden, they instead deny that it exists (italics are mine).

Taylor ends her “review” by expressing gratitude for the fact that her daughter is “lucky enough to live in a hybrid world,” and will, like the girls in the film, find a way “to make a virtue out of being somewhere between.” Never mind what her daughter might feel in the future, when she’s not eight or thirteen. Never mind if she doesn’t think of being “somewhere between” as a “virtue” all the time. She’ll just have to figure it out for herself. Her mother certainly considers the matter closed.

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.

who am I

I guess I felt the first inkling of being “different” around the age of pre-school when we lived in Westover, Massachusetts. Although I don’t remember very much about pre-school, I do remember at that early age feeling out-of-place, distant from the other kids. I was extremely shy and hid behind my peers. I was perfectly content to read a book alone in a quiet corner or spend time listening to music. When I look back at school pictures, my face stands out among all the others. Mine was typically the only Asian one. I was a minority once we moved to the states from Okinawa, but I never knew or understood that term until I became an adult.

The teasing began in kindergarten. By then we’d moved to Bossier City, Louisiana where my father completed his military career. There was very little diversity in this small town, and we lived in a predominantly white neighborhood full of military families. Typically, I tried to downplay any teasing and brushed it off as though nothing had happened. Mostly, people did the same tired stereotypical thing, like pulling up the corners of their eyes with their fingers or trying to talk sing-songy. Occasionally I’d hear the word, “chink,” as I passed by. Once, on the school bus, someone I thought was my friend intentionally shoved me off the bus seat. At first, I thought she was joking around, but then realized she meant it. I didn’t understand why she would treat me in such a way. It was embarrassing, but I tried my best to act like nothing happened. It was a long ride to school that morning.

As I got older, feeling accepted by my peers became increasingly more difficult. I’m sure some of that grew from my own insecurities and social awkwardness. Around junior high, I wanted desperately to be part of a particular group of girls who were considered very “popular.” I began hanging out with them, yet felt I had to fight for their acceptance. One day, one of the girls said to me, “Why don’t you find another group to hang out with?” Ouch. I was shocked, speechless, embarrassed. I didn’t understand what I’d done to cause such rejection, but I got the message as confusing as it was. It didn’t occur to me that perhaps these events took place because I looked different from them. I kept these incidents to myself and never talked to anyone about them, not even to my parents. Back then, I wasn’t sure what to think of it all, and it was very difficult for me to put my feelings into words. Mostly, as I mentioned before, I felt embarrassed and confused. I was ashamed that I looked different from everyone around me. My parents seemed oblivious. I don’t think they ever clued into the teasing. We never talked about how things were going in school or any difficulties I may have been experiencing, and we never talked about my birth heritage. Sometimes I wonder if they had been offered education or cultural training, would things have been different? They were of a generation where families did not talk about problems openly, but rather swept them under the rug. My parents were unaware of the pressures I felt to”fit in.” They did not know the sense of dread I felt going to school everyday during those elementary years and of the racial discrimination I experienced from both peers and teachers – mostly white male coaches.

As I got older I realized that being shy wasn’t cool. I longed to be liked and accepted by my peers just like any other pre-teen or teenager, and I went to extremes to try and fit in. I downplayed my Asian features and rejected any association with my birth culture. In 6th grade I wrote a biography report and lied about where I was born. In the report, I said that I was born in Hawaii and hid the fact that I was born in Taiwan. Many students questioned me afterwards, but I stuck to my story. I wrote another paper about a girl who was teased by others and read it in class. I don’t think it caught the attention of any of my peers; however, my teacher, who was a black male, asked me,”does that happen to you?” or something like that. The conversation never went beyond that though.

In 8th grade, I became friends with some girls who I felt I could be myself around. Still, I struggled with insecurity. I was obsessed with wanting to look like everyone else. I used eye makeup to make my eyes appear rounder. I curled my straight hair every morning before school with hot rollers. By the end of the day, the southern humidity caused every last curl to go flat, which was incredibly annoying. In high school, I used Sun-In to lighten my hair. I pursued hanging out with the “popular” crowd. At home, I became increasingly disrespectful towards my parents. They were very strict and old-fashioned. One Christmas, my dad gave me a special present. I was horrified when it turned out to be a license plate for my car with the words “Oriental Express” inscribed across it. I refused to put it on my car and was very upset with my dad. I know that in his small way, my dad was trying the only way he knew how to reach out to me. He and Mom were both unaware of the conflict I was experiencing and lacked the skills to help me through those difficult teen years. They were simply uneducated. I’m sure that Dad thought the gift was something special and was completely boggled by my reaction. The license plate sat on my dresser collecting dust. I didn’t want to get rid of it because I didn’t want to hurt my dad’s feelings any more than I already had. I’m not sure what happened to it over the years.

After college, I moved out of Louisiana. It was extremely difficult for my mom. Dad didn’t say much, but I know it was hard for him too. Mom wanted me to stay close to home, but I I had other plans and ideas. I ended up in Florida for a couple of years and took acting classes. I partied with friends and enjoyed living independently out from under the control of my mother. I purposely did not go home to see my parents that first year, but stayed in Florida and worked. Eventually, I moved to California to pursue acting, which was really a big joke. That’s another story.

When I moved to California, the first thing that struck me was the large population of Asians. It was shocking. I’d never seen anything like it. Naturally, I avoided associating with anyone Asian. As time went on, I developed some close relationships with a group of friends and began to overcome my old insecurities, although, I still rejected my cultural heritage.

Last year, I began a master’s degree in social work at Arizona State University. I enrolled in a class called Diversity, Oppression and Change. This class forced me to re-examine the issues I struggled with related to culture, identity, and race-relations. I chose to write a research paper on ethnic and racial identity in Asian-American adoptees, a topic obviously close to my heart. To my surprise, I found much literature written on cross-cultural and transracial adoption. These research studies focused primarily on issues such as racial and ethnic conflict and confusion, the role of parenting and nurturing cultural identity, and the development of ethnic identity across stages of life. I also interviewed two other Asian-American adoptees, which was the best part. The whole process of researching and writing was inspiring. I became increasingly interested in learning more about other Asian-American adoptees and discussing our stories together. A desire to connect to my birth heritage took root and has been growing ever since.

For many years, I struggled with my identity and a sense of belonging. It never occurred to me that other internationally adopted persons might have or do experience similar feelings. I feel certain now that I’m not the only one.