I don’t recall the exact moment when I realized I was adopted. My parents must have told me at a very young age because I just always knew. They often told me that I was “chosen,” and mom occasionally retold the story of how they found me. Usually she would end up in tears, and I would try my best not to cry in front of her. Like anyone else’s parents, my mom and dad were my mom and dad. We had the same kind of relationship that other kids had with their parents. It didn’t matter that I looked different from them. As I grew up, however, my adoptive parents were in no way prepared or equipped to manage the racial teasing that I encountered and the difficulties I experienced related to identity. In fact, they never knew, as I kept it to myself.
According to my mom’s story, I was the eleventh, give or take a few, child born to my birthparents; they gave all the girls up for adoption. How accurate this is, I’m not sure. My birthfather was supposedly Japanese and mother was Vietnamese. My parents attempted to find one of my biological sisters to adopt as well, but were unsuccessful in finding her. After my mom’s death in 2008, I found the original contract of my adoption, as well as many other documents, notes, receipts, etc. Everything had been carefully preserved and hidden away in a storage box up in my parent’s attic. I found one note of a list of orphanages scribbled on pieces of tablet paper; the writing appeared to be in Mandarin, but had English translations. Were these the orphanages my parents visited to look for my sister, or maybe even for me? I’ve often wondered how they found the Family Planning Association of China, the orphanage where they found me. The orphanage no longer exists today.
When I first found my adoption contract, I thought I’d made the discovery of a lifetime. What has intrigued me since examining the contract is that some of my mom’s story is contrary to the content of the contract. Mom never alluded to this document, and once when I asked to see my adoption papers, she freaked out and became suspicious. I have no idea why, except that perhaps she was afraid I’d want to find my birthfamily, which I never had any desire to do. It was all very weird. The adoption contract revealed the names of my birthparents. My birthmother’s name was Shiow-Jean Lu and birthfather’s, Chan-Huai Huang. My birth name was Hsiao-ling Huang (pronounced Shou-ling, like cow). My parents kept my birth name as my middle name but changed the spelling to Chaling. I’m speculating that during the translation of the contract, someone wrote out phonetically how to pronounce my birth name, or maybe my parents did it, and that’s how “Chaling” came to be. Or perhaps they simply ‘Americanized’ my given birth name. What really puzzles me is the fact that my birthparents names’ are not Japanese or Vietnamese, but Chinese. Could I be Chinese, or Taiwanese (I was born in Taiwan)? It’s such a mystery…
As my mom’s story goes, they knew that I was “the one” they wanted when I looked up at my mom and smiled at her. Apparently, my parents did not get to choose the baby they wanted, they were just given a baby. The process of cross-cultural adoptions in the U.S. is nothing like what my parents experienced. Adoptive parents go through a very lengthy process of completing a complicated mass of paperwork, the dossier, which can take months. Each country’s government has its own set of eligibility criteria, requirements, fees, etc. and there are also U.S. state and federal adoption laws. Then there’s interviews with adoptive parents, background checks, home visits… After all of that, adoptive parents begin to receive referrals based on their preferences. The whole process can take up to 2 or 3 years depending on which country the adoptive parents are seeking the adoption. My parents adopted me in a matter of days. Of course, they were actually there in Taiwan and able to go to the orphanage and see the children available for adoption. On December 16, 1966, I became Marijane Chaling Buck, the daughter of Lt. Col. Wendell and Gloria Buck.
We traveled back to Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa where my dad was stationed after my adoption. It would take another seven months for the petition for my visa to be approved (through the Tokyo, Japan Immigration and Naturalization Service). When my parents attended their appointment at the American Embassy to file for the petition, they were disappointed to learn that additional documentation was required attesting to “the abandoned status of their adopted daughter,” meaning a letter from the adoption agency was needed. My parents contacted the Secretary General of the Family Planning Association, Mrs. Tze-kuan Shu Kan, to write the letter. In addition to this information, I found some interesting letters to my parents from a caseworker, Rose-Marie, reassuring them that the necessary paperwork was being properly notarized and that there would be “no further trouble.” I also found the letter that Mrs. Kan eventually wrote to confirm the status of my abandonment; however, only half of it is legible. Part of the document is damaged, to my great disappointment. This was frustrating, as I was hoping to learn more about my adoption and birthfamily. What I did make out basically stated that I was abandoned at the age of 1 month, 9 days and placed in their orphanage. I’m almost positive that there was more explaining why my birthparents gave me up for adoption though. On July 7, 1967, my parents finally received approval on their petition for the visa. This enabled them to file a formal visa application, which required even more paperwork. A small note with scribbled handwriting listed all the items mom needed for the visa application: 6 photographs, 4 copies of adoption paper, 6 copies of household registration of the child, passport, medical exam and vaccinations, etc.
After finally receiving the visa in 1968, my dad received a transfer to the States. We moved to Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts for a couple of years, then were transferred again to Barksdale AFB in Bossier City, Louisiana. It was in Shreveport on March 4, 1971, at the age of 4 years that I became a naturalized American citizen, along with 37 other people. I remember vaguely the naturalization ceremony, mostly feeling scared. The court room was filled with so many people, and when the judge picked me up to hold me for the news reporters, I started to cry.
We remained in Bossier City, Louisiana, throughout the rest of my childhood, and my parents continued to live there for the rest of their lives. They lived in the same house for 37 years. Obviously, finding my adoption contract has left me with a lot of questions. My parents are deceased, so it will be difficult to find the answers. After all of these years, I never thought that I’d be this curious about my past, but because my adoptive parents provided inaccurate information, I’m perplexed and would really like to find some answers. I’m not sure if they’re out there or how to go about finding them, but I’m going to try.