Found in China

Found in China, by Carolyn Stanek, provides an outlook on the adoptive families and their children who go back to China on a heritage tour in 2006. The documentary features voices from Chinese adoptees, adoptive parents, Korean adoptees, and experts on transnational adoption such as Sara Dorow. Since the adopted girls were so young, it seemed that they did not fully grasp the significance of their journey back to China. However, because adoptees have changing views of adoption throughout their lifetime, it is interesting to see how the girls felt about going back to China when they were between the ages of nine and thirteen. There are two main points that were discussed in the documentary: going back to visit a birth country is usually a positive experience for adoptees and searching for birthparents is a harder step to take than just visiting.

Personally, I have not been back to China, but I plan to go back someday soon. A question that was brought up in the film was “When is it the right time for adoptees to return to their birth country?” The adoptive parents said they heard that adoptees should go back before adolescence so that they are immersed in the culture at an early age, but some have also heard that the best time is a little before or during college because they would be more aware of the significance of the trip. I think it would be ideal to go more than once. It would have been nice to return when I was younger so I could see China at a young age and have that experience with me before taking a trip when I am older and more aware of my situation. On the other hand, it’s hard to say for sure because when I was young, I was afraid my adoptive parents might give me up again. If I went to China too soon, I might have been too terrified to enjoy the experience. An adoptive mother in the documentary said that her daughter told her she didn’t want to go back to China because she was afraid her birthmother might want her back to live with her. As children, we really just want to be accepted and secure. Whether we realize it or not, I’m sure we all go through a good amount of trauma and confusion as babies and toddlers before and perhaps within the orphanages. Once we’ve stayed with a family for a long period of time, as children, we want to know if it’s permanent or not. Nevertheless, I’m sure the girls who went on the tour will be glad they did when they are older. The oldest adoptee who went was thirteen, and she said that she was happy to have gone even though she was reluctant at first. She said it was a good cultural experience, and she was able to see the country where she was born.

Although they are young and may not fully appreciate or grasp the experience, they get to see where they come from firsthand and not just through photographs. This is important because adoptees may be told where they come from, and they may see a few pictures of their birth country, but the place still seems so far away and unfamiliar. Sara Dorow says that a heritage tour is a great opportunity for adoptive parents and adoptees to experience and understand the culture better. In the beginning of the documentary, the girls are shown shopping, eating, and seeing Chinese culture on the streets.

When adopted, many children are too young to be able to recall anything from their past. If they are older when adopted and cannot remember anything, perhaps subconsciously, they block their memories from the confusing and stressful life they had before joining their adoptive families. The heritage tours are useful for helping adoptees feel proud or at least part of their birth country. By learning more about their birth culture and seeing it firsthand, they might feel like they belong more, and they may feel less bitter toward their birth country. When adoptees actually visit the country and not just see it through photographs, books, and other mediums, their birth country may seems less mysterious and foreign. In addition, they might be more comfortable going back when they are older, now that they have a sense of what to expect—they have a little experience to guide them on a second journey.

What seemed really helpful not only for the adoptees but also for the adoptive parents was returning back to the orphanages. Years ago, it was harder to gain access into orphanages, but the doors seem to be more open now. When the girls went to their orphanages, it was comforting to see the effort and compassion the caretakers put in for the children. One of the adoptive parents was pleasantly surprised at the hospitality given by the orphanages. I think the girls must have also felt relief and comfort in knowing that the caretakers truly wanted them to be healthy and happy. From my own experience, I remember being upset at everyone in China because I thought they didn’t want me. I was focused on my own suffering and rejection, so I did not realize or take the time to think about how my caretakers or birthparents actually felt when I was with them.

The orphanages are a good start in discovering the past, but for many adoptees, the thought of finding birthparents is prevalent in their minds. Biological parents are adoptees closest connection to where they come from and that connection was severed when adoptees had absolutely no control over it. The documentary emphasized that there are many complications in the process of finding birthparents. First, adoptees have to decide if they even want to seek them out or not. Fear of not finding them and or fear of being rejected by them again are two reasons why adoptees may be hesitant about looking. Also, one of the adoptive mothers in the documentary was a Caucasian adoptee, and she said that she was afraid that she wouldn’t like her birth family, and she may not want to get involved with them. Additionally, some adoptees are indifferent about the matter or they may feel content with what they have, so they do not feel the need to seek their birthparents. Two of the Korean adoptees who were interviewed did not have a burning passion to look for their birthparents. One of them said that even though she has a biological family, she exists differently from them. If an adoptee does choose to look, there are more questions to ask, like what if they don’t come up with anything or what should they do if they find their birthparents? Perhaps some adoptees choose not to look because starting that process takes a lot of time and brings up a lot of emotional challenges.

In the end, Found in China showed the importance of birth culture to adoptees, and it brought up important questions about birthparents. Actually visiting and interacting with places and people in China helped the adoptees understand the culture where they came from—the culture they lost when they were adopted. Although the heritage tour was mostly for the cultural experience and visiting the orphanages, the trip bought out questions about birthparents that the adoptees will have to wonder about in the future. I would have liked to hear more from the adoptees because the adults seemed to be the main ones to share their viewpoints on the heritage tour and adoption. On the other hand, there must have been an age barrier when asking certain questions to the adoptees. I am curious to know what they are up to now and how they view their adoption now that they are older.

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