Adoption is so complicated—there are so many different ways to look at it. Until recently, the subject was only in the back of my mind because it would make me sad to think about my birthparents. I also felt that my adoptive parents were enough for me; where I am now is where I am supposed to be, and the fact that I am adopted is not important as long as our family loves each other. As I am beginning to understand myself more as an adult, I am realizing just how prevalent adoption is in my life. I am an Adopted Asian American. Adoptees can only relate to other adoptees when it comes to certain experiences and thoughts. This is what makes us different from Asian Americans, and sometimes this can make us feel isolated. We have our issues like other Asian Americans, but we have extra baggage. With love, care, support, and education from friends and family, adoptees may have an easier time accepting their complicated adoption and understanding their complex identity.
The 2009 documentary, Adopted, by Barb Lee, features two perspectives: one view is from an adult Korean adoptee who is coping with her adoption and the other view is from a white couple, John and Jacqui Trainer, who is adopting from China. Jennifer Fero, the Korean adoptee, expresses her struggle with identity and the things she wishes her adoptive parents would have done. Viewers see Fero’s confusion and pain, which makes them wonder if the adopted girl from China will feel the same and if her parents will guide her better through the issues that may come up as she grows older. Fero is a powerful voice for adoptees because she addresses the other side of the coin that adoptive parents may not realize. For example, being colorblind is not as good as people think; adoption is more than just a happy ending; and whether the adoption is closed or open, birthparents have a strong impact on adoptees. In addition, grief and finding identity are difficult to deal with as an adoptee, but having supportive, understanding parents helps ease the confusion and pain. Continue reading
“Who is that girl I see?
Staring straight, back at me.
Why is my reflection someone I don’t know?”
A familiar heaviness swells in my chest as I hear these lyrics from Disney’s version of “Reflection” in Mulan. I hit replay over and over and I’m not sure why since I’m feeling choked up about it. Perhaps I enjoy stirring my emotions so much that I need to cry because then maybe if I cry enough, the pain will go away. Unfortunately, it remains with me no matter what I do. On a positive note, I am not consumed by this grief. If I dwelled too long on it without enjoying present life, I would dig myself a hole far too deep to climb back out. But it’s these random coincidences, however, that make me vulnerable, and I wish that I could cry my eyes out just once and get rid of these emotional heart attacks. A song. A movie. An assignment. A comment. A visit to the doctor. A long look in a mirror. All these things can spark questions and melancholy.
Sofia, a Chinese adoptee like me, sang “Reflection” in Dr. Changfu Chang’s documentary, Sofia’s Journey, when she was visiting China with her adoptive parents. She says the chorus has a lot of meaning because “kids back at home have their birthparents, and I don’t. You look at yourself in the mirror and you’re not able to . . . you don’t know who you came from really.” Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Four teenagers adopted from China share their perspectives in Somewhere Between, a 2012 documentary by Linda Knowlton. Before adopting a baby girl from China, Knowlton followed Fang, Jenna, Ann, and Haley, so she could see how she could help her soon-to-be adopted daughter understand her identity in the future. The documentary was nicely organized so the four girls’ stories stood out from each other. Although the girls had their own lives, I felt instantly connected to all of them because I am also adopted from China, and their questions on adoption were like mine. Somewhere Between emphasizes the special differences of each girl while also showing how they have similar questions of adoption and similar issues that arise from being transracially adopted. Each of the four adoptees wondered about their birthparents, dealt with appearance issues, and wanted to connect with China. Continue reading
My birthparents are a mystery to me. If I could speak to them now, I would have so many questions for them. I imagine the initial conversation would be awkward and emotional. I only know how to speak a little Mandarin Chinese, so a translator would probably be there to help. I would start with small talk like asking how they are and how the weather has been. Those questions may be boring but at least they don’t bring up painful memories that feel like someone’s squeezing your heart. Why did you give me up? Do you want me back in your life?
Perhaps I won’t say anything until they say something. I wouldn’t want to mess up by saying something that is not usually said in Chinese culture. Additionally, even if I did seek them out, finding them would bring up more questions. Do I want to maintain a relationship with them? Was this the closure that I needed or has it opened up new emotional issues? I can’t explain how incredible and emotionally jarring it would be to be able to meet my birthparents. Part of me wants to find them and part of me hopes that if I look for them, I don’t come up with anything, because then I wouldn’t have to go through the trials that come after you locate them. What if they reject me . . . again?
My thoughts about my birthparents have always been confusing. I feel bitterness toward them because they gave me up, but I also feel like they cared enough for me to place me somewhere that I could be found. It’s hard for me to believe what happened unless I hear it from them, and of course, that may be impossible. After watching Long Wait for Home, a documentary on Chinese adoption from 2008, I have been convinced that my birthparents were in a difficult situation when they chose to relinquish me. It saddens me that they must have gone through a lot of anxiety and pain, but I am comforted to know that I was not given up just because I did something wrong. Dr. Changfu Chang, the director of Long Wait for Home, shows perspectives on adoption from birthparents, caretakers at Chinese orphanages, and Chinese citizens. For adoptees, it is not unusual to know birthparents only from imagination. Many questions lead back to them that remain unanswered, and adoptees may feel a range of emotions when they begin to wonder about their past and who they came from. The driving message of the documentary is that the people who adoptees often think about are also thinking about them. Not only that, but adoptees are cared for and loved by the people in China who were with them before being adopted. Continue reading
Lately, I have been watching documentaries on Chinese adoption for a summer research project. So for the next few weeks, I will be posting a few reviews on the documentaries I’ve watched. I want to compare and contrast the stories and look at the main issues that arise for adoptees. Even though all adoptees can relate on a certain level, I feel especially connected to the adoptees in the documentaries because I am also adopted from China. Sometimes it feels like I am watching part of my own life because some of the stories are very similar to mine. At the same time, it’s amazing how each story has its unique details and each adoptee has their own perspectives.
I recommend adoptees, parents who adopt, and anyone interested in adoption to watch a few documentaries that give insight on multiple experiences. Although I am focusing on Chinese adoption now, I would like to watch some documentaries from different ethnic groups and on adoption in general. So far, I have become more aware of how other adoptees and their adoptive parents view adoption. In addition, I was able to understand more about how birthparents feel when they give up their children. Even though I’ve seen a small handful of perspectives, I am more knowledgeable about adoption, and I have learned more about myself. Of course, I still have a lot to learn, and there is a limit on how much adoption can be generalized since it’s so diverse.