As a child, I tried to blend in and be more American than Asian. I think that also affected why I didn't want to do anything Chinese or Asian. I didn't want to be different growing up.
I always knew I was adopted. My mother is Hawaian-Japanese and my dad is white, so arguably I look like I could be their biological child. They’ve always been open about being adopted; it was never hidden from me. I didn't always understand what it meant though. The story they gave me was: my birth parents couldn’t take care of me, so they gave me up to have a better life. So that's how I grew up thinking about it until later when I started to do more research. I always had access to my adoption and birth records. I eventually looked at them and found the police report, which said that I was left in a marketplace when I was three days old and I was taken to my orphanage. But I don't know my history. I don't know what happened to me. It's always been this big unknown in my life. At this point, I've accepted it. But I think when you are going through your teenage years and you're trying to find yourself-your background, it just made it a lot harder in retrospect.
[in regards to savior complex]
I think as a child, it was my parents’ way of explaining my adoption to me. I could understand because it was a very simple concept; I was given a better life. As I got older, I did more research and watched documentaries; I started to think more in depth about my story. I think the way that my parents brought it up was more logical to them. It was like: “This is probably the story, so we're just going to go with it. It makes sense to us; it will make sense to our daughter”. I don't think they meant it in the savior way, but it might have been an underlying concept they heard from other parents who adopted from China. Now, I am grateful. My parents are my parents; they're the ones who raised me. But I still feel like I lost something, this loss of culture and history and background. When I tell people I was adopted, I get responses like, “Your parents chose to have you.” People try to think of the positive side, maybe too much. They forget I was still abandoned, as far as I know. Others try to skim over that because it's an uncomfortable topic. I am grateful, but this is also part of my history, part of my life. And it's kind of sad when I think about it.
When I was younger, my birth parents always seemed like a foreign concept. And personally, that chapter of my life is closed. People ask me, “What about your real parents, your biological parents? Do you ever want to meet them?” These kinds of questions. And I feel like some people believe if I find my biological parents then everything will be complete: I’ll know my history, my background, and everything will be whole. Obviously, I feel a loss of culture and language. But in terms of family, I never felt like I lost in that department. Initially, because I was abandoned. But I gained my parents who I’m close with. Even if I did meet my birth parents, it would be more out of curiosity. I don't know if I would want a relationship with them and I wouldn’t want to call them my parents.
Typically, mostly white families adopt from China. But my parents were mixed race: my mother's Japanese and Hawaiian, while my dad is white. I was mostly in touch with that. They tried Chinese New Year dinners and we took Chinese language classes together. My parents would always ask me “Do you want to learn more about your culture?” or say,“If you want to do this activity, we’ll take you.” They didn't push me but they didn't stop me if I wanted to learn. I just don't think I really cared. But also it was just the climate of where I grew up. I grew up in a small town that was majority white. So as a child, I tried to blend in and be more American than Asian. I think that also affected why I didn't want to do anything Chinese or Asian. I didn't want to be different growing up.
I saw a trailer for this documentary about kids adopted from China. It was about how they never felt fully American, but they never felt fully Asian either. They always felt somewhere in between. And that’s something I resonated with growing up. I had a lot of white friends and sometimes I would do things that were too Asian for them. But then I would meet friends who had Asian parents from China or Taiwan, and I was too American for them. They would always ask, “Why don’t you speak Chinese? Why do you only know English?” I never felt like I really belonged in either of the “Asian” or “American” groups. That’s always been a problem. Sometimes I still struggle with that today. Not knowing where I belong.
[regarding relationships with adoptive parents - For context, we were discussing how adoptees’ views of their adoptive parents and adoption in general seem to vary and depend on how open the APs were in discussing adoption, culture, or any other questions the adoptees might have. Some parents may not have been aware of or equipped to deal with the complex emotions that adoptees can have and thus this can alter adoptees emotional development and affect their relationship.]
The one Child Policy was in the 80s-2000s and I think these issues weren’t talked about until recently. I think it’s good that we’re all finally open to discuss it now. But I don’t think some adoptive parents were prepared. I’m not sure how everyone views their adoptive parents. For me, I never saw my adoptive parents as anything but my parents. We were always very open about anything and still are.
I have faced quite a bit of racism in my life growing up. Every time my dad would pick me up, people would find it very strange. I don't think they really understood. And because my name is Kelly Adams (I have my Chinese middle name) it is quite American. I remember I had a substitute teacher in high school and during roll call he called my name. I raised my hand and he looked at me and made an assumption. He basically said, “That's not your name. Why are you trying to pull a prank here?” My classmates had to vouch for me that this was my name, and I wasn't just messing with him. I’ve also gotten yelled at on the street. My mother's gotten comments from a doctor saying “What do your people eat?” I've gotten comments about eating dogs and racial slurs. I’ve had teachers who didn't really know what to do every time we talked about race. For example, in history class if we talked about the Chinese Exclusion Act or Japanese internment camps they would always look at me. Like I’m the representation for this minority. Back then I just accepted it because if I spoke out, I made more trouble for myself. I think looking back there could have been an unconscious bias because if I got into a conflict with a white person I’d always be the one who was punished. It was just the climate of where I grew up. And if I fought it, they either wouldn’t believe me, or I would be blamed. I just tried to survive. I faced a lot of bullying as a child. So it was just about survival.
I have struggled with my mental health, so in my head, I thought I deserved it. Now I try not to be bitter about it because that doesn't really help. But I don't forget it. Because that never should’ve happened. If I have a chance, even if it's just to talk to one person about it, I talk about it very openly. I want to change the mindset by showing people this isn't okay. I experienced racism growing up and it's not just gone. I used to teach and talk about my own personal experiences, but I tried to listen and make sure I was aware of what was happening with the kids because no one really did that for me growing up. No teacher really noticed for me.
When I came to college, there were a lot of microaggressions. It's a white majority here. For me, it was okay because at least they weren’t calling me horrible things like they used to. But I realized from some of my other friends that this is not normal. And then I started learning more about what microaggressions are. So I would try to speak up and say things like, “I don't feel comfortable with you saying this. It might be different for everyone. But for me, I don't feel comfortable with you making these kinds of jokes.”