Jiangxi Province, China
I’ve always accepted that I’m Asian American. I’m not culturally Chinese, but I’m not white. I’m different from the average American because I’m not one of the majority. And I’m not one of the majority in my own culture.
My mom tried to connect me to Chinese culture in the educational sense. She’d read me stories like “The Red Blanket” and stories about Chinese New Year or of the moon pie. She’d show me the little things that she brought back from China like the paper money, pictures she took, the journal she wrote in while she was travelling, and the toys that they brought back with me. Some adoptees say they feel like a white person trapped in an Asian person's body, but I didn’t grow up with that sense. I’m different from my neighbor, my mom and dad, and my relatives. But I’m still their family and that’s okay. They never made me conform to this idea to integrate with white society.
There’s a difference between Asian families that have their second generation raised in America. Sometimes they visit China, they speak the language actively, they celebrate their holidays and Chinese New Year together. But that wasn’t a necessity in my Southern family. If I asked for it, we could do it. But I didn’t really ask.
I grew up as a Christian in an all Caucasian dominated community of about 5,000 people. My school had about 300 people in it because it was a private school. I attended that school from first grade through 10th grade and I was one out of maybe two Asians that were adopted. There were no culturally Chinese people. And just growing up in that kind of community can really show the differences in how people treat each other. There's these obvious stereotypes that Asians are supposed to be smart; they’re supposed to be good at math or some kind of instrument or art. That's what Asian parents push on their child; to be something that they couldn't be. And it was negatively viewed upon in my small community. That’s just a small portion of things that happened that I didn’t realize until I changed schools junior year. I went to a more diverse school that had about twenty or so native Chinese, Indian, and South Korean families. They had more clubs that had cultural influences. Sometimes we would make dumplings or celebrate Chinese New Year together. I grew up learning Southern dishes like cornbread and mashed potatoes, so I’ve never had exposure to actual Chinese food other than Americanized Chinese food.
I’ve always accepted that I’m Asian American. I’m not culturally Chinese, but I’m not white. I’m different from the average American because I’m not one of the majority. And I’m not one of the majority in my own culture. So there’s always been this sense of alienation that I’ve struggled with more so than trying to integrate with white culture or my heritage. Integration wasn’t necessarily the struggle. It’s been more of alienation or loneliness.
I took Mandarin in high school because I wanted to connect more culturally with China and I wanted to possibly know the basics if I were ever to go to China and search for my parents. But I don’t view my birth parents as highly as I view my adoptive parents. I would be happy to meet them, but I wouldn’t necessarily be happy to stay with them. I’m just a stranger to them; they only knew me for two weeks before they gave me up. They gave me a tiny scar on the back of my ear. I don’t know why, but it was there when I was found. It’s the only marker I had from them, but by the time my mother adopted me, I had developed a birthmark that I didn’t have when I was first found by the orphanage. So they don’t even have that original marker to go off if they were to ever try to search for me as well. When I was younger, I was angry at them because I didn’t know why they gave me up. I just wanted to know. That has simmered down lately and I’ve just accepted that I might never meet them. I don’t even know if they are alive at this point, so it’s just kind of a fading topic.
One of the girls in my adoption group was talking about how she got in touch with her birth parents and they were not that supportive. They were kind of the stereotypical Asian parent where they said she was too big and just weren’t very positive to her. That got me heated because even if you chose to give the child up or not give them up in the case that they were kidnapped, you still get the chance to actually meet them again. Why would you try to damage that relationship? Even if you don’t know what to talk about, why would you actively criticize them when you just met them?
My orphanage lied to my parents. I had a foster parent for about five months while I was supposedly at the orphanage. My adopted sister and her mother went back to China in about 2012-2013 and they went to the orphanage. They got the information about my foster parent while they were there because the orphanage didn’t tell us much about her. But we got her contact information and my mom and her exchanged emails a few times. But the government caught onto it, so we lost contact with her. I went on vacation with her daughter a few years back. My foster mother currently has cancer and her son, who was more of a caretaker to me, passed away. My foster mom’s daughter was about eight or eleven when I was living with them, so she wasn’t really a caretaker. She was more of a playmate to me.
[in regards to dealing with microaggressions/racism]
I didn’t have this consciousness that I was being discriminated against in some instances. I’d think that the other students were just being mean to me personally. I kept up my grades, I didn’t cheat in class, and I was usually reading a book. I wasn’t the outgoing one or the funny one in class. In one instance, some kids thought I had snitched on them for doing something they weren’t supposed to. But I wasn’t even looking at them, I didn’t care about them. But I got heat for it. They would say things like, “Why don’t you just go back to China?” I felt that this was unwarranted but not completely invalid. They’d only known the idea that China is bad because it’s communist and Chinese people are bad because they believe in communism. That’s the ideology that they had associated with China.
My friend in high school once had a Made in China sticker and put it on my forehead. Looking back, that wasn’t good, but at the time I just laughed it off.
My parents have never pushed this “Oh I saved you from this horrible family situation” narrative. I’ve kind of put it on myself since I’ve done more personal research about what it was like in China. I always viewed my birth parents as not financially stable and just developed the complex on my own without my parents. They were honestly just happy to have a child; they would always say they were very grateful that they had the chance to adopt me. My mom told me that when she took off from Beijing, she started bawling because she was looking at the scenery and thinking “I’m taking this child away from everything that she’s known.”