Perhaps to some, You are a dear friend and a faithful companion. To others, You are found in spurts and moments, and still to others, You are an elusive dream in their nightmares. To me, You are a far off figure standing still in the distance. Throughout the years, I have caught the sparkle in your eye on more than one occasion. And yet, I long for the day when I shall stand before You, face to face for more than a moment.
You are a whisper in the wind. You are the tiny speck of ash fleeing into the night sky. You are the warm blanket on a cold winter’s day.
Was it fate that tore us apart? Was it destiny that would strip me of my identity, family, ancestry and heritage? Was it life that would transport me to a new world, family and culture?
You are the sound of silence on a still lake. You are the leaf that tumbles during fall. You are the majestic mountain in the distance.
Are You merely a feeling inside of me or are You the people and circumstances around me? Are You the actions that I take?
Different than my family, different than my friends, different than my church, different than my culture, different than my place of birth: You are a foreigner to me. Are You and I even compatible?
You are the receding wave on the shore. You are the rare diamond in the sand. You are the seashell hidden in the caves.
Is the distance between us my own doing or has fate seen fit to keep us apart? Are You simply a word or are You always the emotion I feel towards You?
You are the dream that I chase. You are the comfort that I long for. You are the melody that I live for.
Are You the confidence I should have in myself despite my surroundings or are You the feeling of talking to a kindred soul on a midsummer afternoon? Are You simply the summation of both?
You are the mountain I gaze upon. You are the island I venture to see. You are the distant horizon I peer at.
Would I cry in your presence? Would I scream for joy at beholding your face? Would I fall to my knees before You?
You are the candle that flickers in the darkness. You are the lone star in the galaxy. You are the silver lining in the tunnel.
Every day the sun sets and I get one last chance to catch a glimpse of your face before the darkness invades and I lose sight of You once more.
And yet, each day the sun rises anew, shining on your beautiful features once more. Would that every day bring me one step closer to You.
There are a lot of opinions and pieces surrounding Crazy Rich Asians right now. I am simply adding to the chorus, but from a slightly different perspective as a Chinese American intercountry adopted person. As an adoptee who watched Crazy Rich Asians, it is hard to describe all of the feelings I felt while sitting in the movie theatre, well twice. It was beautiful, funny, smart, and fun. Of course, the movie is receiving extra praise because of a cast that is all-Asian and not just the cast, but the music and the cultural representation as well. Representation matters and it was with a smile that I approached the end credits of the movie.
As an adoptee, I felt proud to see people who looked like me on the big screen. People who had similar features, presented in different shades where not every Asian was the kung fu master or nerdy IT tech support. The movie was refreshing and quite frankly a new experience, at least in major Hollywood films.
But…and this is a big but. I felt represented by the way I look, but not necessarily by how I grew up. As an adoptee I straddle in between the Asian and white cultures where I look Asian but was raised in a white household. To be honest, I am not sure I understood every joke in Crazy Rich Asians, and definitely didn’t understand every song. My parents didn’t necessarily practice the honor/shame ritual of guilting their children. I recognized it and laughed, but on an experiential level I couldn’t relate.
My immigrant story is a solo journey of going from a poor orphanage in China to a middle class white family in America. My immigrant story came without a choice and the expectation of gratefulness attached, because to some, I didn’t suffer as much as other Asian immigrant families did. That’s a topic for a different discussion. To the point however, Asian adoptees and others have struggled with identifying as Asian American or Asian because we aren’t seen as Asian enough. We are called “whitewashed” by other Asian Americans and we are clearly not white, but we are familiar with white culture because we had no choice but to be raised in it. We are left out because we don’t fit any conventional norms. We are the true bananas.
There was an article the other day of the mixed Asian actresses and whether they were “Asian enough” for the film. This type of debate only leaves my head scratching. To be clear, this is not a knock on the film. The film was great step in the right direction. I’m not asking for an all adopted Chinese American film. But if Asians complain about white people leaving them out of Hollywood and that there needs to be more representation, then surely Asians should also be open to a more diverse Asian representation and what it means to be Asian. Just like there are all different shades of what it means to be American, to some degree there can be different shades to what it means to be Asian or Asian American. I understand Asians are mostly homogenous within their own cultures and countries, but the world we are increasingly living in is multiracial and multi-ethnic. If Asians want more representation in a space they occupy like society, then maybe they should be open to others who occupy a similar space to them.
Change is slow. I get it. Crazy Rich Asians was a monumental step in opening the door for an all-Asian cast and potentially for more representation of minorities of all shapes and sizes. Personally though, I can’t wait until we can stop categorizing people and putting them in boxes just because it’s convenient or because it’s the way it’s always been. Rather, I’d like to let people blaze and add new categories and labels so they can be themselves. There is more to be done for sure but that doesn’t mean we can’t and shouldn’t celebrate when it’s appropriate to do so. I left Crazy Rich Asians with a smile on my face and hope in my heart.
Sometimes I imagine the different members of the adoption triad like a raging fierce three way battle with heroes and villains on either side — each vying for supremacy, and ultimately believing their view is right. Orphanages, adoption agencies and lawyers, and the evangelical right are the weapons suppliers and war profiteers. Too far? A joke? I kid, I kid .. mostly … well ya know, sidepoint. And granted, there are voices who attempt to bridge the gap and learn about the viewpoints of the others and these should be acknowledged, but these attempts are more often than not drowned out by the constant battles that loom large.
Battle lines drawn over issues like anti or pro adoption, abortion, ethical adoption (illegal trafficking etc), rehoming, open birth records, adoptee rights (citizenship, permanency in identity/name), non-policy issues like good adoptive parenting (racially sensitive and trauma informed), birth parent searching, what’s “best” for the child, orphan crisis or lack thereof, baby marketplace or not, saviorism, and I’m sure a host of other issues I forgot to mention.
If this was a real life telenovela, there is no doubt it could run on for twenty solid seasons without running out of episodes for a lack of content or drama. Labels and name calling take center stage: “You’re too sensitive!”, “You’re just an angry adoptee,” “You should be grateful!”, “You’re a saint for being selfless and giving up your baby to a deserving family!”, “Your birthmom was probably on drugs!”, “You’re only a baby factory and nothing more!”, “You’re not my real mom!”, “Adoptive Parents are so ignorant, arrogant and condescending!”, “Only my adoptive mom is my real mom, my birth mother isn’t!”
This is Us, an American TV family drama is cashing in big time on this. Adoption agencies can’t be the only ones to profit, haha! A lot of times I find it easy to get lost amidst all the intense emotions, name calling, back and forth boxing match, Facebook blocking and long message screenshotting about, “Can you believe this (insert name) said this (insert screenshot).” Expressing emotions, of course is extremely necessary and valid for all sides, so this is not a knock on seeking validation from others and having them sympathize, but rather to argue that this can become wearing over some time and depressing to think this is all it’s ever going to be. And of course there is some debate over to how to express emotions healthily or otherwise and to whom, but that is a sidepoint. How people find any sanity in adoption is a wonder to me. But come to think of it, no one ever said they did. How morbid!
Let’s be honest for a second. Adoption is deeply personal. Let me repeat that.
Adoption is deeply personal!
It produces a lot of feelings if you choose to allow it. If you disagree with this, then you’re either a robot, or some alien life form without emotional IQ. Not to be too dramatic because people can of course disagree. Some people will argue they never think about adoption or that it has zero effect on their lives, but that doesn’t mean it’s not personal even if everything was great. Adoption preys on our deepest fears and perhaps greatest joys in life. Fears of losing a child, fears of being abandoned and rejected, fears of not being enough, fears of the same thing happening again, fear of not being able to move on, fear of not loving a child that wasn’t originally yours, fear of being a good mother or father, the joy of gaining a child, the joy of having a family, the joy of reunification, and the joy of discovering yourself. Adoption produces intense emotions positive and/or negative, and whether one numbs their emotions or not, I have no control over this. There is plenty of anxiety, anger, loss, fear, tension, and confusion to go around.
I am not perfect at this and I struggle to connect to my adoptive parents because of how differently we see things, but largely because we both have deep feelings attached that make things all too personal. I understand why my parents say and do what they do, and it doesn’t necessarily make it hurt less, but gives me more empathy for them.
Acknowledging that adoption is personal for all of us doesn’t lead to a kumbaya moment, and I am not asking for it, but it has to be the start. I understand why some adoptees say very hurtful things to their adoptive parents and I understand why adoptive parents may not say such kinds things about adoptees. Does this make it right? No. But if we all acknowledge adoption is personal and tried to dig deep within ourselves to see why and how comments become triggering for us, and why they might trigger others, then maybe, we could get somewhere. If we cut through the crap and said, “I’m afraid your birth mom is going to take you back because I might lose someone I love very much”, in my opinion this is much better than, “I was doing what’s best for you” (not seeing your birth mom), or, “I am really angry at my birth mom because she left me!” instead of saying, “She’s not real!” Maybe we might forge bridges instead of digging trenches and maybe we might even feel better when we express what we are really feeling.
So much of what we really think goes unsaid and needs to be said in the right context and hopefully in constructive way that is more about how we are feeling than what someone said or didn’t say. Otherwise our battlefields are landmines with children playing soldier at every step, rather than adults talking about issues in constructive ways. Change will never be effected with intense emotions and trigger points, otherwise we simply further entrench ourselves on our side of the battle. I’m not promising we will all agree on issues but rather, we can work towards healthier conversations that could potentially accomplish more than adding layers of hurt. It takes nothing to call out someone else, but it takes true courage to do the hard work within ourselves!
Two words. If one lets them, they produce countless thoughts and a potential rabbit hole so deep it feels endless. In sports, an inch in the game of football (American) can be the difference between a win and a loss, a playoff win or a ride home. For others, what if can mean the difference between life and death. Yet for adoptees, the what if is tantalizing, even if it is only presented in a binary, without any nuance. What if adoptees weren’t adopted? Well, people say, they would definitely either be dead or aborted as if that ends the debate and thus confirms how lucky we were to be saved. Either dead or adopted. Maybe that’s too extreme and we can tone down death and expand it to include either be adopted, or grow up in an orphanage and/or foster care system and see how terrible our life is — afterall, we all have our preconceived perceptions of kids stuck in the system. What if for adoptees has been transformed to “your life would suck if you weren’t adopted.” With adoptees best intentions, of course, at heart.
Surely however, there is more nuance to what if, especially as it pertains to adoptees. Nevermind the miracle of a specific sperm and egg that germinates to create each one of us. Had it been any other sperm or egg, the person might not exist or be an entirely different person. What if in each of our lives has the potential to change it in numerous directions at each stage of our life. For me personally, maybe there was a way for my first family to keep me, maybe I could have been raised by a relative, maybe even though I was in an orphanage, I could have survived the system without being adopted, maybe another Chinese family could have raised me, maybe another family could have raised me internationally, and yes, maybe I would have died in the orphanage, and maybe I would have died in a car accident.
It is amazing the confluence of factors that make something happen, but when one of those factors is changed, who is to say what the outcome might be. Yes, maybe people might concede that anything is possible. But those things didn’t take place. We can’t speculate or wish for something different, when it didn’t. People always say, “No point in playing what if games! What is fact is that you were in an orphanage starving”.
Absolutely correct! I can speculate and wish something was different but it didn’t happen. I will never know what it might have been like had something changed.
In the same vein however, people can’t say adoptees would have died or been aborted if they weren’t adopted because anything could have happened. People will never know because they were adopted and therefore they can’t know for sure what might have occurred if they didn’t. One can speculate, but that’s it. People don’t get the right to choose to play what if in a person’s life if they are unwilling to look at the entirety of that person’s existence or even their own — without also seeing the many different possibilities that life could unfold.
Some Christians make the argument that adoptees would not have known God unless they had been adopted into Christian homes. This binary of the what if suggests adoptees had to be adopted in order to be saved and would otherwise not have known God. I hate to break the news, but God does and has used any number of means to bring people to Him. To suggest otherwise and limit God is to deny His sovereignty. Maybe God used a Christian home to bring some adoptees to know God, but many equally reject God because of this same Christian home. Not every Christian comes from two Christian parents. I might have not been adopted and still known God in China. In fact, there are more Christians in China than in America (numbers are a little shaky in either place), so who is to say otherwise?
We all like to simplify complex ideas and notions to make them more digestible. But when we fail to address the nuance, we leave something out, and often to the detriment of ourselves and others. What if should not be just a tool for saviorism but should at least be presented with nuance. Maybe if we saw the world less in binaries and more in shades of grey, perhaps what if wouldn’t be such loaded two words. Maybe, just maybe, it could lead to a world of possibilities, not only in our past but hopefully and even more so, into our future.