Saran’s Speech

Transracial Forum in SA

August 2002

My name is Saran Ross, I’m a Vietnamese adoptee. I was brought out to Australia when I was about 10 weeks old and waiting for me was my new family of 5. My parents Ron and Annemarie Chamberlain and 3 older brothers, Mark 13 years, Steve, 10 and Matt 5.

My adoptive parents told me a story starting when I was a baby, it was about a little girl who lived in another country who was very loved by her mother but was unable to care for her. So she was put in an orphanage owned by Australians when she was a baby. She then knew that her little girl would go to a good family. They then told me about a baby who was chosen by a friend of an Australian family and a few weeks later came over on a big plane to the family who were to adopt her and love her. I wasn’t very old when I realised and asked if that little girl was me. It was. My parents told me that story for years and I loved it.

We lived in Adelaide until I was 13, and then moved to Launceston in Tasmania. Mum and dad moved back to Adelaide when I was nearly 18 and I moved back a year later after I had finished matriculation.

I was obviously quite young when we were in Adelaide, and I suppose issues, which were mostly normal teenage girl issues, started when we moved to Tasmania. I not only moved to another state and another school where I had to meet new people but I was also growing up and exploring who I was. Tasmania is extremely backwards from where I stood so it became quite a challenge to adjust. There weren’t too many, actually there were no Asians I could associate with.

In primary school in Adelaide, I was the only Asian student in my grade and there were only a handful of other Asians in other grades. I would be teased incessantly being called a nip, slope and other derogatory comments. These comments however, mainly being used towards other Asian nationalities but most people didn’t know, nor care what nationality I was, they just knew I was Asian. In high school in Launceston, I was the only Vietnamese student but didn’t get teased as much. However, I would have racial slurs thrown at me in public, for example, one day I was walking down the street in Launceston with my then current boyfriend who was Caucasian and a couple walked by, and the man called my boyfriend a “race traitor” and then told me to go back to my own country.

Looking at the whole experience and to this point of time, I’m very glad that I had been adopted by the family I have. It has just taken me some time to realise it. My adoptive parents and brothers have always loved me, however I suppose their misunderstanding of how to raise an inter-racial adoptee combined with my frustration, anger and feeling of isolation caused a lot of problems between us from my early teens.

My adoptive family loves me more than you could imagine. I will readily admit that I was spoilt rotten, but none of us realised that love wasn’t enough for me. I perceived that love as, I came into the “Chamberlain” family and I was to be a Chamberlain in every sense, feel, think, act exactly like them. I know they did this out of the kindness of their heart and I suppose perhaps if I had tried to tell them how I felt sooner, perhaps things wouldn’t have got to where they did… but we can’t live on what if can we??? What I felt was that they wanted me to be them without any consideration that I was different in not just the physical aspect, but emotionally as well.

The Chamberlains are an extremely loving and affectionate family and I was never and felt could never be like that. I felt that they wouldn’t accept me for who I was unless I was doing what they wanted me to do. So, in some ways, I tried to make them think I was doing what they wanted and doing whatever I liked without them knowing, but as they say, the truth will out, so I was constantly getting caught out. This then made me look and feel like a liar and a fake but I was torn. I wanted to be myself and I wanted to feel accepted, and I didn’t think I could have both. I also admit that I rebelled quite a lot before and so therefore what my family were doing were trying to guide me in the right direction so that I wouldn’t make mistakes, but I had to make mistakes myself to realise who I was and what I was.

As I said, I suppose we started going through problems from my early teens and my anger started then and grew and festered for years. I had so much anger inside of me, it was eating me up. I didn’t know who I was, what I wanted or where I wanted to go.

My friends and even my family would make reference about me being Asian in some way or another and although they never meant it out of spite, it always hurt. I don’t know if there could have been any way around that, because if they had tip toed around the fact, then it wouldn’t have been honest but I looked at it that it was always shoved in my face in some way or another and it hurt more than, I thought, anyone could imagine.

When I was in high school, I was extremely shy. I would never make friends unless they made the first move because I thought they would just laugh at me and walk away if I tried to approach them. A lot of my friends once they got to know me used to think I was a snob because I was so quiet and aloof but it was fear of rejection.

I hated Asians coming near me. I would just about turn to violence especially if an Asian tried to make a pass at me. Never in a million years could I possibly imagine dating an Asian. I never had Asian friends until I started working in an Accounting firm a few years ago. However, saying this if ever I saw an Asian being harassed, especially one that didn’t speak English I would defend them where I could.

I studied Japanese and at Matriculation College, we hosted exchange students. In some ways, I hated the fact that I was also seen as an exchange student. I remember one main incident where one of the students from our college approached a group of Japanese exchange students with whom I was standing with and started abusing us, telling us to go back to our own country and shouted obscenities at us. What was the biggest shock of all to her, and to me was that I came straight back at her, defending all of us… I hated being referred to as Asian but I would not tolerate harassment from others.

I hated being asked where I was from, nor did I ask, to me it didn’t matter. Caucasians would usually not be asked where they were from and I hated being singled out. Knowing other nationalities were asked about their heritage didn’t seem to make my situation any easier. I even had people argue with me thinking I was Japanese or another Asian nationality which just compounded my situation therefore feeling more isolated. I was once asked if I was from New Zealand because I had a flat nose like they did.

9 Months ago a man who was involved in the orphanage and who assisted in getting me to Australia told me that my birth certificate was fake. He said that the mothers who abandoned their babies could not afford a birth certificate and just left their babies on the steps of the orphanage. So birth certificates were purchased so that babies could enter into the country. Suddenly I was stripped of all identity and the little hope I had left of finding my birth mother had now vanished. I felt very much alone.

As I had never shared my real feelings with my family about how I believed they didn’t accept me, and then when I found out the truth about my birth certificate, I needed to get away. I wanted to run away actually. So, I stopped all contact with my family. This went on for 9 months. And even though it hurt us all, I think it was the best thing that could have happened.

I learnt to stand on my own two feet without anyone telling me, guiding me, buoying me up. I had to make decisions on my own and deal with the consequences on my own. It was hard, and I realised how important my family was to me but I needed to do this to work out who I really was and also to accept who I was. I hated being Asian, I hated anyone making reference about it. I hated when people would ask me where I was from, even though most were just interested in learning about who I was, but I didn’t take it that way. I wanted to blend in, I didn’t want to be seen as different whereas my friends would argue with me and tell me that they were envious of the fact that I was who I was, and where I was from but it didn’t matter what anyone said, it was the way I felt.

It was my manager at work who really made me think, although my friends were also amazing support. He said “Saran, you are who you are, because of you, because of your family, your friends and the support you have around you, not from where you come from. It is a big part of your life, your heritage, but not the major part of making you who you are today”. At first, I thought it was just flattering and at the time, I was a bit of a mess so I thought he was just saying it to calm me down. But I sat and thought for quite a while about it. And he was right.

I learnt that I didn’t NEED my family, I wanted them in my life and the time I spent alone made this more obvious. It was something we all needed, time out from each other.

During the time I was away from my family, I realised I had a big rejection issue. I finally admitted my anger for my birth mother, she rejected me. In some ways I saw that my adoptive family rejected me because they would only accept me if I did what they said – saying this though, I do realise that this was not the case. My family literally saw me as a Chamberlain. One day my adoptive mother took me to the doctor and he told me that I had psoriasis and that it was genetic. Mum turned around, completely naively and said that that was impossible because she was unaware of psoriasis in the family.

This was a turning point for me and the truth started to become clear. So I know they didn’t do it out of spite or because they believed that I was lucky to have been adopted, this was my perception. I then also looked at my relationships and although it was probably fifty-fifty, suddenly I saw that I had been rejected in some way or another by partners. I realised finally that my rejection issue was also an acceptance issue. I relied on my partners, as well as my family for acceptance of myself. If they accepted me, then I was fine but I wasn’t. I learnt that I had to accept and like myself, and then my experiences with partners, my attitude with my adoptive family and my feelings about my natural mother could be seen in a completely different way.

I now have a completely different attitude and perspective on life and only I have got myself to this point including reading The Colour of Difference and being part of the network ICASN. No matter what love and support I had from family and friends, I had to learn these lessons myself and I’m so very happy I have. My family and I have never been so close. On top of that, I’m 4 and a half months pregnant and to know that I will have a relation of my blood, of my own is a feeling I’ve never had or experienced before so I’m looking forward to this more than I could have ever imagined.

Reading the Colour of Difference and becoming part of the Inter Country Adoptee Support Network (ICASN) has made me realise that I’m not alone at all. When I first contacted the founder of ICASN, I was astounded that there was someone else out there that could understand what I’d been through. My friends and in some party my family could partly understand and sympathise what I had experienced but not through experience. Meeting other adoptees in Melbourne was fantastic and all of us felt the same way that finally we’d found ourselves by being and understanding each other. Suddenly I wasn’t just a rebellious child who could not find her place in society, there were others who had experienced what I had, some worse, some better but all could understand each other.

I think that we all need people to understand this. I’m not saying that you should feel sorry for me or that people shouldn’t adopt but those who do must realise that love is not enough. I’m also not saying that this will happen to all adoptees because I think the education is there now for adoptive parents so much more than ever before. I know that my parents wish they had some sort of support like there is now. I also think racism has lessened over the years and there are a lot more adoptions so that it’s seen more like the norm of society as opposed to being different. The culture of the child should stay in their life, no matter how much they may want to push it away in the first instance as I did. In years to come, maybe sooner, maybe later, they will realise that it’s a great thing to be proud of who you are, the heritage and where you have come from but it takes a lot.

Thank you for listening to my story tonight.

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